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Horse Problem - Leg Cues - How do you teach a horse to move off with your legs from saddle?









QUESTION: I have a question about training. . . how do you teach your horse to move off your leg once you are in the saddle? If you could help me with that question, I'd appreciate it.
REPLY:  Start on the ground. Break it all down into baby steps and teach the cues on the ground first so that they make sense in the saddle later. More specifically, what I like to do there on the ground is teach the horse to break down all 4 quarters separately first, accurately, compliantly, rationally. Here's how.
Stand next to the saddled horse on the left side (maintain control of the lead rope, slack drawn in, the horse's head drawn slightly to the side toward you), take the stirrup and you're going to ask for him to step over (yield away) only his left hind leg. With the stirrup, reach it back (exaggeratingly back in the beginning so he can really break it down) way behind the girth/saddle and start tapping very softly on the horse's side down low (low as the stirrup allows there), building momentum to stronger tapping as you go. The moment the horse moves away from that pressure, that back left leg stepping away, release the pressure instantly, take the stirrup off him. Stroke, praise (I like to stroke/scratch for reward the area I've been tapping so the horse doesn't get upset there). Repeat again. Until he can step over just that hind end away from your asking pressure consistently there when asked, very low down the tapping pressure scale.
All horses learn from the release of pressure what it is you want, not the pressure itself, so get your release timing split second accurate the moment the horse complies, but reward with the release for the smallest try, the slightest change in the right direction and he'll get there faster.

ALWAYS start low down the "Volume of pressure" and mount upward from there until you get compliance, then release the pressure instantly.

Then, while still on the left side of the horse, you're now going to teach the front left quarter to move away from that pressure. Place your left hand on the horse's face, while choking up on the lead, holding the lead rope in that hand. With your other/right hand, reach the stirrup far forward of the girth (exaggeratingly forward in the beginning if needed for better horse understanding) and start low on the pressure scale tapping there on or near the horse's lower shoulder, building upward pressure-wise with your tapping (always start softly, building upward to increasing pressure with no pause, but release instantly for the smallest try, the slightest change in the right direction). Do this at the same time you are pushing the head away from you with your left hand. You are teaching the horse: step the front left over in front of the right front and away from you -- yielding that front quarter over. Repeat. Until the horse gets it very low down the scale of tapping pressure.

Then repeat this exercise on the other side of the horse. After that the horse will have connected brain to all four feet separately, and leg/stirrup cues to move away from those pressures, and that will serve you well in saddle for turning or bending the horse. But they have to get this down well on the ground first before they will well understand it in saddle, so take the time and patience to help them to get there on the ground. After that they'll better understand forward impulsion when asked for that with the leg cues.

Incidentally, I teach all of this (and more!) in my DVD, the Whispering Way 12-Step Total Training System, which you can check out/order here: CLICK HERE

Always start at the bottom of the Volume pressure when asking for anything, when pressuring, and gradually build upward, all the while anticipating compliance. At that moment of compliance, all pressure should instantly end (the release). Remember: the horse learns the correct answer/response via your quick release. If you are perceptive and quick with your release response at a give, next time the horse's compliance will be closer to the bottom of the Volume, requiring even less pressure, and so on, until we simply will think what we want and the horse gladly complies. Horses are highly intuitive, perceptive creatures and there are even some studies that attest that horses communicate with each other via some form of thought transference, or telepathy. Those of us who work with horses every day, know there is something to that. A highly attuned and trusting horse indeed can be worked up to the point where it appears we are riding them with just our minds. When we reach that level of communication, we have accomplished true harmony, and what a joy that is to experience, both for us and for the horse!

After you've done that ground work and the horse can move away from that stirrup pressure, all four quarters separately, it's time to move up in saddle and do it from there, this time with your feet in the stirrups. Use the reins as back up support there as you show the horse at a standstill that it's all the same in the saddle now. Without asking the horse to move off, ask for the left hindquarters to step under with your left foot placed far back, starting low down the Volume of pressure, first just pressuring there, then gently tapping there and climbing incrementally until he steps over there. The second the horse complies, release your foot off the horse instantly and stroke the neck for reward. Repeat.

Once he's got that down well, ask for the left front to move away from your leg pressure with your leg forward of the girth, pressuring, then tapping the shoulder. Use the reins as backup support to help the horse comply there. When the horse complies, steps that left front foot over, yielding to your leg pressure there, remove your leg off the horse instantly, stroke for reward. Repeat until the horse has that front quarter down well. Then repeat the exercises on the opposite/right side. By now your horse will have fully connected his brain with all four feet and your body/legs can bend and turn the horse easily with cues low down the volume of pressure.

Once the horse masters all that, now it's time to teach the horse to go forward with both legs asking for that. In a greener horse, it's easier to get the horse to get forward movement if you tip their nose off to th side one direction with the reins and ask for them to head off slightly at an angle to the side than it is to ask them to go straight ahead.'ve now got your leg cues in place and the reins to support there to ask the horse to move off but at a slight angle to the side. This time you're going to keep the leg pressures on the horse to keep going (if he stops) and here I would have someone on the ground beside you, preferably with a lead rope attached to the horse as well to help the horse to understand more easily that you're going to keep going forward this time. I prefer in these baby-step lessons to have the natural horsemanship halter with 12' lead rope underneath the bridle with bit/reins. Horse "training wheels" so to speak. Rider holds the reins. Ground handler holds the NH halter lead rope. Just a way I've found that works really well and most safely, especially with green, just learning horses.

The rider is going to start off asking with the leg cues to go forward, but tip the horse at an angle ( to the right slightly) first, squeezing, then tapping with both legs, low on the volume of pressure, bending appropriately the horse. If the horse doesn't move off from that pressure, increase your leg tapping, climbing that volume to more assertive tapping, but at the same time there, have the ground handler support there by asking for forward movement with the lead rope, slack pulled in, applying forward pressure there. The second the horse begins to move off forward, release the legs off the horse instantly and ground handler releases pressure as well, putting slack back in the lead rope. Leave the horse alone when he's doing the right thing! Only apply pressure to make a change.

Halt the horse in a one-rein stop (which should already have been taught on the ground and my DVD  teaches more about this) with the horse's head yielded to the side, and bond on the horse, rubbing the face for reward.

Repeat. Quickly the horse will connect up that both legs pressured/squeezed on him means: go forward. And it's a very gentle, easy-for-the-horse-to-understand way to get there very non-traumatically. If at any time the horse gets upset or seems overloaded (which means: they don't understand), return to your ground work until he gets that down better, softly, rationally there. Don't ever hesitate to back up and return to ground work when needed. Backing up to where the horse was comfortable earlier is quite effective in helping the horse to get there. The long way is the short way, as we say in NH!

In addition, up there in saddle, I would reinforce the one-rein stop constantly, which he would have learned on the ground first, so that's real important to learn/apply there as well. Teaching a horse to wind down to a one rein stop from the get go is as important to have planted in their foundation as teaching them forward impulsion. So, you would want all your head yields to the side working softly, compliantly on the ground first, then in saddle, in that order, so that you will have created the "safety zone" up in saddle to return to for reward/comfort of the horse, with his head to the side, you bonding on his face/head/eyes from there, his hindquarters disengaged. Very important to have that in every horse's foundation before you attempt to ride forward!! Again you can learn more about this in my DVD set.

Try all that and you should meet with success and the horse understanding leg cues easily.

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