A very important and easy thing you can do to help your horse maintain proper posture, soft body carriage, and self awareness, as well as self confidence is a little exercise I call the, "One-Step." This is so easy to learn, and do, and will make such a huge difference in not only the things I've already mentioned, but your horse will start your ride relaxed and confident too.
You see horses, because of the things we ask them to do, often lose connection with their feet. They have that momentum thing down alright. They're going from here to there, but that's just it, it's all about momentum. They see the rail, the jump, the turn in the trail, the cavaleties, the barrels, they see it all, and they're going where you send them … But their energy, their momentum, is flying ahead of them often not aware of their feet. Sometimes they stumble, trip, or feel pushy as you lead ... It's not their fault; it's not a training or discipline issue. It's a physical issue ... They honestly don't know where their feet are. They are unable to "see with their feet" -- because they don't know where they are. This exercise will fix that.
Stand in front of your horse holding the lead softly, and simply ask for "One Step Forward," then stop, and rock back off the forehand. Let her stand and process that feeling of lightly taking only one, easy, soft step. Please note – One Step, is a complete step – One front, and the alternate hind.
When you begin this exercise she will most likely take more than one step, because she'll have the momentum started, just as she's been taught. That's okay, go with it – wherever she stops, tell her good girl, and let her feel the softness. – Then ask for "one step back," the same two feet you had asked her to step forward. Allow her to feel the softness, process the moment, then ask for "one step forward again – allow her to feel it, process it, congratulate her, then one step back again. Repeat forward and back 3 or 4 times, then switch to the other side and do it all over again. You should see her softening overall, and lowering her head ... Remember one step is a complete step, one front and alternate hind each time.
Don't forget to allow time, every time, for her to process and feel the moment. And don't forget to rock her back off her forehand. (You can add the rock-back later, on another day, if she's having a challenge mastering the "One Step.")
This is one of the exercises I do every time before I step into the saddle, or do any ground work. Once you and your horse master this it'll be a fun and healthy game. You'll feel the difference in everything you do together too. So let's look at a few pictures.
|We're all saddled, ready to go, Kessy is standing nicely, and I'm about to ask for one step forward (notice how she is not on her forehand) You can see I'm looking at her left front, sending the signal, before I ask for the step.|
|Kessy stepped forward with her left front, right hand - and is clearly on her forehand, so I'll ask her to "rock back" and feel the moment, before I ask her to "step back."|
|Asking Kessy to "Rock Back" feel & process the moment - Then I'll ask her to "Step back." Again, notice it is the left front & right hind that have stepped forward.|
|And here we are stepping back with the left front & right hind. Notice how she stays off her forehand. If you look closely you'll see I have her ear. We do this so often she does it on voice command.|
The more you do the "One Step" the smoother, softer and more confident each step will become, in this exercise, and everywhere else as well. After all, you've helped her find her feet again. … I'll do a post on another day about how we can take this exercise, one step farther ... It's all about, "Seeing with her feet."
I hope you'll have fun with this.
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry