|Posted by Ann on December 6, 2014 at 2:45 PM|
It is September already and the Fall colors are just around the corner. Some of the best riding weather of the year is ahead as it usually is not very rainy and the temperatures are cooling down to comfortable. That also makes it more enjoyable to concentrate on training during rides. It can be fun to problem solve and using the Replacement Concept gives it the feel of a game instead of a chore.
For those of you who missed the last article, let me briefly explain the use of the Replacement Concept. Basically, it is focusing on what you do want your horse to do instead of what you don't. It is attaching a particular exercise and response to a negative behavior so as to keep a positive attitude when riding. And it causes you to practice responses that are not repeated enough on an average trail ride.
It is common for us to focus on the negative behavior and then get frustrated with the horse because he won't stop this behavior. But what if you decided to use that behavior as a signal to practice an exercise that you wanted better anyway? This will totally change your attitude towards that 'unwanted' behavior and will give you a better trained horse by the end of your ride. The Replacement Concept can be used for all kinds of trail riding areas such as eating on the trail, jigging, buddy sour reactions, constantly trying to turn back, crossing obstacles....the list is endless.
So let me give you more examples of using the Replacement Concept. Let's start with a horse that 'jigs' or trots on the trail when you don't want to trot. Most of the time, the solution is to hold back on the reins with constant pressure to slow the horse down but that “dumb” horse still trots even though he is trotting slower than he could walk. Mostly, this is due to you holding him back. When a horse walks, he nods his head; when he trots, he doesn't. So if you hold constant pressure on the reins, he cannot walk.
If you let him out and only check him back to a walk before giving him slack again, he is still gaining ground every time he trots. But if you back him up and then give him slack, even if you have to do it every other stride for a while, he will figure out that if he walks, you let him go. And just think of how great your back-up will be in a very short time. Backing teaches your horse to soften and give you better speed control whenever you ask.
Other exercises to replace trotting are working on diagonal work with his shoulders, picking up one rein to guide him into a circle and releasing as soon as he walks, teaching a 1-rein back-up and disengaging the hips. Be sure, if you are riding with others, that you have someone who will go just a little ways and then wait for you. If your horse finds himself getting farther behind when you back him, he will have a hard time learning due to the emotions from feeling abandoned.
Another behavior to replace is eating on the trail. If you have a horse that thinks you are taking him out for lunch when you ride and grabs for food every chance he gets, he can be retrained in a couple short sessions. Disengaging the hip works great for the Replacement Concept approach. Start by taking your horse to a tempting location and give him some slack. Every time he reaches for a bite, pick up the rein and ask him to disengage his hip 1-3 times on that side. Release and give him some slack while you switch your hands for the other side. Just stay patient and relaxed while you let him figure out the connection between his attempts to eat and your request for him to move his hip. It won't take that long and you won't be able to convince him to reach for a bite. When he is good in an open spot, take him on the trails and practice it there. If the trail is too narrow to move the hip, backing also makes a good replacement exercise.
After you have taught this, you need to be consistent and correct him on every bite. Soon, he will not eat while being ridden. But if you let him eat sometimes and don't want him to eat other times, it will be harder to stop. I make it a rule to never let my horse eat while I am riding or leading him. If I want to hand graze them, I use the head down cue to put his head down to eat.
There are lots of different areas to apply the Replacement Concept and get a better trained horse in the process. I find that I only use a handful of exercises but get great results. I use serpentines for calming a horse. I use backing and disengaging the hip for slowing them down. I use giving to the bit, to focus the horse on the trail ahead instead of looking to the side. But use your imagination and you can enjoy every ride just by using what the horse does to get him better trained and to take more responsibility for his speed and responses.
I have covered only a few areas but am interested in hearing from you and helping you think through ways to improve your riding experiences. Send me an email and let's learn together. I have a couple clinics coming up before the end of the year so check out the schedule and come ride with me. Until next time, God Bless and stay safe........