Here’ a short clip of Connor’s second ride, from last weekend. At this point, we’ve only walked around bareback in the round pen, so I’m still not entirely sure how much previous training he had before coming to the rescue.
I think he must have had a fair amount of training at some point. He doesn’t seem overly happy about being ridden, but he does seem to tolerate a lot. He is pretty stiff, as well as dull/resistant to cues. He’ll benefit from lots of work on bending and flexibility, as well as learning to respond to light, soft cues. The video is of the last two minutes of a 12 minute ride, so he was more responsive than at the beginning.
I think it’s important to make sure the horse likes riding and training. So, if 10-15 minutes into the ride, the horse is trying really hard and showing a lot of improvement, I’ll get off. Later, we can work on riding for longer periods of time.
On a similar note, if after a few minutes I felt we hadn’t been getting anywhere and that we were really struggling to make any improvement, I’d probably either pick something easier to work on or get off. We’d go back to ground work or other pre-requisite skills. There’s no reason to push things under saddle, especially with a green horse or a horse you don’t know very well.
On the ground, Connor and I have been working a lot on softness. I want a slight touch on the lead rope or rein to mean move your head or body in that direction. Often, he’ll choose to brace against the pressure instead of giving to it, but he’s getting MUCH better.
I have a number of exercises I like for teaching this, including teaching the horse to move his head and forequarters in a variety of directions from light pressure on the lead. This works best if you start with light pressure and reward even the slightest try. So, I might use my thumb and index finger to put light pressure on the lead downward or to the side. The moment I felt any give from the horse (even half a centimeter at the beginning!), I would take my fingers off. Most horses catch on pretty fast and start offering more (especially when you combine this with clicker training).
Eventually, though, there shouldn’t be pressure. I should be able to pick up my hand and move it in a certain direction, and the horse should follow with his neck and body so that he maintains slack in the lead rope.
I know that some clicker trainers argue that if you want slack, then start with slack (i.e. there’s no need to start with pressure). However, I feel that it’s really important for the horse to know and respond to the slightest bit of pressure. This will come in handy later for riding and rein cues, when I do want to make use of light contact and pressure.
Also, from my experience, if you use pressure at very low levels, you do not escalate the pressure, and you reward the slightest try, the horse learns quickly and does not see the pressure as a “bad” thing. Of course, I think it helps that it is usually paired with a click and a treat!