Training ~ Tools ("Printer Friendly" version of this page)
We have heard that in order to be a good horseman you must have the following tools to work with your horse:
All this stuff is for your $1200 horse. Less is more in our horsemanship world. The most useful tool that we have is our hands. They didn't cost us anything and we can take them everywhere. We use them for feeling when our horses are tense or relaxed, to feel pressure, and to follow the horse's feel. We use them for petting and to touch our horses anywhere on their body. We are always finding new ways to use our hands with our horses. The second most useful tool that we own is a horsemans halter -- a simple rope halter and lead rope.
Save your money and spend your time with your horse not shopping for new gadgets. You have to wonder how the vacqueros and native americans were so successful with their horsemanship without all of the things that we have today. This may sound contradictory given that we sell horsemanship equipment. The idea here is to use what you have, keep your training simple. Use your mind, think more and spend more time with your horse and less money on quick fixes.
I remember when a well respected trainer in our area showed up at our place for a lesson with one of our neighbors. They were going to be doing some bending excercises Well, I knew the trainer was coming and put out some empty plastic milk jugs for the student to use. This trainer was really upset that I didn't use orange cones like the kind she had purchased at another well respected horseman's clinic. Do you think the horse knows the difference?
We know all kinds of rich people with lousy horses. If money were the answer to better horsemanship then we would be in trouble. We are interested in using the least amount of anything; time, money, materials but balancing this between what's effective with the horse. An accountant would call this "cost effective" horsemanship training. When you start looking at things this way, you become aware of the time versus money aspect.
We are always looking for ways to use what we have around our place to improve our horsemanship skills. Many of these things were scrap, well worn, or purchased at tag sales. An old tarp can become a tarp wall or used to walk on. Scrap lumber can be made into a bridge. Plastic milk jugs with some sand or dirt in the bottom work almost as good as cones. You get the idea...
OK, with that said -- we certainly appreciate quality saddles, tack, and tools to use with our horses. There's nothing better than admiring a handmade saddle or a riata. And some tools just make your job a lot easier. I'm constantly impressed with how the cordless screwdriver has changed my life.
"Traditional Tack" versus Horsemanship Tools
It's really a stretch to call these "traditional" since many of these things didn't appear on the horse training scene until the early part of this century -- just about the time that the automobile started taking the place of the horse as the primary method of transportation. I don't think that it's any coincidence that more products were invented at a time when people started spending less time with their horses.
There are many methods of horse training. There are also many different "tools" which you can choose to assist your training. You are probably familiar with the flat halter, longe line, stud chain, martingale, and other traditional training tools.
There are other tools that you can use which work better than these traditional tools. These are the rope halter, lead rope, longe line, and progress string made from double braided marine rope. These tools work so well because they send a clear message to the horse about what is happening in terms that the horse can understand -- yielding to pressure. Many people are "discovering" what the native americans, vacqueros, and buckaroos of the old west new about training. These tools are very similar to what they used with their horses.
A normal flat halter and lead rope do not work very well because the flat halter is too wide to apply enough pressure for the horse to "learn" from your queues when training. On the other hand, a rope halter works because the relatively thin rope along with the knots apply pressure which the horse quickly learns to yeild to.
Flat halters do have their place, but training is extremely difficult with one. A good comparison would be mowing ten acres of grass with an old non-motorized push reel mower vs. using a riding lawn mower. Sure you can get the grass mowed with the older style lawn mower -- eventually. But, you can't stay on top of things and you would be working at least ten times as hard and probably not be doing as good a job as you could with a different tool. (Actually, a smart person would let the horse eat the pasture down).
The other comparison is "normal" rope vs. double braided marine rope. This is a tougher sell because everyone has some old rope around and "rope is rope" isn't it? At first glance and from pictures, double braided marine rope looks a lot like a normal rope. The difference is that this type of rope has a center core of rope covered by an outer core which can move independently. When you hold double braided rope in your hand the first thing you'll notice is how "heavy" it feels compared to a normal rope. We don't want to get into the technical specifications of rope here, but this allows the rope to move with a "live" feel which in turn allows you to send energy down the rope to the horse. This is something that you just can't do with a normal rope lead line or longe line.
Why is this important? We have asked ourselves this question many times. Someone had to tell us too. The first thing is obvious, double braided rope sends such a clear message to the horse. The second thing isn't so obvious, it's timing. When you are training your horse you only have 2-3 seconds from the time you send a message to your horse and it reacts or responds. These crucial seconds are the most important in the training of your horse.
You are always going to find someone who disagrees with this and has a different point of view. And, until you see someone who understands these concepts, you may not "buy in" to these training methods either. I am a firm believer in using what works for me, we try to keep an open mind and if someone shows me a better way of doing something I'm willing to try it. Ten years ago if you told me that you could teach a two year old horse to leg yield, side pass, neck rein, do a turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, be a "self loader" in the trailer and most importantly -- dead calm on the trail, I would have asked you if you'd been doing drugs. But, in nine months we not only have this, but a horse that can do flying lead changes and much more -- and you can too. This almost sounds like one of those late night television infomercials.
In your evolution of training you will eventually find that you won't need to use these tools to get what you want out of your horse. But you need to start with this foundation or you'll never get to this point. By this I mean doing things at liberty. Once you get good enough at reading your horses body language, and more importantly, you are consistent with your body language you can get a response from your horse with posture and body language.
Other Tools & Games
These training tools are even more non-traditional than the rope halters and lead ropes. Horse games are an easy way to expose your horse to different situations. We have done clinics in our arena where thats all we do for 5-6 hours. These are fun things that you can do that dont cost a lot of money but do make a big difference in the bravery of your horse.
Tarp: A plastic tarp is a valuable piece of equipment. Lay it on the ground and ask your horse to walk over it. Its easiest to lead your horse over, but you should also try to longe and drive your horse over the tarp. Reward the horse for appropriate behavior. Let your horse smell it first. Then ask them to follow you over the tarp. This may take some time. Eventually, you will want to build the bravery in your horse by asking them to go over the tarp first (ground driving). You should also be able to ask your horse to stand quietly on the tarp.
exercise that you can do with the tarp is to put it on the horses back.
Use the approach/retreat method of introducing
the tarp. Dont just throw it over the horse. After you have mastered this
technique you can work towards covering the horse completely with the tarp.
Remember to reward the horse for appropriate behavior. We started with
the tarp folded into a small square and gradually opened it up and placed it
on the horse each time. Eventually, we got to the point of having tarp
completely enclose the horse.
TarpWall: We all want a brave horse that will go through brush, or tolerate things flapping against their bodies. You could work on this when the occasion arises or you could prepare the horse for these types of situations in advance. We use an old tarp cut into 8" strips and string it up between the opening in our arena. We first ask the horse to follow us through on a lead line and work up to driving the horse through the tarp wall. Eventually, we will ride the horse through the tarp. You have to approach this understanding that this is a strange concept to the horse "you want me to do what?" But, by introducing this in steps to the horse you will have no problem. Ask the horse to stand near the tarp. Then rub some of the strips on the horses body. Then ask the horse to move into the tarp. Then ask the horse to follow you through. Use the approach/retreat method of introducing this to the horse and remember to reward for appropriate behavior.
Balloons: Get a balloon and fill it full of air. A helium filled balloon with a weight on the string works best. Show the horse the balloon, let him smell it. Reward the horse. Pick up the balloon and rub it on the horses body. This is a big deal to a horse. Let the balloon rise over the horse's body or head. Do this until the horse is desensitized to this stimulus. Use the approach/retreat method of introducing this to the horse and remember to reward for appropriate behavior.
Flag: Want to be in a parade? How do you think those drill team riders introduced the flags to their horses. This is easy if you understand what you are asking the horse to do. You may have noticed the common theme with all of these tools -- no matter what the stimulus, if you use the approach/retreat method of introduction to the horse and remember to reward for appropriate behavior you will teach your horse to respond in the manner that want. We didn't have a flag but we did have a long stick that we tied some scrap material to simulate a flag (we don't think the horse knows the difference). Do the same thing as you did in the other exercises, introduce the flag to the horse -- let him sniff it. Then rub it on their body, And finally, wave it near their body and above them.
Soccer: Get a large ball. The kind that you can get in a toy store works very well. We have a giant 3 foot rubber ball that we bought at ToysrUs that is excellent for this (we bought the ball for our son). Show the horse the ball, let them smell it. Reward the horse for appropriate behavior. Move the ball on the ground, let the horse see it. Reward the horse. Roll the ball backwards and have the horse move forwards into it. Reward the horse. Roll the ball into your horses knees from the front. Your horse may jump back, thats OK. Keep doing this until your horse will stand still. Reward your horse for appropriate behavior. If you are under saddle, ask the horse to move into the ball and move it with his legs. Reward the horse. Keep at it until you can show the horse the ball and they will try to move into it on their own. We have a horse that likes the ball so much that we have to hide it from him.
Musical Chairs/ Tag: This is a good way to expose a horse to a lot of action, fast movement, and close contact with other horses and people. This is a variation on the game that you played as a kid. Horses obviously cant sit in a chair, but they can stand on a piece of cardboard. You need one fewer pieces of cardboard than you have horses (5 horses = 4 pieces of cardboard). Cut the cardboard into 1 to 2 foot square pieces, the size isnt that important. Lay the cardboard out at least 20 feet from each other. Make someone "it" and everyone else has to get their horse to stand on a piece of cardboard. Agree on a time limit for being "it", three minutes is a good limit. The person who is it has to go touch anyone whos horse is not touching the cardboard. If you are touched you are "it" and have to find someone to tag. After the time limit, remove a piece of cardboard, so that there are even fewer "safe" places to stand. You cant push or knock someone off their horse but anything else is open game. Continue until all of the cardboard is removed.
Bridge: We do a lot of trail riding and come across all kinds of bridges and elevated walkways over wetlands in the Pacific Northwest. It's tough for a horse to go out over a bridge that makes all kinds of noise, doesn't have a rail, and may be high off the ground. You can prepare the horse for this situation with our "bridge simulator 9000". We made a bridge out of scrap plywood and 2x6's. We start by asking the horse to walk over it through the middle (the short way), this introduces it to them. At first they may not even step on the bridge, don't worry -- be patient. You will ask the horse to walk across the bridge lengthwise and stop. Don't let the horse rush or run off the bridge. It's also important to make sure that the horse does not step off the bridge into your space.
When the horse is good at going over the bridge, stopping, and backing up, we introduce the teeter-totter to them. We insert a 4"x4" block under the center of the bridge so that it moves like a teeter-totter when the horse steps on it. We work with the horse until they are able stand on the bridge and shift their weight forward of backward to make the bridge move in either direction.
These animals are more common on the trail nowadays with packs. When a horse
sees one of these strange creatures for the first time with all of their fur
and strange smell you can have some serious problems. The best thing you could
do is borrow a llama from someone. Introduce the horse to the llama in an open
area. Let the horse smell the llama and reward the horse. Ask the horse to stand
still while the llama is near. This is a very difficult thing to do, make sure
you reward the horse.
Motorcyles: Get a motorcycle, preferably a dirt bike (they are nosier) and let the horse look at it while the engine is off. Reward the horse for standing quietly. Start the engine and and let the horse look at it. Reward the horse for standing quietly. Have someone ride the motorcyle around your horse, dont get too close. Reward the horse for standing quietly. Keep doing this until your horse is calm with the motorcyle. You want to desensitize the horse to the sound and motion of the motorcycle.
Use your imagination. There are many ways to approach these situations and many different training scenarios that accomplish similar things.
We sell rope halters, lead ropes, longe lines and progress strings but, you can make these items yourself. If you are up to the challenge -- Here are the instructions for how to: Tie your own simple rope halter. You need at least 22 feet of continuous rope to make a rope halter for an average size horse. If this is your first one, you may want to start with 25 feet just to be safe!
How to Splice your own Lead Ropes - Directions on rope splicing from New England Ropes. In order to make your own ropes you'll need to be able to do an eye splice and a back splice for double braid rope. These are general splicing instructions. In order to make a 12 foot lead rope, you need to start with 15 feet of rope. The extra three feet is used to build the splices. Make sure that you use double braided yacht line. It costs between $1.25-$2.00 per foot, but you'll be disappointed in the feel of the rope if you select another type of rope. If you master these techniques, you will build professional looking tools, just like we do.