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The art of overcoming resistance

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - October 18th, 2012 - More with Les


29th in a series
Last issue, Les wrapped up vertical flexion with details of maintaining softness in the neck. This puts us at a great point to address the art of overcoming your horse’s resistance.

Many times, as you’re working through this program, the resistance you feel may actually be confusion on the part of your horse. They aren’t brain surgeons, remember. There will always be a period of discomfort, and a little confusion as you introduce new things, but if you are consistent with your demands and rewards they will soon figure out how to please you. Horses are creatures of habit and conditioning; the more consistent you are, the more quickly they will give you the results you want.

In addition, there will certainly be times when you don’t get what you want from your horse, and you’ll need to adjust your cues. Right from the get-go, I want you to think about getting more “assertive” with your cues rather than getting stronger or aggressive. One of the most common mistakes I see is riders putting too much muscle behind their hands, thinking they can force their horses to do something. On the contrary, they will only teach their horses to stiffen, resist and resent them. If your horse is not responding to a rein cue, get “assertive” by working the rein a little faster in his mouth or giving him a few light bumps (after you’ve softly taken the slack out of the rein) rather than pulling on him. If you still find you need to give a stronger cue, do it in “waves” by increasing the pressure slowly (while you keep your hands moving) and using your legs too, until you start to get the movement you want, then releasing the pressure and start again if you need to.

Another key to moving from resistance to success, is in how forgiving you are to your horse for his mistakes. No matter how much trouble he has given you in the past, every time you ask again make sure you do it with a soft hand so he has an opportunity to respond to a light cue. If you hold a grudge or assume you’re going to have to get after him, chances are you will because you’re going to be more aggressive with your hands, and his only choice will be to protect himself by bracing against you. He’ll never learn to respond to a light cue because you’ll never give him a chance to.

So be a dreamer. Believe that one day you’re going to pick up those reins, and your horse’s neck is going to melt into your hands like butter. I’ve heard it said that you should always “pick up a fresh mouth,” and to me that means that you’re always picking up the reins, anticipating that this is the time you’re going to get perfection. Eventually you WILL get it!

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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