Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Science VS tradition: Training aids

Luanne asked about training forks here is what she said:

"Two of the three horses we had in training this year had issues with being tied down with the training forks (nothing abusive or anything like that) (I don't know if you followed us along in the summer with Derby & Maduro, who are full brother/sister) but they were not into the training forks that we never introduced to them in our training program....which was a J.Lyons snaffle? But they just didn't like the in your mouth stuff at all "training fork". Personally, I did not like using it but we didn't really know how to do it and the trainer was using we went out and bought them to train in when the horses arrived home. They were back in their own environment so they were ornery and not as worn out but come spring....want a fresh start without any issues. What do we need to get and do for the first few times in the training of using the bitless approach? Thanks! Luanne"

I really would like to know the reasoning why the trainer is using one of these all the time.

Training forks or running martingales for you english riders. They are essentially to keep a horses head from raising above a certain point. They also give you leverage on the reins when you pull on them.

These are "artificial aids" meaning they are something other than your hands/legs/body/voice that you use to attain a desired result from your horse.

They are often misused a lot. I personally have one, yes. I have quite the tack collection I wouldn't know where to begin explaining how much tack I randomly acquired for whatever reason and how much I don't use on a horse (like over 30 bits! I do use those when I help do bit/bitless clinics explaining how each bit works). However I do not and never will use a training fork/running martingale.

What do I use? Consistent training.
As I mentioned a lot of riders use training forks for leverage to aid them in getting their horses head to lower. If your horses head keeps popping up and your getting frustrated before jumping on the quick fix boat ask yourself and your horse these questions:

By the way this applies to bitted horses or bitless though I rarely ever see a horse bitless needing these artificial aids.

Does my horse know how to flex at the poll when I apply pressure to the reins at a standstill?
Does my horse know how to flex at the poll when I apply pressure to the reins at a walk/trot/canter?
Does my horse know how to flex left and right when I pull each rein independently?
Is my horse conformationally able to carry his head as low as I want?
Can I move my horses shoulders on his back where I want?
Can I move my horses hips on his back where I want?

If you answered no to any of those questions make them into a yes.

Without a solid foundation of the above, especially the flexing at the poll you are going to run into your horse resisting your rein signals. The idea here is for your horse to give his face in whatever direction you pull on the reins by.

I will focus on vertical flexion(flexing at the poll).
You need vertical flexion before you can even think about collection, extention, controlled stops at any speed, lead changes, half passes, side passes etc.

Start with asking your horse to flex at the poll from a standstill. Equp your horse with either a bitless bridle or snaffle bit. NO CURBS OR CURB CHAINS!! Curb chains/bits that act on the mental nerve can result in a horse that is responding to the leverage on the mental nerve, not the actual pounds you are pulling on the reins by. You also want your reins joined or tied in a knot if they are split reins. We don't need any dropped reins.

I use ductape on my reins when I do this to make sure I am clear and consistent, every time.
As stupid as it sounds and as advanced riders you all might be it will make training go quicker because you will be grabbing those reins in the exact same spot every time and it will be consistent. Just do it, feel silly but know your doing something kind and consistent for your horse.

I pick up the reins on the duct tape. I pull them back towards MY HIPS. Not my arm pits, knees, etc. My hips.

The horse might back up and that is ok. Let him. Only release when he flexes at that poll and is standing still. Wait for him to stop, he will eventually or bump into something. Don't move your legs or ask him to move forward or you are going to be sending conflicting signals.

You want to reward a try. Don't go looking for the whole thing on the first attempt.

The second your horse flexes and drops his head, even an inch, toss your reins onto his neck. I mean literally toss. Make it dramatic, instant release that is rewarding. The quicker you release the softer your horse will be.
Have you ever rode one of those horses that instantly flexed when you picked up the reins and asked for flexion? Yeah that is what we are looking for.

Praise, good horsie.

Repeat, asking a little more each time. It's very much normal for a horse to toss his head in the beginning or throw his head up. He will get over it. Focus on one thing: getting that vertical flexion.

Remember to give your horse a 5-10 second break between asking for that flexion.

Once your horse has mastered it at a stand still do it at a walk, trot and canter.

Eventually if you have done this correctly your horse will start to clue into what you are asking and you will require very little pressure on the reins for your horse to flex at the poll.

You can start asking your horse to hold it there for a second. Then a few seconds etc until the desired time is achieved.

I wish more riders taught their horses this.
Not to point fingers but I see far too many english riders that just pick up their reins and pull on them until their horse flexes and then just holds him/her there in a "frame" instead of properly teaching the horse.
Do you know what that creates? A horse that leans on your hands and wants to constantly pop his nose out instead of giving to that pressure.

Lateral flexion is something else I like to teach my horses. It is also my emergency break.

Again I use ducttape.
I grab one rein, lets say the right. I would drop my left rein and put my left hand on my left hip.
Why do I do this? To avoid accidentally pulling on that left rein when my horses head flexes around to the right.

Anyway back to flexing. I want my horse to flex his head and neck at a standstill in whatever direction I pick up my rein and touch my boot/stirrup. I want him to hold it there for a second. All four feet planted on the ground.

So I grab my rein at the ducttape, place the opposite hand on my hip (drop that rein!). Keep your legs still. Place the rein/hand at the ductape on your hip. Plant it there. Act like your hand is glued to your hip.
The horse will spin in circles. Let him.
The second your horse stands still and touches your boot or stirrup, creating a little slack in the reins throw your reins onto his neck!
Praise. Repeat. Do both sides equally.
Pick up the rein on the ducttape, have horse stand still, touch your boot and create slack in the rein.
Eventually you will be able to pick up a rein at a time and have your horse touch your boot.

Easy, peasy, supple horse.

This is the beginning of moving shoulders, hips and getting a lower, supple head.

Of course make sure you look into things such as if your horse carries his head high or tosses his head. If these exercises do not cure that make sure there is not a problem such as dental (bit or no bit!), ill fitting saddle, back out of alignment etc.

Remember to look at how your horse naturally carries himself in the pasture. If he is a Tennessee walker or thoroughbred (I know yours are QH's Luanne but I am making a point) they are not going to be the peanut pusher low head western pleasure horses. If your horse does not do it naturally in the paddock there is a good chance an artificial aid such as a training fork is going to create an issue with your horse.

About starting a horse bitless, these are the first two things I ever teach a horse on his back no matter if hes been ridden for years or is just a greenie.
I want him to flex his head then once we get walking, follow his nose. Never steered me wrong before and anyone who has ridden or driven my horses can attest to the fact that they are incredibly supple. I like them that way and I think we can all agree, a horse that gives to your hands is wonderful to ride.

Keep the questions coming guys it's really getting the gears in my head going.


Shirley said...

I agree that training forks are unnecessary, if you have good hands you can teach a horse to flex and give you his face. If he is all stiff in the face and neck, you won't get good results at teaching maneuvers until he softens. You said it well. It's all about that release, get 'em hunting it.

Sydney said...

Exactly. If your hands cannot achieve desired results you need to go back to the training pen, not the horse. The horse should not have to endure the quick fix route, ever.

City girl turned Country Girl said...

Excellent question and answer!! You did an awesome job explaining this so thoroughly, I can't wait to read further questions and answers!

kristina said...


Great question and answer. Your explanation was very concise and helpful. I would love to invite you to a Question and Answer session on Feb 21st. It will be on bitless bridles-I would encourage you to call in and share your wealth of knowledge.

Buckaroo and FDHorsetraining Q&A


Sydney said...

Kristina- That sounds really neat. Is it talking about specifically their brand of bridles?

Jen said...

The only thing I have ever seen those training forks used for is to create that ridiculously low balance-wrecking headset that somehow became all the rage (a rantable issue in my book). Somehow it always boils down to shortcuts and a lack of willingness to spend time doing thing the right way. Thanks for posting some terrific training information; bitless bridles are on our wish list for the time being (but we'll get there eventually! :o)

LuLo Designs/Blue Eyed Tango said...

Thanks for the explanation and your training methods sound just like what we have done for five years with our horses with a snaffle bit and John Lyons training....duct tape too! I'm still not completely sold on bitless for every situation and every horse. There's so many out do you even choose the right one? I know there are bad ones too that put pressure in all the wrong places. I don't think that for some the training aides are bad in the right hands and there's nothing wrong with temporary light use. I know what you're saying about people pulling on their faces but I have also seen it done just as harshly in a hackamore. I agree, with everything you have said about people not wanting to take the time to supple their horses and train them going for quick fix and abusing the aides. Slick may be a good one to do bitless because he naturally flexes and always has....very supple. Thanks again, I'll keep reading and learning.

Sydney said...

I think I didn't explain that I am talking about riders using these artificial aids everywhere but in the show ring. They are a staple in their training and basically. If you need a little leverage to get across a point for a ride or two that is fine so long as you have good hands and the aid does not become needed all the time.

from my front porch... said...

Every trainer I have worked with over the years uses running martingales. Why? Because they do not want to take the time needed to properly "know" the horse and let the horse understand what is "needed" of them.
Hope I conveyed that right!

I could write a book about the awful training methods I have witnessed over the years. Too often clients have NO idea what their horse is subjected to. Very subtle abuse at times.

When I left the professional side of the business, I didn't realize how tired and depressed I had become. Working along side people looking for shortcuts to make the big bucks will do that to you!

Thanks for a great site, Sydney.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin