Thursday, August 30, 2012


Heidi the Hick asked when I make contact with my bit.

I thought I'd just give you a break down of how I build my cues, from start, to somewhere down the road.
I'm not going into the "how." that would become a book....Hmmmm.
But here's my basics, on a baby, on a broke horse, it doesn't matter, I make sure they have this, in this progression, when I train.

My baby cues are very, very basic. Embarrassingly so.

Phase 1

Start with a relaxed rider, no contact, relaxed back,shoulders, legs.
two legs on = forward
guide left rein = turn left
guide right rein = turn right
two legs off, exhale = stop
back = two legs off, slowly lift reins until contact, pressure until I get a step
When I guide the nose I expect the front feet to follow
I release my rein pressure when the inside front foot steps off with my inside hand/rein

Phase 2

I don't start here until we have WTC at Phase 1
We're trotting into the lope, everything is sloppy and I don't care if we break gait
We do have our leads though

Add inside leg pressure (just before the back cinch) to my turns for hip control
Inside rein + inside leg
Every turn now has my leg pushing the hips to the outside at least a step
Add serpentines at the walk and trot, work on hip control with contact from your calf

Phase 3

Phase 2 is solid and I add shoulder control.

I ask for a turn with my inside rein
Place my inside leg, but hold instead of push,
drop weight back and to my outside seat bone,
place outside leg at cinch and push with calf
tighten outside rein enough to contain shoulder
horse steps through turn with shoulders instead of hindquarters

I expect more forward and ask for longer amounts of time at the lope

More serpentines

Phase 4 

Backing - moving hips and shoulders
Introduce lateral work
I want my horse to circle correctly and without stopping until I ask
I begin to lope squares and triangles, then straight lines
Trails or field work at the long trot for strength, agility, and a brain or two

Through all of this I work hard on being very clear on where my weight, legs and hand are and only getting contact with the bit one rein at a time, if I'm blocking with one rein or the other, I still start with my inside rein and don't bring the outside rein into play until the horse has stepped off with the inside foot and I'm pushing with my outside leg.

I only put even pressure on the reins to back my horses. They have learned to stop off my seat. As time goes on, every time I pick up my reins to stop my horse thinks "back up" and collects himself. I'm devious that way.

I only put even pressure with my calves to send them forward.

I do ride with my legs in contact, just no pressure, I don't want them over-reacting to leg pressure. When I take both legs off, it means stop, if they stay off it means back.

Contact comes when I'm getting collection through turns and transitions and need to step up into a more collected frame to increase maneuverability and refine the movement.

Usually I'm in my second year of riding them and we're in the hackamore.


  1. Hmmm more thinking will now happen!

    I've got things in a different order so this is interesting. I'm going by official Ontario equestrian federation methods, basic western I guess, as opposed to specific cow horse or reining training. The focus is on training the rider. But I believe we train every time we ride whether we know it or not.

    So. I have consistently had trouble getting a green horse to lope. I usedto try to chase them into it. Trot until they lope. But they often don't, just hollow their backs and raise their heads and trot fast. For he last decade or so (after leaving behind my self taught phase) I've been taught to collect them first so they can get their legs under them and lope off.

    However with teaching so many beginners... My horses rarely lope in lessons (um never actually) and I've been riding them with beginners in mind and haven't done much loping and it's like we're getting worse at it. (but he's so good at being a person's first horse ever!!)

    So mugwump. After being told to collect horse before teaching lope departures... I'm curious to how You get them loping. How long do you let them trot before you bring them back and start over? Sorry for taking it off topic!!!

    But I'm going to read this over again, in fact maybe print up the last three posts and tape them to the barn wall.

    Ok Time to RIDE!

  2. Hang on - guide rein = opening rein? Straight out to the side?

    No direct rein to steer eh? By direct rein i mean straight from the mouth through the hand in the direction of the hip.

    That's how I started steering my appy mare. All open rein, although I did use two direct reins to stop her. Lightly. She was the first horse I really used my seat to stop. Changed my life, man.

  3. I chase them into it, hollow back and all.
    Even if I only get a step or two, I'm happy. I'm actively after them until they go, then I relax. In time they learn I'm quiet when they lope and not when they don't, and they seek the quiet.

  4. I'll direct my rein to the hip when I ask for lateral movement, later, but not at first.

  5. Oh and one more thing, these are my methods. I had lots of other influences, but this is where I've ended up as the years have gone by.
    It's not specific to reining, cow horse or anything else, just what works for me, setting up automatic responses for advanced training as we head down that road.

  6. When it works, it works.

    I'm so slow, so incredibly slow, to train a horse, and slow in training riders.

    But I keep at it.

    I have a hard time sitting that big nasty trot, although I suspect if I try just settling I to the saddle and decide this is a long term project ... Makes sense to bug him until he lopes then back off. The method I've been using isn't going well so it's time to change it up. I'm open to trying other methods.

    We've been working on collecting st the walk. We can expand that later.

  7. Thank you for taking the time to share your break down of cues and phases. I like the "following the nose" strategy for training the horse and rider, although I have found that it is more difficult for the rider to give it up than the horse.

  8. Mmmm, lots to chew on there, thinking about what we do differently, in light of final destinations. Most glaring initial difference is that I don't generally do rein back till later on. Stage 4 ish. H'mm. Less glaring, but more fundamental, I'm still not sure whether we mean the same thing by contact. I think perhaps not, but maybe?

  9. FD..on the bit...the horse uses the hind end to drive forward, my reins make a direct, straight, line from snaffle to rein, to hand to elbow so I can feel the mouth through the bit.
    As my horse comes forward with encouragement from my legs, his back, then shoulders lift, he breaks at the poll and his nose drops.
    The bit becomes essentially a "wall" he can push against to help put him in frame.
    I encourage self carriage from the get go, so I only ask for a few strides at a time.
    I ask for forward with my legs, my hands slowly come up as a pre-cue before actual contact is made, then I ask for at least a few strides in frame and slowly release my bit contact.
    Normally, this teaches my young horses to find their frame on a loose rein, as my hand comes up,so the "wall" becomes a metal barrier instead of a physical one. Odin needs the physical assist of contact at this time.

  10. Since I don't know what your idea of contact is, if you enlighten us, we'll all understand if the difference is fundamental or not.

  11. The way my trainer (I do eventing) describes how it should feel when I have the correct contact is "heavy" like a garden hose with water running through it is "heavy." If I have an "empty" garden hose, he's backed off the bit and I need to drive him forward into the contact. If it's heavy like a firehose and angled downward, he's diving and I need to engage the hindquarters so he can lift his shoulders. My horse tends to get heavy on the forehand and I would get confused between him diving and him being on correct contact. That was the description that helped me understand. :)

  12. I'm thinking this list is not only for "baby" horses, but also for "baby" riders!

    This will give my 8 year old daughter some to-do lessons for the winter. :) I think her pony has some major holes in basic training (he suffers from noodle neck), so it will be really good for both of them.

    Thanks Mugs!

  13. So mugwump do you ever get a horse in training who leans onto the bit (or into the sidepull / hackamore) before you've introduced contact? Mine's doing that and he gets so heavy on the front end, and of course all strung out behind.

  14. Did this blog move or is it over?