Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Feet Follow Hands...

Shanster said: Regarding tipping the nose and only releasing when the feet move... how does this tie in with your whole sensitize/desensitize theory?

Do you think this is important on both sides of the fence?

It seems like teaching a colt to move its feet in response to bit pressure would be really helpful if you were looking to do something that required quick responses, but might be kind of a drawback when the training goal is to create a horse for Mrs. Weekend Rider.

Mugs says: I started all of my youngsters the same. For that matter I expected every horse I rode to move in the direction I pointed them. It really isn't that technical. I point, you go.

I got in an enormous argument with my step-daughter (a very competent trainer) over this. She felt strongly that all her students, especially her beginners, were safer if they utilized a one rein stop on their horse.

I felt/feel the one rein stop dumps the horse on it's front end and puts a student , especially a beginner, in the position of getting a strung out horse jump started again. A horse who has his head pulled to the side has his shoulders pointed out, his head bent and his weight in the front end.

I have watched too many horses learn to take their shoulder and fly this way.

I also have seen horses dumped over with this specific maneuver.

"So how do your students stop them if they're running off?" My angry step-daughter asked me.

"Circle them around and kick the hip out until they quit."

"But how do you STOP them."

"Say Whoa."

Where upon she became extremely pissed off.

I’m a very irritating relative to have sometimes.

We didn't even begin to get into my thinking that by bending the head back and forth just to bend the rider is teaching her horse not only to give but to ignore her.

Think about it. Repetitive bending left and right does nothing except to get the horse to learn when the rider pulls on the rein to the right or left it means just stand there.

Or ignore it.

When my horses are in a much more advanced level of training I’ll get them to give their head to the left and right while moving forward, it helps them loosen up the base of the neck and drop their head.

But this is way down the road when I expect them to understand more than one cue at once. The horse will be working off my body and legs by then.

I also teach them to give their head to teach them to side pass and work diagonally, but again, they know to move their feet according to what my legs are saying by then.

The sticky wicket (what exactly is a sticky wicket anyway?) is that my step-daughter lives and breathes by Ray Hunt.

She learned her craft from a student and follower of Ray’s and attended probably 10 – 15 of his clinics.

So everything she does is her translation of hours and months spent either with Ray or her original mentor.

The very points I am taking a stand on came from Ray also.

Except I had very little time with him and only a few conversations. I never studied with her mentor or any of his followers.

I have a (some would say terrible) habit of building an entire philosophy off of a sentence or two which makes sense to me.

I can do this with religion, politics, child rearing and especially horse training.

I asked Ray (OK, I called him Mr. Hunt) about a young horse I had in training who flipped over backwards and bucked.

He very wisely asked me to evaluate the common sense of riding this horse and then said, “If all the feet are moving forward you're safe. It’s when the feet stop moving you’ll end up in a bind. If you’ve got the feet you’ve got the horse.”

I took this home and played with this thought while riding every horse I had available to ride.

This is what I discovered.

If a horse is going to rear she will plant her front feet and gather her rears under her.

If a horse is going to buck she will slow down, arch her back or tuck her rear and either kick up the hind end while planting the fronts or vice versa.

If a horse is going to run off the shoulder will point in the intended direction first. The head tossing and light footedness which precedes a run away comes from the hands ineffectively using the reins and the sequential loss of control of the feet.

I’m not talking about loping a horse down the road and having her speed up into a runaway.

Trust me, the horse in this instance was out of control waaaaay before she started running.

So I started thinking about controlling the feet. I wanted to control each foot of my horse with my body.

Again, as usual when I began to obsess I made my students go on this odyssey with me.

When a person first begins to ride, all of their control of the horse comes through the hands. Some people never get over it. Hands first, legs (if at all) second.

So I made everybody go two handed. Most were in a snaffle bit. At first we worked on the theory the hands were for steering and the legs were for power.

So my beginners learned to steer with their hands and power the horses with leg pressure.

The left rein directed the left shoulder. The right, the right. The legs powered the forward movement.

Pretty soon the horses began to move their feet with the directional pull of the rein.

So we had an Aha! Moment.

The beginning riders were learning to take charge of the horse with the rein. The horse was responding to the hand.

It was simple, clear, direct and everybody got it.

So when I got the students further in their ability and they started to use their legs to control each foot there was no confusion. It was simply additional cues.

My colts also benefited from the simplicity.

First wander around, learn to step left with a left tug and right to a right tug. I also relaxed the inside leg (same rein same leg)before I tugged on the reins, setting the colt to follow a release of pressure from my legs.

Then he learned to move his hindquarters away from my leg.

Then he learned pressure from both of my legs created propulsion.

Then he learned to move away from leg pressure at the fore.

My students benefited from the same approach, except people did better learning to squeeze both legs for forward before they could use one leg at a time to move the hindquarters.

I think it has something to do with how we see and think (forward and with both eyes in front) where a horse learns first one side than the other easier than both at once.

So to me I’m keeping it simple.

The colt doesn’t have to blast into a turn when I move a rein, just follow the motion of my hand.

So I guess it has more to do with sensitizing the rider….

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