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September 28, 2021 20 Comments
Today's lesson is going to be short and sweet. Here it is:
When you're driving a car on a flat road and you push the gas pedal, the car goes faster forward, right? When you take your foot off the gas pedal, does the car keep going fast or does it being to slow down? Your car naturally slows when you take your foot off the gas pedal. That's normal. That's how it should be.
Imagine a car that kept accelerating even after you took your foot off the pedal. That would be bad news. Unfortunately, that's how many horses act. When asked to go, some horses keep going without regard for anything else. Some horses are even punished for slowing down. Master horse trainers know better and they can offer you a simple lesson you can take home and apply today to horses that don't slow naturally and help get the kind of results and relationship most people dream of with a horse.
Here's the lesson: Get on your horse (if he/she's rideable) and ask him to step forward. When he does step forward, release your asking signal, or stop asking for forward. Just relax, take your foot off the gas pedal, metaphorically speaking, and see what happens.
If your horse keeps walking, or worse, speeds up, even after you take your foot off the gas pedal, you've got a problem that is easily fixable.
If, however, your horse takes one step on command, then slows down to a stop because they sense you didn't ask for more, you've got a winner. I want a horse that goes when I ask, how fast I want, how far I want, and slows when I stop asking. Some novice trainers want a horse that won't slow down because they don't want to keep asking the horse to go. So it's about to get a little more confusing. Just breathe! Let me explain!
Principle one: A smart, sensitive horse will listen to all your body cues. Including, gas pedal on/off, and brake pedal on/off, and reverse and sideways, etc. A reactive horse will listen to only a few signals, primarily; gas pedal on and heavy brake pedal. Which would you rather have; a horse that's reactive or a horse that's attentive and doesn't make assumptions?
Principle two: A horse can learn to hold the gas pedal on, just like a car holds the gas pedal in cruise control, making it easier to keep your speed without having to constantly kick or squeeze for forward. This horse should only learn this advanced lesson of "cruise control" or "maintaining gait," after they learn gas pedal on/off control. NOT BEFORE!
Hopefully those two principles help make sense of any previous education you've had about how horses should and shouldn't respond when you say to go forward.
The game, "one step wonder," is about teaching your horse a simple, fun game of stepping forward without holding forward. Later you can teach holding forward. Today... find out if your horse is truly listening to your body signals, or if they are still only reacting to basic commands. My horses can go forward, maintaining gait for as long as I want, reminded by the most subtle body cues, or they can slow when I take off the gas pedal. They can do both! Your horse can do both too.
Try the one step wonder game and see if your horse can take just one step forward and immediately charge down and relax after. If they don't decelerate, put on the brakes and ask for a few steps of backup. Then try again, applying the brakes each time until, eventually, they anticipate slowing down immediately after going forward without you touching the reins to force slowing down. At that point, they will offer to slow down when you take the gas pedal off and you'll achieve the one step wonder winner's trophy. A horse that will do that, demonstrates a higher level of impulsion.
So what's the value of the one step wonder game? You horse's behavior improves because they are listening to every detail about forward energy, not just "go and stay going." Your horse learns to go slower for riders that need to go slower, like preparing for kids to ride. Your horse becomes more attentive to you and less reactive to the environment or internal anxiety. The usefulness of your horse improves too. You'll be able to open and close gates while mounted or ride in open fields, or up and down hills slowly, or even ride with other horses because your horse is paying attention to the details you need instead of everything else!
Would you like to see a video of how to play the one step wonder game? Comment below and I'll make one for you. The more comments I get helps me see your interest and will help me make that video for you sooner. Thanks and have fun!