Fourteenth in a series In recent issues, Les covered cuing zones and other details of using our legs. Here is an exercise that illustrates with our hands.
Here’s a good exercise to remind you of how little rein pressure it takes to send a signal to your horse. To try it, just hang your bridle on a doorknob, like it would hang from a horse’s head. Now stand about five feet away, take one rein in your hand and just lift it until you make contact with the bit and it starts to move. You’ll see that it doesn’t really take a lot of pressure or movement on your part to get movement out of the bit. Our goal is not to force the horse’s movement through the bridle, but to teach him to respond in a certain way when he feels contact, not necessarily pressure, from the bit. The faster you can train yourself to cue him with a lighter touch, the faster you will get the light response we all want to achieve.
Tenth in a series
Now that Les has covered the importance of our hands in the last two issues, let’s learn another communication device.
Clucking is a conditioned response. I read somewhere that clucking goes back to Xenophon*, who lived in something like 400 B.C. Anyway, horsemen have been doing it a long time. And it is interesting how clucking makes a difference, as far as bringing up the adrenaline in a horse.
Another thing you’ll need to work on is to develop your hands’ “neutral” position, which needs to become one where there is no contact with the bit. Our goal is to have a horse that yields quickly and smoothly to any pressure—ideally to just the feel of you taking the slack out of the reins—and if you’re used to having contact with the bit all the time, you’ll never get there.
Eighth in a series
After reviewing reins last issue, we’ll look at how we use our hands in this column and next.
A key component of this program is that you learn to ride with “life” in your hands. What we mean by this is that you never want to just hang on the bit with steady pressure. Any time you pick up (that is, start to take the slack out of the reins) and feel resistance, you’ll want to immediately start working your hands back and forth on the snaffle, or go to soft bumps if you’re using a direct rein, until the horse stops resisting and yields to your hand. If you try to just pull on the horse, you’re really only training the horse to pull back, and in the long run he’s a lot stronger than you are!
Seventh in a series
After reviewing equipment last issue, Les breaks down one of the foundational communication devices.
Fifth in a series
Les takes a look at why a martingale serves a purpose in early stages of training.
I will use a running martingale occasionally, and I recommend them for many riders. I like a heavy leather one, and I want it adjusted so that the rings of the martingale can go all the way to the horse’s throatlatch when he’s standing relaxed. That means his head, or your hands, would have to really get up there before the rings actually pulled on the reins. The martingale is not there to pull your horse’s head down; its main function is to add weight and balance to the reins during the learning process.
Fourth in a series
Before entering the arena, we take a closer look at the details of our snaffle bit.
I tend to ride with the snaffle fairly low in the horse’s mouth. Often I’ll have it a half-inch or more off (below) the corners. I find that the lower I have the snaffle the lower a horse’s head will tend to go.
Normally we want their heads low since our ultimate goal is to get the horse’s back rounded and his weight distributed to the hindquarters so we can maximize his performance. The one time I might be careful here is if I’m on a horse that has heavy shoulders, because if he carries his head too low it will be hard to keep his weight off of his front end.
Third in a series
Before entering the arena, we take a closer look at an important piece: snaffle bits.
Now let’s talk about snaffle bits. Snaffles come in an enormous variety of shapes and forms—fat or skinny, smooth or twisted, straight or curved, heavy rings or light rings, D-rings or O-rings, even inlaid and wrapped! And once you’ve decided on a particular bit, you can still change the response you get from it according to how high or low you place it in your horse’s mouth! So where do you start?
Choosing a Bit
On baby colts or fussy mouthed horses I always start with a medium-sized curved bar snaffle. As the horse progresses, you might find you’ll need to move to a straight bar snaffle to keep the horse’s respect and his attention on you.
Second in a series
Here are the ‘Five Easy Pieces’, and Les urges you to commit these five to memory as his column in each Horsetrader will refer to them.