As the horse moves along through his training, you go from showing
him what you want to asking him for it and finally he knows what
you want well enough that you can just tell him.
For example, when you’re heeding a horse on the ground in an arena
and you want him to canter off on his left lead, you’ll “skip”along
keeping your left leg ahead of your right and you’ll turn your shoulders
so they create a feeling of “open” and “forward” in the direction
you want him to go. In the beginning, since he doesn’t yet understand
what you’re showing him, you’ll probably extend your right arm out
parallel to the wall and wiggle your whip to make a little fuss
and create a little more activity in the horse. If he still doesn’t
get the feel of what you want, you might drop back a little further
toward his hip or move in a little closer to him or whatever it
takes for the light bulb to go on over that particular horse’s head.
Once he understands what you are showing him, you can ask for the
left lead canter and expect a more immediate response. You won’t
need quite so many pressures to create the feel in the horse of
the shape that you want. When he’s consistently giving you the left
lead canter whenever you ask for it, now you can just tell him that’s
what you want with only the beginning of that little skip. That
becomes enough to remind him of the full feel of the shape. It has
become something like a signal but if the horse gets rusty, you
can just go back to using a full corridor of pressures that ask
for “canter” until he associates just one part of the corridor with
the “canter” shape again.
There is going to come a time when you know the horse fully understands
the shape you want and you tell him that’s what you want but, for
whatever his reasons that day, he decides not to listen to you.
Then you have to enforce. You might also be starting to work the
horse at the higher levels of his sport and now you want him to
do what he’s already doing but to do it with more energy or a little
more precision. Then you have to enforce.
Enforcing means using your aids with greater emphasis. It means
disciplining the horse in the spirit of the word “disciple”. The
teacher makes a point by calmly interrupting something that’s going
on or by stressing an aid as it is applied. Enforcement is not punishment.
Punishing a horse is something riders do when they’ve made a mistake
and they feel guilty and they want to make themselves feel better
about it. It’s like someone throwing a swear word into the conversation
because they’ve run out of other vocabulary. It’s an action that
disrupts the communication between the horse and its rider and breaks
up any corridor of aids they had going. The horse doesn’t learn
a thing except that the rider is being illogical.
Whatever you do to enforce should not raise the horse’s excitement
level. Enforcement should bring the horse’s attention to a particular
part of a corridor of pressures without losing the feel of the whole
corridor. If you use one aid too “loudly”, the horse’s attention
goes to that aid and he loses the feel of the corridor. For example,
if your good ole boy horse ignores you when you first tell him to
canter so you start right out the next time by telling him to canter
with a touch of spur, you are being too “loud”. But if you touch
the horse with a spur at the end of a leg squeeze just as you feel
the horse is choosing to ignore the leg, that’s a horse logical
Timing within the whole corridor of aids is critical in enforcement.
Let’s say you’re coming up on a jump and you feel the horse just
starting to ignore your leg pressure and lose his impulsion. You
just maintain all the aids you’re already using to create the corridor
of pressures that lead up to the jump but you add a little tap with
the crop to enforce them and prevent a refusal. If the horse refuses
the jump and then you show him the jump and spank him with the crop,
that’s punishment. It’s not going to enforce a thing.
Being ready to enforce the things you tell a trained horse to do
might mean having the right level of physical fitness to properly
apply the aids. Or it might mean adding a crop or whip to your corridor
of aids to help amplify one part of the corridor. Some people get
all hung up trying to classify things as “natural aids” versus “artificial
aids.” If it’s physically a part of you like your hands or your
seat or your legs then it’s natural. If it’s something you attach
to yourself or your horse like a whip or a spur then it’s artificial.
And some people get into all sorts of moral dilemmas about whether
or not it’s OK to use one kind or the other.
When you’re enforcing, it really doesn’t make any difference whether
you’re doing it with a body part you grew yourself or something
manufactured that you bought at the tack shop. The important thing
is how you use it. Whips and spurs are no more abusive or exciting
than your hands or your seat or your legs. You can use your hands
or your legs in an abusive way and you can use a whip or spurs to
convey the subtlest communication. It’s all a matter of degree and
timing and coordination of that individual aid within a whole corridor
of aids that communicates a shape and a direction, and a rhythm
and a lot of other things to the horse.
The key thing is that whatever you do to enforce what you’ve told
the horse to do should not raise his excitement level. Enforcing
with dramatic pressures creates activity and makes it look like
something is happening. When you’re using nuances, it doesn’t look
like much is going on. Good training is boring. If the people watching
you don’t feel like anything exciting is happening, then you’re
probably doing it right.
About the Author
© 1997-2004 Meredith Manor
International Equestrian Centre. All rights reserved.
Instructor and trainer
Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating
with equines for over 30 years as president of
Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, an ACCET accredited
equestrian educational institution.