Training Mythunderstandings:
More Early Lessons for the Green Horse

by Ron Meredith
President, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

Every time you work with your green horse, remind yourself that thereís not just ďone wayĒ things should happen when the two of you meet in an enclosed area the first few times. Every horse is going to react to your presence and the following pressures you use to begin your relationship a different way. Itís your job to be observant of all of the body language the horse uses to tell you how he feels, what his emotional state is, so you can keep these first lessons as relaxed and rhythmic as possible.

You have to know yourself and how to stay in control of yourself before you can know and control the horse. You are the teacher and you want the horse to be your disciple. You do not want the horse to pay attention to you because you are a disciplinarian--an authority figure, the herd boss, or whatever you want to call it--who is going to chase or punish him if he doesnít understand what you are trying to show him. You want the horse to become your ďfollowerĒ because youíve taught him in his early lessons that when he does whatever your pressures are directing him to do, you become the nicest, safest place to be in the space where youíre working. So he just naturally starts paying more and more attention to you and to trying to figure out what the pressures you are using mean.

So where were we in the training sequence? I brought my horse into an arena and let him spend some energy if he needed to do that. Then I started quietly and rhythmically following him, putting just enough pressure on him to put his attention to me and to keep moving. I created a corridor of pressures by using the wall or fence on the outside of the horse and my own presence just off his primary line of influence to the inside. When I got to a corner, I stepped back a little parallel to his primary line to remove some of the pressure to give the horse the feel of moving through the corner rather than being blocked and stopping there.

At some point, he took a little more notice of us and I stepped farther away from his primary line to invite him into my space. If he didnít understand what I was showing him, I just went back to my following again. I repeated this following, noticing, inviting sequence as many times as I needed until he finally turned to face me. Then I repeated the sequence again however many times I needed until he not only turned to face me but also walked over to me.

Most likely, as he walked up to me the first few times, he was scanning the arena or had one ear cocked back or was giving some other indication that his full attention wasnít on me. So I just let him walk by and started following again. At some point, however, he finally came up to me with both eyes and ears at full attention and stopped next to me instead of walking on by.

Heís telling me heís realized Iím not a threat, that even though Iíve been following him I havenít been predatory in any way so he feels pretty comfortable with me. So now I have a chance to show him that Iím his buddy and the best place to be. I do that by moving to the secondary line of influence that runs standing alongside his shoulder and starting to groom him, maintaining the same feel of rhythm and relaxation I had when I was following him. I donít go slapping at him or petting him hard or warbling ďgood boyĒ or ďatta boyĒ or using any other verbiage or body language that is not horse logical. Instead, I just start quietly and rhythmically scratching and loving on him like one of his herd buddies would do.

Depending on the horseís comfort level, I might want to start on the shoulder and move up to the withers. Or I might start on the shoulder and move toward the chest. I watch the horseís posture and breathing and ears and eyes to see where his attention is and to be sure heís staying relaxed. I scratching in the same soft, rhythmic pattern I used when I was following him. I want that pattern to stay just stay the same because that is the pattern that created the feel in the horse that I was safe to be with in the first place. I donít want to change that.

I like to stabilize a baby horseís jaw with a dropped noseband before I start these early lessons because now I can scratch and love on him without needing to do anything that breaks the pattern and feeling of rhythm and relaxation if he decides to turn his head and nibble or nip. I know he canít hurt me because heís got that noseband on. If he starts to nuzzle me, I can just quietly run my hand up his neck and put my fingers in the groove where his jaw and neck meet and that will be enough to discourage him from turning and putting his mouth on me without changing his feeling that Iím a safe place to be.

After Iíve scratched and loved for awhile, I drop back behind and start following him again. My goal is to have the horse relaxed and rhythmic regardless of which side Iím working. I want to do my scratching and loving from both sides. And I want the time it takes for him to go from paying full attention to me while Iím following him to joining me when I invite him into my space to get shorter and shorter.

It may not look like Iím teaching the horse much, but I am. Horses are ďpatternistic.Ē So I am teaching the horse to learn that the pattern he can predict whenever he is with me is one of rhythm and relaxation. That understanding is the foundation of everything else heís going to learn no matter what game I plan to play with him as his training advances.

There are some patterns I donít want to establish. For example, the first time or two I bring a baby green horse into an arena I might turn him loose to buck and play and spend his energy. But I donít want to establish the pattern that he ALWAYS gets to play whenever he comes to an arena. Thatís a pattern he would have to unlearn at some point so thereís no sense getting it started. But I do want him to learn that he can depend on me to always be a rhythmic, relaxed, safe presence whenever we are together.

Remember, thereís no precise training recipe thatís going to work with every horse. Thereís just a sequence of goals that you want to reach with whatever horse youíre working with at the time. Any scurried or worried or quick activity is a sign that the horse is not learning. Heís initiated an escape or youíre using too loud a pressure and you need to be quieter. While youíre working on getting his attention, remember to keep our movement and breathing rhythmic and relaxed so the horse stays relaxed. You want the horse breathing calmly and quietly, giving the impression heís almost bored. Someone watching may be totally unimpressive if our horse comes up next to you and stands there completely relaxed while giving you all of his attention. They donít understand that heís paying you the highest compliment a horse can give.

Meredith Manor is an equestrian career college dedicated to preparing students for hands-on, equestrian careers as trainers, instructors, equine massage therapists, stable managers, farriers and more. If you want a career with horses and are considering attending Meredith Manor, request an information packet to learn more.

I feel that every day I spent at MM made me more prepared for my future. The theory and the eye that you get from being immersed in an in-depth program really makes all the difference. I have been able to adapt what I know to any discipline, any situation.
Kelly Lagos: 2005 Riding Master VI Graduate