"When I first started working with horses and trying to improve my horsemanship skills, there were a lot of things that were very confusing to me. Why did my horse behave that way? Why did he react to some things and not to others? How could I get him to understand what I was asking him to do? Why did my horse do so well one day and do everything wrong the next day? Eventually, I discovered that the key to training a horse is learning how to communicate with him in a way that he will understand. If you don't know what makes your horse tick and understand why he does the things he does - good or bad - then training your horse is going to be very difficult. However, once you learn how to communicate with your horse, the two of you can then begin to build the kind of partnership that will help you achieve your goals. Prepare to see your horse in a whole new light as you learn how to get inside your horse's mind, understand how he thinks, and develop clearer and more effective communication than ever before to help set a foundation for a successful partnership." - Clinton Anderson
When I work with the horses, wether it's groundwork or riding, I use the "ask and tell". The ask and tell is; first, asking the horse to do something and if he doesn't respond, tell him to do it.
There's a "teaching stage" and a "practice stage". The teaching stage is where I'm teaching the horse something new. I'm introducing him to something he's never done before. The practice stage is where I'm asking him to do something he already knows. Here's where not to get mixed up on; don't teach the same way you "practice" the horse. As soon as the horse understands the lesson and has it down it's when I start getting "picky".
In the teaching stage it's basically every little effort in the right direction is an instant release of pressure with a reward. The more the horse knows how to do it the more I'll start expecting him to do it better and better, whereas the early teaching stage I'll expect him to mess up, get confused and just take small steps in the beginning. Especially in the beginning, it can get ugly or it can just go smoothly, you never know until you start teaching.
Let's say I ask a little boy/baby:
"Could you get me that ball over there please?"
He hardily knows how to speak yet but he at least understands that I want something. Now it's my job to help him understand. He's not sure what I want and where the ball is there's also other objects. So he might go and bring me back something else like toy truck for instance.
"no, not the truck. Can you bring me the ball?"
He might keep bringing me different objects until he finally brings the ball. That's when I make it obvious that's what I wanted and congratulate him.
"Yes! That's what I wanted! Good job!"
I would never say:
"Go get me that ball! NOW!"And if he didn't do it in 5 seconds I would punish him. Of course not!
Same thing with horses. I shouldn't just thrust it in his face and expect him to do it right away! It would make it a lot worse.
When I teach a horse something new I ask him like I asked the baby. Horses will try to figure out what you want by looking for an answer similar to the baby looking for the ball. He didn't know what he was looking for but as soon as he found it, I made sure he knew that's exactly what I wanted. I'll take away the pressure the second they do what I want and reward them "yes! Good job! That's what I want". So the next few times I'll ask for the same thing until the horse starts to understand "Oh! You want me to (example->) a few steps back!" (back up).
In the beginning I'll reward the horse for the slightest try. Even if he just took one step back, then I'll take the pressure off right away. Some horses will learn faster than others just people do. I need to establish a starting point each horse. If the horse just isn't getting what I'm asking for I'll take it a notch down. Or if the horse overreacts, confused, or being disrespectful, it can vary on where I need to start. I'll try to make it as easy as possible for him to understand but also be effective. But I won't stay in one spot forever! Don't teach a kid his ABCs until he's 20. I want to build on that so I'll start asking for more and more. And of course continue onto the next lesson. The fundamentals are all the foundation parts of training. It doesn't matter what the horse will do later in his life, barrel racing, trail riding, jumping, there's always a foundation to be set before anything else can be taught.
Now that he understands well enough what I want him to do, I'll get more picky. He knows well enough what I want him to do at this point. Here's where the tell part comes in. I always ask in the lightest pressure that way anytime I ask him to do anything all it takes is the lightest pressure rather than a lot of pressure.
I'll ask the horse:
Me: "Can you back up for me please?"
Horse: (lazy) "well...I just don't feel like it today" or (challenging me) "No. I don't want to. What do you say to that?!"
This is the horse showing me disrespect, laziness or challenging my leadership. I know he knows what I'm asking for so I don't have to worry about confusing him because we're past the teaching stage. So I'll "tell" him:
Me: "I want you to back up NOW!"
The pressure bar goes some slightest to the extreme!
Horse: "Yes ma'am!"
I wouldn't do this to a horse who doesn't know the lesson/what I'm asking for. It'll just confuse him a lot and end up in a wreck. Or teaching him to fear and overreact.
In the teaching stage the pressure bar starts out small and builds up gradually with rhythm: (for backing up method)
1, 2, 3, 4 (not listening)
1, 2, 3, 4! (not listening)
1, 2, 3, 4!! (not listening)
In the practice stage it still starts still starts out small but if the horse doesn't respond correctly, the bar skips the gradual and right to the point. He knows what he's supposed to do, now it's his job to do it.
1, 2, 3, 4
But if he wants to be lazy, too bad for him. For the amount of time I work him (1-3 hours a day) he has the rest of the time to himself doing whatever he wants in the paddock or turnout pen.
If he's challenging my leadership then I need to make it my duty to correct him on that too. Horses will always challenge your leadership every once in awhile, some more than others. They'll ask it like "hey, I don't want to listen to you today! I think it's my time to be in charge here!".
By the way, when I say I'm "asking" a horse to do something, it's not verbally asking. It's through my body language with the pressure I use on them. Again for instance, backing, if I "asked" the horse to back up about 10 steps I'll add pressure either by pulling back on the reins if I'm in the saddle, pull back, march my arms or shake the rope if it's groundwork.
I concentrated on working on pretty much one subject (stopping) for 4 days straight with Sugar. It makes a huge difference to work 3-4 days in a row. If I just worked on one subject one day and not work on that subject for a fews days, then come back to it, in most cases the first day I worked that horse would of been useless.
If the horse already knew the subject that would be a bit different, but if I taught or worked on a subject the horse was very bad at then I need 3-4 days straight to where it really sticks in their head.
It goes like this:
Day 1: Introducing the lesson to the horse. Horse isn't sure on what's going on yet.
Day 2: Horse is understanding what you want and starts getting it down.
Day 3: The lesson is now a habit. It's "planted" in the horse's mind. From here it just builds up!
Day 4: You can "skip" day 4 if the horse has it down without worrying about it. This day after it will be further implanting good habits and more steps!
If I wasn't consistent and only worked on a lesson one day, here's how it would look like:
Day 1: Introducing the lesson, horse isn't sure on what's going on yet...
Day 2: No lessons
Day 3: No lessons
Day 4: Working on the same lesson. He's forgotten anything he's done on day 1 because it hasn't been planted in his head yet. No progress at all. So I'll have to introduce the whole lesson again.
And to be honest I've made this mistake quite a bit! It doesn't matter so much if I just work on something the horse already knows, but then again it all depends on how well that horse knows it.
I've been basically teach Sugar how to stop all over again. I haven't been consistent with this lesson and honestly very lazy... Even when I stopped her I started teaching her bad habits and her stops were terrible. It wasn't very bad and thankfully grew slowly into bad habits, but enough was enough! I started day 1 with a lot of backing. Not only backing in the saddle but a lot on the ground too. She's actually quite good at backing on the ground. She's not too bad in the saddle but she always tried to walk out of it when I asked her.
Focus and be consistent:
Currently right now on day 4 I can back her with one finger and the slightest pressure! I wouldn't of been able to do that if I wasn't consistent with her every day!
I did a lot of backing because this taught her to think back instead forward, forward, forward all the time. I would back her on the ground all the way to the arena. When I'm in the arena (for these lessons I skipped a lot of groundwork because I wanted to use my time and focus mostly under saddle) I would mount and instead of taking off right then I would flex her from side to side and then back her around the arena for a bit. When I did move forward, every time I stopped I'd back her. I also focused on my seat and how I should feel with my body language.
I did more than just backing however. I worked on her yielding the hindquarters because I very rarely did that. Yielding the hindquarters was actually really hard for me to do under saddle in the beginning of my learning especially because I had a hard time feeling/telling if she was crossing her hind legs over and keeping her inside foreleg planted or not. It's a lot about feeling on this one because I can't see what's she actually doing like I could if I did the same thing on the ground. I was so afraid of doing it wrong. But now I'm starting to get the hang of it!
And my main subject; stopping! I did more backing on day 1 than I did stopping even though the stops were my main goal. The reason for this is because backing is the key to better stops. I want her mentally balanced out between backwards and forwards. Horses always start out thinking forward forward forward! When they spook it's run away, running forward. Unless they're trapped or physically can't move forward, horses will naturally and always run forwards. It's very rare that a horse will ever in his daily life back up on his own. So they're naturally thinking forward and that's why they don't come so easy to be taught to stop and back up.
Whenever you ride a horse it's usually get on and go! That's why when I get on I don't want the horse to take off. I don't want him to be impatient to go already. I don't even want him to be thinking of moving forward! So I'll spend my time flexing first because that will teach him to stand as long as I want without getting impatient about going. It's a good habit to change it up and back the horse once in awhile before ever taking a step forward. This way he's there and never knows what you'll ask but is ready to do what you want vs assuming you'll want to go straight off and taking charge of what to do.
Being consistent is very important when teaching a horse, especially if it's something new!
And I'll make one more point on this. If for instance I did work my horse every day for 3 or 4 days straight and the horse forget's the lesson each time the next day, I'm obviously not making any progress. This is a very high chance that he's not paying attention! You have to make sure that horse is paying attention to you and not getting distracted or looking for something else to look at because you're not being in his face enough.
It's like kid in a class room learning, let's say math for instance, for about a week. He might be half asleep bored out of his mind and looking out the window for something else to interest him in. He technically heard his teacher but it went in one ear and out the other. Same thing with horses! If you're a "boring teacher" and not aggressive enough, the next day he'll forget everything he's learned. You could be teaching him to back up and maybe make a little progress the first day but if he's not looking at you 90% of the time it probably means he's not paying attention.
I learned this the hard way when teaching Ruby backing and lunging. She had her head turned away a lot of the time on somewhere else (daydreaming, a horse far off, who knows what else). Because she wasn't paying attention I lost all that time on her because the next day it was the exact same thing. It was only when Shelbi (CA method ambassador) said to me once "pull her head around! Make sure she's giving you two eyes!". And then she told me about a 100 times after that...
At first I didn't know the use of this and probably wouldn't of bothered if she wasn't there. But the next day it made enough of a difference to show me that I was completely wrong! She was a different horse! She finally knew the answer to the math problem!