Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Simplifying Communication: Re-sensitizing the Dull Horse


Re-sensitizing Your Horse To The Aids

We've all been there at some point: rider applies leg, horse ignores. Rider applies leg again, horse ignores. Rider applies leg again, horse ignores... etc.

There is another formulaic process that I, and many others, use with horses who are dull to my aids. No rider intentionally makes their horses dull to their aids, but inevitably at some time it will happen. When it does, I ask-coax-demand-ask my horse for the correct response to my aid.

Going back, once again, to a horse behind the leg – I first use the lightest aid I can muster and I ask. In this case, I am using the smallest shift of my seat, a lengthening of my back, with a firmness in my lower leg. This is the aid I would like my horse to move off of. Naturally, most horses will feel and promptly ignore this aid because it is subtle.

Immediately after I am sure my horse is ignoring this aid, I add a coax - I give the horse a more firm aid, such as a small bump with my upper inside calf.

If, and when, the horse ignores this I move swiftly to demand in which I give the horse an aid it cannot ignore. This is often a quick boot with my calf and a swat with the whip. It is a harsh, quick aid that will startle the horse into response. When the horse leaps off of my leg I immediately reward and politely bring my horse back to the slower gait.

I then ask again, and the horse should anticipate the firm demand and respond quickly to a light aid. If they do not, repeat the ask-coax-demand again. Psychologically, unless there is a more pressing negative stimulus (such as lameness, saddle fit, lack of trust, etc) the horse will ultimately seek to avoid the demand phase and will respond to a lighter aid.

Now, I don't want you to go off smacking an undeserving horse with a whip simply because it won't go. Another quote that I love, when taking about the aids, is "Only use as much, and as often, as you have to."

When you demand a response from your horse, this demand may come in different forms for different horses. I know a young horse who had become so frustrated by his circumstance (ill saddle fit and inconsistent work) that he would utterly refuse to go unless given a miserable crack with the whip. At the same time, you can illicit the same response from another horse simply by flicking the tassel against her thin skin. Know your horse, and use your aids judiciously, but also remember that by being firm and demanding, after asking politely, you are giving your horse the opportunity to learn to respond to a light aid.

If you are consistent with this process, and your horse is free from other major stresses, your horse will relearn his sensitivity to your aids quickly, and then it is your responsibility to use concise aids to prevent the horse from becoming dull again.

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Have you had to retrain a horse to be sensitive to your aids? What aids does your horse like to avoid the most?

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