Horse Training

Good Hands

January 28, 2009

Teach your horse the basics of flexion by using soft hands and smart techniques.

Objectives:

  • To ask my horse for vertical flexion and to have him respond positively and lightly, rather than resisting or opposing
  • To understand “soft feel” as a fundamental ingredient of vertical flexion and collection
  • To ask for vertical flexion using only light pressure

How Will This Help Me?

It will be quicker and easier to teach the horse the all-important basics of flexion if I start on the ground before attempting to do it mounted. My hands must learn to take, to wait and to release.

I can make myself more clearly understood from the ground because I will not be using my reins or legs for balance. If I teach a clear, individual response, I can teach the horse to follow a feel or improve his response and prevent him from pulling against my hands. Learning to have “good hands” is of crucial importance if I am to become a true horseman.

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How Do I Do It?

Stand at the horse’s withers and check that you have light lateral flexion both toward and away from you.

Take up the reins on either side of the mane between your thumb and forefinger, fingers open and facing down the horse’s neck.

By simply closing your fingers on the reins, you will apply enough pressure to his nose for the horse to look for a solution. As soon as he yields, release the pressure.

Repeat the exercise several times so the horse responds more and more lightly to your hands. If you feel him resist, close one hand while keeping the other open and ask for a very slight lateral flexion. Once you have light, positive results toward either side, start the exercise again.

When the horse has given you a positive result, lower your hands slightly to ask him for a lower position, then raise them for a higher position.

Your ultimate aim is for the horse to “follow” his halter up, down, right or left.

In this exercise, as in so many others, what you can feel is far more important than what you can see.

Try to get the horse to respond more and more lightly until simply pinching the rein between your thumb and forefinger is enough to produce soft lateral flexion to either side.

Horsemanship Concepts:

  • Horses are not naturally heavy. They learn to become so if subjected to riders without feeling or timing in their hands.
  • Always ask yourself if you should be sensitizing or desensitizing.
  • It should be a “soft feel,” not a soft look.
  • Pulling takes two.
  • The horse should find comfort in flexion, not discomfort.

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To Succeed

  • I must take up a light contact and increase the tension gradually on each rein. If the horse tries to resist, I must hold my hands still and wait for him to move away from pressure, toward relief.
  • My hands must be as dependable as fence posts. As soon as the horse stops pulling or pushing, the relief must be immediate.
  • I must lower the position of the halter’s noseband to make its action more precise and clear. This may help the horse to learn the required response. The idea is not to hurt him, but to help him understand that yielding will bring comfort.
  • I must ask for just a small effort in the beginning, holding the flexion for a little longer each time until it is stable.

Errors to Avoid

  • Do not try to pull, which will teach the horse to be heavy.
  • Do not attempt at this stage to maintain the flexion for very long.

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