Look at this horse’s expression. He’s totally shut down and shows absolutely no spirit of cooperation. His stoic expression and tail swishing shows his total unwillingness. His behavior has escalated from slow to go to absolutely no go. He gives no response to a crop or a whip. So, my job is to unlock his mind and find the formula for the go. Sitting on this horse is like sitting on a chunk of concrete. He’s hard as a rock and totally locked up, so I’m not even going to ask him for a step. The first rule in horsemanship is never ask for something you know you’re not going to get. I have to first unlock his mind in order to unlock his body. The way to get through to a horse who is so totally shut down, is to first soften up his mind by making him most comfortable and showing him the way to where the comfort is. He’s pretty sure me just sitting there is uncomfortable for him. I have to find a way to promote licking and chewing and get him to release at the withers. Over the years, I’ve learned that this is the secret to unlocking the mind, and along with that comes willingness. Then his mind says, “Well, ok I guess I can do this!” So here I’m just asking him for a little bit of bend to the side. Notice it took quite a bit of pressure on the reins to get that. I’m just going to bend him from side to side a little bit to get him to release at the withers. That signal, then is that he will drop his head and neck. I’m just watching carefully for him to stop some of the tail swishing and asking him to pay some amount of attention to me, so I’m making this very easy for him. All he has to do is bend his neck a little bit side to side. I know I can get that from him, so I just continue doing that and I’m bouncing the rein just a little bit to promote some elasticity through the neck and start creating a little bit of softness. It’s especially important in a horse like this or whenever you’re working with your horse, to have a HUGE amount of patience. It took him a long time to get to this point, where he decided to stop moving when someone asked him to, so I expect it’s going to take me a little bit of time to make it worth his while to start moving forward. Now, as you see, I’m taking my time and just sitting there, and the only thing I’m doing is working the reins a little bit. I’m rocking side to side to try to affect his balance a little bit, and that helps unlock his joints and his back a bit. When you take a look at his eyes, he’s expressing a great deal of stress there. You can see him pulling back on that bit and the rein, and you can see the muscle bulge in his neck even to the point of skin wrinkling. That reflects all of the tension and that tension comes from his mind. So here, he does a little bit of licking and chewing, and he did drop a little bit. Now he’s going to argue with me and is trying to take the rein from me. Again, I give him lots and lots of time to process the information. When he does the right thing, everything becomes totally quiet and comfortable. I have to get rid of all of that neck bulging first. Notice that his expression is starting to change and the ears are occasionally coming forward and is paying a little bit of attention although he’s still arguing with me. But the licking and chewing is becoming much more avid, so I am whittling away here. And actually it’s been all of about five minutes of just sitting there doing this, so it’s not really that much time. It’s giving him time to focus a little bit and soften up. I am going to be daring and ask him for a step, and literally only asked for one step and stopped him. He has to be rewarded for even taking one step when I ask him to. So, this is not about power, I want you to understand that I’m not squeezing the life out of the horse, I’m not escalating pressure, I’m just repeating the information to him until we get one step. It’s sort of what I call my “annoying fly technique.” I keep repeating the same request over and over and over and do not stop until I get just that one step. I’m not going to ask for the world on the first go around, because I’m not going to get it. Here you can see, he’s starting to soften at the poll when I ask him and touch those reins, he’s dropping down. Softening at the poll also rounds up his back a little bit. It feels good! I must round my back a hundred times a day in the process of walking around and riding. So again, here all I’m going to do is, not ask for forward, I’m just going to try to move his feet. I’m asking for a hind end yield which he obliges, and again, I’m only asking for ONE step. It’s really important to keep your goals limited. One step becomes two steps becomes ten steps, becomes a mile. So, only ask for a little at a time so that HE can be successful and so that you can reward. If you continue to ask for more and more before he’s prepared to give you more, you’ll just end up right back at the beginning of the circle again. So, here I’m just continuing to soften and asking for more hind end yield, and this time, I might even ask for two steps. That was a pretty nice cross-over there. You see all the licking and chewing that he’s doing? This means he’s starting to come to terms a bit with “ok, I can oblige her and do a couple of little things.” Of course, what I’m doing is showing him that if he just moves his feet, he’ll get rewarded. That reward, by the way, is release of pressure. The patting and so on is totally unnecessary. The only reward a horse really needs is release of pressure. That is the moment that they learn. So you have to be quick and instantaneous about releasing your cue the second his foot leaves the ground, or the second that your horse does what you’re asking him for. Here you see how he’s getting so much better, and he’s starting to soften his poll, dropping his head a little bit. He’s actually thinking about stepping forward without even being asked. It’s way easier to walk forward than to do a bunch of hind end yields. See here how he’s starting to reach down for the bit, on a long slack rein and he’s softening his own poll. When that happens, then his mind is softening. So we made that progress, and now he says, “Nah, never mind I made a mistake. I don’t think I meant to move my feet, so I give him the old finger cue, to get the hind end yield. Mind you, I’ve done some groundwork with this horse so he and I have some amount of communication. He moved willingly just by me pointing. Now I’m asking him for that step forward. I got two steps that time, and you saw my legs come totally off his sides. I stopped him. I don’t want him to go any further. I’m taking over direction of each and every step he takes, so I can reward him for each and every step that he takes. Again, I’m asking and you can see I’m not using a lot of force It’s mostly just bumping on his sides. until he moves. I’m going to try to turn this bumping into a hind end yield, and then maybe I can get a little bit of forward out of him, and there it is. So I release, and we got three steps that time. Wow, we’re making progress big time. So, now I’m going to be really brave, and ask him to continue walking on now that I have those few steps. Notice I’m still not using a lot of pressure, and it’s also important to notice that as soon as he walks forward, I release my leg. Even though he stops two steps later, I put my leg right back on again when he stops, and continue the bumping, but stop the bumping the second that he goes forward. So, there was even a little animation in those last couple of steps. He was going to go, and I said, No, I want you to stop. So we’re continuing on with the start, stop, start, stop, him deciding, I will go, I won’t go. You might give some consideration at this point to a 2×4 or a very heavy handed whip, because you start getting really frustrated. I’ve been on his back now for 15 minutes, which is not that long. You see here, he suddenly decides, “Well, what am I doing walking?” His expression is changing, and here he actually opens his walk up a little bit, so when he’s walking, my legs are quiet and off his sides, just draped quietly there, so that he gets lots and lots of comfort and reward when he’s moving. Here, I can actually even just touch his sides, and he speeds up his walk a bit. So, I am saying a little bit. You have to take a little at a time, but whatever you ask for, he has to be able to deliver. So, don’t ask for that unless you know you’re going to get it. Here he’s going along pretty well. We;re bound to get stuck again, here he falters, so I get my leg on before he actually stops and he continues forward again. We made it all the way around the round pen at this point without stopping. We;re just going to practice a little more turning, so that he responds to the pressure. Whoops, see, pushed it a little too far encourage him to keep going forward. Bump, bump, bump. Pressure, bump, bump… and release when he steps forward. He’s decided to become uncooperative again, so we just have to be patient. Continue asking, asking and asking. You notice, the trick is, you can’t stop asking once you started. He’s not going to give me forward, so I have to turn it into just moving any foot I can get moved, and then turn that back into forward from there. And there we go. I got a couple of steps, but I’m going to make sure that he keeps on moving this time. So, the bumping doesn’t stop until he actually walks. This is what I mean by my annoying fly technique. If a fly can get a horse to move, I’m CERTAIN that I can get it to move. It’s also important to know that it doesn’t really matter what direction you go in, as long as you’re going forward, so if he’s not actually following a line that I’m asking him to follow, that’s ok. The whole point is forward. We can worry about steering and turning and giving to pressure after we get the forward. Now you notice when I asked him to step off this time, I just touched his side. A little bit of tail swishing still, so not totally willing, but it only took a touch to get him to move off my leg. There was almost no amount of pressure there at all. So we’re just going to keep repeating that, and here he gets stuck, I touch him, he goes forward again off the touch. I have whittled away a bit at his mind. He’s still thinking, “Hmmm, should I or shouldn’t I?” “Well, okay, I guess she won’t stop doing that until I actually move.” Here I’m bumping a little bit harder because I know now that he understands what we’re doing. I have to now change his stubborn attitude, into more willingness. So, we just keep on going with the same thing over and over. Patience, patience, patience. Now many other trainers would fault my method, in that I’m not getting a quick, quick response. Well, I will be getting a quick quick response, as soon as he starts becoming willingly engaged with me and responding to my leg. So, he is improving, and my progress may seem slow, but you can see when he makes the decision to go forward, he suddenly drops into the bridle and walk right along. It requires no leg pressure at all to keep him going. So, I just have to keep making those moments longer and longer. I don’t like forcing the horse… I am forcing to some degree, by annoyig him to death, but I don’t like forcing a horse into doing something because that does not elicit the cooperation that’s required for him to continue being cooperative. Now you can see he’s dropping into the bridle a little bit, starts getting stuck in that same spot all over again, but this time he listened to my leg and walked through it. You see his demeanor is changing, his head his dropping. When his head drops, his back rounds, and he finds much more comfort. So, he’s actually deciding “Well, I guess I can do this. It doesn’t seem all that hard.” I’m not giving him a choice, but I’m also not using any harsh techniques at the same time. Ultimately what will happen is this behavior of stopping will not be rewarding to him. A horse ends up this way, because we give up asking for go out of frustration, and we just automatically escalate pressure, and then the horse learns to adapt to that pressure, and pretty soon you have a horse who’s totally non-responsive. So, I believe in returning the horse back to the very very subtle. You can see here how nicely he’s going along. And, a little touch of leg and he spurts forward. Okay, so we’re not going high speeds here. But, we’ve got some animation in our walk and some comfort in our expression, and so we just keep on walking. Now you can see that as soon as I just touch his sides, he moved right off my leg. So, although, it wasn’t a jump into the walk, he willingly went forward with just a light touch. So, my job here is to just keep getting him going, stopping him, and getting him to just move off that touch. The other thing is, he’s softening up tremendously. He’s dropping into the bridle, softening his poll. He’s walking along through the pressure that I’m applying. It is just light finger tip pressure. What this does, is helps him to carry his own frame, and learns how to carry himself so that his back feels good. I’m giving him that comfort. So, I’m only just wigglying my fingers, mostly on the inside rein, in order to get him to drop in, soften everything up. And now, when I ask for a little bit of bend, I actually get it! Now when I put my leg on, I can feel him moving away from my leg. It’s not a piece of concrete anymore. All in all, this took me about a half an hour, but you notice his expression, his willingness is there. He’s moving forward off a touch of my leg. Gee! Maybe next week we can actually do some trotting when I work with him.