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Beverly is available on the  GaitedHorsesList an email forum, to answer any questions you may have on the article.
This is a continuation of a series of Articles. 
 

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve

Horse Training - Communication 101
By Beverly Whittington



 
 
 
 

The art of training horses is one that takes years of experience to master.  There are some simple guidelines that will help you along the way.  Remember that horses are individuals, sometimes what works with one; will not even begin to work with another. Handlers too are individuals. Often one person can get results with what appears to be the exact methods that failed for another. Or vice versa!

Training a horse can be simplified to a series of responses. Before a horse can be taught to lead, he must be able to be haltered. Before a horse can be haltered, he must be able to be approached, etc. etc. Our interaction with the horse is one of cause and effect. If you understand the stimulus to communicate with a horse, you can begin to anticipate how a horse will react in any given circumstances and to the handler’s requests. It requires patience and training yourself FIRST.

It helps if you understand what works FOR the horse and then WITH the horse. What works FOR the horse is to develop training communication skills that already make sense to HIM. What works WITH a horse is applying these to accomplish the training goals you have set.

The easiest way to begin is to observe a group of horses at liberty. The social skill that a horse uses to interact with the herd is an interactive weave of hierarchy. Posture plays a significant role in this communication between horses. It is also a language of zones and pressure and release of pressure. 

For example, take the circumstances of group feeding. Any horseman who has a degree of experience knows that if you have 5 horses being fed grain in an enclosure you:

  • Put at least 10 to 15 feet between the feeding containers.
  • Put at least one extra container of feed out.
This is due to the horses’ rules of hierarchy, greed and the comfort zones of a horse. Very seldom will the horses stay at the same feed container. You will notice that the dominant animal will move several times, and the other horses will almost always give way easily. This is the reason for the extra feed container; the least dominant horse will not have a place to eat in the jockeying around for location if you do not add the extra feed container
If they do not move aside when the dominant animal heads for their container or if the other horse response is not rapid enough it quickly becomes Ask, Tell, and Demand.
  • ASK The dominant horse will swing its rear toward the non-yielding horse. This is a simple request “ I want you to move.” 
  • TELL The dominant horse swings its hind end closer towards non-yielding horse, while pinning ears back at the same time. This has become “ MOVE NOW!”
  • DEMAND The dominant horse kicks at, or bares teeth and bites the non-yielding horse. Now the simplest translation would be “ WHEN I SAY MOVE, YOU MOVE!”


Horses who have been pasture mates for an extended period have often refined this communication to a twitch of an ear back, a lowering of the head, or just the movement of the dominant horse in the general direction of a less dominant pasture mate. You want to see a free for all, just add a newcomer to the arrangement. Until dominance order is established, and re-established, it can be quite a sight and often dangerous to the individual horses. 

You can apply this to your communication with a horse. They understand the Ask, Tell and Demand sequence instinctually. 

Remember the “Put at least 10 to 15 feet between the feeding containers.” Comment above? Why is that? Because horses have comfort zones and the closer the stimuli, the quicker and sometimes more abrupt the response.  In the group-feeding example, to put the containers any closer would not allow the yielding horse opportunity to move off with out conflict. Horses have zones that apply to everything. Ground zones, and undersaddle zones. 

Ground zones include distance and angle of approach. If the dominant horse approaches from the rear, the yielding horse will most often move off forward. Approach from the front would have caused the horse to turn away, or back up. You can apply the same when working a horse in a round pen, long-lining, or longeing a horse. 

As a handler of horses, you must require that a horse respect your personal space. 
When your horse encroaches upon your space, 

  • ASK Request that the horse gives way by leading him to the position where you are comfortable. 
  • TELL If he still steps into your space; interrupt his motion with a rebulk. This can be as easy as an abrupt tug on the lead line, or the wave of a hand into the horses space, while other horses may need a tap from a crop a few times before they understand the diameter of your personal space. 
  • DEMAND Do WHATEVER it takes to cause the horse to move over out of your space, a loud verbal rebulk or harsher physical stimuli.


Undersaddle zones are divided at the girth. 
To over simplify the leg aids:

  • The front end of the horse is controlled by a leg aid on and slightly in FRONT of the girth
  • The hind end by an aid in BACK of the girth
  • ON the girth means forward motion.
By applying the aids in the correct zone, you can request a response that the horse will understand. You still need to use the Ask, Tell and Demand sequence. For example:
  • ASK Give a very light leg aid to encourage the horse to move forward.
  • TELL Repeat the cue, with more emphasis.
  • DEMAND If he does not respond, immediately and enthusiastically chase him forward with a sharp rap of your heel or a firm tap with a dressage whip behind your heel.
You are developing a relationship in the process of attaining a condition-response reaction. Just like the dominant horse in the pasture, your requests will soon be responded to readily, as the horse learns that responding to subtler stimulus avoids the inevitable escalation of pressure.

It is important to note that the DEMAND is not intended to become abuse. Take your cue from the dominant horse, he or she does not come after the non-yielding horse to kill or maim the animal, using only the degree of force necessary to accomplish results.

It is a dance of applying pressure and relief of pressure. The horse knows it got it right when the pressure is released.

TO BE CONTINUED….

Part TWO

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