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Whether it is a matter of breaking in, mounting or doing the first work under saddle, I always begin a horse's early lessons in a round pen or confined area never out in the open. I do not go out of the safety area until I am sure my horse understands the concepts: go forward, stop and stand still. These concepts are your most basic tools and building blocks upon which all ensuing training, in one form or another will be based. Furthermore, in these early days, you are going to find that the walls/rails of your training area are as important a training aid as your seat, legs and hands. We start our series with the first work under saddle, under the assumption that the horse has been correctly handled and has completed initial groundwork training.

When choosing tack I am very consistent with what I use in the beginning stages. My ground work is done in a halter or side pull. A lunging cavesson is also an option. The age of the green horse is not the determining factor in the tack I use. It is the amount of education and training that the horse has determines the tack. An older horse that has not been trained or that has had little training will still start in a halter or side pull the same as a young horse. I will use a side pull or halter with an "o" ring snaffle under it. The rein will remain attached to the side pull or halter. The horse is allowed to just carry the bit in his mouth and get used to it. Once the horse has learned to stop, turn right and turn left, I will move out of the side pull or halter and attach the rein to the snaffle. I always, and I mean always, use a running martingale with a snaffle bit. (see fig. 1) Please understand that when used properly a running martingale is not to create or make a head set on a horse. The running martingale when used as a head set device is being misused. In my training program it is used primarily as a safety device. I also use it to assist with quicker communication between my hands and the bit.

The proper fit of the running martingale will help to explain how and why I use it. First of all, you do not want to set the running martingale to hold down the head to interfere with lateral movement of the horse's head and neck. When set properly the top right and left rings of the running martingale should reach just under the horse's jowls or throat latch when the horse's head is in a normal or relaxed position. You should also have rein stops on each rein when using a martingale. (These are small rubber stops on the rein that prevent the martingale rings from catching on the rein buckles or snaps.)

One of the first indications that a horse is going to bolt or run is a lifting or throwing up of the head. A running martingale will give you just enough leverage on the rein to help control the horse when he wants to throw his head up and then attempt to run or bolt. Do not confuse a running martingale with a tie down device. They are two totally different pieces of equipment used for two different purposes.

The running martingale will also help make the message from my hands to the bit through the rein much quicker. It does this by the slight additional weight of the martingale leather and rings. The little extra weight helps give a quicker signal to the horse that I have given him slack in the rein. The quick release of the rein is aided by the slight weight of the martingale rings and leather.

From previous lessons your horse should understand that he is to stand still when being mounted. When mounting a green horse I always turn my horse's head and bring it around to the side I am mounting from. (see fig. 2)  This way if he unexpectedly bolts or moves off he will have to move in a circle around me and; hopefully, not off, into the horizon. I will stand in the stirrup and not swing my leg over until the horse is quiet and still. When he is calm and comfortable I then swing my other leg across and sit in the saddle. I do not put my other foot in the off side stirrup until I am sure the horse is settled and comfortable. Before mounting remember always to check your girth and walk the horse in a few circles to make sure he is comfortable with your adjustment.

Ok, now you are on your horse, and from earlier ground work you have taught him to: move forward, stop, back, turn right, turn left and stand quietly. You are now ready to go somewhere. To do that you must teach your horse to move forward while under saddle. From the very first ride I teach the horse to move forward freely. Forward motion is the foundation of movement and self- carriage. It is a must for teaching and maintaining impulsion, balance and collection and is used in more advanced training such as: shortening and lengthening of stride, and later, passage and piaffe.

To begin with I encourage the horse to walk off without any restraint. I then tilt my shoulders slightly forward and bring my lower leg back a bit behind the girth area. (see fig. 3)  With this body position I have tilted my pelvis into a forward position. My hands are in front of the withers and I will gently move them in a forward motion: as I do this I gently bump the horse's rib cage with my legs. In the early lessons I willexaggerate my movements, placement of legs and body position. As the horse progresses, I will eventually fine tune my position and movements until they are barely detectable to the human eye but very much understood by the horse.

Some horses are slow to move and will meander along with little ambition. Often I will use a kissing or clucking noise to help them move along. If needed, I will use the end of my rein or a dressage whip on the hindquarters to encourage him to move forward with a little more enthusiasm. I do not leave my legs on a horse and continually cue him to move forward. This will cause him to eventually become dead-sided. I teach my horses to move forward with my seat and save my legs for cueing specific movements such as moving the rib cage and haunches.
Remember, free movement is the raw material for future forward motion.

As you train your young horse, try to school him so the training makes sense . For example, reiners and cow horses are often trained on actual cattle or moving objects to sharpen their stops, turns and lateral work. The training is effective because the horse does the movements naturally in working the cow or moving objects and it all makes sense to him. They are not just drilled by leg, seat and hands for reasons not understood by the horse. If it makes sense to the horse, he will be happy and eager for the next lesson, hence building a strong work ethic. I try to use the same training principles and give the horse a reason he can understand to do what I ask. As another example, when I am first training the horse to stop, I use the fence to teach the horse to stop without having to haul on the reins or his mouth. It is also a means of teaching him the cues for the stop by changing my body position just before the fence to a stop or quit riding position. Eventually, he associates my body position with the stop and not the fence. When that happens I stop him a few strides from the fence and add further strides from the fence as he progresses. Soon, there is no need for the fence at all. The horse is now listening to my body and seat.

Horses need a job to do. If your training ties in with a job they are doing, they will quickly understand the meaning of their lessons.

I will walk you through a STOP LESSON. First off I try to use a rail and a corner like you would find in an arena. I always start at the walk and find success at that gait before I move to the trot or lope. I change my body to the forward position that I described earlier and ask the horse to walk off. I keep him straight by the use of my legs, seat and hands. I often find the outside rail can assist me in keeping a green horse straight. You want to keep the neck, shoulders and rib cage centered between your hands and legs. This way, the haunches will be less likely to drift. Ride right to the corner ahead of you, using the fence to stop the horse. At this point I am still in a "Go Forward" body position, encouraging the horse to go forward freely by feeding him the rein and gently bumping my legs on his rib cage. As I approach the fence corner, I do change the position of my seat, legs and hands. I bring my shoulders back to a twelve o'clock position, my legs come forward and hang right under my hips and my hands will lift to take the slack out of the reins.

When I see or feel that the horse is going to stop because there is a wall or fence blocking his forward motion, I change my seat once again to the stop or halt position. I do this by slightly moving my shoulders back and bringing my legs forward in front of the girth (again this rotates my pelvis). I lift my hands to again take any slack out of the reins. Before the horse actually stops at the fence, I "stop riding" and my body language is that of a very neutral rider. (see fig. 4)  The horse learns in a practical way both to stop and the cues for the stop through the combination of the natural barrier in the form of the fence in conjunction with my cues to him as a rider.

It makes logical sense to him; and he then learns that when I cue him in this way, I wish him to stop.

When you use a wall and the cues described above, you are teaching your horse to stop from body signals, not by pulling on his mouth. As he learns to read your seat, hands and legs; he will stop further from the wall each time. In time, you will be able to stop him a foot, two feet, three, five feet and, so forth, from the wall. Eventually there will be no wall at all. You may not realize it but you are laying the early foundation for self-carriage and the half halt which is an important part of more advanced training.

I want to take just a moment and talk about Self-Carriage. It is the heart and soul of Cowboy Dressage. To me Self-Carriage is what canvas or clay is to an artist. It is where the "magic" begins. With self-carriage you can begin to mold or shape the horse into form followed by function. A Cowboy Dressage Horse is created with self-carriage on light contact. The carriage is encouraged by the rider's seat and the rounding of the horse's back, not by heavy contact with the horse's mouth through the rider's hands. Remember you always ride the rear end of the horse - the hindquarters are the motor. You don't want your horse moving in "two pieces" - he should move as an integrated whole; and the quarters work purposely forward, well beneath the horse, such that he is "tracking up well" from behind. If he is moving forward well and correctly, you will be able to feel this through your seat, a kind of rounded energy beneath you.

A good western horse must have self-carriage. It is what the old California Vaquero ultimately strived for. They say you could recognize the carriage of a finished bridle horse a mile away. Like the western horse, a good dressage horse must also have self-carriage. Because a western horse is ridden on lighter contact it is quite obvious when carriage is self-maintained as opposed to a dressage horse who is all too often ridden with more contact. Because of this it is not always easy to tell who is doing the "holding up", the rider or the horse. I believe the principles of self-carriage between Cowboy Dressage and Dressage are the same but the application and follow through may be visually different.

I would conclude with this reminder: the key to all effective horse training is patience. Take one step at a time and try as hard as you can to be consistent with your body cues. A horse has an incredible memory. He is like an elephant; he will never forget what happens to him. Remember that when giving him a lesson. Set him up to succeed and not to fail. Choose lessons you know he is ready for and when he is ready ask only for a little more. Build him up, bit by bit, in small increments. Know when to quit and, during a lesson, to give him the occasional pause and simply stop and relax. Relaxation is a reward for both horse and rider, and it is an important component in learning.

In future articles I will discuss self-carriage further and the three parts of the horse's body that I address when training. That part in front of the saddle (head, neck and shoulders), the part under the saddle (the rib cage) and the part behind the saddle (the hip or haunches). Learning how to control and communicate with each part, learning the why, how and when will open exciting doors for you and your horse---doors that will establish the foundation for better understanding and the practice of elevated horsemanship.

                                                                                                     -- ebh

by Eitan Beth-Halachmy with Jennifer C. Chisholm-Høibråten

Set yourselves up to succeed
In each article I will remind you of the importance of “patience”,  “consistency” and “rewards.” You as a rider must understand the concept of your lesson before you can ask your horse to understand it. Think your exercises through thoroughly. If you are having trouble getting it right, and both you and your horse feel frustration, stop the exercise and move on to something that you can accomplish. You can come back to the harder lesson later. Always set yourself and your horse up to succeed. One of the biggest mistakes I see horse trainers make is that they ask from a horse things he is not prepared to do…. the horse is thus set up to fail and, all too often, is disciplined or drilled in the attempt to get it right. If you and your horse get a given exercise right once or twice, quit right there and reward your horse. Do not drill or over train. Drilling and over training may perfect what you are trying to train but will take the spirit and dampen the work ethic of the horse. An enthusiastic trainer is good, but one who knows when to quit “training” on a horse is wise.

If you make the partnership between you and your horse your priority, the training time you both share will be rewarding and successful.

Some words of wisdom I will share with you…..the best horsemen are not always the most talented but they are always the most patient.

Please understand that these training articles are techniques used by Eitan and Wolf Creek Ranch. If you are unsure of the use of any of these techniques, you should consult your professional horse trainer.  Some students are not yet at a point where they can comfortably or safely use any given technique or aid.  Know your own limits as well as your horse's. By purchasing this article I release Debra & Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Wolf Creek Ranch LLC and Cowboy Dressage from any and all liabilities while using these training techniques. I also understand that working with horses can be dangerous and take full responsibility for my actions.

These articles first appeared in Tidningen Hastfynd, the premier equine publication of Sweden.  Articles are written by Eitan Beth-Halachmy with Jennifer Hoibraten, Norway.  All rights reserved. The articles may not be reprinted nor reproduced for publication in any manner without prior written permission by the author.

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