For crossing obstacles it is best to start teaching your horse at home in a controlled area. I will teach horses, either from the ground or the saddle, to place their feet where I ask. You should start with an easy obstacle and for simplicity we will discuss it from the saddle.
You have to understand the horse wants to be left alone and no better time for that then when he is doing what you want. We have to know our cues and release the horse from them as soon as they respond correctly, otherwise we become nags and the horse will decide he can either move and be nagged or stand still and be nagged. He will usually pick stand still, unless he chooses the third option which is to remove the nag.
So, to start this lesson you need to decide exactly where you want your horse to cross your obstacle. The more specific you are the easier it is for the horse to figure it out. You will keep both his eyes facing that spot no matter what. You apply your 'go forward' cue and release that cue as soon as the horse takes at least one step forward. The longer it takes the less you look for, you may need to release on his thought forward which could simply mean he does not go backward.
You will counter aid all other movements. He backs you apply go forward, he goes left you turn him right, he goes right you turn him left. As long as he has both eyes on the spot you want to cross you leave his head alone. Try to apply the 'go forward' cue when he is thinking about going forward. He shows this by lowering his head or perhaps pawing. Reward all correct responses with words and/or rubs.
When the horse actually touches the object, allow him to inspect it. For water, let him paw; crossovers, let him feel it; step ups let him try one foot at a time. An important thing to know is the first 'step' may be big. If it is and he clears the obstacle, turn him back and start from the other side. If you can it is best to work with an obstacle the horse will not feel he can jump across and an area large enough to allow you to be safe in maneuvering your horse. Repeat the procedure from the other side and continue to turn back until the horse crosses quietly.
Can we pick an obsticle?? How about a water hole. Say 10 feet around and about 6 inches deep and we want to walk through the middle of it. The horse has no previous experience with crossing water or anything else??
The horse can not jump it, too wide.
So if the horse refuses to move forward how do we get him through the water??
What is your cue to move forward??
What do you do if the horse refuses???
Welcome to the forum Reiningtrainer. I see you have alot of experience and I am looking forward to some great discussions.
Again welcome to the forum.
Water hole crossing
Thank you. I look forward to learning from and helping others as well.
I would start my lesson with something I am pretty sure the horse will cross such as trot poles. I would then move to harder obstacles like a flat bridge, then a rocking bridge, tarp, then water. Standing water normally causes more issue then moving so if possible I would work with a stream then standing water. Look for the cue the horse is refusing and work on that, then add distraction.
My go forward cue from the saddle is pressure with both legs. If the horse refuses after 3 to 4 secs, I increase the pressure to bumping. If the horse still refuses I increase the intensity of the bumping every 3-4 secs, but only to an intensity that I can maintain until the horse moves. On tough horses I may opt to use a bat on the hip or blunt spurs.
From the ground my go forward cue is high on the hip. I use a stiff dressage type whip to reach the spot so I can stay up by the shoulder away from the hind legs. I begin by touching the spot. If the horse does not step forward I begin tapping lightly and as with the leg, build intensity every 3-4 secs until the horse takes a step. In both cases the longer I am requesting the less I look for, so I may actually stop the request when I see the horse think about going forward.
If I were riding a young/green horse and came across a 'scary' obstacle that had to be crossed to continue the ride, I would take my time and teach the horse as I explained as long as I felt safe. I would get off the horse if that made the situation safer, or turn around and go back home where I could teach the horse correctly. Safety comes above pride when on trail.
When I mentioned using an obstacle the horse could not jump, I got ahead of myself. You would want to do this after you have a good go forward on the horse and were moving to a harder object like a tarp/water crossing. If on a trail ride you were to find a small creek or perhaps a ditch that the horse could jump, it is best if you can cross at an angle that would not allow the horse to jump it. If not, then spend the time if it is safe to work it until the horse will walk through.
With new young guys I also like to ride among alot of farm machinery. I have a huge dairy farm close to my place and I always take the young guys over there to ride around the large equipment. While it doesn't require them to step over anything it does require them to move forward past/between scary things. They also have thousands of tires to hold the tarps down over the silage and I often get a chance to talk amoung them.
Yum, lots of fun. Great challenges for confidence building!
Within months I have trouble finding anything that bothers him and if I do he will certainly be introduced to it over and over again.
Don't just ride the same old boring path over and over, pick interesting challenges and keep bombarding him with them until he can handle anything.
I've never owned a timid horse. A spooking horse. My horses are all gentleman.
I like that RiosDad. It concerns and alarms me how many people I have ridden with over the years who will belch out all number of excuses for taking a detour to avoid something scary. I rode with a girl who's mare had a very set idea of what she did and didn't like and the girl would simply cater to the silly mare's every whim! There is nothing more frustrating then being on a ride and being held up by someone who is so afraid of their own horse, they're rather just inconveniance everyone else then actually be bothered to do something about it.
I take every opportunity I can to expose my horses to new things. I delight in the sight of a large noisy grater coming down the road, a tractor in the field, or any other number of alarming objects when I am on my Arabian mare. She's dependable and may on occasion take a snort or a second look, but knows that if I am confident then she needn't be alarmed and trusts my decisions. I have never taken an alternate route to avoid something scary - I will not cater to a horse that is supposed to be looking to ME for leadership.
Great tips from both of you, I will take them to heart.
I have always told my students and boarders - if they are uncomfortable or feel the horse cannot handle the situation, they are welcome to avoid the potential injury to body or mental status.
If you have an issue with your horse, there is no harm in asking for an experienced person to help. Sometimes saying "uncle" is the best thing you can do for your relationship with your horse.
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