Lyons Training 101
Issue Number: One
Get Control of Your Horse
written by Josh Lyons & Keith Hosman
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Issue One, Part 4 of 5
Featured Riding Exercise:
Steer the Tail
Practice the following, here's what you'll get: A horse that turns without drifting; the ability to calm or slow a jiggy horse, the beginnings of a solid foundation
Practice"Steer the Tail" because: Your horse's "power," its drive comes from the rear. Your ability to control this energy is critical to controlling your horse today - and building a solid foundation for tomorrow. This exercise is mandatory for those looking to put a good solid foundation on any horse.
Note: A follow-up article (to this one) called "Steering Your Horse" is also available. It explains "What to do if..." your horse develops a slingshot action with its head; what to do and what not to do; common mistakes and a lot more. Consider it "Part II" to this article. Find that other article at Horsemanship101.com/Articles.
The training exercise in this article can be done at a walk or even at a stand still. (Though, as with most training, it's much easier if you have movement.) When you feel comfortable, do it at a trot.
When you steer a boat, you always steer from the back end, don't you? That's what you'll do here. Your horse is driven by its hindquarters; that's the engine and where the drive comes from. To start getting control of your horse, you'll first take control of its "engine." You'll drive your horse around the arena like you're driving a boat. You'll pick up one rein and just drive his tail the direction you don't want to go. So, if you don't want to go "over there," then you push his tail "over there" instead and release the rein. As soon as you release it, then pick it up and drive his tail over the other direction. Release the rein, push him out, drive his tail the other direction. You'll just keep pushing the tail different directions.
This training isn't about looking pretty: Just keep changing directions for twenty minutes. You can start this exercise riding at a walk and then at a trot when you feel comfortable.
The more excited or nervous the horse is, the more important it is for you to not let him go straight. If you take a snaffle bit, which is what you should be riding in, and you pull on two reins, what you do is you just make them smile. That's it. The horse is going to pick his head up and you're going to pull his cheeks back. That's all the training that's going to happen.
You may want to try this first at a standstill, then at a walk and a trot when you're comfortable. (But, again, it's easier when you start with movement.) Walk your horse out and pick up one rein (not two). Add enough pressure so that the front leg stops but the hips keep moving for two steps. (Stop now and picture that in your mind: You'll be doing a quick "turn on the fore." Your horse's front inside leg will stop. The back legs will continue moving around the front, like the hands of a clock.) When the horse takes that second step, release the rein and walk out the other way.
If the horse doesn't stop, you're not adding enough pressure to stop the inside front leg. As you're riding, practice varying the pressure and the angle at which you hold the rein until you make it happen. As soon as you've done it on one side, do it on the other side. Pick up the rein, apply enough pressure to stop the shoulder, hold as the hips swing around, release it, and change directions. Move the hips, release it, change direction. Important: Go no more than a couple of steps before repeating - and remember to make the hips move at least two steps before releasing.
Hint: As you're riding, look down and watch the inside front shoulder as you apply pressure. If you see it stop, but feel your horse moving "somewhere else," then you know the hip is moving. It may stop briefly - so be ready to take advantage of that moment.
Change directions often and don't lose your concentration. If you just keep riding straight, then you are in effect containing the horse's energy or trapping the emotion and what's going to happen is that he's going to blow up on you. Counteract this by changing directions a lot, taking two-second breaks in between each request. And, remember, get down off your horse if you feel you're in danger. In that case, do the same exercise, but from the ground.
Remember, the more excited your horse is, the more you've got to work the horse. In that case, you want to be more assertive; you want to get more aggressive about where you're going and the instructions you're giving. This is no time to play around. You've got two sets of brains here and if you sit back and let the horse think too much, then one of two things is going to happen. You've got what the horse wants to do and you've got what you want to do. There is no meeting in the middle. Together you'll either do what you want to do or what he wants to do. That I promise you.
You have to have enough stick to it-ness and enough drive to pick up the rein and say "No, I think you missed that last request: I said we are going this direction." Then release it, pick up the other rein and again say "We are going this direction."
Once you get the hips moving consistently, then start asking for more. Try to get the neck to bend. Start bending the head side to side, side to side. Start holding the rein until the head drops before releasing the rein. Hold onto the rein and keep the hips moving (by applying pressure from your seat and legs) until the head actually goes down. When you feel the nose start to go down, release the rein and change sides. Pick up the other side; move the hips; hold pressure on the rein until the nose goes down and the hips move, then release it and go to the other side.
When you pick up the rein, keep pressure on that same rein until you feel his nose start to drop - and make sure that he's following his nose. Wait for him to start to drop his nose, then release it and change directions. Pick up the rein, wait for him to drop his nose, release it and change directions. Keep the horse moving its feet and just look for a small change in the beginning.
This riding exercise can be used to teach a horse to follow his nose. As you advance, and you're looking for ways to improve your horse's performance, then begin expecting the horse to follow its nose. When it doesn't, you guessed it, pick up the rein and move the hip around, reinforcing "I said, we're going that way."
Question: During this training exercise, are we changing direction or are we moving the hips over? Answer: You're just changing direction. If the horse does not follow his nose then move the hip. Change directions and wait for that nose to drop. Stay going that direction until you feel his nose soften up, until you feel his nose go towards his chest then change direction.
Read this article twice before you tack up - and, again, check out the article "Steering Your Horse" to read about the "What Ifs."
Read previous article: Teach Yourself What A Give Really Feels Like
Read next article: Riding Exercise: Steer the Tail: What If?
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Lyons Training 101: Issue One, Part 4
"Horse Riding Instruction: Riding Exercise: Steer the Tail"
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