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A day at the office - Part II

Sun, 15th Mar, 2015 -- Kerry Mack

Kerry Mack and Mayfield Limelight © Roger FitzhardingeLast time we talked about training that aims to make the work like “A DAY AT THE OFFICE”, Routine, and “A PIECE OF CAKE”, Easy.  Fundamentally this is about understanding what is the smallest step towards what you are wanting to train, rewarding by removing pressure when your horse makes a reasonable attempt, then repeating. Then when this little bit is easy and routine build on it by asking just a little bit more. Last time we took the example of lengthening and collecting the steps. 

Lets take another example, moving sideways away from the leg. I like to introduce this in the very beginning from the ground. The young horse is likely to feel less pressured if you are standing next to him not on his back. First get him to give to one rein. Stand near his left shoulder and slowly and gently ask him to bend his neck around towards you. You want him to keep his legs still and just give to the rein. If he moves (which is most likely) no problem. Just stay with him, asking for him to bend. When he stands still then release the pressure and allow him to straighten out. A few repetitions each side and he will soon understand what you want. When this is a piece of cake and a day at the office (might be a few days) you can ask him to move sideways from your hand (thumb works well). First bend his neck then tap with your hand where  your leg would be. The bend in his neck stops him from going forward and he should move his hind quarter sideways. This is a kind of turn on the forehand. Some trainers call this dis connecting the hind leg. It can be pretty useful.
I was taught to do this before riding the young horse*. When this was Routine and easy we would get on and the first thing we asked was a turn on the forehand. You will remember that a horse with a straight neck can be very strong, but a horse with a bent neck is a softer, less strong creature. As the horse has a bent neck he is unlikely to be able to buck and that first experience he has of you on his back as he moves is more likely to be controlled. You can even do this with hobbles on if you want to, as long as the horse is used to hobbles of course. After he is used to the feeling of you sitting there as he moves around then you can allow him forwards. You use two legs together to move straight forwards of course.
So the newly ridden horse will have some experience of moving sideways away from the leg. You can do the turn on the forehand under saddle of course. Then we can introduce leg yielding. A couple of blogs ago I wrote about Ray Hunts idea of CAUSING THE RIGHT THING TO BE EASY AND THE WRONG THING TO BE DIFFICULT. Now we can use this principle to start the leg yielding. You can start on a very small circle in the middle of the arena. Make the circle as small as possible. The circle must be small enough as to be difficult. Have a little bend, (or even quite a lot of bend). Now put the inside leg on and ask the horse to make the circle bigger by moving sideways. Making the circle bigger makes it easier, so he is likely to want to do it. Reward a good attempt. Repeat and do it the other side. remember that a horse has poor connections from one side of his brain to the other so when you change direction and do it from the other leg this si like a brand new excursive for him. Be patient. When its a piece of cake at walk do it at trot . This wont be the same day but is likely to be the same week.
Another leg yield exercise that makes the right thing easy is to face him at an angle of about 45degrees with his nose towards the wall. Then ask him to leg yield along the wall. He will be bent around the leg that he is moving away from. He will move along the wall into the opening you have left in your aids.
When these things are ROUTINE and EASY you can ask for the leg yield from the centre line to the wall. You can start from the quarter line and he is likely to want to move over towards the wall because the wall supports him. A bit harder is to ask from the wall to the centreline. When all of these are easy at walk and trot it is likely that he is ready for Shoulder in.
Any time he seems confused you can go back to an easier exercise to remind him of the basic reaction. At the same time that he is understanding the new signals you are giving him he is developing balance, suppleness and strength, all of which prepare him for the demands of the more difficult exercises that you follow up with. At first he might not find it easy to keep a constant rhythm, but as he gets stronger and better balanced he will keep his rhythm even if you vary the length of the steps within the exercise, or if you vary the angle of the sideways movement.
So once again we have used the principle of making the right thing easy, to make the work a piece of cake, just like a day at the office.
 Have Fun
 Kerry Mack
*Neville Fennell taught me this at Willomurra Quarter Horse Stud in the 1970’s. I believe he was influenced Ray Hunt’s ideas when he trained in the US.