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Help Your Horse Respect You

Direct & Drive- An Invaluable LessonOnce you have mastered  disengaging the hindquarters, the next  step is teaching your horse to direct and drive.  This valuable lesson will help your horse  respect your space, lead better, trailer load,  and also relates directly to guiding your horse  while riding.

The halter and lead  rope are essentially serving the  same purpose that your bridle  and reins do when you are riding.  If you take the time to  really master disengaging the  hindquarters and the direct and  drive technique, you can  become very successful with  controlling your horse.  As with the disengaging  lesson, the only equipment  needed is your halter and long  lead rope.

Start the lesson in a  corral, arena or someplace  where you can use a fence as a  guide. You will be driving the  horse between you and the  fence.  “This is not longeing;  you don’t want the horse to go all  around you in a circle,” explains  Chris Cox. “You want to drive the  horse straight past you and then  disengage him by stepping  towards his hindquarters so he  turns back and is facing you.”

When you disengage the horse’s  hindquarters, you make him move his hind  end. When you direct and drive, you cause the  horse to move forward by directing his  hindquarters. It’s important to realize that this  is done without any pulling on his head.  “Most people want to get in front of  the horse and pull, but that’s not what we’re  doing with direct and drive,” says Chris. “Your  goal is to control the feet, not the head. If you  control the feet, you will automatically have  control of the head.”

When you handle the lead rope,  remember that the hand closest to the horse’s  halter is your “direction” hand. This is the hand  that signals the horse to follow that direction.  Your “driving” hand is the hand closest to the  tail end of the lead rope.

You need to be effective using the lead  rope in both hands. Practice feeding  the lead rope through your  hands and when you twirl  the rope, always swing  OVER not under.

Again, make  sure you have the disengaging  lesson down  solid on both sides  before you move on to  direct and drive.  “I don’t use a round pen  for these exercises because I think you can  run a horse too much in a round pen, which  gets him tired and is hard on his legs,” Chris  points out. “Also, you don’t always have a  round pen, so if you know how to use your halter  and lead rope successfully, you can handle  whatever comes along.”

Getting Started

  1. Stand about 10 feet from the fence to begin.
  2. Holding the lead rope, stand two to three feet  from the horse, standing no further back than  the point of the horse’s shoulder.
  3. Plant your  feet with one foot forward for balance; don’t  stand with your feet together side by side.
  4. Take just one step towards the  horse’s hip with your focus on his hip.
  5. Don’t  look at the horse’s head or eye; keep your  focus on his hip. As you do this raise your  direction hand up in the direction you want the  horse to go (left or right). The direction hand  guides the horse in the proper direction, but  doesn’t pull on his head.
  6. Start twirling the end  of the lead rope with your driving hand until the  horse moves forward between you and the  fence.  Don’t stop twirling until you get forward  momentum from the horse. Accelerate  the twirling until the horse responds.
  7. You may  have to pop the horse on the hindquarters with  the end of the rope at first to get him to drive  forward.  “If you’ve done a lot of practice with  disengaging, you may have to be firm until the  horse understands he is now supposed to  move forward,” notes Chris.
  8. “Be consistent  with what you’re asking until the horse tries. If  you’re inconsistent, you are lying to your  horse.
  9. Keep your feet still and only move them  when you have to.
  10. Don’t  stop twirling the rope until  horse makes an effort forward.”
  11. As the horse drives forward  past you, lead the  lead rope slide through  your hand so you aren’t  pulling on his head with  your direction hand.
  12. If  horse drives past too  quickly, don’t pull on his  head. Just disengage his  hindquarters to slow him  and turn him back to face  you. Then drop both hands  to give the horse relief.
  13. Let  him “soak” and think about  what he’s just done. Keep  your hands down when the  horse is soaking and whenever  you are letting him  relax.

Step by Step

You may find that older  horses take more time to master direct and  drive than young, green horses. Chris uses  this technique with every horse, starting as  young as weanlings and yearlings. Direct and  drive is a great exercise to keep horses of any  age soft and supple and responsive.

To direct and drive the horse to your left:

  1. Take one step towards the horse’s hip, looking  at the hip, not at the horse’s head or eye!
  2. Pick up your left hand as your direction hand.
  3. Twirl your lead rope with your right hand.  Accelerate twirling until horse responds by  moving forward.
  4. Quit twirling as soon as the horse goes  forward.
  5. After horse drives forward past you, disengage  his hindquarters so he’s facing you again.
  6. Drop both hands to let  horse soak and relax a  minute.

To direct and drive the  horse to your right:

  1. Take one step towards  the horse’s hip, looking  at the hip, not at the  horse’s head or eye!
  2. Pick up your right hand  as your direction hand.
  3. Twirl your lead rope with  your left hand.
  4. Accelerate twirling until  horse responds by moving  forward.
  5. Quit twirling as soon as  the horse goes forward.
  6. After horse drives forward  past you, disengage  his hindquarters so  he’s facing you again.
  7. Drop both hands to let  horse soak and relax a  minute.

Be consistent  and don’t lose your temper.  If your horse comes  back too close to you,  this is a sign of disrespect  and pushiness, so drive him away from you.

Always disengage before you  change and ask horse to direct and drive in the  other direction.  As the horse catches on, narrow  the space between you and the fence so you  are driving the horse through a smaller space.  This makes it more challenging for him.

Add an Obstacle

“Once your horse is soft and  responding well to direct and drive, you can  start doing it across an object,” notes Chris.  “This will get him to start paying closer  attention and placing his feet carefully. This is  also a great introduction to trailer loading.”

Start with a single pole or rail on the  ground, with one end against the fence. Go  through all the same steps as before. If the  horse wants to stop before the log, don’t pull  on his head. Let him look at the pole and if he  wants to drop his head to see it better, that’s  fine. Then ask him to drive forward again by  picking up your direction hand, looking at his  hip and twirling your lead rope again. Give the  horse an opportunity to think and work his way  through without overreacting.

“Keep sending the horse over the  obstacle until he is soft and relaxed,” adds  Chris. “Always give the horse relief when he  responds correctly by dropping your hands  and letting him “˜soak’ for a minute. Relief is the  greatest reward to the horse.”

Up Close with Chris Cox –  Born in Florida and ranch-raised in Australia,  Chris returned to the United States in 1986 to  make a career of working with horses. Years of  working horseback on the ranch near  Queensland gave Chris a healthy respect  for the horse’s ability and intelligence, and  helped him develop his own methods of  individualized training.  Active in the cutting horse world as both a  trainer and competitor, Chris has trained a  variety of breeds for different disciplines. He  travels the United States, Canada, South  America and Australia appearing at expos,  conducting clinics and horsemanship  demonstrations. His  “Come Ride the Journey’ tour  takes him to cities across the  U.S. each year. Chris offers  week-long intensive horsemanship  clinics at his Diamond  Double C Ranch in Mineral  Wells, Texas.  In 2008, Western Horseman  released Ride the Journey, by  Chris Cox with Cynthia  McFarland, a 225-page, full  color book that details Chris’  practical methods and training  techniques. Packed with stepby-  step exercises and color  photos, the book will help you  improve your horsemanship  skills, no matter what discipline  or breed you ride.  Visit www.chris-cox.com or call  Chris Cox Horsemanship  Company at 1-888-81-HORSE  for information about the Ride  the Journey book, upcoming  course dates and appearances,  equipment and training  DVDs.

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