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Timely, accurate reponses from our horse is our goal

By RAY ARISS - Horsetrader columnist - November 17th, 2011 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: How do I know if I am accepting a less-than-desired response from my horse while lunging or riding? Sometimes, I think that I cannot expect a timely or complete response from my horse if he is not warmed up. On the other hand, I realize that I may be training a slow or incomplete response to my aids. Am I on the right track if I get a focused response, but not a strenuous response, during the first minutes of training?

Thurston Fransers, San Diego

HEY THURSTON: I want to start by saying the question and proposed answer you have come up with is something that took quite a bit of thought and understanding about horse training and behavior.

The key to accurately answering your question, in order to help you, is recognizing exactly what are you really asking. It sounds like you are afraid of being too strict or demanding of your horse initially because of fear you may strain or hurt him before he has had ample time to warm up properly. Being careful not to get your horse hurt, sounds reasonable to me. The danger lies in thinking that if the horse has just started to work, it’s ok to be unclear or maybe even lower your standard or that of the exercise until he gets warmed up. You need to understand that whatever you allow a horse to do becomes the standard or correct answer. It would be no different to allow a child that is learning to spell, to do so incorrectly and let him think it is right when he first starts the class. Expecting him to have to later change what he once thought was the correct answer becomes confusing and frustrating. I agree with you that you should not only make it a priority to get a focused response, but an accurate and timely one as well. Putting your horse on the aids before moving on to executing physical as well as mental challenges has more to do with an awareness to timing and feel on the part of your horse than anything else. Even though we may be asking through physical exercise certain responses of your horse, it really is meant to be more of a mental awareness than a physical strain. If you were looking to put your horse on a rein aid, you may use a direct rein to get your horse to flex. You aren’t necessarily flexing your horse for the physical benefit of stretching or bending your horse as much as you are doing it for the benefit of responsiveness of giving to the rein. Another example is looking to put your horse on the leg aid. Squeezing your leg on his side and possibly following through with the tip of your spur in order to move your horse laterally surely has a physical benefit attatched to it. Again, the reason in doing this exercise is not necessarily for the physical benefit as much as it is a barometer for measuring the responsiveness or promptness in your horse’s acknowledgement of the aid or cue. The key here is looking for exercises that can be done while standing or at the walk while the horse warms up mentally and physically without sacrificing the system, standard or the integrity of the relationship. Proper footing, equipment (such as wraps and boots) as well as exercises that allow you control when your horse is on the muscle, will keep you progressing safely. So Thurston, to answer your question about how do you know if you are accepting a less than a desired response from your horse when you first start working with him could be looked at this way:

Imagine for a minute that instead of talking about your horse, your question was about your car. Let’s say it’s early in the morning, and it’s cold outside and you need to drive yourself to work. Is there anything that you would do or expect differently of your car than if you were driving yourself back to work from lunch on a sunny day? Whatever allowance you come up with, should be okay to apply to your horse. That should give you something to think about.

As always and above all trust your instincts and think safe,

Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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