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For Endurance or any Discipline


Eric Hought

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The martingale was putting a tremendous amount of brace into the filly. She was tight in the jaw, neck, shoulders and front legs. This resulted in pre-positioning her to elevate in front. The first thing I did was immediately remove the martingale.

I practice many different concepts in preparing the horse and I will discuss each one as their subject arises. Early in the preparation beginning from the first ride I introduce the concept of all or no contact. I give her all the bell or slack in the reins she wants. I never let her run into my hands whether we're walking or moving at a faster gait.

Anytime I pick up on the reins it is a light and subtle suggestion. If she hears me or responds at all, I release immediately. This is the cornerstone to another concept of action, reaction.

If she has her head up, action, my reaction is to float her head. I move my hands softly from side to side. As quickly as she dips her head, action, or responds to the side to side movement I release her, reaction.

Walking on the trail she has absolutely no contact with the reins. She can drop her head to smell the trail or pick a blade of Pampas Grass. She always has enough slack in the reins so she will not run into my hands.

Somewhere around the fifth ride, she was very relaxed and walked down the trail with her head straight in front about withers high on a completely slack rein. Now she is completely relaxed in her jaw, neck, shoulders and front legs. Keep it as simple as possible.

I keep each ride as simple as possible and as successful as possible. If she makes it hard for me, action, we trot or lope, reaction, up the trail until I can feel her listening to me. At that point, I quit riding, push my feet forward, lean back slightly, pick up on the reins, say 'whoa' and feel her in the face. Those are the subtle signals or suggestion for the stop. Thus far, meaning today, she can now stop with no resistance. The signals are steady, smooth, suggestive and consistent. She has learned that when she feels that sequence of signals we are going to stop, stand quietly, no contact, and wait. We may wait 30, 45 or 60 seconds. What I am doing is waiting for her to offer no effort to go forward. If she moves a foot forward, I pull that foot back lightly with the same rein as the foot. She will learn that the left rein is connected to the left foot and the right rein is connected to the right foot.

Standing still at the stop has a connection to an earlier practice. What has she been learning for one hour before the ride and an hour after the ride? Yes! To stand still. This tells me she is listening, co-operating and she is being successful. Pat her on the neck or hip.

I don't talk if I am at the trot or lope. I am conditioning her to respond to voice signals the whoa to stop, or the cluck, which is to move on. So, if she hears anything in the form of talking from me it is a signal to stop. The only time that I talk to her or anyone else is when I am at the walk or standing still.

So, what happens if I say the word and she doesn't stop? I repeat the stop signals, pull lightly more and more until she hears me. I then hold the pressure until she stops. Release immediately when she is committed to the stop and you can tell that she is going to stop. The release is before she has come to a complete stop. This keeps her relaxed in the stop. We stand a while until she has settled and offers no forward movement. I don't offer any other form of discipline. Just wait for her to stand still on a slack rein. Once she is settled, I will ask her to trot or lope off. I go a short distance and ask her to stop using the same sequence exactly as before. If she doesn't hear me I repeat by pulling lightly until she hears me etc. If she hears me, we stop, stand still and stay relaxed. I give her a pat on her neck or hip.
There's much more to discuss later. It is extremely important that we allow them to make a mistake so we can correct them thus allowing them to learn from their mistakes. Never over do the correction because you can create more anxiety than a simple correction does. Less is more. An example is not holding their head in one specific position. Show them where you want it and then release. Allow them to make a mistake, fix it and leave them alone. We will probably repeat it for months to come but don't put them into a position that is un-natural based upon their skeletal structure. Give them a chance to settle into their natural carriage.


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