Mastering Basic Groundwork

Copyright © 2008 Gentle Natural Horsemanship Video Productions, LLC Gentle Natural Horsemanship Video Productions LLC, Eric Bravo nor David McMahon are not liable for any property damage or damages arising from the personal injury or death of a participant or spectator resulting from following the advice contained in this video and booklet. Each participant in an equine activity expressly assumes the risk and legal responsibility for any property damage or damages arising from personal injury or death that results from the inherent risk of equine activities. It is the duty of each participant to act within the limits of the participant's own ability, to maintain reasonable control of the particular equine at all times while participating in an equine activity, to heed all warnings and to refrain from acting in a manner that may cause or contribute to the injury of any person or damage to property. ISBN: 1438254423 EAN-13: 9781438254425 For more information please visit

Lesson 1 : The Hook-On
Groundwork is a vital component of training a horse, training yourself, and getting your horse to be ready to be ridden safely. While we would like to just jump on our horses and ride, the reality is we can't do that. A horse is not a dirt bike, its a living being with a mind of its own. To maintain safety with your horse, you need to be able to get inside her mind. We start this process using groundwork. In particular, we can use groundwork to accomplish several things with our horses:
It It

helps establish a line of communication between you and your horse. Doing this on the ground first is safer than trying to do it in the saddle. helps establish you as the leader of the horse.

builds trust. Your horse will learn to trust you and trust your judgement. This will help you build a relationship with your horse. Later on down the line, your horse will look to you for guidance in scary situations, rather than just following instinct and bolting or bucking.

builds respect. Does your horse crowd you? Does she get in your space or walk right past you? By doing groundwork, we can correct behavior problems like these and getting our horse to respect us. This is important for safety. Do you think a horse that crowds you on the ground is safe to ride? Of course not.

When do you need to do Groundwork
It is important to always do groundwork with your horse. The amount of time and effort that you need to put in depends on two things:
How How

much experience do you have with horses. well trained is your horse.

If you don't have much experience with your horses, even though you're anxious to ride you should step back and plan on putting several weeks into perfecting your groundwork skills. You can't ride safely until you can confidently handle horses properly on the ground. Now let's think about groundwork solely in terms of the horse. If the horse is well trained, it won't be necessary to spend hours every week doing groundwork. You might run through a few exercises over the course of ten or fifteen minutes before riding. If your horse is really well trained, you might even perform the groundwork when walking the horse from the stall to your saddle. In the beginning however, you should plan on putting a great deal of time into groundwork. This could mean a half-hour or hour session several times a week, until the horse becomes light and responsive. Now given everything we've said so far, regardless of how well trained the horse is or how experienced you are, you should make groundwork a permanent component of your horse training with every single horse you handle. This will help to maintain trust, leadership, and respect, which will in turn lay the foundation you need for a safe riding experience with your horse. Why Leadership? Horse society is based on a strict hierarchy by nature. What this means is that horses live in a group

where different individuals are in charge. If a given horse has a higher rank than you do, he is going to eat first, get water first, and have access to mares first. All the horses in the herd look to the stallion and/or alpha mare for direction. The leader of the herd is going to decide where to eat, how long to stay there, where and when to move. Horses by their nature will look for this kind of direction, but when you first start working with a horse they might be asking themselves who is in charge here? If you own a horse you don't want the horse asking this question, you want to communicate to him that you are the alpha. This is not mean-spirited at all, we simply want to become the leader of the horse. Doing this will help us build the loving, trusting relationship that we seek with our horses. If you don't establish yourself as the leader, you will be risking safety later on. The Importance of Body Language As horse owners, we are often quick to give our horse a carrot or treat in an effort to get him to do what we want or to praise him for doing something we asked him to do. But ask yourself this question. Do horses in the wild have treats they hand out to the other horses to get them to move? Does the stallion or alpha mare hand out carrots when they want a horse to do something? Of course not! They do these things by using body language. A stud in the herd of horses can communicate to the herd when to eat, where to eat, to get out of the way, or when its time to move the entire herd just by using his body language. That body language can be harsh-we know all to well it includes kicks and bites. While we aren't going to bite our horses the idea you need to grasp is that using your body language to communicate with horses is a skill you must master. This is why we said earlier that part of groundwork is training ourselves. You can use groundwork to train yourself to handle horses properly while being in the relatively safe position of being on the ground. This doesn't mean you can't give your horse a treat. But save the treats for when you're just visiting or loving on your horse. In fact shower your horse with treats when your just out saying hello, or after you've brought her back to the pasture after riding. But don't use treats while training. Now that we understand the benefits of doing groundwork, lets jump to some specific exercises. The first exercise we will tackle is called the hook-on. We are assuming at this point that you can catch your horse and safely lead her to the round-pen. If you cannot, please skip ahead to chapter 2, Catching and Leading Your Horse, and return to this section after you have mastered that vital task.

The Hook-On Exercise
The first exercise we are going tackle is called the hook-on. In a nutshell, the hook-on involves taking your horse to the round-pen and having him run around in circles without his lead-line or halter. The purpose of this exercise is to establish you as the leader of your horse. Go out and observe a group of horses. What do the dominant horses in the herd do to the other horses on a regular basis? They make them move around. By doing this exercise, you will be doing this with your horse in a controlled fashion. When starting training, perform this exercise every single time you get your horse out. In the beginning, it might take a long time to have success-so hooking on may take an hour or more. You might only have time to do the hook-on and nothing else if this is the case. But don't loose patience-it is important to build a solid foundation. You wouldn't move on to building the frame of a new house if the concrete foundation had not set would you? So don't ride your horse if she will not hook-on. Let's proceed to the detailed steps of the exercise so you know what we mean. Equipment You will need a carrot stick or whip, or you can just use your lead-line. A carrot stick is preferred, but anything you can use to put pressure on the horse will work.

Exercise Summary Have the horse canter around the round-pen about 5 times. Then we ask the horse to stop, walk up to the left side of the horse. The horse will then follow our every move without using a lead-line or halter. To Get Started Take your horse to the round-pen, and move yourself to the center. We perform this exercise at liberty, which means that there is nothing on the horse. So we are going to remove the halter and leadline from the horse. Follow these steps: Position yourself in the center of the round-pen. Have your horse directly facing you. Remove the halter, holding your carrot stick in your right hand. Send your horse out to your left. To send your horse out to the left:
Raise Raise If

your left hand and point to the left. the carrot stick with your right hand to put pressure on the hind end of the horse.

the horse does not respond, swing the rope or move the carrot stick in wide circles toward the horse. Tap the ground with the stick if you need to be more assertive. If you are not using a carrot stick, you can simply use the lead-line (rope) to put pressure. You can swing it or toss it in the direction of the horse.

Start the hook-on exercise by having your horse move out to the left. Body language is important when performing this exercise. We want to communicate to our horse that

we are his or her leader. So be kind but assertive. This is done by:
Standing Pointing Look

upright with good posture. assertively in the direction we want the horse to go.

directly at your horse.

Have the Horse move at a Canter A horse can walk or trot all day long without working too hard. So, when doing the hook-on exercise, we want him to move out at a Canter. There are two reasons for doing this. The first is that the reward for the horse will be the release of pressure when we ask him to stop moving. So, if your horse moves out at a walk or a trot, put additional pressure until he canters. Do this using your carrot stick, or you can toss the end of your lead-line in the direction of his hip. Note that this is done humanely, we are not talking about hitting him with the carrot stick or rope, we are talking about swinging it say, in the direction of his hip. Your horse knows what this means and will take it as a signal to move out faster and with more vigor. Every horse is different, so the amount of energy you need to put into this process will vary depending on the horse. Another reason we want the horse to move at a canter is that for most horses, when you ask them to move out in the round-pen at liberty, as we said earlier their natural inclination is probably going to be to walk or trot. A theme we'll return to many times in this book is that we want everything the horse to do to be our idea. This helps establish you, and not your horse, as the leading partner in your relationship. Take a deep breath and say this to yourself: When Working, everything my horse does is my idea. One way to get your horse to canter is to make a hissing sound like a snake. Many horses respond well to this as a cue to move out. In the hook-on exercise, the speed at which the horse moves is our decision, and not his. So we make him canter. How long do we do this? Have your horse canter about 5 times around Do not let the horse drop down to a trot. If he does, increase the pressure. Then look for signs the horse is accepting your leadership. Where is the horse paying attention? Is he looking to the outside of the round-pen to see if a mountain lion is approaching? If so you need to keep him moving until his attention is focused on you. You can also look for these signs:
The The She An

horse is licking her lips. horse is looking at you. has her head in a lowered, more relaxed position.

ear on you. This is another sign the horse is relaxed and paying attention to you.

When the horse is paying attention to you and is relaxed, you can ask her to come to a stop. Letting the horse stop is her reward.

Signs you don't want to see You need to keep your horse circling if: Your horse turns his butt on you. Does not stay moving in the direction you want (which we have chosen to be to our left). The horse does not look at you. Keep the horse moving in the direction you choose We must keep everything our idea. The speed and direction the horse moves are our decisions, not his. If the horse decides to go to your right do not allow it. Keep the horse moving in the direction you want using your carrot stick or open the palm of your hand so that it is facing the horse. Then move your right arm up in down in a wide swinging up-and-down motion. How to get the horse to stop The first step to asking the horse to stop is to step back and get in her path. Do this by: Walk backwards in a spiral path. Move on your spiral outwards so that you are approaching the fence of the round-pen. You want to get in a position so that you are in front of the horse. After you have positioned yourself in front of the horse, come to a stop and take in a deep breath. In natural horsemanship, you will use your breath to communicate relaxation to the horse. So breath in deeply through your nose. Feel your body rising up toward the sky as you do so. Then breathe out through your mouth. Make sure your exhale is loud and vivid so there is no doubt the horse can hear it. Let your body relax, feeling the energy move down toward the center of the earth. Look directly at your horse. Your Horse Should Stop and Look at You At this point you want your horse to stop, face you, and look at you. If she does not look at you, you need to send her out again to the left, and have her circle 2-3 more times, then repeat the process asking her to stop.

When the horse comes to a stop and looks at you, we stop asking the horse to move out. The ultimate goal will be to have the horse come to a stop and allow you to walk up to him. In a moment, we will talk about the proper way to walk up to a horse. Right now, you need to know that if at any time while you are standing looking at your horse or approaching her, if she moves in any way then you need to send her out and start the procedure all over again. However, don't force your horse to stop. Maintain a reasonable distance and let her decide if she is going to stay put or not. If she decides she needs to move off, let her do so (but in the direction you want) and repeat the procedure until she understands that to rest, she will need to allow you to approach her.

If the horse moves when we've asked him to stop, ask him to move out again. If he attempts to change direction, put pressure. Here Eric is putting pressure using the rope in his right hand.

Tip Suppose that you have your horse cantering around, and he drops down to a trot and looks at you. Its good that he is paying attention to you, right? Actually this is not good because it was his idea to move to a trot. If your horse does this, put pressure to get him back up to a canter and let him move about half-way along the distance of the round-pen. Then take some pressure off-lower your carrot stick, walk back away from the horse 2 or 3 steps, and exhale loudly. This will tell the horse he can drop down to a trot. But you've made it your idea. We call this process of taking an idea our horse had, then representing it to him as our idea stealing a thought. You should always look for opportunities to steal a thought from your horse. It will teach him not to do things you are not asking him to do, making him safer to handle and ride in the long run. Horses do not like to work, so we want to get him thinking in this exercise that if he decides not to do what we ask, he will have to work. But we are letting the horse choose. We ask the horse to stop, but leave the door open for him to run off if he wants to. We continue the exercise until he learns that the release of the pressure is when he pays attention to you. If you horse stops, you can click or kiss to get her to look at you. The key idea is to have your horse

paying attention to you by looking at you with both eyes. Now let's suppose that your horse comes to a stop, but begins to take off right away after looking at you or when you start to approach. Build on what you have by executing the following steps:
Click When Take

or kiss to get the horse to look at you when he is stopped.

he looks at you, take the pressure off. Turn and face the opposite direction and walk away from your horse 3-4 steps. a deep breath, exhale and repeat. The second time the horse looks at you, wait a second or two before turning and walking away. Build on what you have, and after a few tries you should be able to have your horse stand still and look at you. Anytime the horse does what you ask, reward with verbal praise and by smiling at the horse. Tip If you ask your horse to stop during this exercise, and he stops, but then begins to move off, he is dictating to you that he can move off anytime he wants. Do you want to ride a horse that thinks this way? Probably not. You want to ride a horse that moves when you ask her to, not when she decides to on her own. Its safer to establish this in the round-pen, which is another reason we perform this exercise. We counter the desire of the horse to move off whenever she pleases by dictating the speed and direction of movement. Not to be too repetitive-but this means if she moves off to your right, you tell her to go left. If she moves off at a walk, you ask her to canter. Approaching Your Horse Now let's suppose that you and your horse have accomplished the following goals:
She She She She

moves out a canter. canters around the round-pen 5 times.

is paying attention to you and is relaxed. She looks at you, has an ear on you, is licking her lips and her head is not raised high. stops when you ask and faces you, and does not move off when you stand and look directly at her. At this point it is appropriate to approach your horse. This is done by walking toward the horse in a zigzag fashion, which is more comfortable for the horse. A predator will approach a prey animal in a straight-line fashion, so we don't want to approach the horse this way. Use this procedure:
Start Look Stop Turn

facing your horse with eye contact. down at the ground, and turn right. Walk right 2-3 paces. and look at the horse. Take a deep breath and exhale. Smile and verbally praise the horse.

to the left, so that you will be approaching the horse at about a 45 degree angle. Look down and walk 2-3 paces toward the horse.

the process, changing directions each time until you can position yourself to stand next to the withers on the left side of the horse. If at any time during this process the horse starts to move off, you need to start the entire exercise from the beginning. Even if she takes one step away from you, send her off and make her canter 5 times around again. It is too tempting to let small transgressions go (like a single step away from you), but it is vitally important that you do not do this. Otherwise, you cannot build a solid foundation with your

horse. Having the Horse Hook-On Now lets suppose that you are able to walk up to the horse and stand by her withers on the left side. This is the final stage of the exercise, where we ask the horse to hook-on, which means follow us without the lead-line or halter. If you are doing this for the first time, don't get greedy. Take one step forward and see if your horse will follow you. If he does, reward him by telling him “good boy!” and giving him a single pet (a swipe down the neck say). Then walk off with 2 steps. Keep rewarding each time he follows you. It will be pretty clear rather quickly if he is hooked-on or not. If he is, he will follow you with head down throughout the round-pen. Remember, at any time he breaks, you need to start the exercise from the beginning. So if you take two steps and he stays behind:
Send him out! Make him go around twice at a canter. Then ask him to stop, and repeat. Keep doing this until he will follow you anywhere in the round-pen.

When you have done this a few times and you and your horse get good at it, you will start to form a partnership. This will be evident because you will be able to take your horse out of the round-pen into an arena or even out in the open and he will follow you wherever you go. Blending In Not all horses will hook-on automatically. If your horse does not, place your hand under the chin. You should be standing on the left side of the horse. Then place your hand under the chin as shown below, and walk off toward your left, gently putting pressure on the right side of the jaw to encourage the horse to follow you. This works because we are getting the horse to move away from the pressure.

If your horse won't follow you immediately, put your hand under the chin so the fingers can put pressure on the right side of the jaw. Then walk away from the horse toward your left. This is called blending in. You are looking for your horse to follow you.

Lesson Summary The hook-on exercise teaches the horse that we are her leader. This is because the horse moves when we ask, where we ask, and how fast we ask. It teaches the horse what we ask is our idea. When the exercise is completed successfully, we have taken the first step towards having a solid, loving, and trusting relationship with our horse.

Lesson 2: Leading Your Horse
Now we're going to talk about leading your horse. Leading is on of the most important training activities you can utilize. Not only is it something you're going to be doing day in and day out, you can also use leading to establish leadership and respect with your horse. Moreover, we don't want our horses crowding us. One of the most important issues we face for safety on the ground is making sure our horses keep out of our personal space. Leading is a good way to train a horse to maintain a good distance between himself and human handlers. So, the first item of business when leading your horse is noting how much space there is between you and your horse. If your horse is close enough so that she can nudge you or stick her nose right in your pocket looking for treats, then she is too close for comfort. People often get caught up in the idea that a horse nuzzling up to you is cut or being affectionate, but often what is happening is the horse is being pushy and even trying to dominate you. Don't let that happen. This isn't about dominance per se, its about being safe. Consider that your horse is a thousand pound animal that can run over and seriously injure you in an instant. Also, in the previous lesson we described how we want our horses to respect us and treat us as a leader. So you want your horse to stay at a distance that you choose-not a distance that he chooses. We aren't saying you can't pet your horse or to never nuzzle up or hug him. What we are saying is that you do this when you want to, not when your horse decides he wants to crowd you and look for treats. Before you can hug your horse safely and without losing respect and leadership, you need to establish that boundary and let him understand that you're going to be the one who decides when to move closer. This is important for safety around horses. We have already seen that the hook-on exercise is a good way to establish leadership. Now we are going to learn that the simple act of leading our horses around with a rope and halter is another way to do this. Take a moment and go out with your horse for a walk with the rope and halter on. Pay special attention to where she positions herself as you walk along. Is she walking nicely behind you? Or is she pulling? Is she walking ahead of you? If your horse drags on the rope or walks faster than you do, the horse does not respect you. These are signs you need to work on leading. Now pay attention to stopping. What happens when you are walking along with your horse, and you come to a stop? Does she come to a stop right away? Or does she continue on for a step or two (or more)? Do you find that she is slightly in front of you when you stop? If she is so much as a hair in front of you when you come to a stop, you need to work on your leading.

If your horse is standing with her head past your shoulders, she is not considering you as a leader.

Leading by walking backwards To reestablish yourself as a leader if your horse stops with his head slightly in front of you, as shown in the figure above, you can lead by walking backwards away from the horse. The idea here is to position yourself so that you are in front of the horse. Act on this as follows: Drop out some of the lead line Walk backwards so that you're moving towards the hind end of the horse, pulling the lead line to direct him to follow you. The horse should turn and face you. When she does, keep walking backwards. This procedure is illustrated in the following three images.

To position yourself as the leader, start by dropping some of the line out so you can establish distance between you and your horse.

After dropping the line out, walk backwards away from the horse. This immediately positions you in front of the horse as her leader.

By walking backwards away from the horse, you position yourself so that the horse sees you as her leader.

Now you're leading the horse from an effective position. Of course you don't want to be leading your horse this way on a day to day basis, this is just a training technique. The purpose is to get the horse in a position so that he has to do two things:

at you you around


In addition, if your horse is blowing past you or you're finding him slightly ahead of you when you stop, this is a good way to put him in a position where he can't do that. Attention and Focus One of the most important things we can do when training our horses is to make sure they are paying attention to us. When you are walking backwards, make sure your horse keeps her attention on you. This must be completely undivided attention. How do you know a horse is giving you complete, undivided attention?

is looking straight at you with both eyes.

If you are leading your horse but her head is off to one side, she does not have all of her attention on you. Looking at you with one eye doesn't count. You want her to be looking right at you at all times. If she isn't, bump the rope once to get her attention back. When bumping the rope you can click, kiss, or say “look at me” if you need to put more energy in to get the horse focusing on you. Most horses will quickly pick up on this and start paying more attention to you in short order.

If your horse isn't paying attention, bump the rope once. You know she is paying attention when she has both eyes focused on you.

Stopping the Horse When you can lead the horse around nicely, its time to throw in a stop. This can be done using the following steps: Take in a deep breath through your nose. Stop walking. Raise both hands so that your open palms are facing the horse. Exhale loudly through your mouth.

To stop the horse, stop walking, exhale and raise both hands. After the horse has come to a complete stop, walk off again. Keep walking backwards away from the horse and make sure she is keeping both eyes on you. If she is not, what do you do? You bump her once. Keep bumping and kiss or click if that doesn't work. Note how light the leading is. If you are pulling on the horse to get him to move, the leading isn't good. The horse should be following you with a pace that closely matches the pace you are setting. So good leading can be noted by:
The She The She

lead rope hangs lightly in your hands. The horse isn't dragging and you aren't pulling. is keeping her attention on you. Both eyes are watching you at all times.

distance between you and your horse does not change as you walk along. In other words, she isn't creeping up on you. stops nicely and doesn't come in on you when you ask her to stop. When you have met these goals, you can test your horse by moving side to side. Keep leading by walking backwards and then move towards your right (while still walking backwards). Then return to the center position. Now, walk off to the left (again, still walking backwards). Go back to the center again. Did your horse keep all of her attention on you when you performed this exercise? If so you have a good lead. When the horse follows you wherever you go while leading, we say the horse is stalking you. When a horse is stalking you, she will turn and face you no matter where you position yourself. If she isn't stalking you, keep practicing your lead. Bump and kiss to get her attention.

If the horse is attentive, but drags on the line or creeps up on you, mix it up by leading for varying amounts of time and asking for stops. Change things up as you're going through this exercise.

Changing Lead Positions
When you have mastered leading your horse by walking backwards, its time to lead from the standard position, which is from the left side of the horse walking forward. You should be holding the lead rope with your right hand. Hold the rope so that there is a foot or two between your hand and the nose of the horse. People think that they need to put their hand right up against the halter to control the horse, but that is not a good place to be in. A horse is a thousand pound or more animal, and you cannot hope to control him by holding tightly on the lead. You get control of him by making him see you as his leader and making him understand he can trust you. To stop when leading from the standard position, you can use your right hand in a similar way to what we did when stopping our horse when leading backwards. Follow these steps:
Breath Raise

out and stop moving

your right hand to signal to the horse to stop

Once you have leading by walking backwards down solid, start working on leading from the standard position, from the left side of the horse with you walking forward.

When leading from the standard position, raise your right hand to ask your horse to stop. When leading from this position, have an awareness of where the horse is when you ask her to stop. Does she stop right away? Or does she keep moving forward? Leading problems are going to be more apparent from this position. If you have put a good amount of time and effort into leading while walking backwards, you should have an easier time leading from the standard position. On the other hand, if your horse keeps moving and passes you even with a single step when you've asked her to stop, you need to keep doing the exercise. Keep leading and asking her to stop until she stops in the correct position. That is, she should stop slightly behind you.

When the horse doesn't pass you when you ask her to stop, she is leading correctly. Changing Direction Let's suppose that your horse follows you nicely when you lead from the standard position, but then starts creeping up on you, goes past you, or goes past you when you stop. Or maybe he drags on the lead line. Any of these problems can be dealt with with two simple techniques.

Start leading your horse from the standard position. Keep walking along normally and let your horse walk on past you. When he does so, immediately change directions and walk in the opposite direction. This will put the horse in a position where he will have to follow you. One way that might help you do this effectively is to take your horse in the arena and walk from one side of the arena to the other, then turn right around without stopping and head in the other direction. This will let you re-establish your leadership. This works well whether your horse is coming up on you or if he is dragging. In fact, this is a very good technique to use when working with a horse that drags on the lead line. Try this instead of pulling on the rope trying to fight with your horse. A point to review: if your horse creeps up on you when you ask him to stop, making him work. Ask him to back up a few steps each time you stop. Leading from the Side When your horse leads well from the standard position, you are ready to move to the next exercise, which is leading from the side. That is, we lead the horse by positioning ourselves by the mid-section. A good target is the middle of the back, say where the middle of the saddle would be. Raise the lead rope with your left hand, which should be on the end of the rope which is closer to the horse. Raising the lead rope “opens the door” which tells the horse it is OK to move out. Next, take the other end of the rope in your right hand, holding it very close to the end of the lead rope. Flick it gently on the back of the horse. Do this at about the point where the middle of the saddle would be on the horse's back. This will tell the horse that you are asking her to move. When she walks out, keep pace by walking along at that same midpoint position where you are flicking the rope.

When your horse leads good from the side, start leading by moving behind her withers so that you're leading from the mid-section.

Leading from the rear We can use the mid-point leading position to transition directly into a fourth leading position, which is

leading from behind the horse. This is more natural than it might seem at first. The dominant horses in the herd will often lead other horses by putting pressure from behind. We call this leading position the driving position. To lead from the driving position:
Start Hold Let

by leading the horse from the middle position. the rope with your right hand only. back so that you are at the hind end or even behind the horse.

the rope out so that you are holding the rope from the end.


Leading from the driving position.

Change Sides and Mix it up You might think you're done if you can lead your horse from all four positions. But you're just getting started! To train your horse well, you want to be able to lead from both sides. Remember a horse has two sides of the brain! So after mastering leading from the left side, move over and start working on leading your horse from the standard position with you standing on his right side. Then move on to leading from the mid-point and driving positions on the right side. If you can do this effectively and easily, you will have a better trained horse than one that only leads on one side. Tip If a horse crowds you or creeps up on you when leading, stop and ask him to backup about 3 steps. Lesson Summary Leading your horse is one of the most important basic activities you can do with your horse. Make sure you horse leads nice and light from all 4 positions on both sides, and is attentive. Visit to order a copy of Leading Your Horse Effectively.

Lesson 3: Backing Up Your Horse
A basic exercise you should do with all of your horses and a good one to do if you're just learning how to handle horses. There are a few different ways we can do a backup. Let's start by considering a case where you are leading your horse from the standard position, and you've come to a stop. Start by raising your left hand with palm open facing the horse. This puts up a wall of sorts that tells the horse not to come into your personal space. This is illustrated in the figure below.

Preparing to ask the horse for a backup when positioned at her side. Raise your left hand and put the open palm facing the horse. Next, start bumping the rope with your right hand. Start doing this lightly. We want to ask the horse to do things by starting out asking nice and light. If the horse does not respond, then put a little more energy into it. If the horse still doesn't respond, increase the energy again. Then drop the energy down, and increase it again as she backs up. Changing the energy you put in while asking a horse to do something is called keeping it flowing.

Ask the horse to back up by bumping the rope with your right hand. If she does not respond, keep asking and increase the energy level.

As you ask your horse to backup, increase and decrease the energy levels. When you get your horse backing up, keep asking her to back up but now do it asking lightly. Then increase the energy again, then go light again, then stop. Go heavy (or put in a lot of energy) when asking the horse to backup each time they put up resistance. After they do what you ask, drop your

energy and ask lightly again. Another way you can ask the horse to backup is:
Stand Lift

on the left side, by the nose, facing the horse.

up the lead line with both hands. Have your right hand positioned a couple of feet from the halter, and your left hand a foot or two down the rope from your right hand.

shake the rope to ask the horse for a backup.

This is illustrated in the figure below.

Asking the horse for a backup by lightly shaking the line.

Asking for a backup while facing the horse This is perhaps what can be called the standard or usual way to back up a horse. Stand facing you horse from the center with the entire length of the lead-line between you and your horse. Pick up the leadline leaving several feet lying on the ground and hold the end of the lead line in your right hand. The idea here is to ask for a backup with differing levels of intensity.
Start If

asking for a backup by looking at your horse and moving the end of the rope back and forth. If the horse gives you a step backwards, stop and praise. the horse does not backup, start wiggling the rope just enough so that it is wiggling on the ground. If the horse steps back, stop and praise.


again, if the horse does not stop, start wiggling the rope more vigorously so that the end attached to the halter is wiggling and the rope comes off the ground. If the horse gives you a step back, stop and praise.

the horse still isn't moving, then you need to turn up the volume at this point. Now ask loudly. Start snapping the rope. Do it firmly so that the horse knows you mean business. If you need to move from one energy level to the next, don't stop asking and then start again by asking at a more intense level. Ask by continuously moving from one level to the next without stopping to ask for the backup. In other words, if you need to move from the lowest level to the next highest level, you should be moving the end of the rope back and forth and then start putting more energy in so that the rope is wiggling on the ground. Do this transition without stopping. Now suppose that your horse goes give you a backup, say at step two. That is good but we need to keep our horses on their toes. So don't always just wiggle the rope a bit and say “good boy”. From time to time, you want to go through all levels and ask him to back up at the highest energy level-which means assertively snapping the rope. You might even walk towards him, assertively making him back up. Have him back up 20 steps. Then stop and praise. Next time, ask light again and only go to level two. This exercise will get your horse paying attention to you. He needs to pay attention to what you're asking and not just do it on autopilot. Tip When backing up, pay attention to what you're doing. Are you walking toward the horse? In the last paragraph, we mentioned that occasionally you might want to ask your horse to go backwards for a long distance. In that case, you will have to walk toward the horse. But keep the distance between you and horse just about constant. Horses are always paying around to who is moving who. In most of your backup exercises, you want to actually stay in position while asking the horse to move. If you end up walking toward the horse when asking him to backup, he's got one over on you. You need to ask the horse to back up and not move yourself. From a practical standpoint, you want to be able to ask your horse to backup to put distance between you and your horse for safety reasons. You also don't want him dominating you in a subtle way, which he could do by barely backing up while you're putting a lot of energy into walking towards him.

Lesson Summary In this lesson, we discussed backing up your horse. This is an important technique that you can use to put space between you and your horse.

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