Teaching my horse to respond better to leg pressure - Page 2 - The Horse Forum
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post #11 of 14 Old 09-06-2013, 10:18 PM
Join Date: Sep 2012
Location: Stafford, Va
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To teach leg pressures, there are some general conventions you should know first:
- Pressure in front of the cinch means move the front end
- Pressure behind the cinch means move the rear end
- Pressure on the cinch means move both ends (side pass)

Of course different disciplines and different trainers have their own variations, but those are generally used in western riding. As you get more practiced and the horse learns, the cues get closer to the center (cinch area) and less noticeable to an observer. They will start to respond to your leg pressure, rather than the heel, and the heel becomes a punishment, rather than the cue.

Start, as was suggested, by working on the ground. I start by using the handle end of a training staff or even something like the handle of a hoof pick, to give the horse a cue to move the part I want him to move.

Say, for instance, I want him to move his hind quarters away from me. I will poke or pressure him lightly in the belly, about where my heel will be while in the saddle giving the same cue. If no response, the cue gets a little harder. If no response, the third time the cue gets very uncomfortable and generally the horse will move away. I hold his head with the lead at first, so that he has to move his rear away. Ah! Reward time! Release pressure, a couple pats, then the light signal again, etc. After just a few short minutes, he'll get the idea and I can then move to another cue and start working that. This is the time you'll also want to start teaching how to move his feet properly. The foot next to you should move across in front of the far hoof, not behind and not next to. As he learns the cue to move, start keeping up the cue until he moves correctly. You have to teach every thing on both sides, because a horse doesn't necessarily relate things to right and left sides as we do.

Teach him how to move on the ground, so that when you are in the saddle all he has to do is figure out the cue.

After a couple of days of working on that, along with other ground training, he'll understand the cue enough that when you are in the saddle and give him a heel, he'll figure out pretty quickly what you're talking about, and he'll already know how to do it. You may have to hold his head at first with the reins.

Now the trick is to practice these cues until he does them with a light cue from the saddle. After he understands the cues, and you know he does, and you know you are giving the cues in a consistent and learned way, the way to get him to respond to a light cue is to give him the light cue, then the second time make it very uncomfortable for him. He will learn to respond to the light cue.

I find spurs to be very helpful in training leg cues. However there is a correct way to use spurs and there is an abusive way. If you do not know how to use spurs, I would suggest you put some on and ride a calm horse that does not need them. It will help you become aware of how you use your heels, so you don't inadvertently jab when you don't intend to. You also need to get your green horse used to them before you start jabbing him with them, or you may get a big surprise!

In my experience, horses learn more quickly, try harder, and are more willing students when I wear spurs.

Another thing, a bit is only as harsh as the rider's hands and the horse's obedience (or lack thereof) make it. A horse that is obedient, with a rider that has "good hands" doesn't have to worry about a bit. Some bits actually help keep a horse's mouth wet. Some bits have metals that actually taste good to a horse. Some have "crickets" that a horse can tumble with their tongue to reduce nervousness. Still, I've seen horses that have learned to distrust a bit, or that a bit in their mouth means it's time to race, and a bitless bridle works better for them. A hackamore is just as mean as a bit in the hands of a novice or on a disobedient horse.

Most trainers I know start a horse in a snaffle bit, then, after the horse learns what to do and has a basic understanding of what is expected and is obedient, they progress to a hackamore with a rawhide bosal for a while, to refine the horse's responsiveness, then comes the bit for the finishing touches.

I have no use for a mechanical hackamore, although my dad likes them for everyday riding.

Tony Henrie
fb: Western Trail Rider

Last edited by thenrie; 09-06-2013 at 10:21 PM.
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post #12 of 14 Old 09-06-2013, 10:41 PM
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
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I would approach it the way this guy teaches neck reining.

I'd also see if you Mom has any objection to using a sidepull halter like this:

Buckaroo Leather - SidePull Headstall-old cowboy style

Or what I used on Mia & Trooper for a long time:

towboater likes this.

"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."
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post #13 of 14 Old 09-07-2013, 10:50 AM
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Same concept, except if I were teaching leg pressures, I would step a little weight on the inside stirrup and give a squeeze with the outside leg (calf) at the same time as I taught the cue with the reins. It's hard to tell the horse, "I want a tighter turn" with just the reins, without exerting pressure on the wrong side of the bit (as the trainer in the video demonstrated). That's where leg pressures are handy. The horse feels the body shift and moves farther into the turn. I use pressure from the calf for steering and velocity issues and from the heel for more direct control of movement of the body.

Eventually, if done right, you will be able to steer him without much more effort than simply thinking about where you want the horse to go. He will detect even the slightest of your body movements and weight shifts.

Essentially, the reins control the head, while the legs control the movement of the horse's body.

Notice, as well, that the trainer in the video was wearing spurs. He has them but does not use them. No need to use them. The horse he is riding has been taught to be completely obedient and compliant before any of the training in the video was ever started. However, you can bet your bottom dollar that horse is aware of those spurs and that the trainer WILL use them if he acts up or doesn't give a willing effort.

My dad once told me of a trainer he knew, who could look at a rock in a field and concentrate on that rock. His horse would eventually go to that rock simply by feeling the almost imperceptible body movements of his rider from the rider's concentration on that rock, with no conscious cues given by the rider at all. Now, I've never been able to accomplish that, but it's a goal.

Remember, you're not going to get a whole lot of information from these short posts. There are entire books written on this stuff. So whatever we post here is leaving out a whole lot of related information. If you have someone who knows what they are doing, have them show you how to do what we're talking about. They will be more able to see you and your horse together and determine what adjustments should be made in the training. They will be able to fill in the stuff we leave out.
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Tony Henrie
fb: Western Trail Rider

Last edited by thenrie; 09-07-2013 at 10:58 AM.
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post #14 of 14 Old 09-07-2013, 11:24 AM
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: NW Oregon
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Originally Posted by JillJessie View Post
Can leg pressure be taught from the ground? I love doing groundwork since I'm not in the mood to ride this month.... .
You can teach her to move away from pressure on the ground. Just remember that you need to work both sides of the horse.
Your progress is going to be a lot slower than if you also included work under saddle.

If you ever find yourself in a fair fight, it's because your tactics suck. ~ Marine 1SGT J. Reifinger
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