How good is your feel?
Can you tell what foot your horse is moving? Better yet, can you ask your horse to move only one foot?
This exercise teaches how to accomplish that task.
Before you start, look down at your horse’s feet to get a feel for his foot position. Then, center yourself in the saddle and place your hands and feet accordingly, and ask your horse to slowly take one step with only the front or the hind end.
You might find that your horse will take more than one step and also moves the other end of his body—this is where feel comes in. You need to be aware of what your horse is preparing to do.
The secret to this exercise is preparing your horse properly and blocking him from going the wrong way.
If your horse moved forward, but took more than the one step you requested, you can block him from going too far forward by drawing him back slightly.
If your horse moved backward but, again, took more than one step, you need to push him forward a little more.
Remember to adjust your cues accordingly based on what the horse is preparing to do. You’ll soon find a balance between too much, or not enough, leg or rein.
“It might take both of my feet to keep the horse from backing, both hands or reins to block forward motion, an inside rein to direct the front end, and an outside leg to bring the hind end—and with every step, I might need to adjust each foot where I want it,” Martin explains.
Often, riders put to much energy into moving the horse then they have trouble shutting the momentum down. When they use the reins to stop the horse, they bounce around between the reins.
It’s important we only ask the horse to get ready to move the foot and, when it leaves the ground, the horse feels relief. Then, the horse can stop the momentum of the foot when it hits the ground.
This exercise is all about how you present a message to your horse and how he interprets the message.
“If he doesn’t deliver the response you want, you need to shut the door he’s trying to go through, and open the door you want him to go through in order to make it more enticing for him to find the right way.”
Want more exercises like this? Check out Martin’s Cow-Horse Confidence.