Saturday, November 8, 2008

More on Forward Cues and Neck Reining (Finally)

Poor Kel. I used her to get an extremely good discussion going and then woke up this morning realizing I hadn't really helped her.
Because I didn't answer her basic question.
Could she use her crop to teach her horse forward?
Her trainer was concerned that the horse would learn to respond only to the crop.
Which is a legitimate concern.
So I'm going to straighten that one out. Sorry Kel.
Yes, you can teach your horse forward with the crop.
The key is to make your pre-cue (cluck, kiss, whatever) and cue (bump with the legs) be what motivates your horse. The crop is the final consequence for ignoring them.
When your horse is solid on his cues and seeks the lope, you won't need the crop.
The key here is to always, forever and ever, amen, give the pre-cue, the cue and the consequence. Only once.
Here's my sequence.
1.I'm going to get my horse moving with my seat bones. From a stand still he will be walking, if I'm loping a small slow he will know I'm going to ask for more.
2.I'm going to cluck. Once.
3. I'm going to roll my calf into my horse and squeeze. Once.
4. I'm am going to apply my crop with wild enthusiasm until I have way more response than I needed.
I want my horse to never, ever want me to use my crop. I want him to do whatever it takes to prevent me from even thinking about that crop.
Which would be to listen to my cues. Without spurs.
When I use my crop I don't care if he ducks left or right, I will continue enthusiastically reinforcing my cue until he is running straight. (heads up Joy) Then I will quit and enjoy my ride.
It doesn't matter if you use your reins (my preferred method) a crop, a tree switch, the palm of your hand or Aunt Milly's tea cozy.
I would do this at home and have the problem fixed the next time I saw my trainer. If I go against the advice of someone I admire and need to continue to work with, I take care of it at home and just show up with the problem fixed. I never rub their face in it. I don't ever say, "Well so and so says to do it this way...." If the trainer asks I'll tell him, but usually he won't. You see, we're a tender-hearted, egotistical bunch, us trainer types. For the most part we'll just be relieved you figured it out.
But the key for everything I do is to give a consistent pre-cue, then a solid cue, then a consequence. When the consequence is no longer anything but a distant memory for me and my horse I know I'm getting somewhere.

Neck Reining

There are a lot of ways to teach your horse to neck rein. Mine go into a full bridle, ridden with a romel rein. I ride two-handed until they are six. So I have a lot of time to get them neck-reining.
By the time I ask them to neck rein they know to follow their nose where I point it.
That may sound simple, but it's vital.
When I first ride my babies I just point their nose and expect them to follow. I let all other parts trail behind the nose.
I ride one rein at a time.
Left rein to go left, right to go right.
As we progress I teach my horse to line up behind her nose.
I point the nose and use inside leg pressure to guide the hips over and line up her entire body.
Once we have that step I begin using my outside leg to push the shoulders into alignment first, then the hips.
I consistently cue every time.
My horse learns that when I guide the nose the shoulders, ribs and hips automatically line up.
I have very little trouble with bulging shoulders because I start them this way.
This is a very simplified version of the base I put on my young horses. I don't do any turns, stops, asking for collection, nothing else until I have this.
When I ask my horse to neck rein it becomes a new cue. Essentially I'm offering a gift. If you point your nose where I want it, off of my neck rein, I won't pull you. Invariably my horse says, "Cool, I'm on it."
I rarely pull hard when I neck rein. Sometimes on an older, willful butt-munch of a disobedient pig, (now I'm channeling Sonita) I will hoist her around some, but that's another story for another day.
So here goes.
I start my horses in split reins.
How I hold my reins:
I extend my guiding hand (left or right, it doesn't matter, just pick one and keep it) like I'm going to shake somebody's hand.
I fold my fingers in, my wrist stays the same, my thumb is resting on top.
My forefinger is between my reins. (you don't have to do this, but I like the control I get with it.) My wrist is soft and relaxed, but I'm not going to ride palm side down.

My reins hang down the same side as my guiding hand. If I ride left, the reins hang down the left side.

When I ask for my turn, I look in the direction I want to go, I point the thumb of my rein hand (remember, thumb on top) at the ear on my horse. I want to go to the left, my thumb points to the left ear. This should lay the rein on her neck.
I don't want my hand to move outside of a six to eight inch invisible box that I keep floating over my saddle horn. My hand can go as high or as low as I need within the confines of my invisible box.
If she doesn't respond:
I will raise my hand straight in the air until I make light contact with her mouth. (pre cue)
I will lay my outside leg on her side at the cinch (cue) and push with my calf.
If she doesn't respond:
I will go back to two hands.
I will take the guiding rein and pull her head in the direction I want her to go. (make it happen)
When I have to pull with my direct rein I don't release the pressure until the shoulders ribs and hips are lined up, then I let her go.
I will go back to one hand.
We walk on a relaxed reins for 5 or 6 strides and I go again.
I'll keep turning left until I get some try. Then I'll go right.
I never increase my neck rein pressure.
Listening to my neck rein means she gets no pressure at all, just the feel of the rein on her neck. She has to trust I won't increase the pressure, or my point is moot.
When I want to refine my turns or need to increase my hold, my hand rises straight up to get contact.
As I reach for that contact my legs push her into the bit for collection, when I release my legs, if I'm still holding her face, she'll stop and back.

I am so irked. I have a horse for sale on Dreamhorse. The last of my horses in training. His name is Pete. He's really cool. I just had some wahoo call and ask about my horse. He asked all the normal questions. He said he was green, but he rode with a trainer. I asked who the trainer was. He wouldn't tell me. He asked some fairly inept questions for someone who has a competent trainer helping them. I offered to talk to the trainer. He didn't want me to do that. Then, sight unseen he makes an offer that is $5000 less his price.
I told him that I don't barter with people who haven't even seen the horse. Then I said something about good luck with your search and hung up. Was he legit? Was he somebody trying to take advantage of the current market? I don't know or care. I had the feeling he was a scammer. Be careful out there when you're selling horses folks. I'd rather keep feeding them.


  1. Yikes... that could be a scammer but it could be some cowboy wannabe trying to get a good horse for cheap too. Either way... I'd never sell to someone liek that either. Just weird.

    Gator goes western too. I toyed with neck reining the other day. It was good practice for western only mare. Good to read a training process for it - helps me understand it better.

  2. Huh, could have been a scammer, but it could also have been someone trying to get a horse really cheap. Sometimes people are just really strange. I've heard of people trying to do a full trade when their horse is half the value of the other persons and due to an old fracture their vet says it should be lame...

    Anyway, thanks for the neck reining post, it came at an excellent time. Do you ever use a bosal in between snaffle and bridle training? I've heard of it, and it sounds like a good idea but I don't know how to use a bosal...

  3. this was interesting. I like your explanation of how you teach neck reining. Makes a lot of sense. Obviously, I've never trained horse. The ones I have had or ride are good to go. It's very cool to read the breakdown of the steps to teaching these things.

    (I will do the "enthusiastically forward" thing and not worry about the dodging from the over and under next time it comes up.)

  4. esquared-I am an avid hackamore (bosal) fan. If I have my choice my horses are in the hackamore for at least two years before I put them in the bridle. It took me years to get good with one though.

  5. Re: Forward. This is great. I do let Starlette take her time when I cue her to canter...a habit we both have to break. Putting those long reins back on my English bridle (if I wack her with the dressage whip, I get nice bucks...I'd rather tackle one problem at a time LOL!)

    Now it if would stop raining in MI so the ground would dry out....YUCK!


  6. This is off topic, but I feel the need to share.

    My appy has ADD BIG TIME! She was an arena baby when I bought her and even riding through the yard, she'd find monsters lurking everywhere. Riding out on the trails has always been exhausting, but I've been working on it...for 3 years.

    Anyway, I was reading one of Mugs' posts, can't remember which one, but it was about forward motion and riding quiet.

    "Angel" has a habit of jigging when we're returning from a ride on the trail. Yesterday, I pulled her down to a walk and let go of her face and relaxed into the saddle. HOLY COW!!! She stayed at a walk. It was a "power walk" but a walk just the same, and much more comfortable that the jigging.

    DUH KAREN!!!! She doesn't like it when you hang on her face!

    Apparently, my lightbulb is on a dimmer switch!

  7. Hey mugs have you done any posts on how to get the correct lead? My three year old (has about 90 days) seems to only be getting one lead. I hadn't noticed before, I just cared about how balanced etc he loped but lately someone has been intentionally mean about it and I realized that he only takes his left lead. You can make him lope very small circles, ask at the corner, etc but he always gets the left one. I'm not really sure what to do about it because he doesn't know he's doing anything wrong and he does everything else so awesome that I don't want to sour him on it by forcing the issue... any advice?

  8. Esquared--oh, those ding dang leads. I never knew a colt that didn't favor one or the other. And getting them into the one they don't favor can be tough. I can't wait to hear mugwump's response to this one. I know some tricks for this, but I'm sure mugwump knows them all, and her advice would be better than mine. One thing I would say, don't let anyone make you feel bad. Any of us who have trained horses have struggled with trying to get them into the lead they don't like. This can make real good hands look stupid.

    Just for fun, here's a true story about a famous cutting horse trainer. A young guy I know who was an apprentice to another cutting horse trainer, noticed that the great trainer's horse was loping in the wrong lead in the warm-up pen. It bugged my friend--he felt sure the great trainer must know better than that, and was doing it for some obscure reason. So he rode up to him and asked him why his horse was in the wrong lead. The great trainer gave him a look. "I don't care what F-ing lead he lopes in," he said. My friend rode off abashed. Great trainer's horse won the cutting--worked like a million dollars. My friend learned something. Don't pick on the horse for things that don't count. Save it for when it matters. Of course, this works for cutters, who aren't judged on their leads, and wouldn't work in most disciplines, where leads do count. But its a fun story.

  9. I always say that it's wise to trust your intuition, Mugs. If the guy asking about the horse gave you the willies - or at least gave you pause - pay attention. Humans have thousands of years of instinct and self-preservation built into our nature. If he seemed "off", I think you did the right thing.
    Hey, does anyone know how to deal with static electricity around your horses? This seems sorta dumb, but I live in a high altitude, super dry climate. Now that winter is coming, I often accidentally shock my horses when I touch them. Yesterday, I managed to shock each of them - ZAP! - on the face. The mare glared at me and the gelding actually ran to the other side of the pasture.
    This isn't the biggest deal in the world, but if someone has an answer, I'd love to hear it!

  10. That is a fun story :) And I'd say that until the comments started I'd have been just like that trainer.
    Usually I ignore the comments but sometimes they just get to me. My mom thinks (as moms tend to think) that the person (who is about 4 times my age and has been in the business for at least half that time) feels threatened by me and how well my horse is progressing. Honestly I can't believe this because the idea is just too odd to contemplate this. But it's just all the more distressing because it is someone who I thought was my friend so can't really understand why they're being so rude about this. But anyway, hopefully mugs has something that works. I'd rather not just keep asking for a lope and pulling him up each time until he gets it right. He's already 'irritable' enough about being dragged away from his food that I doubt he'd look favorably on our rides if that's what I started doing :)

  11. I know where you're coming from 100% on the whackos calling---! I had 3 amazingly well bred mares for sale this spring, that I wasn't asking an arm and a leg for. They were all older, straight from the track in a round about sort of way. Never been bred, so I understood they were sort of a gamble for some folks. I had several people that would email and want the registration papers after they "Sent cashier check for AQHA mare price $2500"....ya-sure ya will. I had one crazy guy out and out tell me that he "would find great new owner for my beloved pet". He couldn't tell me what state he was from, give me any references, but could tell me that he had 2yrs experience in the horse business. I was amazed, lol, I googled the guys email address and it showed results from somebody in Rhode Island! Whackos!!

  12. rockymouse-putting on hand lotion before you ride or pet helps. I used to rub a dryer sheet over the inside of my blankets before I blanketed...I also put some "No more tangles" conditioner (the one for kids) on my horses...that helped.

  13. esquared- Try not to make this too big of a thing. Recheck all your youngsters flexibility points. Do some turns on the forehand and be sure he moves off your leg smoothly and easily both directions.
    Trot him at a good clip around your arena. I prefer a larger circle to a small one. We want this to be as easy on him as possible. Have your weight back, in the outside corner of your saddle. Have some weight in your outside leg, and be pushing his hip to the inside. So if you are looking for a right lead your left leg will be pushing him to the right. Don't give a steady push, but push and release, push and release in rhythm with his trot.
    Your inside leg will be off of him.
    Keep your inside rein elevated up and out, and tip his nose inside, just enough to see the corner of his eye. Keep that rein high enough to hold him up. That will stop him from leaning into the circle. Make sure you look ahead, not down at your horse. Your outside rein steadies him, have it coming back towards your outside hip bone.
    Essentially you will be trotting around, weight to the outside, not leaning in, keeping his shoulders free. You'll be asking him to follow his nose by pushing him with your outside leg. Encourage him gently to find the lead, bring him down to the trot if he misses it, but don't pull him down to a stop.
    If your using a martingale or anything like that take it off until he has his leads.
    When he gets it let him lope around for a while on a loose rein.
    About this other trainer.... would it hurt to just say something like, I hadn't really thought about it. What would you do?
    Maybe he/she will have some good points, maybe not. But it helps to defuse tension between two trainers to ask for some input once in a while. If he/she tries to make you feel incompetent, or tries to get on your horse then forget it. But maybe there will be some decent input. Who knows?

  14. Laura Crum- where are your tips? Where are everybody elses?

  15. Mugs..

    Thank you for the advice. I think that (now that I know I am not the only one that whacks themselves with the reins) I am going to go back and give that an honest try. Do you think that if I keep whacking myself, someday I will figure it out and not (whack myself)? Kind of like what I am asking him to do? :) May turn out he learns faster than I do. hahahaha

    He really is a nice horse and you are right about the stops being a good thing, he searches for it, sets his butt down and slides. He is also really good at the transitions from fast to slow, and boy can he lope a SSLLOOOOWWWWWW circle. I think that is a good thing too, because I don't have to go really super fast to show a nice transition. He has some really good qualities and some not so good ones. The turnarounds - not so good, he can do them, but really doesn't want to put to much effort into them. I guess that all goes hand in hand. :)
    I have worked on the loping and forward motion in much the same way that you suggested and so now he will stay in the really slow lope forever. I would start him and let him go until he broke and then popped him a good one, let him have a fit and run off alittle, settle him back in and lope until I was ready to stop. That worked. I guess I am having trouble figuring out how to apply the same logic to the rest of it. Thanks again for all the great input from everyone.

  16. Here are my tricks. First off, I'd try to get a horse to take the lead like mugwump describes. That's the right way. The following things are for horses that are so attached to one lead or the other that they twist their body to grab that favored lead. Sort of like teaching a left-handed person to do something right-handed. Its hard for them. So, if you just can't get the horse to take the lead using the method mugwump describes, you can try these things (if you want).

    First, I would try to force the horse into the lead (lets say right lead) by trotting in a circle to the right. I'd try to feel when the horse might be most open to it, but in any case, I'd pull his head outside (to the left) and boot him hard with my left leg. I'd force him to jump ahead. Its really hard for him to grab the left lead from that posistion. (You have to pull the head way off to the left.) This one usually works for me.

    Ok, so if that didn't work, I'd lope around to the left, in the left lead, and do a roll back into the fence and jump him out again (going right). With a little help from you the rider, the horse will often get the right lead.

    If that didn't work, I might try a figure eight flying change (last resort), speed the horse way up in the middle and try to literally force him into into the lead with my body as we changed directions. Sometimes lying a pole on the ground in the middle of the eight and making the horse do his flying change as he lopes over it will work.

    None of these methods do I use unless I'm really stumped and can't get the horse to take the correct lead in a more natural manner. But all of them have worked for me in the past.

    When you do get the horse in his disliked lead, lope him for a longish time in it. My experience is that much like teaching a left handed person to do something right handed, it feels odd and uncomfortable to the horse to go in that lead. He needs to get used to it. Horses that I had that were this way I loped only in their disliked lead until they got used to it. (Or, if I thought they needed a break--I loped them in their "bad" lead first and then the good one.) I always asked for the difficult lead first in a natural way (as mugwump describes) and only forced them into it if they just wouldn't comply.

    Hope this helps.

  17. For what it's worth...try working over a small jump and asking the horse to turn in the air in the direction of the hard-to-get lead. They often take the correct lead naturally to balance on the turn, then you just ride quietly and let them get used to it. Same theory as Laura's pole on the ground, but a little hop helps.
    You can also try putting the haunches in first, then opening the inside rein when asking for the lead.
    If it's a strength issue, you can try trot-canter transitions on the lungeline with sidereins to help with the bend. Or spiral-in, spiral-out at the trot on a circle, ask for the lead when you've spiraled out and the inside hind is active.

  18. Mugs
    I think the guy is a scammer like some of the other people have said. I had a horse on Dream Horse for about 2 weeks and got several emails from people that wanted to buy him sight unseen and wanted to wire the money to my account. I just emailed them back and said, "I will ONLY accept a cashiers check or cash...and when the checked cleared...I would send them the horse. I never did get a response I knew it was a scam. I even had a guy tell me his life story about how he had 2 kids, a nice barn and that the horse will be well taken care of. Its amazing what people come up with.

  19. Great blog! The scammers are getting better . . . geez, either way, what a loser!