What Your Horse Needs To Know

Foundation Lessons Your Horse Needs to Know BEFORE You Mount:

  1. Give to the Bit – This will teach your horse to give to pressure,  softness in the bridle and to carry himself in frame. These lessons keep your horse’s attention on you and really ‘teach him to learn’. He will feel some pressure and it is up to him to find which part of the body he needs to move and in which direction it needs to go. When he works this out the pressure is released.
    This simple pattern will be repeated for the rest of his training – set him up for success by making these lessons easy and fun for the horse.
  2. Shoulder Control – This lesson will teach your horse to move his shoulders according to the position of the rein. The thing worth noting about this is that, later when you are riding the horse, directional control comes from the reins and the horse will not be subjected to a lot of different leg cues.
    Have you ever noticed that horses desensitise very easily to leg? Have you ever ridden a horse that needs to be ‘kicked’ every stride to maintain a gait? Have you also noticed how horses seem to dislike leg aids, often kicking at the leg, pinning their ears or worse?
    For these reasons I use clear, light and simple leg aids. For the time being, and until we begin lateral work, the Kandoo Foundation Training lessons will teach your horse that a simple touch of both legs together means go forward (no hard squeezing or kicking just a touch on the side of the horse).
  3. 1st Saddling and Desensitisation – The last thing you want to do is throw the saddle on the horse and let him ‘buck it out’! Horse rarely teach themselves anything useful (read safe) in situations like this. The most likely thing to happen is that the horse will get hurt – setting you back even further than you can imagine and leaving you with all sorts of things to now un-train and re-train.
    While we are on the subject of ‘letting the horse work it out’, I have to say I am never a fan of this in any way. From tying the horse’s head down (to a roller, to the saddle or to it’s tail) to the ‘tree of knowledge/patience’ where people tie the horse up for hours, insisting that it is learning something. These things usually result in a huge ‘rebound behaviour’ – giving you much more of the very thing you didn’t want in the first place.
    If you want your horse to learn something then you simply MUST guide it through the lesson yourself.
  4. Long-Reining – This is a great tool for building top line muscle, teaching your horse to travel in frame and self-carriage. It is also the ideal place to teach your horse verbal cues. People often tell me that they don’t like verbal cues because they can’t use them in the dressage test, however how many dressage tests do you ride a year? Let’s say you are very keen and ride 6 a year. That’s less than half an hour out of your horse’s life at Preliminary level! Personally I think it is a mistake to ride your horse in the same manner  as you are expected to present him in a dressage test for the remaining 156 hours (if you ride just 3 times a week) of his life! I want the horse to enjoy being ridden so my aim is always to minimise pressure, anxiety and confusion. Your horse won’t mind being ridden with a bit more rein pressure and leg cues for a few minutes every now and then in a dressage test however he will desensitise to these things quickly if you do it all the time – leading to more and more pressure being required to elicit the same result.
  5. Stop – This lesson is best incorporated with the first two, Give to the Bit and Shoulder Control, as you will be changing sides often and it is simple to teach your horse to stop calmly with his head down at the same time. If you are re-starting your horse and he does not stop well then this lesson is easily taught on its own as well.
  6. Hips to the Fence – This lesson teaches your horse to move his hips to the fence or mounting block so that you can mount. I teach it early on so that I can also get those un-started horses habituated to having me over them and I can also lean over them from here (notice I didn’t say mount bareback!). It is also a quick lesson (3-8 mins on average) that I teach all horses I ride because I don’t like to mount from the ground. Mounting from the ground puts a tremendous amount of strain on the horse’s back and should be avoided if possible (also if you have wee short little legs like me then the lesson is simply essential if you want to get on at all!).

That’s it!

With these 6 simple lessons your horse will be ready to ride. Whether you are starting your horse from scratch or re-training a horse that has poor or non-existent Foundation Training, the lessons remain the same. However from my experience it is quicker and easier to train what you want in the beginning than it is to un-train unwanted behaviour and re-train the desired behaviour. Something we will look at next time…..


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