Train Your Horse to Travel Straight
By Keith Hosman, John Lyons Certified Trainer
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Train Your Horse to Travel Straight
Training your horse to walk, trot or lope in a straight line is easy. Here's how to do it.
A proviso: It must be stipulated that your success with the following has everything to do with whether you and your horse are ready for the material. This is rather simple green horse stuff, sure - but like everything learned, there are prerequisites: You need a horse that will move his hips when you ask and a horse that's soft from chin to withers. More importantly, you need to have a fundamental understanding of how to get these things if your horse is a bit rusty or "not in the mood." If you need a brush up course on these things, refer to Horsemanship101.com/Articles. For the softening, look specifically for two articles called "Steer the Tail" and "Three-Step Stop." Also look for articles addressing the use of your reins (eg: "Reins, 5 Tips to Improve Your Use" and "How to Pick Up the Reins Like a Pro"). Regarding the hips, look for "Hip Shoulder Shoulder."
In the world of horse training, there are a few tricks we humans can quickly and easily teach our horses: How to bang on the stall door at feeding time; how to run away at the sight of an advancing halter; how to dance when they see a saddle, and so on. But then, there's the simple stuff like, y'know, just walking in a darned straight line that they never seem to "get." I mean, horse, are you trying to make me nuts? How simple can this be? And why can't you carry the same speed for even ten minutes? You go two miles per hour walking away from the barn, point two mph up the hill, nine down the hill and ninety-seven pointed toward the barn. And is it really so hard to figure out that when I pick up the left rein it means go left?
How many of us have taken this a step further and trained our equine friends to think "out of the box"? Horses are hip to Einstein's description of acting crazy: Repeating the same thing that doesn't work, hoping for a different outcome. Most humans ignore this principle and blindly repeat their horse-training ways day after day, approaching things the same old way, wondering why they see no improvement. We do that while our horses are constantly adapting, constantly changing their routines, changing their reactions to our actions. If pinning ears doesn't get you to back off from saddling today, perhaps a grouchy look will do the trick tomorrow. Or dancing around or laying down or swishing a tail or screeching to a pal or kicking. Whether the horses have figured this out for themselves or whether we've actually taught the poor habits may be a matter of debate - but one fact is certainly true: The smartest horses in the world all live at riding schools, riding schools who specialize in beginners. If you need proof, try to saddle, pick the hooves of, or blanket a twenty-year veteran of novice riders. Those suckers will out-maneuver you faster than Jackie Chan on a caffeine high. They know every trick in the book, trust me.
And that's what really drives us crazy, isn't it? How they seem to use their brains not for good but for evil. The fact that my horses know that a bucket in my hand at 6pm means "run to me, I've got food," while that same bucket at 2pm means "Run for the hills, girls, it's time for your bath"-? They're smart enough to learn "the hard stuff," but standing still for mounting or backing up evenly is like advanced calculus.
This daily grind of taking two training steps backward for every three steps forward taught will go on forever and happens even to the best of us. Steel yourself to it. Me, for instance, the guy with the eighty-trillion people on his mailing list, the big certified trainer who you turn to for advice must admit that, yes, my horses are not perfect. Indeed, there are days when I feel they are truly the devil's spawn. Case in point, every one of them was taught to come to me - yet after being turned out to broodmare pasture with buddies to veg and gestate, they seem to have gotten rusty on a few of the house rules. "Stand and let me halter you" is occasionally replaced with "Stand until I lift the halter, then run to the other side of this thirty acre field." It's just a fact that successful horse training calls for us to accept these slips as normal, and act accordingly. Me, I have a zero tolerance policy and found myself round penning a mare that "should know better" by moonlight just last night. She won't run away at the sight of the halter again (for awhile) but I'm willing to bet she's discussing alternative pranks with her buddies even as I type this.
They slip in their training - and seem to ignore our seemingly obvious requests - because we are trainers of animals that would really rather not carry our fat butts and fifty-pound saddles around. They want to be standing with buddies, munching grass. That's it. That's the gameplan for an entire life. Take them from that comfort zone "out for a ride," or compound the issue by asking them to lope a perfect circle or walk a straight line - things that certainly don't make sense to any sensible horse - and they balk. And if they can't dissuade you today, they will, in their own passive aggressive way, resist you every step of the way tomorrow. Need proof? Think back to John Lyons and his "driving analogy." Basically it's this: Did you speed today as you drove, even by one mile over the limit? Why? You know the rules, you can read the signs. The horse is the same way; if the cop isn't writing you a ticket, you're pushing the boundaries. You and the horse are both, as they say, free spirits.
With all this being said then, why would our horses ever go the extra mile to work with us and figure out some bizarre thing we'd like to do like travel at exactly four miles per hour, turn now and not later or jump a fence and then come right back again?...
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| Meet the author:
John & Josh Lyons Certified
Clinician and Trainer
Utopia, TX (Hill Country of San Antonio)
Keith Hosman is based in San Antonio, TX and is available for clinics, lessons and training. He frequently travels to Los Angeles, CA and Kansas City, MO where he partners with fellow clinician Patrick Benson for clinics and demonstrations. You can find him on Google+ and Reddit.
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Lyons Training 101: Issue Twenty-seven, Part 1
"How to Train a Horse: Train Your Horse To Travel Straight"
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