By Bob Jeffreys & Suzanne Sheppard
In order to teach our horses anything we must have movement, so all horses must be taught to move forward on cue. Some of you might say that your horses have too much movement or start moving even before you finish mounting. When you do enough arena work or come to a spot on the trail where your horse doesn’t want to go, you may find that he only moves when he feels like it and not simply because of your request.
To show him that when we squeeze with our legs, he should move forward every time, we will start by tapping slowly and gently with your calves until he moves forward. At this point, one step or even leaning forward will do. Remember, the horse doesn’t know what we are asking for, so at this point he may look at us, shake his head, go sideways, or try other movements as he goes through the process of elimination. It is imperative for us to stay focused and concentrate on what’s happening so we do not miss any form of forward movement.
We can tell you from experience that this is one of the most physically demanding lessons to teach a horse. As a matter of fact, when we ask one of ProTrack™ Horse Trainer Certification Program students to work on a horse that doesn’t have a “go cue”, they usually groan in response because it may take 300 bumps before a horse chooses to move forward and you cannot stop bumping until he does. You can increase intensity (kick with your heels) and/or speed if you feel this will help, but once you increase speed and intensity you cannot slow down or lighten the bumps until he moves forward. If you quit before the horse moves forward you will have inadvertently taught him that if he waits long enough, the bumping will stop! So you need to start bumping with a speed and intensity that you can maintain.
By the way, there is no such thing as a dead-sided horse. Horses can feel a fly land on them, so they can certainly feel any change of pressure from your leg. As a rider, we need to help our horse succeed. We need to get our energy level up if we want our horse’s energy level high too. The first time he moves forward it might be a step or two. That is fine! Praise him for doing the right thing and start the exercise again. Pretty soon your horse will figure out that the tapping is a request for forward movement and he will start responding by giving us impulsion on a lighter cue until eventually a slight squeeze will suffice. Also, do not use spurs to teach this lesson. Most horses working in an arena long enough will eventually need the occasional use of spurs ( you must learn to use them correctly) but this lesson needs to be learned without them or their effectiveness will be compromised for the future.
On the other hand, a huge benefit of good ground training before you mount up is that your horse will already have a cue spot on his hip for forward motion. If this is the case then you can bump with your calves only ten times or so before adding a tap on the hip with your quirt or whip. Your horse will learn the go cue faster, and you won’t have to work so hard!
What we normally teach our students to do when riding horses that have learned the “go cue” is smile and look forward, not down at your horse (he will feel this and it could hinder his impulsion). Also tighten the hamstring muscles and squeeze lightly with both calves simultaneously. You must be “riding” the horse, not just along for ride.
If your horse still doesn’t go, use a trail rider type rein with a leather popper or a dressage whip across the hips to offer additional encouragement. But again, once the horse moves, quit squeezing and stop the use of any aides (this is his reward for getting it right); he should continue to move until we ask him to do something else. Do not keep tapping with your legs or continuously use aides while he is moving or he will learn to always need the support from you. If he does quit before you ask him to, he needs to be immediately corrected with leg pressure, spur, quirt, whip or rein, but do not let him train you to constantly nag him with bumps or kicks every step or two.
©Two as One, LLC 8/07