The Number Two Way to Ruin Your Training
The number way to ruin your horse is to nag, nag, nag. Nagging is the constant asking over and over without getting a clear response from your horse. We have all seen the rider who consistently uses her spurs every stride just to get her horse to barely trot around the ring. With every stride the horse is getting duller and duller. Every stride the rider is untraining the horse by teaching him to ignore her aid.
They key is understanding how to prevent this and how to correct it when you come across a horse that ignores your aid, whatever the aid may be. First you have to realize that you ALWAYS ask softly and if the horse doesn’t respond, he either doesn’t know the aid or he’s been taught to ignore it. So you have two solutions.
#1 Teach or reteach the aid as if the horse is just being started. Horses don’t inherently know to go forward from pressure with the legs. That is a learned response from their early training under saddle. I personally teach the horse voice commands on the ground through reward based training before I ever get on their backs. You have to teach from the ground first. I want the horse to consistently trot off on the verbal command on the lunge before I teach it under saddle. Once the horse knows the voice cue for trot, I use it under saddle in this sequence. In the walk under saddle, add pressure with both legs, give the voice command to trot. Once the horse trots, I release the pressure of my legs. Reward the horse. Repeat. In this order. Always put the new cue before the learned cue. For instance, add leg pressure first then say trot. In a very short period of time, you will be able to stop the voice command because the horse will have learned to trot off from the leg pressure.
#2 Increase the frequency or strength of your aid until the horse responds, then clearly give a release. Repeat until the horse responds to the light aid. From the example above it would look like this. You ask the horse to trot off with a light pressure of the legs. The horse slowly and begrudgingly kinda starts to trot. You increase the pressure with your leg but the horse responds even less. You follow your leg up with light but consistent tapping with the whip. The horse finally responds. You STOP AIDING IMMEDIATELY. Let the horse trot 2–5 strides then bring the horse back to the walk and repeat. Starting again with the lightest of aids and only increase as needed. Once the horse responds to the lightest of aids, give the horse a break. I find that this combination of light leg pressure to increased pressure followed by LIGHT tapping with the whip gets the best response without having to be cruel with the whip or leg. So to repeat it would be light leg pressure (no response from horse), stronger leg pressure but not a death grip (no response) then tap, tap, tap, tap until the horse responds. With poorly trained horses that ignore all signals, you may have to annoy them with the tapping of the whip or go back and do halt/walk transitions to remind them of the correct response to your aids. If the horse is really bulky, then retrain all of this on the ground first. Remember to repeat the sequence if you run into problems again in the future. Also, remember, don’t start with the strongest of pressure. In the long run, that never teaches them to move off a light aid.