Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Training with the Vaquero Hackamore and Two Rein

In this article I will discuss the use of halters and hackamores to train your horse. I will cover training with the Halter the side pull the Hackamore or Bosal and the Bosalito Two Rein to transition a horse to the bit. I will share with you my tool of choice the Vaquero Hackamore By Vaquero Gear. The Two Rein is associated with the Vaqueros of old California. They were some of the best horseman the world has known. These techniques will benefit all breeds and disciplines.

Every horse owner is acquainted with the Halter. Its the basic piece of equipment we use to handle the horse while on the ground. There are several construction types of halters. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Leather Halters are commonly used when presenting a horse at a show. They can be quite fancy, decorated with silver, rawhide and other types of "bling". It isn't very practical to use them for daily use as the leather requires more maintenance than other materials.

The old mainstay is the web halter. they are constructed using wide nylon webbing and metal buckles. They come in a rainbow of colors and because they are usually about an inch wide nameplates can be attached and Logos sewn into them. The down side is the wide webbing isn't desirable for training as it gives the horse a comfortable surface to resist against.

Rope Halters have become the choice of horseman. They have no buckles to break as they are made from a continuous length of line or rope. The disadvantage is they are tied with a simple knot to fit them to the horse and some people are knot challenged and prefer a buckle.

Although most people use a one size fits all approach to rope halters they do come in sizes and can also be adjusted to properly fit each horse.

As a training tool the rope halter is preferred to a web halter because it doesn't provide that comfortable flat surface to pull against. Not that rope halters are harsh, they are simply thinner so when teaching a horse to flex or send it is much less comfortable to pull against allowing the handler to more easily teach the horse that giving to pressure makes them comfortable. It is the release from pressure that teaches the horse NOT a harsh device. We use equipment that is capable of showing the horse when we are applying pressure and we reward the give to pressure by releasing and letting the horse rest. If pain were the motivator we would have harsh wires or spikes as training devices. Unfortunately such things have been used and some still believe pain and fear should be the motivator. These barbaric tactics simply don't work.

The good news is Natural Horsemanship Techniques work. More and more the heavy handed are learning they will be more successful by adopting these kinder methods. These techniques actually allow a horse to learn more and learn faster because time isn't wasted fighting and resisting. The horses learning curve is accelerated through positive reinforcement. The horse learns to seek the right answer. This is bad news for manufacturers of bits, tie downs, cavesons, martingales and many other training aids. We find gimmicks are not needed.

A horse can be taught to be soft and collect in a halter or better in a Bosal also known as a Hackamore from the spanish word Jaquima. Hackamore describes any head gear that uses a nose band as the primary communicator to the horse. This would include any Halter, Sidepull, Bosal or any similar piece of gear. Like bits there are devices that go too far trying to mechanically solve the challenges of horse training and communication. Mechanical Hackamores should never be used!

It is possible to start and train a horse with out a bit. Some feel very strong about not putting a bit in their horses mouth. This is fine but I want to say that the right bit for the horses level of training when used properly is not harsh or cruel. Few truly understand how to apply bits. My article titled Bits and Head Gear discusses bits and their proper use.

What I like about the Vaquero Hackamore is it has the advantages of several pieces of equipment all in one. I use them as my everyday halter but unlike my rope halters I leave it on when I bridle the horse. It has a clean traditional look with the Rawhide Pencil Bosal or Bosalito and thin Yachting Cord. The Rawhide Bosal holds its shape giving an advantage over a rope halter.

Later we will talk about using the two rein for advancing a horse into the spade or shank bit as a finished bridle horse. First let start at the beginning. A young or untrained horse.

When starting horses I like the side pull loops on the sides of the Bosal to attach a set of reins. They give a better angle when teaching a horse to flex. A regular rope halter is usually a bit loose to do flexing using the lead rope only will spin the nose band around the horses face. I recommend loosing the knots on a rope halter and adjusting it so it properly fits each horse. has instruction for adjusting their Vaquero Hackamore, these instructions can be applied to rope halters.

I actually use a set of reins in the side pull loops when starting horses. But I have also introduced the snaffle bit and have taught the horse to flex in the snaffle and in the Vaquero Hackamore before the first rides.

The first few rides the horse carries the bit but is being guided by the Vaquero Hackamore as a Side Pull. After a few rides I will begin to ride in a two rein setup with the side pull reins as primary and the snaffle as secondary. Over the next rides the horse is transitioned to the snaffle as the primary. Use of seat and leg cues from the first rides is important so the horse learns collection early. The leg cues become the signal part of the cue. Learn more about seat and leg cues by reading my article titled Collection.

It's important to keep your arms in close to your ribs from the beginning. Many of us develop the bad habit of reaching out to the side to aid the horse to flex or bend its neck while riding. If you have to do this go back to flexing and improve correct form. The reason is to teach the horse correct rein input also the rider tends to lean when reaching to the side. This puts horse and rider out of balance.

This is the same technique that we use to transition a horse to a high port or Spade Bit in a few years. It is not necessary to put a horse into a High Port or any Shank Bit. The horse can be trained to an equally high level in a Snaffle Bit or a Bosal.

We teach flexing early as the beginning of showing the horse to give to any pressure. The horse learns to understand that softening to pressure is what we are after. Then we can use the same technique to move all the horses body parts and we develop communication using the horses language. It's body language and expression the horse uses to communicate. Once we speak in the horses language true understanding is accomplished.

After the first rides we begin to teach the horse to guide, stop and back up. We have taught all these things from the ground before riding the horse, now we transition those ground skills to under saddle maneuvers.

Riding in a two rein setup takes a little practice. I use a loop rein attached to the side pull loops of the hackamore and split reins attached to the snaffle bit. This makes balancing the adjustment between the two reins easier. Cross the split reins to form a loop rein adjusting them slightly shorter or longer than the side pull rein and hold both sets of reins in the center. You then can slide your direct rein hand down both. When changing sides move the direct rein hand to grasp all the reins in the center then the other hand becomes the new direct rein hand. Remember a snaffle bit is a one hand at a time device. This is perfect because so is a side pull.

I grasp the shorter rein with my two little fingers. Your little finger can transmit a nice feel. This allows me the ability to slip one rein or the other if I want more or less bit. As you advance the bit will become the primary (shorter) rein. As you take a soft hold the horse is signaled by a light feel then you can relax the grip on the primary rein only and let it slip increasing the pull on the hackamore as enforcement. If seat and leg cues are used the horse will learn to begin the maneuver before you pick up your hands.

Once the horse becomes better trained it will respond to light contact from both right and left reins together but I will still alternate my hands and not pull the snaffle bit with both hands at once.

Use of a Pelum bit with a two rein setup is not the same as a bit and bosalito combination. The pelum used with a direct rein (snaffle) as the primary and the secondary attached to the shank only serves to aid the rider in applying too much pressure if the horse is not responding. The key to two rein training is to not over use the bit and enforce with the hackamore. The horse doesn't learn to fear the bit.

There is much debate about bits of various type or even if they should be used at all. Once the horseman understands the intent choosing the proper communication method becomes easy. There is the key, what we seek is communication, not forced control.

The training process is simple. We use a three part cue 1. signal 2. cue 3. enforce. Depending on what we are actually doing each component of the three part cue will vary but the theory and use of feel, timing and expression when executing your cue is the same even in executing the most complicated maneuvers. We are taking advantage of the horses nature to anticipate. After a short time the enforcement part of the cue becomes unnecessary because they execute the move after the signal and we never get to the enforcement part before releasing and rewarding the horse. My articles on expression and collection talk more about how we cue the horse.

We always need to find a starting point with what we are teaching. What does this mean? It's simple we cue the horse looking for any attempt at the horse doing the right thing. Then we immediately release. The horse may not make the connection at first and you may struggle some until you get another place to release. Be patient after a couple of properly timed releases the horse will figure out that searching for what we are after leads to us leaving the horse alone.

Let's get specific. I use the same progression with any horse of any age. I teach head lowering then flexing in the halter then yielding in the hind and fore quarter. That's the basics. Improving and reenforcing foundation never ends.

After head lowering we work on flexing in the halter. I use the Vaquero Hackamore with the lead rope and a rein attached to the side pull loop. I like this because the pressure to the side of the horses muzzle is more even and the Bosal doesn't spin around the horses nose . I find the first flexing session can be tough with some horses. This setup helps the horse understand what I'm after sooner.

Stand beside the horse with your chest touching the horses flank. You stand this far back so you are out of the horses way when it's head comes around. Put one hand over the horses back, this hand holds the slack from both the lead and the rein. You use the slack hand to adjust the length between the rein and lead rope. Also the hand over the horses back helps you to keep in contact with the horse. In your early attempts the horse may step away from you in the hind quarter. It's important to keep in contact and follow the horse if it steps around until it stops moving. Then get a proper flex before releasing.

Adjust the lengths then slide your hand nearest the horses head grasping both lead and rein with your little finger closest to the horses head.

Take a soft feel pulling lightly at first. This is your signal. If the horse tips it's head immediately release by dropping the leads with the hand closest to the head. It's more likely the horse will resist as you begin step two. Step two after we have signaled is to put steady pressure on the two leads. I prefer the side pull be the primary rein. As you increase the pressure to bend the horses neck the horse will resist and probably move its hind feet in an attempt to release the pressure. It's important to get the horses head bent around and then hold it steady. I put my rein hand on the horses back to be sure it cannot pull my hand away. It's important to follow the horse and only release when the horses feet have stopped moving and the horse gives to the pressure by creating slack in the leads. Then you immediately release at the slightest try. Bobbing the head up and down doesn't count only release to a true give. Anchoring your hand to the horses body helps because if your holding out in the air your hand will follow the slight release and it will go unnoticed. The enforcement comes from the steady hold and I sometimes give little bumps on the stubborn ones.

After the first flex pet the horse execute some head lowering then start again after a few minutes. After several successful flexes change sides. One side will be easier than the other so be patient. The first flexing session can take awhile.

After a few successful sessions the horse will flex softer and the need for a steady hold will go away. Flexing takes on a calming affect to the horse. I flex every horse every day both from the ground and under saddle it's entire life. Flexing is effective at calming a horse that's becoming frightened at a new object or situation.

Flexing in the Vaquero Hackamore is the beginning of creating a pattern for all ground and under saddle cues. Softness in the head and neck leads to softness and collection in the body.

The light contact at the beginning of the three part cue is important. Never snatch up the horse. When done properly a horse will respond to the signal and soft cue and the enforcement will be unnecessary.

Although the horse can be ridden only in the hackamore I recommend everyone introduce a snaffle bit and teach the horse to be soft and collected in the bit. Then you can use a Bosal or other bittless bridle.

It's important when using a Bosal to set it up properly. The Bosal should always be setup with a Fiador. The Fiador balances the Bosal and creates the throat latch going over the poll allowing the Mecate to be used to tie the horse. The Mecate and Rein attachment along with the Fiadore properly size the Bosal to the horse. The Vaquero Hackamore has the Fiadore built in.

I own a couple of hand braided rawhide Indian Hackamores they are beautiful but dont offer a true release. Many of the bittless bridles on the market have taken their inspiration from the Indian Hackamore and have the same problem of no true release.

When I take young horses on trail rides I will start out using the snaffle only or a two rein with the Vaquero Hackamore. Then later in the day I may remove the bit and ride only in the hackamore. If snaffle only is used I have a bridle that has split reins with snaps so it can be shifted to the hackamore side pull loops. Or my two rein has snaps on all. The lead is always attached as a Mecate for convenience when dismounting. This eliminates the danger of tying a horse rigged with a Mecate and Rein attached to a Snaffle Bit. Never tie a horse with anything attached directly to the bit. If the horse pulls back it will cut its tongue!!

Once you have the horse soft in the Hackamore the Snaffle and the two rein you can look to introducing a shank or spade bit. This is after several years of riding. Most horses are five or six before introducing the Spade Bit With the Bosalito and Two Rein. Maturity is important a seven year old horse is very different mentally from a three year old. What you've learned at this point is if you've done the work the horse can be ridden bridless, so what's in the horses mouth isn't a big deal to the horse if you use the high port shank bit or spade bit as it is intended. They are a "signal" bit. This means they are a signal amplifier, they are supposed to be used applying soft light input to effortlessly signal the horse the maneuver. What gets missed is the seat and leg cues are what really moves the horse.

We use the same progression as described above. I use the two rein in the side pull loops at first then later you can tie a rein as a traditional Hackamore. Remember we are teaching not showing the horse. If you are preparing the horse for a Cow Horse or Ranch Horse or Stock Horse two rein class you will Change the rig later. First we teach then we refine.

Advanced maneuvers are just several simple maneuvers combined and then refined. Therefore we can train each component of the maneuver separate then put them together. When wanting the advanced maneuver better break it down and improve all it's parts. As an example a reining horse spin doesn't get better from practicing endless spins as if we are at a show.

Notice that most of our training involves lateral movement. Move the hip over for lead changes. Move the shoulder for a turn around or roll back. Lateral work is important. Two tracking shoulder in and out and side over exercises helps all maneuvers.

Teaching the horse to collect to your leg cues is a key component. The horses body has to remain in frame to execute any maneuver properly. We can quickly teach the horse to flex right or left and lower it's head from only our seat and leg cues. This aids in shaping the horse, keeping the horse in frame and collected.

Use of the Two Rein gives the horse great security during the training process. It gives the input to the horse in more levels. We are able to communicate with soft subtle cues. The horse becomes confident in our leadership. We become a partner not a bully.

I want to note that any Bosal, Hackamore, Bitless Bridle or Halter is capable of rubbing the horses skin raw. This can happen easily especially in the beginning. If this does happen I will pad my bosal with vet wrap or tape. Sometimes i will let the horse heal up a couple of days. If this problem persists its a sign you've skipped some steps and the horse is a little too reactive. Drop back and improve everything. Head lowering Flexing ect and the horse will learn not to lean on the halter, Hackamore or Bosal. If I've done a good job teaching flexing and head lowering i seldom have a horse rub off its hair on the jaw.

The Bosal and Bosalito should be comfortable to the horse. As with the jaw hair you should not see hair rubbed off over the top of the horses nose. This area is not as sensitive as the sides of the face. Notice we teach softness by flexing the horse laterally. Later we combine right and left lateral flexing together to get a vertical flex. This proves that the knots on the rope halter, how many or where they are places aren't really very important.

Avoid getting drug around by a horse that's pulling while doing ground work. To fix this send the horse away driving the horse laterally directing your expression at the heart girth or drive line, let it be a little reactive so it wants to hit the end of the lead and pull. Then take a hold turning the horse sharply and immediately release. The horse will learn to stop pulling. They actually face up to you looking a little disappointed that the game of tug a war never got started. Don't let the horse turn tail to you the horse will gain the advantage and pull. If the horse is moving laterally a moderate tug will upset its balance The old idea that if a horse has a sore spot they will not lean on it isn't true. We don't want to cause pain. That is not communication.

I have a training video in the works to demonstrate these techniques. Check back. Here and on my website

Monday, April 16, 2012

Choose the best Reins for your riding.

My article on Bits sheds some light on the application of the most common bits. Once we select the proper bit we need to pick out reins to use with that bit.

Each discipline seems to have its own style of preferred equipment. It's best to use what suites the horse at its particular level of training.

Loop Reins

These are a continuous rein that may be made of various materials. Leather, Rope or Synthetic are the most common. There are also many ways to attach the rein.

Some use a buckle system some have a snap that allow the rein to be quickly removed from the Bit. Some use swatches of leather to add weight to the rein. Even short lengths of chain that also add weight to the rein are sometimes used.

Regardless of the actual style, the most important thing is the ability to adjust the loop reins to the proper length. It's important to have a rein that can be adjusted or set to the particular rider.

Having to tie a knot or gather a small loop in your hand makes the rein clumsy to use.

Mecate and Rein

Typically called a Mecate. This is normally a length of rope 22 feet long. It can be cotton rope, nylon or something more exotic like horse hair.

Most often it's used with a Bosal or snaffle bit with leather "slobber straps" that allow the rope to be tied to the right side of the bit then the left side to form a Rein with the remainder becoming the Mecate.

The Rein part of this rig is a Loop Rein and is adjusted the same as a stand alone loop rein. Here's how. Sit in a neutral position on the horse. Pick up the rein in the center and pull it to your chest about six inches below your chin (your sternum). The rein should be just taught.

The Mecate will serve as a lead rope when dismounting and as a spanker while riding. There is a method for tying a horse using a Mecate. Just be careful that you really know what your doing. NEVER tie a horse with a rein or Mecate that is directly connected to the bit. If the horse pulls back the bit can cut the horses tongue!!!

Split Reins

Splits are probably the most versatile. They can be crossed to form a loop rein. Held one handed like a romel rein.

Learning to use split reins takes a little practice. You can form a basic loop rein by crossing the tails of each rein over to the opposite side that they are attached and grasping them together in the center with one hand and adjusted the same as above.

A snaffle bit is meant to be used as a direct rein, one hand at a time. You can ride holding with one hand and use the free hand to slide down the rein and pull for direct contact. If the opposite direct hand is needed, change the center hand holding the reins the slide the other.

An experienced rider can ride two handed. An advanced method is to cross the reins holding the direct rein between your little finger and the one next to it and the slack and the direct rein with the index and middle fingers then close your thumb under. This method of grip allow you to adjust the length of your reins without releasing your grip. Keep about two feet of slack between your hands do you aren't "hand cuffed" while using your hands independently.

To adjust the length you can relax your index and middle fingers then spread your hands to slip more slack between your hands. To shorten your direct rein you hold the slack and slide to shorten while holding tight with the opposite rein. This sounds complicated but isn't.

Another method is to ride one handed holding both reins with your thumb and index with your other fingers wrapped around the reins and the tails of the splits coming out the heel of your hand. Normaly you hold the rein in your left hand with the tails over the right side of the horse. This you usually see while showing cutting horses.

If your showing reining horses you hold the rein grasping all the way around the rein (it's points off to slip a finger between the reins) Your hand is in a thumbs up position with your little finger closest to the bit. The tails can be held in the right hand.

Romal Reins

The Romal Reins are a Loop Rein with a straight piece called the Romal attached to the center of the Loop Rein. They are held as described above in a thumbs up method. You adjust the length by where you hold the rein. The Romal is held in the free hand. The end of the Romal often has a leather "popper" and can be used as a spanker / motivator. Romal Reins are usually used on a finished Bridle Horse.

Note that a popper on the end of a Romal or Mecate is not a cruel piece of equipment. The proper use is to use the popper lightly in a rhythm increasing pressure until the horse responds then stop and release the pressure to show the horse it has done right. The spanker / motivator is the "enforcement" part of your cue. It's never ok to beat an animal.

If you don't understand the three part cue. 1.signal 2. Cue 3. Enforce then you need to read my articles on Foundation Ground Work and Expression found here and at

All my articles are available in PDF files that can be printed and it's all free!

Monday, January 2, 2012

A plan for the pleasure horse

In my post titled "what's your plan" I discussed a training plan for a performance horse, cutting or reining. You might just want a solid trail horse. Horse or human we all need exercise to be healthy. Your horse also needs its education. Teaching the horse to be soft in the bridle is just humane. It kills me to see horses in cruel contraptions being misused by uneducated riders. Notice I didn't call them horsemen.

We want to teach the horse not to be afraid when we are out on a ride. Imagine a situation where you are afraid, being a passenger with a horrible driver? Don't you just want to get out of the car and be away from that person!

If the horse feels secure when you go out the ride will be pleasant for both of you.

We get there by starting at home where the horse is comfortable. There we can introduce elements that raise the horses energy, then show the horse it's ok. Through repetition the horse becomes secure.

A good plan for a pleasure/ trail horse should include work at least three days a week.
Keep in mind a wild horse will cover 20 miles a day while grazing. Horses contained in a small area need to get out. It aids in their circulation to the feet keeping them healthy.

I'm going to map out a five day plan that will include aerobic work, desensitizing and foundation skills.

The aerobic work is important especially if the horse is taken on long rides or strenuous rides involving hills or both. Horses can tie up when they exert them selves beyond the normal exercise they are used to. Toxins in the muscles begin to shut down function.

It's only fair to have the horse in shape for the average ride you go out on. That's the conditioning aspect. Wouldn't you get grumpy if you were forced to go on a long hike just once in a while then were sore for days after? You would learn to dread the outing!

It's also important that the horse isn't scared to death of every leaf that blows past. This causes great stress an will have the horse wore out way sooner than it should be. Not to mention the horse will dread being taken out.

The foundation componient of training continues the horses education making every day better for both horse and rider.

This example assumes a horse that is at a five of ten score or better in most of its Foundation Groundwork Skills. Always remember a horse needs reinforcement of its Foundation skills its whole life. You don't master a skill and put it aside as if the horse is made for life. I like to think of having a bunch of balloons. I can bump one up in the air then an other and another. I will bump the lowest balloon in order to keep them all in play. Its the same with the horse. Always improve the weakest skill.

The following five rides can take place every other day or every third day. I recommend doing something with your horse at least three or four days a week.

Day 1
Catch Groom and Saddle. Lead the Horse to the Arena. Execute some head lowering and flex in the bridle from both sides. Practice some Hind Quarter Yielding. Back the Horse from the ground. This little warm up gets the Horse "on the job" and lets you know if some of the basic foundation skills need work. If you feel the Horse needs to be Lunged before mounting you need to go back to the Foundation Groundwork Exercises  and improve the Horse. We are assuming the horse is well started and has no training issues but we are improving its foundation.
Mount the Horse expecting it to stand while being mounted. If the Horse walks off, correct it by dismounting and making the Horse back a few steps with the off side rein then remount. Be a little aggressive in the backing. Do this until the horse stands quiet.

Mount then stand a few moments or minutes then turn the horse to walk off. Take up some circles and figure eights bending the horse. Pay attention to the softness of the horse. Ask for softness then release when you achieve  it. Stop occasionally and back the horse. Do this at the walk and trot.

Have some obstacles set up to maneuver around. Back through. Work a gate. This day is about being soft and correct. You can use tarps and things that the horse is wary of but you need to be sure you get sucess approaching them and the horse relaxes before quitting.

Day 2
Catch and Groom. Do the typical mount and warm up of the horse at the walk and trot.

The lesson for this day is aerobic. This type of horse needs to be able to canter soft and collected for at least ten minutes. This isnt as easy as it sounds. For a lot of people and horses ten minutes is a long time.

 A large number of horse owners are not comfortable cantering their horse. This is most often a confidence problem. If this is the case find someone that can help you! If you have a round pen that's where you need to start. Teach your ground person to send and lunge the horse making sure they can yield the horse to face them. This can be done using a long lunge line. Once they are capable they can be your ground help while you ride. Knowing you have someone that can put on the breaks will make a difference.

If no such person is available change your lesson plan to teach one rein stops at the walk and trot. until you feel you  can stop the horse should you feel uncomfortable. If there is a horse problem where the horse crow hops bolts or runs through the bit you need to drop all that way back to the beginning basics Foundation Ground Work and work forward again. There is no time line to be correct with your horse. It takes what it takes!!

If you can canter with confidence do so five minutes each direction, or build up to it over a few weeks. Repeat your ten minutes of cantering two or three times with rest for the horse in between. The horse does not need a drink of water! While resting you can flex the horse from the stand still. Walk a little bending and doing figure eights ect. let the horse get its air back. Use the resting time to build foundation and patience.  After cool the horse out. A trail ride is a great idea. If you plan to trailer out to meet a friend on this day you could do your training workout before, cool the horse out then trailer to meet your friend! Your horse will love it!

Day 3
Especially if your horse is reactive to objects at home or out on a ride it's good to work on getting a horse used to objects that make it frightened.

It's not possible to expose the horse to every object or circumstance you will encounter. Fortunately it's not necessary either. Adopting a practice of introducing scary objects and showing the horse they will not harm them will build confidence and maturity. We are teaching how to react to scary objects!

You should be able to hand a jacket or other object to another rider or put your jacket on with out the horse jumping out of its skin. Bicycles, motor bikes what ever the item.

The method is easy, small objects you approach and retreat with the object taking it away when the horse gets uncomfortable or wants to leave. With something like a tarp, fold it small and rub the horse unfolding it after each retreat. a plastic bag on your training stick is also good. There are hundreds of exercises that work well.

When working on something like crossing water you can dismount and send the horse between you and the water moving closer slowly and always letting the horse rest closest to the object the horse is worried about. I prefer to do this while mounted but working from the ground gives you more control.

It's best to work on these things in a controlled enviornment and if your out be sure your riding with people patient enough to let you do what's needed.

This days training can end with a trail ride but should have at least a half hour of solid desensitizing.

Day 4
All this riding is not only getting the horse fit. But you also. Perhaps you are training for a dream trip. There is nothing worse than being sore and miserable after the first days ride and dreading the rest of the trip. If you ride often and have been riding a number of years you may have a pretty good seat. It really makes a difference on a long ride. If your a bit out of shape or a novice developing your riding you can use your warm up time to get your self fit as well. Muscle condition makes all the difference in developing a good seat while riding.

Riding is great exercise and should be treated as a work out for the human also. Do some stretching before your ride and after. You can do this after you catch the horse. Go for a short walk, stop and do some stretching. It will get you warmed up and this time when the horse is just hanging out with you is great for the horse.

Do your normal Groom and tack up. When you start to warm up the horse. Take your feet out of the stirrups (drop your irons) then rise to the top of the two point as if you were posting and hold there. Keep daylight under your seat as long as you can building until you can rise the whole ten minutes of walking circles and figure eights. The when you trot, post (rise thothe trot) the whole time. This will really improve your seat.

All of these exercises are separate from any planned riding. If you ride out every day that's fantastic. Add in these exercises to improve you and your horse. There is always something that can be improved!

Today should be our most physical day. If you want to take a long ride then be sure it involved sustained trotting and some collected cantering. Be sure you mix up where you do these higher gaits. A horse will become used to the "spot" where it gets to  open up and we don't want them to anticipate.

If your arena riding we want to do something like the Triangle Drill at the trot and sustain it for 30 minutes. Resting then doing it again. Finish with ten minutes of cantering circles then cool the horse out and rinse off. Its always good to tie a horse and just let them stand, it teaches patience.

Day 5
The last day of a training cycle should be a lighter day but remember your starting a new cycle that starts with the lightest work day. W need to have light days to help clean out muscles, This is also when the muscles rebuild and get stronger.

This day could have your normal tack up and warm up. Work on maneuvering through some obstacles. Work gates ect. Then a medium length trail ride.

All ive mentioned here are just ideas. My next week would not be a carbon copy of this one. If i identify any issues the horse is afraid of or something in its foundation that need improving that will be the theme of the next training cycle. If a "new" problem arises at any time I would adjust the plan.

Have fun!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Whats your Plan??

I dont come across many people who have a plan with their horse. Most everyone has something they would like to improve but seldom have mapped out how to go about making the change. You dont have to be at a high level of competition to use a method to improve the relationship with your horse. Ask your self  "what do i want to improve"? That is really the hardest part. Once you can answer that question, figuring out the steps to get there isn't so hard.

I adopted a method years ago to train my Performance Horses. Because they are athletes I wanted to first of all keep them safe from injury and also keep them fit enough so they would be at their best.

Horses aren't so different from us. If they have been off work they get out of shape. Getting back in shape can be an uncomfortable experience so I try to either have my Horses in work or out to pasture "on holiday". I would get grumpy if I were relaxing on the couch for a few weeks then put through "hell week" to get ready for a weekend of play. I think horses feel the same.

The training plan I developed works because of a couple of reasons. First I mix things up to keep it fresh. Doing the same drills or exercises every day would make anyone sour. Also like us we have to increase the work then rest so we build strength and stamina.

I like to have a basic training plan for the next seven rides but it can change at any moment if I find a skill that needs work. The seven day plan will involve days of strength building days of foundation skills. Peak days that are strenuous. and slack days were the horse gets to just be a horse.

I have a basic routine to tack up and warm up. You should keep in mind the horses perspective on how you approach each session. As an example if you come rushing home from work in the evening, charge out to the pasture or stall, snatch up the horse and hustle to quickly tack up the jump right into lunging then a hard ride. Realize the poor horse was in the middle of a nap when all of this started.

Adopt a routine that puts the horse "on the job". Expect good ground manors. Always stop and correct! take your time to have a good look at the horses physical condition when grooming and tacking up. Check your equipment to be sure its in good working order. By the time you've done all of this the Horse is mentally prepared to get to work.

My warm up before every training session

(If at any time the horse is in error stop and fix it. This includes stand while grooming or being pushy while leading.)
Groom and saddle
Walk the horse to the center of the pen
Head Lowering
Check girth tension
Perform HQ yield both sides. The goal is to stand in front of the horse and just lean over without taking a step. But you will have to start with normal yielding from the side.
Flex the horse both sides from the ground
Back the horse
Check girth then mount. (horse stands while mounting)
Relax and gather yourself; there is nothing wrong with sitting a few minutes.
Flex from the saddle
Back the horse.
Turn the horse and walk off going into a series of bending  circles and figure eights, taking inventory of the horses softness and foundation skills. (Stop and correct if needed with appropriate ground work or moving the horse under saddle.) Continue then repeat at the trot. Mix things up with stops and back ups staying correct in form.  Do not do aggressive maneuvers - save those for your planned lesson. I work a horse with a seven day lesson plan, however that plan can change at any time if a particular skill needs work. (Work on the worst skill.) The planned lesson can be only ground work if that's in your plan.

If you feel the horse has to be lunged to get the fresh off you are lacking in some foundation skills and your lesson plan should be ground work to get the horse ready to be ridden.

Your actual training will follow the ground work. here is an example of a seven day plan for a young horse being prepared for reining or some other performance horse discipline. The specific exercises aren't the issue here its the method of building up and having one day set up the next.

Day 1
Catch Tack and warm up. Work on Collection in the head and neck and lateral work. All at the walk and trot. Back the horse up an incline 20 times.

Day 2
Catch Tack and Warm up. More lateral work doing the four turns. being specific to keep hind quarter and fore quarter yields very correct at the walk then move up to the trot. then at an extended trot. Lope large circles at least ten minutes each way. Get correct lead departures and let the horse break down softly to its stops. No slides and no lead changes. If time and location permit cool down with a trail ride.

Day 3
Catch Tack and warm up. Work on trotting circles winding down to a tight circle where the hind quarter comes to a stop but keep the front moving in a spin and wind back out with out stopping. Lope slow circles into the fence and roll back out the other direction. Back up an incline 20 times. then walk to cool down or short trail ride.

Day 4
Catch Tack and Warm up. Triangle drill at the walk then trot. If the horse is capable Triangle drill at a slow canter. Spend time just sitting and let the horse rest plenty. Especially when you have a break through or when the horse is soft. But we do want to work up a sweat! Back up an incline 20 times then walk to cool down.

Day 5
Catch Tack and Warm up. Work the Four Turns and Yield for quarter Hind Quarter. Walk and trot. Work laterals. Practice working a gate. Backing through obstacles

Day 6
Catch Tack Warm up. Hot Laps Drill. This drill teaches a horse to rate to your seat and collect. You will transition from walk to trot to canter and back. at the canter you will gallop then rate the horse back to the canter. If the horse doesn't rate back ride harder then ask again. It will eventually want to slow down when asked. when it does hold a collected canter a circle or two then ask to rate down to a trot. Then a walk and then stop. If the horse doesn't listen pick up the higher gait, then ask again. Work one direction then stop to turn and work the other. Day six is usually my "peak" day where the horse works the hardest. This work out needs a really good cool down.

Day 7
This day light day to clean out the muscles from the peak work out. It can be a lot of bending, walk trot and canter. Departures and changes. Finish with a trail ride.

Every work out should end with thorough rinse off and grooming. Let the horse hang out with you. Take it with you to do simple chores. This does a lot for a horse. If you several to ride tie the horse up and let it stand a while. I don't give treats when working. It leads to bad habits. If you do don't do it as a routine. keep the horse guessing as to when it may get the treat and where it will come from.

This is just a simple example. My next weeks work out would be different depending on what i feel the horse needs most. This example would benefit the horses skills in guiding, rating to your seat and its turns and spins. Other skills would use different exercises.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Five Keys to Confidence

Confidence according to

1. Full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, belief in a person or thing

2. Belief in oneself and ones power or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance;assurance

Horses are powerful and sensitive creatures. We all start out with low confidence when we first take up working with horses. In time that confidence in our abilities and particular horses grows. Feel, timing and experience are where this confidence comes from.  We develop our experience by improving our feel and timing;  this leads to knowing we have control. When our success is predictable we achieve a level of confidence. As all skills improve so does our confidence. Building confidence for the beginner is one issue. Regaining lost confidence is more difficult.

How we loose confidence matters in how we seek to regain it. The most common reason for lost confidence is an injury. The source of the accident does matter. Was it a freak accident while riding a reliable horse or was it a reactive horse and an eventual accident that was predictable? Maybe there was no accident but simply a feeling of little control? As we grow older we all have changes in our bodies. We can become less fit ,affecting our seat and balance. Human body chemistry changes with age and we are less aggressive less bold! Our ability to heal changes with age, awareness of this can make us less confident. No one wants to be laid up with even a minor injury! There are hundreds of possibilities as to the source of diminished or lost confidence.

The five keys to confidence:

1. Feel

2. Timing

3. Experience

4. Control

5. Success

It's very important to be honest about ourselves and our horses.  If you find yourself expecting a horse to become reactive or feel you have to lunge endless circles to get the "fresh" off your horse before riding, you don't have a confidence problem, you’re experiencing a healthy fear that is trying to keep you safe. Learn to pay attention to these "red flags", they are telling you there is something that needs attention! Lunging doesn't make a horse less reactive, it just gets them fit! Other articles on this site address this training issue. It is true that if you know you can stop a horse regardless of the circumstance you have a measure of confidence. Teaching that horse to be less reactive will build that confidence to a higher level. We cannot expose the horse to every situation that might make them reactive, but we can teach them how to think when they feel unsure - to look to us as a leader and suppress the flight instinct. If we are afraid, the horse will feel it and may become reactive. In the herd they don't question why the other horses spook and run, they trust that there is danger, flee, and then when safe, look to see what they fled from.

Feel and timing go hand in hand. Sensitivity to our horse and reading the horses reaction to what we do is feel. Observing the horse at rest or when it becomes startled out in pasture is feel also. We usually think of feel as applying pressure and recognizing when the horse yields. Our timing is knowing when to apply pressure and when to take it away. Learning a feel for when the horse is correct and leaving them alone builds the horses confidence in our abilities. It is a partnership we are building. The rider needs to be consistent in order to build a dependable horse.

Developing feel and timing comes through repetition. Repetition gives us experience. The horse also gains experience from this process. They learn what they can depend on from us, making the horse more confident. When we repeat experiences with positive results, we have reached success.   At each level of training we have our successes. Those successes result in heightened confidence. The more successes we achieve the more confidence we gain, giving us a clear understanding of our abilities and limits.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bare Foot Horses

I'm a supporter of barefoot horses. There are a lot of myths surrounding the care of a horses feet.

I started keeping horses barefoot about twenty five years ago. It just seemed to me that wild horses must stay sound from normal wear.

I began doing my own trims without any formal training. I was however knowledgeable about horses. I also had experience about what I did and did not like about the trims various farriers had done for me.

It made no sense to cut away the sole of the horses foot removing the callous that had built up since the last trim.

Natural Hoof Care was unheard of back then so there wasn't much information or any mentors to learn from.

I was always careful not to trim much because I didn't want to make my horse sore. I soon developed a method where I seldom cut any sole. I would scrape the sole with the hoof pick taking away the loose exfoliating bits of the foot.

Then I would trim the hoof wall back to match the sole and round the hoof wall so it wouldn't chip. I've taken barefoot horses over all terrain even on the rockiest mountain trail with never a lame step or problem.

My trims in those days could have been better but they were better than the affects of shoes and most farrier trims. I've learned a lot since from the likes of Pete Ramey and others who are truly experts and innovators. I highly recommend Pete's books and DVDs if you plan to trim your own horses. Pete has lots of pictures and info on this site. Here is an example of a well maintained barefoot horse posted on

The purpose of my writing this is to raise awareness so people at least know the difference between a proper and improper barefoot trim.

This photo is a cutaway of a healthy balanced foot. The foot has no flair in the hoof wall and the internal structures are correct.

A quick check of a horses foot is to take notice of the depth of the collateral groove while picking out the horses foot. The Collateral Groove is the deep part of the foot between the frog and the sole. It runs parallel to the coffin bone with only about a quarter inch of tissue from its bottom to the actual bone.

After trimming the Collateral Groove should be 3/8 to 1/2 inch deep from a straight edge laid across the foot. This figure is just a reference but has been found to apply to most horses.

It's not uncommon to see a collateral groove nearly non-existent at the tip of the frog and too deep at the heel. A correctly balanced foot will be equal or nearly equal end to end of the collateral groove.

Horses that are trimmed too short in the toe can develop abnormalities with the inner structures of the foot. It's a common mistake to attempt to give relief to things like Navicular disease by shorting the toe. This gives temporary relief in some cases but in time actually accelerates the problem and causes the inner structures of the foot to move down, rotate and eventually rupture through the sole in extreme cases. Some say that Navicular can be caused by over trimming the toe or by chronically sore horses that tend to step toe down instead of heel to toe as a sound horse would.

I see many farriers taking too much off the toe and making a flat foot as if the horse will be shod when doing barefoot trims.

Flairs to the hoof wall are rather common. The hoof wall is almost impossible to pull away from the internal structures if the Lamina is formed correctly.

Horses with flairs are suffering from a problem in their diet. As the hoof forms at the Coronet band it is actually forming with detached Lamina. The common cause is feed with too high sugar content. Too high of sugar content in the diet leads to the body producing toxins. These toxins affect the forming of the Lamina. Infections and other disease can cause laminitis but diet it a huge factor.

Grass in the middle of a warm sunny day is at its highest sugar level. You will notice changes in the foot throughout the year. Rings will become noticeable as the hoof grows out after a few weeks of rich feed. Visit for more info on horse nutrition.

It takes about a year for the Hoof Wall to grow from the Coronet to the length where it would be trimmed.

As the disconnected hoof grows out. Especially if the hoof wall is allowed to grow too long that pressure aids in flaring and cracking of the horses feet.

Founder is a broad term usually associated with Laminitis. Because we know the Lamina is formed weak or detached and that it takes a year to grow out. It's important to know that Laminitis does not heal, it must be grown out. Also Laminitis does not occur from a single instance or short term of a horse in too rich a pasture.

Another contributing factor is circulation within the foot. A barefoot horses foot flexes as it moves. This is important to moving blood through the foot and Lamina. Shod horses are restricted from proper flexing of the foot.

This image show a foot that is trimmed and cared for but had a flair. A correct foot will grow straight as shown by the line in the photo.

Flairs can be rasped to make them look better but all this does is thin the hoof wall. The hoof walls job is to be armor for the outside of the foot. It's actually the sole that carries the horse.

It's a simple thing. If you have flairs you need to evaluate your feed program. If you have flairs your horse could be on its way to Laminitis! The other possible causes of Laminitis can take hold much easier in a horse that already has issues due to diet.

More to come !! .....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Method for Evaluating a Horse

Having a method for evaluating a horse is very valuable. Whether your hunting for the horse of your dreams, tracking the progress of your own program or if you've taken on an animal that's disadvantaged with the purpose of re-homing.

A lot of people are rescuing animals, I have the highest regard for those who have the means to make a difference. Unfortunately often these rescue horses can be a handful that the average horse owner isn't prepared to deal with. Defining and understanding what the horse needs is the first step. Seeking the knowledge is the second step. Knowing your limits is the most important thing. Get help if you need it

Trainers and Clinicians work with a lot of different horses and horse owners so we are practiced at reading horses and horseman in order to quickly address their needs. I hope to share some of what I have learned so that you might improve the way you interact with the horses in your life.

If your evaluating a new Horse an owner / seller might be impatient with these tests. Its best to explain what you plan to do and ask that they be patient with your evaluation process. Be careful of a horse that has obviously been ridden to "tune it up" prior to your arrival. We want an honest evaluation of the whole horse. We aren't wanting to uncover whats wrong with a horse, simply where the horse is at in its education and if it fits what we are looking for.

The techniques discussed here are common to Natural Horsemanship Methods. Actual exercises may vary within a specific trainers program. I've kept this evaluation as generic as possible. If these techniques are foreign to you, my Articles found at will introduce you to the foundation skills that will help horses and riders of all disciplines.

You may choose to let the owner demonstrate the horse to you. Just because the horse wasn't trained using these methods doesn't mean the horse is no good. These tests are designed to evaluate the horses foundation. An owner will tend to want to "show" the horse. They will do the maneuvers they have practiced, jump some jumps, maybe some leads or spins. All of this is great but test and score the foundation first then let them show their stuff.

The skill level of the person doing the evaluation needs to be considered when reviewing the scores. Fill out the score card after each test. You can shade in the graph after unless time permits. The averages will become the score for the horse. The weakest skills are where we want to focus to continue the horses education.
I'll start with evaluating the horse from the ground. I'm not talking about training these skills simply testing them and grading the horse at a 1 to 10 score at each skill. These tests will tell a lot about where the horse is at in it's training and temperament. None of this precludes a vet check to evaluate the horses health and fitness. A vet check is always a good idea before buying a horse.

The Tests I perform are:
Ground Tests
1. Catch
2. Head Lowering
3. Flex in the Halter
4 .Hind Quarter Yield
5. Direct
6. Yield in the Rib Cage
7. Yield the Fore Quarter
8. Back Up
10. Execute the Four Turns

Basic Under Saddle Tests
11. Flex in the Bridle
12. Saddle
13. Mount
14.Walk off
15. Walk
16 Trot
17. Canter
18 Backing Under Saddle
19.Collection of the Head and Neck
20. Guide at the Walk
21. Guide at the Trot
22. Guide at the Canter

Advanced Under Saddle Tests
23. Collection in the Rib Cage
24. Side over at the Stand Still
25. Laterals Left Bend at the Trot
26. Laterals Right Bend at the trot
27. Half Pass (Two Tracking)
28. Lead Departure
29. Lead Change
30. Turn on the Fore Quarter
31. Turn on the Hind Quarter
32. The Four Turns
33. Spin
34. Roll Back
35. Cutting Horse Turn

These can be tested in a fairly short time period. In my article on Foundation Ground work I discuss this but will expound on the process in detail here.

First lets have a look at the horses physical condition. Is the horse ready for physical activity. Are there obvious old injuries? What condition are its feet in? Whats the horses body score? Its amazing how a poor horse can be dull and un-reactive and once we get them healthy again they are very different in mind and energy, sometime that isn't a good thing but can be addressed thru proper training and handling.

Body scoring a horse isnt just a visual test actually put you hands on the horse, feel from the withers down and back. Horses store body fat along the top line first as protection against the elements. A horse with a heavy coat of hair may look fit but once you have a feel as to where the fat layer ends you will accurately be able to body score the horse.

Once we have had a good look at the horse then we can move on to the ten ground checks.

Shown here are the score cards I created to keep track of your findings. These are free to download and print and can be found at Also I have a spread sheet that can be used on a smartphone. I have only tested the spread sheet using Documents to Go on my iPhone. Its a handy way to keep records of your training. I myself keep a training diary on each horse I ride. I do this on my telephones calendar. There is always time when we want the let the horse sit and rest to absorb what we have been working on before continuing. I take this time to make notes.

Obviously the horse will have been caught before you can have a look at its physical condition. If its in a stall I want to see how it react when we first approach it. Does it hide in the corner? If the horse is out in pasture is it easy to catch? This tells you about the horses previous handling but nothing really specific. A hard to catch horse may have learned a playful game of tag or it may hate being caught because it doesn't like what comes after. The actual catch test i like to preform is best done in a 50 to 60 foot round pen or square yard. Lead the horse into the center of the pen and remove the lead rope and release the horse. Start by rubbing the horse while standing at its shoulder. Keep your posture neutral, rub up its neck then work back to the wither and along its back, rib cage then hind quarter. Rub the horse all over. Be sure to stay safe if the horse decides to leave let it but be careful you don't get a kick while its moving away from you. Remember this is a test so a horse that will stand is a good sign one that breaks away is also telling you something about its previous handling.

If the horse does not leave move away and re-approach a few times try not to send the horse away we want it to stand or even follow us. If the horse does stand or follow re-approach and rub it a while then quietly move away and the face the horse and send it away. You may have to use a tool like a training stick with a flag (plastic bag). Start with out it we are trying to freak the horse out just find out where its at. Get the horse to move away then go back to a neutral posture and even turn your back on it. and see if it settles and stops . Its preferred if the horse stops and walks to you but it isn't a terrible thing if it doesn't we have only proven that the horse has never been taught this skill. Be aware a highly reactive horse might even charge you so keep an eye on it even when you turn your back to it. Remember you don't know this horse and it doesn't know you! We want to end this test once again petting and rubbing the horse then we can move on the the next test.

2.Head Lowering
Reattach the lead rope. You should be using a 12 to 14 foot lead and a rope halter. Standing next to the horses neck put a hand on the horses nose about where the halter goes across. then move your other hand along the horses neck up to its poll. A head shy horse may jerk away at this point and the hand on the horses nose is there to help protect your self. It you get to the horses poll with no problem retreat back down its neck and withdraw your hand from its nose then start over. It may take a few times, we want the horse to remain quiet if the horse starts to react then you retreat. Each time you try to get further until you can get your index finger and thumb on the horses poll. Use a pinching technique and feel around until you find the "spot" where the horse lowers its head. Keep your hand in place allowing the horse to release it self from your hand. If the horse raises its head reapply the pinch and let the horse release it self.
 If the horse yanks away correct it by putting your hand under its jaw and moving its head back to you. Avoid pulling on the horse with the lead rope. We want the horse to wrap its head around and hold it low as if we were going to present a bridle. We will actually bridle the horse in a later test but you can see if putting your thumb in the horses mouth will open it and remain un-reactive.

Next we will test how the horse handles it self while being lead. Even though we have already lead the horse at this point this is a good time to walk around a little giving the horse a break form its examination yet still evaluating it. You can take the horse out of the round pen if you feel comfortable. We want to walk using two hands on the lead with several feet of slack between the hand closest to the halter. Make direction changes to see if the horse stays with you or needs to be directed to do so. change your speed walking slower the horse ideally does not push on top of you. Once again these are just tests and this doesn't mean you have a "bad" horse it is yet another indication of the horses foundation training. What I find is that a horse that pushes into your space has in most cases never been asked not to!! Horses with good ground manors are more likely to have respect under saddle. Its seldom the reverse. Take some time with this it will have a calming effect on the horse and give you a better evaluation of the rest of the tests.

4.Flex in the Halter
If you have never taught a horse to flex in the Halter you may have difficulty here. We are testing not teaching but want to give the horse a thorough evaluation. To properly flex the horse in the Halter you stand at the horses flank. Put your hand nearest the horses tail on the horses back and the slack of the rope over its back. Reach and take hold of the lead rope asking the horse to bend its head only. If the hind quarters step away from you follow keeping your chest pressed against the horse until the horse stops moving its feet and then gives slack. Hopefully you are well practiced at Flexing so you can properly evaluate and score the horse. How a horse flexes in the halter will tell a lot about how it might respond to the bridle. Test the horse from both sides, if the horse seems to have already been taught to flex then test flexing from the off side. If the horse becomes reactive you can try some head lowering to quiet the horse. We are not wanting to raise the horses energy we are looking to find where the horse is at by slowly applying more pressure in different ways and observing its reaction.

5.Yield the Hind Quarter
Start by approaching the horse and doing some head lowering. The horse should be quiet at the beginning of this test. I recommend using a training stick to start. Training sticks offer the handler a little extra protection should an unknown horse become reactive and try to kick or charge. Rub the horse with your hand and then introduce the training stick. You should be able to rub the horse along its back and up its neck, under its belly and hind quarter and have the horse stand quiet. A horse that has never seen or has been abused by a training stick may be worried about what you intend to do but should relax once you rub the horse a while. To yield the Hind Quarter take a step away form the horse while keeping your position to the side of its shoulder. The lead rope will be in the hand nearest the horse and the training stick in the other. You should have a little slack in the lead holding it about a training stick length away from the halter. From a neutral body position you signal the horse by leaning in slightly focusing your eyes on the horses flank, then bring up the training stick holding it still a moment then begin to tap the air near the horse with small movements. Every four taps increase the energy by exaggerating the movement of the stick and increasing the speed that you move it. If at any time the horse yields it hind quarter release the pressure by taking the stick away and returning your body to a neutral posture. When we teach this exercise it may become necessary to strike the horse if it does not respond to the stick, however here we are testing not teaching and in any cases we are not working with our horse so I will say do not strike the horse. If the horse does not respond. then you have you answer and score the horse at a zero. If the horse becomes reactive and tries to run off use the lead rope to have the horse face you because as the horse tries to depart it may also kick at you. Once the horse becomes reactive you will need to put down the stick and return to doing some head lowering to get it quiet once again. Test both sides of the horse they are never the same one side to the other, its similar to humans that are better right handed or left handed. If you are practiced with twirling a lead rope tail you can use that in place of the stick but i still like to test with both. Horses that get lunged a lot will tend to runoff and think you are initiating them to lunge. Yielding with and with out the stick can help you see this. Last if all has gone well I will attach a plastic shopping bag to the end of the stick and repeat the test, starting by rubbing the horse with the bag. A horse that has never seen a bag will be reactive If so don't push the horse into a frenzy, score the horse accordingly and move on. A horse at a high level will yield from your expression simply looking or maybe pointing a finger at its flank while standing directly in front of it.

Teaching a horse to direct is an important skill. Directing as an exercise is fundamental to teaching a horse to load or getting the horse near object its afraid of such as a banner on the arena fence or crossing a creek. First we want to test the horse by simply directing it to move around us in the round pen or arena where we are evaluating it. We may choose to challenge the horse further but simply knowing if the horse will direct is what we are after here. Again I recommend using a training stick first, in case the horse charges or cut too close to you, the natural reaction is to cover up bringing the stick in front of you, this can mean the difference in not being run over by a reactive horse. Begin with the horse quiet and standing in front and facing you about a stick length away from you. Reach out and rub the horse on the fore head with the stick. when the horse is standing quiet and you are ready drop the stick to your side then raise your lead rope hand to signal and direct the horse. Give the horse a moment to react then bring the stick and begin a windmill movement of the stick focusing at the horses jaw until it turns and moves off. Immediately release with the stick keeping your hand held high allowing the horse to travel around you as you step in and begin walking a small circle keeping your body facing the horses shoulder. We don't want to lunge the horse so when your ready after a half circle execute a hind quarter yield having the horse face you then release completely returning your body to a neutral position. Test the horse both ways allowing the horse time while your signaling to see how good the horse is at this skill. If the horse seems to be good at a simple Direct then you can test Directing and redirecting with out the hind quarter yield. Finish by petting and rubbing the horse and allow some rest before the next test.

7. Yield in the Rib Cage
I perform two tests at the rib cage. First while standing next the horse at its shoulder I use hand pressure to see if the horse will side step over from hand pressure. If not with hand pressure then I test using my thumb or the handle end of the training stick. This will tell me a lot about how the horse has been schooled under saddle. A horse that leans into the pressure or had a lot of muscle contractions to the pressure but doesn't move probably hasn't been ridden using leg cues. Then I will once again send the horse around me but instead of a hind quarter yield i will focus and drive at the horses drive line to move it laterally. A low scoring horse will be very reactive, A high scoring horse will move laterally with minor expression. Your expression should always start light and build until you get the desired results.

8. Yield the Fore Quarter
A fore quarter yield can be as simple as when leading the horse and turning in-front of its path does the horse keep its position respecting your space or do you have to use some means to cue the horse to maintain its position relative to your space. That would be an advanced horse and a part of the test for leading however separating the fore quarter is a part of how we teach those good ground manors. Fore quarter yielding is also important to under saddle maneuvers. Lets test this with the same method we have used so far. We will lead the horse to the center of the round pen or arena. Approach the horse and do some head lowering, rub the horse all over so we feel the horse is relaxed . I teach basic fore quarter yielding from the ground using a training stick. Fore quarter yielding can be one of the toughest ground work exercises to teach so don't blame the horse if it doesn't ace this test more often then not the human is out of position.

I've found a pretty good method for teaching this exercise. Stand beside the horse just at that front of its shoulder. Hold the lead rope in the hand closest to the horses shoulder, adjust the rope with a small amount of slack such that if the horse walks forward it will make the lead tight. then hold the training stick in the same hand with it resting on the wrist of the other hand. the hand closest to the horses hose is held up at the level of its jaw but you don't touch unless applying pressure. Have your "nose hand slightly relaxed, and begin pressing on the shoulder with the thumb of the hand holding the lead and stick. allow the horse to move front feet only, if it does immediately release. if not use your "nose" hand to apply pressure to the horses jaw. the shoulder hand should be the primary cue and the jaw hand is the enforcement. Raise the energy until the horse takes just one step then release. Repeat several times then ask for more steps. As the horse improves the "Jaw" hand becomes unnecessary and the shoulder hand can begin to progress back toward the girth. You can engage in a little teaching during these tests to feel how the horse responds.

9.Back Up
There are a hand full of exercises to teach a horse to back from the ground. Remembering that we are evaluating an unknown horse you should start using a training stick. It is possible for a horse that has never seen a training stick to strike at it so be careful and read the horse. Avoid starring the horse in the eye that's aggressive body language. A high scoring horse will back from a slight wiggle of the lead rope or a motion from your hand. Try this first as we always start using our ultimate cue. If the horse does not respond I will have the training stick already in hand holding it with my thumb up and the stick pointing to the ground. In this position you can motion the stick toward the horse a few times while still motioning with your other hand raising the energy until the horse takes a step backward then release. If the horse isn't responding you have to continue raising the energy of the stick possibly tapping the horse on the chest until it finally moves. Quitting too soon (releasing) teaches the opposite of what we are trying to test. If you get one step a few times then try for several, then test with less enforcement.

10.Execute the Four Turns
The four turns a horse can execute are a balanced turn, an extended turn, a turn on the fore quarter and a turn on the hind quarter. A simple exercise / test for these skills is to send the horse around us at the walk to begin with in a balanced turn. A balanced turn is a turn where the outside pair of legs take the same length of stride as the inside pair. this would be a circle a few feet or more away from you. Then shorten the lead to an extended turn where the inside pair of legs takes a shorter stride then the outside pair. this will be a turn close to you. during this test we keep the horse in fluid motion. After a circle in an extended turn we transition into a hind quarter (turn on the fore quarter) yield allowing the horse to face us then help its nose through so your now on the other side of the horse and execute a fore quarter yield (turn on the hind quarter). The measure here is how soft and relaxed the horse is through these four maneuvers. You can raise the energy by test at a slow trot or even a canter if the horse seems willing. Test both directions. Notice the horse stays on the same band through all four turns.
Testing Maneuvers
Test all the basic maneuvers first then you can test the advanced maneuvers. Do ALL of this before attempting jumps if its a show jumper your evaluating or putting the horse on cattle if its a cow horse. Follow this link for maneuver descriptions on my website in the Articles page.

Basic Under Saddle Tests

11.Flex in the Bridle
If the horse is highly reactive at this point there is little point in tacking up but you can test further with caution if you are experienced. Flexing in the Bridle is similar to Flexing in the Halter only we are using a snaffle bit. I would test using the snaffle first as many horses are put into shank bit because the human hasn't taught softness and is using more leverage to "control" the horse. Learn about bits in my article Bits and Head Gear.
Test from both sides both direct and from the off hand side. I recommend split reins for these tests. We are testing how the horse accepts the bridle and its softness to be flexed from the ground at the same time. A high scoring horse will flex from the near and far side softly. Do not flex the far side if the horse doesn't stand quiet when testing the near side.
Make sure you present the bridle properly holding on hand over the horses poll and requiring it lower its head and accept the bit. Using your thumb to open the horses mouth is normal but a horse that has been well taught will reach for the bit.

If it is your intent to evaluate the horse under saddle I suggest using your own saddle regardless if your saddle is a western saddle and the horse has only been ridden english. A broke horse is a broke horse and the point here is to find the holes in this horses training. If you are going to use your back cinch adjust it properly or take it off completely. A loose back cinch can surprise a horse or if it is too loose you have the risk of a foot getting caught in it from something as simple as the horse lifting its foot to shoo a fly.

I prefer to bring saddle and pad into the pen and place them on the ground just as I would during the first saddling of a young colt. Let the horse have a sniff of your equipment. Then first approach the horse with the saddle pad rub it on the shoulder, back, rib cage and drag it off the hind quarters a few times. Pay attention to the horse. Read how it handles all stimulus. Once your satisfied with the pad then approach with the saddle, Place it on the horse and drag saddle and pad off together a few times. Work from both sides of the horse.

If things are going well you can continue to saddle, fastening the girth first tight enough that the saddle will not slip around under the horse should it become reactive but not as tight as we would have it to mount the horse. We will tighten the cinch three times before mounting. This should be your practice on every horse every time you ride! After the initial fastening of the cinch then we buckle the back cinch if its used. Then pet the horse do some head lowering and be sure the horse is relaxed. Give the saddle a little jostle to be sure its secure. Then quietly step back and ask the horse to move around you. Be aware the horse could instantly become reactive and break into a bucking fit if it isn't used to a saddle so keep your self safe. DO NOT conduct a first ever saddling during this evaluation. If the horse moves forward quiet approach it again pet it and tighten the girth a little. Here I would move the horse again both directions execute the four turns and back it up. Flex it again.

If you have a seller present that is telling you you don't need to do all these things simply ask their indulgence, and that you understand what they have described as to the horses temperament and education but this is simply a series of test you always perform to evaluate a horse.

13. Mount
If you feel at this point the horse is ready to be ridden you can proceed to mount the horse. Before actually putting a foot in the stirrup gather gather the reins with a bit of slack hold the stirrup and slap the stirrup leathers a few times on both sides. then if the horse is still un-reactive you can begin to mount. Put the reins over the horses head. If your using split reins cross them over the horses neck so as the tails hang to the off side of each rein. Gather them at the proper length as if they were loop reins. Shorten the near side rein by coiling a small loop in it that will tip the horses nose to you. Put your foot in the stirrup grabbing a little mane hair in your reign hand and placing the other on the Cantle of the saddle and bounce up and down a few times but don't swing a leg over. Step down pet the horse and repeat this time lay over the saddle so the horse can see you from its offside eye. If the horse walks forward at any time slide back to the ground and pull the horse to back a step with the off side rein around the saddle horn. When you feel ready mount and swing your leg over then immediately dismount. Now your ready to mount and put your foot in the off side stirrup. The horses nose should be tipped so that if it were to become reactive you can easily bring its nose around. If the horse is quiet you can release its nose and relax a few moments. Pet the horse on the neck and reach around and pet its hind quarter.

14. Walk Off
Before walking off you should know how to preform a proper one rein stop. You will have the reins adjusted properly so that if they are pulled up to you sternum they just make contact. Reach and take enough rein so that you can pull the horses nose around for a one rein stop but keep your arm straight of have the horses nose slightly tipped and squeeze with your knees and lower legs to ask the horse to walk in a balanced turn. Walk in both directions settling your seat and asking the horse to stop with one rein between. If all is going well walk the horse again and execute the four turns. If the horse does not yield the hind or fore quarters its ok we have learned something else about the horse.

15. Walk
Maneuver Description: Rise slightly (rotate your pelvis forward), then squeeze with both lower legs from the knee down with your toes pointed forward. Then use verbal cue, kiss or cluck or word. After giving the horse the chance to respond begin using the spanker in an over and under fashion with rhythm, increase the energy until the horse moves forward then instantly release. Assume neutral body position when at the walk then resume if the gait is dropped. If the horse accelerates to the next gait use a one rein stop then resume without rest.

16. Trot
Maneuver Description:Rise slightly (rotate your pelvis forward), then squeeze with both lower legs from the knee down with your toes pointed forward. Then kiss, after giving the horse the chance to respond begin using the spanker in an over and under fashion with rhythm, increase the energy until the horse moves past the walk into the trot then instantly release. Release to neutral body position when at the trot then resume if the gait is dropped. If the horse accelerated to the next gait use a one rein stop then resume without rest.

17. Canter
Maneuver Description: With a Green horse squeeze with the lower leg from the knee down with your toes pointed out slightly. Release when at the canter then resume if the gait is dropped. If the horse accelerates to the next gait, use a one rein stop then resume. You can use a spanker in an over and under fashion to help impulsion. Kicking repeatedly is preferred to "pedaling" with your legs. Ask with proper cues, squeeze don't kick, then employ the spanker slow at first then raising the energy until the horse breaks into the Canter. We are not testing for a clean departure at this point or for the correct lead.

18. Backing Under Saddle
Maneuver Description:Use seat cue (roll back on your pockets) Use leg cue (feet at position 1); ask for impulsion with legs. then pick up reins. If necessary ,exaggerate legs. Use only one rein at a time. Spanker can be used on green horses but improving backing from the ground is recommended. Try to not lean your shoulders back

19. Collection of the Head and Neck
Maneuver description: keeping your pelvis neutral, bump with your leg at position 1.5, then ask the horse to flex using the rein. With repetition the horse will begin to flex without the rein. Alternate sides. When the horse has learned , bump with both legs, then get the head to drop using both legs and then reins; remember the timing of the release teaches. When the horse has learned a little replace bumping with steady leg pressure to begin the leg portion of the cue then bump if the horse doesn't respond. As you progress, ask for a slight tip of the nose, then release. Progress to getting the nose to tip and then bring the outside leg then rein to get collection at the bend. This is first done at the stand still correcting if the feet move. After the horse is solid, progress to collection at higher gaits.

20. Guide at the Walk
Maneuver description; Take up the walk. With the inside leg in contact at position 2, move the outside leg to position 1 and increase pressure using your calf muscle. However the leg pressure begins at your hip and moves down the leg to your calf. Allow the horse a step or two before taking a feel with the inside rein bringing the horse’s nose to the inside of the circle and putting the horse into a "bend" around the inside leg. The outside rein can be laid against the neck but must be slack to the bit. When the horse softens in the shoulder and turns, release. Let the horse walk straight a step or two then take up the opposite bend. Start with a large circle. The progression is to start with one step that is soft then release. Then begin adding more steps only releasing when the horse is soft and collected. After building to full circles, progress to increasing leg pressure to tighten to a smaller circle. This is the beginning of a turn on the hind quarter (spin); once the walk is soft, progress to the trot. be sure to look ahead at the path you want the horse to follow. Don't look down at the horse!

21. Guide at the Trot
Maneuver description; Take up the walk. With the inside leg in contact at position 2, move the outside leg to position 1 and increase pressure using your calf muscle. However the leg pressure begins at your hip and moves down the leg to your calf. Allow the horse a step or two before taking a feel with the inside rein bringing the horse’s nose to the inside of the circle and putting the horse into a "bend" around the inside leg. The outside rein can be laid against the neck but must be slack to the bit. When the horse softens in the shoulder and turns, release. Let the horse walk straight a step or two then take up the opposite bend. Start with a large circle. The progression is to start with one step that is soft then release. Then begin adding more steps only releasing when the horse is soft and collected. After building to full circles, progress to increasing leg pressure to tighten to a smaller circle. This is the beginning of a turn on the hind quarter (spin); once the walk is soft, progress to the trot. be sure to look ahead at the path you want the horse to follow. Don't look down at the horse!

22. Guide at the Canter
Get the horse into the canter as described above using outside leg position 3 to ask for the proper lead. Use the spanker if necessary if the horse drops the gait. Testing guiding move the outside leg forward pressing with your knee then guide with direct pressure of the inside rein and lay the outside rein on the horses neck without direct contact.

A high scoring horse will guide more from leg cues with slight help from the rein. Stay on the same lead guiding large and smaller circles and following the arena rail. Stop then test in the opposite direction. We will test lead departures and flying changes later.

Advanced Under Saddle Tests

23. Collection in the Rib Cage
Here preform a brief test to see if the horse has been taught to collect its head and neck by applying leg position 2 cues. If you dont know how to do this or don't ride with these techniques you can remove it from your testing. Refer to my article titles "Collection" found at for more information.

24. Side over at the Stand Still
With the horse at the stand still Pick up the rein but do not make full contact. Keeping your seat neutral (don't ask for forward motion) ask the horse to move sideways using leg position 2. If the horse moves forward you can balance off the rein presenting a barrier to forward motion while continuing to ask the horse to yield laterally. Test both Directions.

25.Laterals Left Bend at the Trot (Shown)
Bend the horse around your inside leg pushing the hind quarter over into the a separate track keeping forward motion with the rail on your right. This lateral bend test could be executed as a leg yield or a haunches in to test here. I hesitate to be very specific because there are many ways people execute or describe such a move. All we are looking for is softness in the ribcage and hind quarter while keeping forward motion in a particular bend. This skill is key to lead changes and departures so a low score here will predict a low score doing departures and changes.

26. Laterals Right Bend at the Trot
Bend the horse around your inside leg pushing the hind quarter over into the a separate track keeping forward motion with the rail on your right. This is the opposite test from the left lateral bend.

27. Half Pass (Two Tracking)
Move the horse in a diagonal yet forward movement across the arena where the front and hind feet take up separate tracks. Test both right to left and left to right.

28. Lead Departure
Maneuver description:Weight riders outside hip then cue with outside leg in position 3; squeeze outside leg, contact with inside leg position 2; rise slightly forward - cluck or kiss. If problems improve HQ yielding and laterals. Actually moving the hip over sets the horse up to depart on the desired lead. Use a spanked to aid impulsion to avoid kicking at the horse in the departure. Also use the spanker if the horse breaks gait.

29.Lead Change
Maneuver Description: Perform a departure in a straight line or large circle. Shift weight of the riders hip (don't lean) to the opposite side cue with leg in position 3; squeeze outside leg, contact with inside leg position 2; rise and allow the horse time to get the change in a stride or two then apply more leg three allow time then roll the spur or use dressage bat. If problems improve HQ yielding and laterals. It is not necessary to have split second timing as to when to initiate the cue. The horse will catch the change on its next stride. rushing your cue will creat a horse that executes reactive changes. To test don't change direction.

30. Turn on the Fore Quarter
Maneuver Description: Tip the horses nose away from the direction of the turn. Move outside leg to position one. Use spanker or bat on shoulder to enforce. Get one step then release. Build from there. The Horse should travel with its hind feet around the front feet. If its a dressage horse you may want to test a turn on the Fore Hand where the horse pivots around a spot directly under its poll then test a Pirouette where one front foot stays planted. Its your option.

31. Turn on the Hind Quarter
Maneuver Description: Tip the horses nose in the direction of the turn. Look over your shoulder at the flank. Press with leg position 3. Enforce with spanker from opposite hand. Use only one hand on the direct rein. The Horse travels with its front feet around the hind feet.

32. The Four Turns
Maneuver description: Walk the horse into a Balanced turn using proper leg and rein cues. then keeping forward motion tighten into an extended turn. Still keeping the horse moving transition into a Hind Quarter Yield (turn on the Fore Quarter) and then keeping the horse on the same bend transition to a turn on the Hind Quarter. Release and go to neutral, the horse should stop then execute a step backward.

33. Spin
Maneuver Description: Walk the horse straight. Press hind quarter toward the inside of the turn with outside leg 3. then move the same to leg 1 and press the fore quarter around, waiting for one step of the front feet crossing over then release and walk out. When the horse is soft add more steps around until the horse can do a 360 or more and continue to walk out of each turn. Trot the horse into an spiraling in circle until the hind quarter some to a near stop keeping cadence and forward motion with the front feet. Bring the horse around and then spiral out. Begin with the horse traveling in a small circle always keeping forward motion. As the horse improves tighten the circle until the horse pivots on a single hind foot but you still keep motion and walk out.

34. Roll Back
Maneuver Description: Ride the horse to a stop using seat then leg then rein cue. Hold the cue until the horse rocks back slightly but does not step back. smoothly cue a turn using leg position 1 then inside rein release when the horse has redirected then ask for a departure at the desired gait.

35. Cutting Horse Turn
Maneuver Description: for this evaluation you may want to omit this as a test although i like to test it as it does tell about how athletic and how soft the horse it to different lateral cues. If the horse has no idea what your asking mark a zero and move on.

Begin by asking the horse to move off your leg with high energy. The horse should be at a high level at all other maneuvers. While trotting a large circle redirect using seat and leg cues at position 1.5. Take a feel with new inside rein, then lift and press with the outside leg, then roll the spur if necessary to get an energetic direction change and lateral movement. The horse should not break from the trot but should speed up. This exercise gets the horses feet freed up and rating the energy of your leg.

The actual cutting horse turn has the horse loading it's weight on it's hind quarters so it can execute up to a 180 degree turn around with out the front feet touching the ground. When teaching it is best to use something for the horse to follow and "pull" the horse through the turn. You can use live cattle but a mechanical flag is best. It's important not to let the horse get "beat" by the cow or flag. The movement of the flag can be slow to begin with. As with all maneuvers correct is better than fast. Start by walking the horse to the flag, about 20 yards away is a good working distance. Have the flag moved off and use your leg then rein cues to follow. Trot in time with the flag stopping with the flag at the end. Do not let the horse face up to the flag. Allow the horse to rest and relax but use leg collection to keep the horse looking at the flag. When ready move the flag slowly the opposite direction, back the horse a few steps to move with the flag then use your offside leg then rein to bring the horse around in a 180 degree turn and then trot along to follow the flag. Stop and rest on the ends this is training not a show! Mix up the places where you stop. Sometimes move and stop several times in the same direction. Always load the horse on it's hind quarter before asking for the turn even if actual actual backing isn't asked for. Do not stop short or go long on the flag. We are starting to teach correct position, it is best that if the horse gets in proper position that the flag is stopped. This teaches the horse it can stop the flag/cow. The cutting turn is different from a rollback.