Training ~ Focus ("Printer Friendly" version of this page)
Focus is your ability
to keep the horses attention on you. If you have a horse that is looking
around at other horses, checking out a barking dog, or not paying attention to
you you have a respect problem. When working with your horse, make sure
that they are focused on you. You can tell a lot about a horse by what it
is looking at and where its ears are -- unless the horse is mad or you have taught
them to be "sour".
Horses have excellent peripheral vision. They can see almost 360 degrees around them. There is a blind spot just in front of their nose and directly behind their tail. Because of this, there is no reason for a horse to turn or move while you are working with them unless you ask.
When working with a young colt, you want to instill the concept of focus immediately. To do this, all you have to do is ask your horse to stand. While you are standing at the horses shoulder, watch the movement of the horse's head. When it moves away from you, bring it back to center with the lead rope or a gentle pull on the halter. If the horse moves it's head into you, move the head away. This may take 5 minutes or it may take an three hours, you have to be patient and reward the horse for the proper response. What you are after is a horse that will stand quietly, focused on you. When you get this on the ground, you'll have it in the saddle too.
Time is your friend. You wont learn to speak Chinese overnight and your not going to teach your horse perfect ground manners this fast either. Stay relaxed and work on things one step at a time. There are horses that are ready to learn and can communicate with you almost immediately and there are others who you wonder if they are ever going to get it. Horses are just like people in this respect. If you have patience, you will be rewarded.
Horses get bored easily and like to find interesting things to do to occupy their time. If you make time work for you, it can be a useful tool that you dont have to buy. After you spend time training your horse, you probably put him into a stall or pasture. It will most likely be at least another day before the next time you go get him. He has had 24 hours to think about what happened during the previous training session. If you end your session at the right time you can give your horse something positive to think about until the next session. Always end a training session positively. Dont quit with both you and your horse upset. That just teaches them that this was a bad experience.
Another important concept regarding time is how long to train your horse during each session. This all depends on the horse. Young horses do not have the attention span to maintain a long training session. I work with the youngsters anywhere from 10-20 minutes at a time once or twice a week. Our 3-4 year olds work about an hour every day. The thing that makes this work is that we have goals for our horses and know where we want to end up. None of our horses are at the same stage in their training, even though we may have started them at the same time. You have to be flexible, but also remember what you are trying to achieve.
A good example is training a horse to ground tie. Your goal should be to have your horse stand quietly not tied, to groom, saddle, and bridle or just chat with a friend. This is a good exercise that you can do to build the focus and time limitations of your horse. This is easy. All you have to do is ask your horse to stand quietly. Start in an arena or round pen with just a rope halter and lead rope. Drop the lead rope on the ground and pet your horse on the wither. If your horse starts to walk off, dont worry, theyll step on the lead rope and stop themselves. You can make the horse do all the work.
Work towards being able to have your horse stand quietly for as long as you ask. Initially, this may be 2 seconds, then 5 seconds, then 20, until you have worked up to a minute. You should be able to do this on the ground and in the saddle. Eventually, you should be able to have your horse stand quietly as long as you ask. This may be up to an hour or more. It may take you 2-3 weeks to get to 20 seconds. It is your responsibility to ask the horse to stand quietly through your posture and movement.
You are after quality time, not quantity. You can get much more training accomplished if you have a goal and work at it a bit at a time rather than trying to force something to happen.
How do you know when youre ready to get on? The horse is going to tell you. By this we mean that the horse will have been exposed to enough situations that this will just be another exercise. Our belief is that you do things on the horse's time. When they are ready, you'll know -- your horse will yield softly, he will have a soft eye, you can touch him anywhere, and you will not have any resistance when you lead, longe or round pen. Your horse must have a good posture, be calm and relaxed. Can you bring your horse up to you while you are above them and practice throwing a leg over without having the horse run off? Dont put a time limit on this. Dont wake up tomorrow and say "Well, my horse is two I better get on today". Some horses are ready at two, some at four. There's nothing that says you definitely have to start a horse and be on them by a certain age. If a trainer tells you this, question them!
I remember someone asking Buck Brannaman a question at one of his clinics about how long they should work with their horse, because it just wasn't responding to a one rein stop. Buck's answer was simple, "However long it takes". What he meant by this was don't stop until you get to a point where you have made some progress. Although, you need to determine what progress is, it may be standing still for two seconds. If you work on this for an hour and only get to this point, I'd call that a good place to quit -- there's always tomorrow.
There is some risk involved in horse training for both you and the horse. Horses can cause serious injury. Be sensible and dont attempt anything that is outside your comfort level. This information is intended to illustrate how we apply our training techniques, you are responsible for using this information wisely. If you dont feel comfortable with your abilities or an exercise, dont do it! Seek advice or assistance from a professional horse trainer. Stay on the "high side of trouble".
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Updated Sept. 2012