2/08/2008

The five easy pieces

By teaching your horse in small, discreet units, you can avoid confusion, frustration, and even fear that results from training with a nonsequential system of conflicting commands. You'll be able detect developing physical problems early: A horse who usually does Easy Piece four, the hip exercise, with no resistance but suddenly gets sticky and agitated to the left is likely telling you that something over there hurts. Check his back and left leg for soreness or swelling, and you may avoid a crippling injury.

Five Easy Pieces will allow you to teach your horse to travel "in frame". What's frame? It's a general term used by horsemen to indicate that a horse is traveling efficiently, with his body positioned in such a way that he can easily maintain his speed, pace, and position. A good way to think of frame is to imagine it's your horse's posture.

If he looks like a crabby teenager - slouching, neck jutting forward, shoulders haunched, and shambling along - not only is he unpleasant to watch, he's not showing any grace or athletic potential either.

By dividing the horse's body and physical mechanics into easily trainable zones, we can pinpoint the exact source of a frame or 'posture' problem, and concentrate on fixing that problem before it compromises our horse's performance. A horse's body and brain form a complex system, but if we can guide that system by working with discrete zones of the horse in basic exercises, we'll build the foundation of learning, conditioning and obedience that is the basis for all advanced training and high performance.You and your horse can learn my Five Easy Pieces in an area as small as a box stall, with simple equipment, at a walk, and see immediate results.

The five easy pieces:

The first easy piece is to teach your horse to yield to nose pressure. For this exercise, we walk in a small circle and gently pull the horse's nose to the inside, using slight contact with the inside leg to help the horse maintain a correct vertical frame. The instant the horse yields to the pull of the rein, release the pull. This exercise teaches the horse, that he must let his nose follow the most gentle or subtle pull on the rein. It teaches a horse, and later reminds him if he forgets the rules, that he should always be anticipating movement of the reins, and that he should instantly respond by yielding to the cue. By teaching the exercise in a small circle, your horse will also begin to swing his outside front leg over the inside leg as he turns, because it's more efficient and comfortable than taking a bunch of little crab steps. At the same time you'll be teaching your horse to turn, pivot, or even spin.

The second easy piece helps you to isolate and control your horse's shoulders. Whether you decide to have your horse lead with his shoulder on a sweeping arc or a diagonal line is not important, but having him initiate the movement with his shoulders is. He shouldn't go sideways with his head, ribs, or hip leading, but should deliberately move his shoulder in the direction you indicate with hand and leg cues. Contain your horse's momentum, or forward energy, with your hands, and generate momentum by asking your horse to move away from your leg. If you want to engage your horse's right shoulder, keep your left hand steady, press with your left calf, and be sure your right leg is completely away from his right side, to create an open doorway to the right for his shoulder to move into.

The third easy piece is to side pass your horse to the right and left on an imaginary line perpendicular to his body. It's similar to exercise two, but instead of leading off with his shoulder, you want your horse's body to stay straight. Like the shoulder exercise, you'll use hand and leg aids to guide your horse's momentum, but try pressing your leg further towards zone four, your horse's hindquarters, to move his body at a ninety degree angle- exactly sideways. Try to keep his body straight and use your right hand and left leg to guide him to the right and to keep him positioned. Remember that your hands guide the energy of zones one and two, and your legs control the energy of zones three and four. If your horse starts to side pass crooked, think about how to correct the problem: if his front end is leading, you need less hand and more leg, and if zone four, the hip, is in the lead, you need to use more hand and less leg power to restore your straight line. Don't worry about what your horse's feet are doing; concentrate on moving him sideways with all the zones lined up straight.

The forth easy piece isolates and moves your horse's hindquarters. Like the previous two exercises, you'll use hand and leg cues to generate and channel the horse's momentum so that his front end remains still while his hips pivot. If you want to move your horse's hip to your left, you'll lift your left hand to restrain his left shoulder, then use your right leg back on his ribcage to create energy and channel it through the open doorway to the left that you've created by keeping your left leg completely away from his left side. If you move your horse's hips even one baby step to the left, then ask him to lope.

The fifth easy piece tests how well you have done with your horse. He should have a good frame and it soft and responsive. This exercise is like the first one, but you are going backwards. Your horse will tell you if you have not completed an exercise fully, and therefore you need to go back and fix it.

No comments: