When your horse is RIGHT – Part III

This is Part 3 in a 3 part series. Make sure you read Part 1 and Part 2 first!

Now back to our original dilemma. You’re riding your horse and planning on a left turn. Your horse starts to, or has turned to the right instead. What are you going to do? I posted this question quite some time ago and received some great answers.

Here’s what works for me. Lets look at the solution through three possible scenarios:

  1. The horse has already turned right. Sorry, we’re too late. Even though we may not have picked up on it, our horse’s thought of turning right was there before they actually turned and we missed the cue. That’s our leadership error and not their fault so we can’t reprimand for that (we don’t reprimand in our style of horsemanship anyway, we support.  But that’s another article). In this case we make our horse’s turn our turn: since the horse has already turned right, we assume leadership of the right turn. Then, repeat the exercise noting the point where the horse was drawn to the right. Now proceed to step 2.
  1. We feel our horse being drawn or pulled to the right, but they haven’t committed yet. If the horse has previously turned right (1) then we present a forward focused energy to the left with greater intensity and clarity than we did the first time. If our energetic direction outweighs the pressure drawing our horse away…done! If that isn’t enough, the proceed to step 3.
  1. In (2), we will sense or see our horse’s focus change from following our path to their desired path to the right. The moment that happens, we need to signal our horse to follow us. When a horse has a thought that turns into action, it happens in this order: mind, eye, head, body. We want to catch this at the ‘mind’ stage – if we wait until the head or body stage, we’re back in step 1. To correct this here is what we can do.  BEFORE we pick up a rein – we need to signal our horse to follow our FOCUS to the left. That might be as simple as a tap with your foot, a cluck, a tap with a crop, or – if you need to create a larger pressure – wave a flag by the right side of his head.  Basically we’re getting their attention back.  No differently than clapping your hands to silence a group of people your’e about to speak to.

The reason this happens is easy to understand and based on a known principle of how the horse thinks: The horse is always drawn to the highest pressure. It’s a prey animal survival instinct. Your horse is turning right or thinking of turning right because what is over that way is a higher pressure than your current focus or presentation.

If we have done our job in teaching a horse that pressure means, “release and follow me” then adding a subtle pressure to signal our horse in those moments will cause them to release their other thought and change to following our focus.

I have to be very very clear here – this works great only when your horse understands that pressure is a cue to release and follow you. We teach this as a basic function of our leadership in all of our clinics and lessons. It is a fundamental, primary and immensely powerful tool in your horsemanship toolkit.  Check out our Following Under Pressure video series to learn all about it.  There’s over 6 hours of video in that series and we get right into it.  It’s on our website under Videos.

Our intention is that we produce a horse that can follow our energetic focus so we are not reduced to steering him with the reins like a mindless robot.  When we’re only using reins to steer, the truth is that we’re attempting to control the horse because we haven’t yet learned how to communicate with them, nor established the leadership or trust required for them to follow us. The good news is that those things are quite basic and don’t take long to learn.  Energetic direction is a primal communication method that horses use continually. All we need to do is polish our ability to speak it.

Watch the Video

Want to learn more? Join us for a clinic or lessons and take your relationship with your horse to a new level of athleticism.

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About admin

Scott has a wide variety of experience in the horse industry including mountain riding, outfitting, training horses and riders, starting and re-starting horses, producing horsemanship webinars and podcasts, running the Canadian Cowboy Challenge and of course, operating Amazing Horse Country. He affectionately refers to his herd of horses as his "kids". Scott has uniquely integrated his horsemanship with a knowledge of equine bio-mechanics and psychology to gain a thorough understanding of these great animals.

2 thoughts on “When your horse is RIGHT – Part III

  1. Brittney

    I will be interested to try the flag out in the arena. I too have been told the reins are the only way to direct a horse. Having bought an ex-dude horse as a kid that was our only communication because we were never told anything different and it worked. It never occurred to me until I bought another horse that there are so many other ways to “lead”your horse from the saddle.

    1. Scott Phillips Post author

      Excellent thoughts! I think it starts when we’re kids. Horses can have trouble following young kids, because they naturally understand what a child/colt is: they play. They’re not old enough to vie for a position in the herd yet, but they’re learning how. Since the horse is usually above the kid as far as herd order goes, he’ll do what he thinks is best…which can result in driving with the reins or getting heavy handed. Also, ‘regulated’ programs that kids grow up in lack horsemanship components (how horses think and how their bodies work). That said though, I had a young girl in a liberty clinic with a pony mare and by day 3 they were riding beautiful trot circles and patterns using the reins to help achieve balance VS steering. Awesome. And there is nothing like the freedom of riding horse that follows you that closely.

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