Introducing Your Horse to the Hackamore by Al Dunning
Whether the hackamore is used during a horse’s first training session or his hundredth, and regardless of how well-broke he might be in the snaffle, the hackamore requires introduction to the horse. Pressure created by hackamore cues translates differently with the hackamore using off-side pressure for a function or response versus the snaffle bit’s cues with direct-side cheek pressure. Even a horse going well in the snaffle bit and performing all maneuvers with relative ease must be educated to understand the hackamore’s different sensations on his face.
Often a green hackamore horse looks to the right in response to a right rein, as he’s confused by the hackamore’s cheek pressure. Consistency and repetition help the horse to differentiate between the direct-cheek pull of the snaffle and the offside push of the hackamore and to grasp the concept of leverage.
Checking-up a horse, also commonly known as bitting-up, is a good way to introduce a horse to the different sensations experienced with the hackamore. By allowing the animal time to think about what’s happening to him, he can be more accepting of the hackamore pressure applied and is less apt to fight or be resistant
to the hackamore.
Follow this sequence of steps to check-up your horse laterally – Remember: Lateral bend is first and foremost in training. Vertical flexion comes later. Trapping your horse vertically at the poll before he’s supple from side to side is like putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
A horse that bobs his head while tied around to the side is developing a vice that should be addressed as soon as it arises. You can discourage this behavior by taking the lead rope of the mecate under your horse’s forearm and up to the saddle horn. If he’s tied to the right, for example, take the lead rope up to the left side of the saddle, or vice versa. Doing so imitates a rider’s hands controlling the horse’s nose, setting clearly defined parameters for the horse to find. Secure your lead rope as a boundary, not as a restraint, leaving enough slack that your horse merely bumps into pressure if he thrusts out his nose or bobs his head up and down. The correct application is one with consequence, not restriction.
Be aware of any negative tendencies your horse displays when checking-up or any groundwork is performed. A keen trainer is ever watchful and recognizes the natural abilities, as well as the limitations, of each horse. Knowing on which side the animal is stiff or how much pressure he can handle are a few of the clues that help when designing an effective training program for each individual horse.
Every phase of groundwork plays a vital role in your horse’s progression. Never advance to a new exercise if the current exercise has not yet been mastered. Allow time for your training to “cure” and take full effect, so that your horse doesn’t come apart farther down the road.
Al Dunning is credited with 32 world-championship and reserve championship titles. The knowledge and passion he shares in his clinics, videos, and lessons have molded not only average students, but also some of today’s most successful professional horse trainers.
Dunning’s ability to reach people comes from his love of horses and out of respect to the mentors in his own life.
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