This is a great game to play with any horse that has a rusty ‘go button’. It develops forwardness in the horse, gets snappy responses to leg aids, builds horse and rider communication/relationship and develops the riders’ seat.
Horses that won’t go can seem ‘lazy’ when in fact they’re ‘blocked’, desensitised or don't understand. They don't respond to normal leg pressure. There are a number of reasons why this can be the case.
Some horses won’t move forward because their response to the go aid has been de-trained. These horses are the result of people riding incorrectly and not releasing when the horse responds to the go aid. Many school horses end up this way.
With other horses when the rider applies stronger pressure to ask them to go they may buck or pig root. It seems strange that these same horses that appear quiet and slow can be the very ones that will suddenly squeal and twist and turn and buck. This is how they’re letting their energy out. It makes sense to show them an appropriate method of energy release.
And a third category is horses that really don't understand leg aids. These may be green-broke horses, standardbreds straight from the track, or those that have always been whacked with a rope or whip to go and don't understand anything else. These horses require undestanding and patience.
I first came across this game in a Parelli book. I have used it extensively over the years with all sorts of horses and had great results. I also find it can have a profound effect on humans too. You will need a small enclosed area. Ask your horse to move forward but don’t steer at all. Apply the legs (or whatever your go aid is) until the horse moves, then release immediately. Do not hassle the horse to move faster at first, if they're moving at all leave them alone.
Once they get the idea you can reapply your aid to get the faster walk, then release. When the horse stops, reapply the leg, then when it moves, release. That’s all you have to do. With no steering and no stopping all your riding has come down to one thing only, going. Bringing something down to one component is the best way to teach horses. This exercise literally polishes the go button.
The rules of the game are no stopping, no eating (use the reins to prevent this then release) and no steering. At first your horse will be a bit confused as they have to decide for themselves where to go. Most will go to the gate, the corner, the adjoining fence where other horses are etc. If you find yourself in a corner resist the urge to pick up the reins. Just apply the leg; all horses are capable of getting themselves out of a corner. Some will go in tiny circles for ages before finally realising they can go further. All of this is normal, just relax and enjoy the ride.
Not controlling the horse in this way gives the rider an enhanced ability to ‘feel’ their horse. You will have no time to prepare for a turn as you won’t know when it’s coming. You will have to follow the horses’ body with your own. This helps riders to feel the horse under them better, let go and let their body become one with the horses’ body.
At some point your horse will be moving forward freely. At this point pick up the reins and ask them to halt. You can leave it there if you’re happy with the progress or do it again, but remember not to overdo it, especially if it’s new, and try and leave on a high note. We’re all guilty of continuing when something gets really good, only to find that it starts going backwards a bit because the horse is losing concentration or is tired. This results in leaving that moment in the horses’ memory. It’s much better to stop just at the point where it’s going really well, and leave that moment in their memory.
Once you’ve entered a comfort zone with the above exercise at the walk, try it in a larger area, try it at trot. This is so much fun and fabulous for teaching the riders’ body to follow the horses’ body. Remember this is a game, don’t get too serious, just relax and enjoy the ride!
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
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