My style of horsemanship is commonly called “Natural Horsemanship”. The style has been around for a long time … someone just gave it a name. This style is one that works with the horse’s natural instincts. I work on pressure, or the release of pressure. Let’s say I want my horse to lead-up. If he stops before I want him to, I apply pressure thru the lead rope to the halter. I start with very light pressure and apply more as needed, until he takes a step. Immediately, with any forward movement by the horse I release the pressure, and this is how he learns. Pressure and Release is effect with all areas of training a horse, from picking up their feet to saddling. When I start to apply pressure, I start soft and increase the pressure until they give. Their reward is the release. When I first started working with the horse, I taught them to back up with the lead rope. The purpose of this is to teach them to respect my space. Then we moved to disengaging the highquarters, which is also very important for my safety. I don’t want my horses to ever turn their business end of them toward me. Once the backing and disengaging of hindquarters is going good I begin with grooming. It is important that I can put my hands on every part of my horse … from nose to tail. We work on them giving me their feet. Using my lead rope, I slide the rope down their leg, past the fetlock and let it rest on the pastern. I cross the lead rope to form a loop and then gently pull up until they lift their hoof off the ground. I release and repeat … again, pressure and release … until they are giving the leg easily with the lead rope. Again, I am in a safe place … and, it saves my back. Next is getting control of the horse’s body … moving forequarters, hind quarters and side pass using pressure and release. I apply pressure, using my thumb, on the side where the rear cinch would go … about heel height. When the horse moves his hind leg over, I remove the pressure then repeat until he is crossing in front of the opposite leg. To disengage the forequarters, I move my thumb just behind the front cinch and apply pressure and release, just like I do with the hind quarters. I want the horse to cross over his front leg. Once I have my horse doing both front and rear, softly, then I can work on moving the whole body sideways by moving my thumb to the pressure point between the front and rear cinch areas … about where your leg will hand down. The horse needs to cross both front and rear legs, both passing in front. Next is flexing. I want my horse to be able to bend his head around to the side and touch his side with his nose. I start with pressure on the halter to get him to give to the side. All they need to do is move in the direction I am asking for. I am not looking for them to turn the whole way, just a little and improve each time I ask until we have a nose touching the side. This flexing, along with disengaging hindquarters, will come in handy if I need to stop them quickly, under saddle. This is called a one-reign stop, and when done right, it can come in very handy in an emergency.
One of the most important parts of training a horse is desensitization of my horse. By this, I mean I will do anything I can think of to spook my horse (or, give him heart attacks). The more I spook him during ground training, the less likely he is to spook when under saddle. I play the turrets game, jumping jacks, toss the lead rope over, under and around him, tie plastic bags to the stall rails so they flutter in the wind, have him walk on tarps, bridges and through water, expose him to giant balls, hoses (that look like snakes), etc. It is stunning what these 1000 lb. animals are afraid of … and, spooky things are not necessarily the same for every horse. It is also critical that you expose your horse to everything from both left and right perspective because horses process from both sides of their brain. Things look differently to them out of their left eye and right eye. You will know that desensitization is working when you do something crazy, and instead of bolting, your horse just stands there and looks at you like you are crazy. I have a lot of people who offer advice when I am training a horse. Things like, take off your sunglasses, I think your horse wants to see your eyes. Or, maybe you shouldn’t be wearing your cowboy hat, I think it spooks your horse. I want my horse to be prepared for every eventuality without me having to think about changing anything to accommodate him.
Moving to the saddle. I will start with the saddle pad. I rub it all over their body as they stand there and flinch and twitch as if I am killing them. Once I can rub and toss the pad all over, under and around their body, I flop it onto their back. Again, doing everything on both sides of the body. Once they stand there calmly and relaxed, I begin work on the girth line. With the lead rope tossed over their back, I reach under and pull the line around, so it is looped around their body at the girth line (where the front cinch will sit). I wiggle it back and forth so they can get the feel of it. Once they relax, I begin to apply slight pressure. If they stand still, I release. If they are moving their feet, I keep the pressure applied until they stop their feet … then, release. Once they become comfortable with the feel of the pressure of the lead around them, I ask them to walk-off while I keep the pressure applied.
The saddle is the biggest pressure we can apply to a horse. I will toss it on and remove it and keep doing that until they stand still. I don’t care if I we do it a hundred times … I want my horse to not fear the saddle. Once they accept the saddle, I start to cinch them up. I take my time with this. Pull it just enough so they can feel it, then, release … pressure and release. When they show me signs that they are relaxed with the cinch then I will snug it up and ask them to walk off.