If you are a trail rider, and you have been bored with the same trails year after year, you need to look into ACTHA.us . I recently started to feel I need a more challenging trail experience, so I signed onto the American Competitive Trail Horse Association website. I quickly discovered I needed to brush up my horses on their trail skills. Just a few things, like opening gates on horseback without letting go of the gate, trotting over a series of logs, side passing and a few other things. The website has a description of the obstacles and some videos to go along with it. Most of the obstacles are a piece of cake. But horses to need to go thru these routines at home a few times if you are going to compete for points.
I have several trail horses of my own. Some of them are field trial horses, some are pleasure horses. Most of them are familiar with the gates being opened while I am on their backs, but a few aren’t familiar with side passing over logs, turning on the forehand with their feet in a square, etc. So, I set up a trail course in my ring. It has most of the obstacles they need to practice on. It always amazes me how quickly the horses pick up these new “tricks”. Horses are so smart and willing, especially if you are having fun and letting them adjust at their pace to anything new you want them to learn.
Here is a tip: when introducing a new obstacle, calmly walk your horse up to it first, if they seem apprehensive about it, let them stand and face it, smell it, paw at it (as long as they don’t tear it up – pawing allows them to see that it isn’t something that will jump up and attack them), then walk them around it until they are comfortable with it. Look for signs of submission like, sighing, licking and chewing, dropping their head, looks of boredom and just standing there. Once they are comfortable ask them to perform the task at hand, one step at a time. Please don’t force your horse or you will find that training will quickly become frustrating for YOU and the horse will likely balk and become defensive every time you ask it to do something. Remember your goal is to get your horse relaxed and willing. You are the leader and must set the attitude from the beginning. If you are relaxed they are likely to relax much more quickly. Take your time, there is no rule that says your horse has to learn a new trick in one minute, one hour, one day or even one week. If you feel you are going backwards or not making any progress, then stop, re-evaluate what you are asking and break it up into little steps.
For instance, if you are asking your horse to turn on the forehand and he has no idea what you want, try these steps.
1. Teach him to stand still first.
2. Teach him to move one foot over at a time by tapping him on the side just behind the girth. Ask for one movement, let him rest, ask for another movement, let him rest, repeat, repeat, repeat and soon he will be moving over until you ask him to stop.
3. Next apply this to the bit. I use a full check snaffle bit with a bit keeper to keep the bit from moving around so much in his mouth. Pick up the rein and just take the slack out, when he moves over, let the rein pressure off immediately and pet him for being right. Do this until he is moving over everytime you ask.
4. Apply the two aids together. Stand at his side, pick up the rein and tap him behind the girth as he moves his hindquarters over. If he moves forward, stop, ask him to stand still, then apply the aids again. Soon he will be moving his hindquarters over and then;
5. Mount up, pick up your reins and ask him to stand, apply the reins by picking up one rein and taking the slack out, apply the leg aid behind the girth (you may have to use an active leg at first) and he should move his haunches over. The idea is for him not to move forward. He may get slightly confused at first and this is ok. He will be thinking he is supposed to move forward since that is what he is usually asked to do. Just gently stop him and apply the aids again. Soon enough he will pick it up.
I have never come upon a horse that did not pick this up quickly and sufficiently when I took my time and made sure the horse understood what I was asking. Rewarding for getting the right answer and practicing until he is 100% always works.
You can apply the same theory to whatever you are teaching and have fun doing it. Make learning simple, rewarding and relaxing for you an your horse. You will be amazed at how quickly you will be teaching new things and enjoying your ride much more.