Leading is how we get our horse from point A to point B. And most horses lead well enough that you can usually get them from point A to point B. However, games that involve leading can be a great way to work on fine-tuning your communication with your horse. Creative leading exercises can help you and your horse work on timing, balance, body awareness, transitions, turns, and obstacles, just to name a few possibilities. Here’s a seemingly simple exercise I was doing with several of the horses on Friday which is great for learning where your horse’s feet are and improving communication at simple transitions.
Above is a diagram of what we were doing. Basically, the horse and I were walking a serpentine or S pattern, continually crossing back and forth over the driveway. Every time we’d transition from concrete to dirt, I would ask the horse to halt. The goal was to end up with two feet on the concrete and two feet on the dirt. (Note: If you don’t have a good driveway, you could easily alter the exercise so the horse halts between 2 cones, on top of a pole or lead rope, etc.)
Although seemingly simple, this was a lot of fun to do with horses that were already pretty good at leading. At the beginning, the horse wasn’t stopping exactly when I ask or where I wanted him. I had to think about when I needed to ask in order for his feet to end up where I wanted them. Towards the end, we were much more in tune. My cues were lighter and the horse was paying attention to me and waiting for the next instruction, instead of just zoning out and plodding along behind me.
I got to thinking later on of all the ways to expand this game to make it a bit more complicated. I’d like to try this next at liberty or adding in a bit of trotting. Working from a distance could also make the exercise more challenging or this would also be a great way to practice precise transitions under saddle. Also, it would be fun to see how precise I could get about where the horse is placing his feet. Could I get him to stop and stand square with his front feet an inch away from the edge of the concrete?
Good ground work and riding means not just challenging the horse, but challenging ourselves as well! Sometimes, an easy way to do this is to take something that seems simple and see how well we can perfect it. So, how good are your transitions? Can you control exactly when or where each foot stops or goes?