Tips for Improving Horse Skills & Refining Aids

I teach three stages of communication with the horse to help equine enthusiasts learn how to slow down, be mentally present, refine the quality of their skills, improve their timing, and create interaction that has value to the horse. To do this, I break down the communication offered to the equine into beginning, middle, and end stages.
The Beginning stage is the check-in, or assessment, of "where" the horse is mentally and physically in the current moment. Based on the equine's feedback, if there is anticipation, defensiveness, tension, etc. these things need to be addressed BEFORE asking something of the animal. The Middle, or aid, is the specific "cue" delegating to the horse mentally and physically what is being asked of him. The End, or follow through, is the assessment of the horse AFTER asking something of him to address his feedback. Was he defensive toward the communication? Did he think through what was asked or offer a mindless physical response? Is there increased tension or fleeing after complying with the human's request?
Instead of trying to present the "whole" conversation at once and becoming unclear of why or when the horse does not comply, this can help "segment" the communication so that the rider or handler can have an improved "real-time" interaction with the horse.
Ask yourself the questions shared below. The answers may help clarify what, where, and when there may be a lack of clarity in communication with the horse. This leaves the animal unclear and can contribute to his resistant behaviors.
Whether working from the ground or riding:
  1. Do you engage the horse's mind to focus- and look at/toward- where you will ask him to move, before asking for any movement?
  2. Do you proactively delegate the energy you want the horse to move with or reactively try to contain it?
  3. Do you have a separation in your communication- and in the horse's understanding- between steering and energy?
  4. Do you offer ongoing communication or go "silent" once the horse begins to respond? (i.e. think of it like your car- once the vehicle starts to roll forward, do you let go of the steering wheel and take your foot off the gas pedal, waiting to see what will happen?)
  5. How often do you "check in" with the horse noticing, believing, and addressing any initial, reasonable behaviors that reflect mental avoidance or concern about what you are asking of him? Or if the horse is not "scary" or "resistant enough" do you get fixated on the task and try to continue by adding coercive pressure, getting his compliance, but increasing his defensiveness?
  6. What aids are used, and how early do you use them to specifically communicate with the horse?
  7. What is the horse's response to your spatial and physical communication and movement?
  8. Can you influence independent, balanced movement in the horse's head, neck, shoulder, leg, rib cage, and hindquarters? Or does the horse move his entire body irrelevant to what you ask of him?
  9. Do you "tell" the horse with your aids where an endpoint is, or leave it up to him by just stopping your communication?
I have lost count of the number of folks who when I ask, "Tell me how you would communicate X (something familiar) to the horse," go completely blank in being able to explain how, what, when, and why they do something because there has been so much mindless repetition, that they have lost having clear intention with the horse.
To a prey animal, intention and clarity = safety. Without it, they anticipate, increasingly "take over" in the interactions, and become defensive toward human communication.

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