Successful Training Sessions, by Monty Bruce
Getting and maintaining the focus of our horses can be a difficult task at times, especially if you can’t ride/train with them consistently. Coming out of the winter months can be especially hard because our horses have had so much time off. It is imperative that we have our horse’s attention and focus if we expect to get much out of our training sessions. If our horse is always looking somewhere else, whinnying, unresponsive to our cues, going and doing as he pleases, then we know we have a problem. Our horses cannot learn or retain the things we are teaching if we do not have their focus and attention.
Have you ever been in a conversation or meeting when your mind starts to wander? You are there physically, but not mentally, and you have no idea what the person talking to you just said. It is the same way with our horses.
Other situations that would make it hard for us (and our horses) to focus may include the following:
A. We are wound up with excitement or energy as we just finished a pattern or our horse is just coming out of his stall.
B. We are stressed or uncomfortable with our surroundings in an unfamiliar place.
These are the things that make it tough to learn and focus, so – how can we get focus and attention from our horse when we are on their backs so we have a successful training session? First, we need to take the excess energy off by trotting some circles. You want to be able to trot nice slow, controlled, and round circles. If you feel your horse is gawking, whinnying, or taking a hold of the bit and pulling you around, you will reach down one of your reins and pull his head around to your knee bumping him with your legs to get him to break free and soften up. Normally your horse will pull hard on the rein, but you need to keep it up and until he quits pulling on your hand, then release him and go back to what you were previously doing. By doing this you are getting several things accomplished. Each time he takes his focus off you and what you are doing, try bringing his head in and going into a tight circle. He has no choice but to think about the situation and, in turn, you regain his focus by bending his neck and body and bumping with your legs until he relaxes his face and body. You are getting him to soften up, which most all horses need anyway. You are also making the right thing easy by letting him out of a tough position (that you have put him in) by leaving him alone when you have his focus. You are making the wrong thing hard by putting lots of pressure on him and making him work under tougher conditions by bending him in a small circle when he does the wrong thing (which takes his attention away from you). This process is not a one-time, immediate cure. After repetition and several sessions, you will see results and be able to maintain attention, focus and control of your horse, enabling you to have much more productive training sessions and a more relaxing pleasure ride with your horse.
[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 2, Issue 4.]
Tell us how you get through Winter!
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Until next time good luck and God bless, Monty Bruce
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