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How fast can you reward your horse?

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - June 7th, 2012 - More with Les

22nd in a series
After showing readers some techniques to teach your horse about bit pressure, Les give us a look at providing feedback.

The better you get at rewarding your horse for the correct response or even the correct thought, the faster he is going to progress through this program. This means that before he can be trained, you need to become trained. You need to get to the point where your hands respond to the presence and absence of resistance in your horse’s mouth, almost before your brain comprehends it. Think for a minute about when you drive a car (or, for our younger readers, ride a bicycle). When you come to a curve in the road, do you mentally stop and think about how you’re going to make it around the corner before you actually start to move the wheel? Probably not if you’ve been driving for more than a few months. Your riding has to start to become the same way:

If you feel pressure on your hands, get them working until your horse feels soft again – without even thinking about it

If you feel the horse’s ribcage move to the right, your right leg should put it back again – without even thinking about it

If you feel your horse soften to the bit, or respond right away, you drop your hands instantly to reward him – without even thinking about it

At first this will take a lot of conscious thought on your part, but the day that you find yourself just doing it, without thinking about it – take yourself out to dinner or something special because you’ve just made a major breakthrough.

At the same time, stop to think about how long it took for you to turn your cues into a conditioned response, and then make sure that you’re not expecting even faster results from your horse. Training a horse takes an enormous amount of consistency and patience. The faster you reward your horse for every right move, the clearer he will become about what you want, and the sooner it will become a conditioned response for him.

Consistency tip
Always be riding
Now is the time to start becoming really conscious about the body position your horse assumes when he walks off, when he jogs, when he does anything. Does he lead with one shoulder more than the other? If so, think about making him stay straight, or pulling the shoulder across to correct him, then ask him to walk off straight again until he really does it. Many novice riders don’t really pay attention to their horseÕs posture until they are well into their ride, not realizing that the little moves that they get at the lower-level stuff is going to dictate a lot of their success at the higher levels. If you want to achieve success, you need to be deliberate about your riding the whole time you’re in the saddle, and conscious of what your horse is doing at all times.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More with Les is a regular California Horsetrader column. Les Vogt has won more than 15 World Championships, including two wins at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. Although Les still rides and occasionally shows, his focus is giving clinics around the world and developing products for the performance horseman. To learn more about Les and to see his clinic schedule, visit: www.lesvogt.com

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