In-Hand Work Exercises
by Sandy and Cita
Well, I guess this is as good of time as any to begin!
I am starting with assumptions that your horses are familiar with c/t,
comfortable with being led and walking next to you and have been
introduced to a dressage whip and a bridle with a snaffle type bit.
I am by no means an expert so anyone please feel free to jump in and
correct me if I'm wrong or leave anything out!!
Step one: Finding a good place to begin
I think especially for young horses, it is important to have walls to
work off of...ideally an indoor arena is great, but of course we don't
all have that luxury. I think it's important to have an area where you
can work in a nice straight line for a few strides. In the very
beginning, a stall or round pen will work fine though.
Step two: Let's tango!
Let's say you begin on the horse's left side, (Of course, you will be
working equally on both sides) standing at your horse's shoulder. Your
hips are basically facing frontwards. Turn your upper body towards your
dance partner. Take the left rein in your left hand, holding it about 4
or 5 inches behind the bit. I find it easiest sometimes to hold the
clicker in that hand too, as you will have the other rein and whip in
your right hand. Bring the right rein over the horse's withers and down
on the left side of the horse. You can hold the right rein wherever it
is most comfortable for you...maybe slightly behind the left shoulder
blade. We will post pictures in the archives if you get confused.
I generally like to hold the right rein just as I would if I were in the
saddle, between my pinky and ring finger and out by my thumb. I hold my
whip in my right hand so it is pointing towards the back of the horse
and lays across her side. You should now be standing as if you are
ready to tango, feet facing forward, with your arms apart as though you
are holding a beach ball. There should be plenty of space between you
and your horse.
Now you want to pick up a light contact with the horse's mouth with each
rein. Try and get an equal amount, which is tricky when one is coming
from the opposite side of the horse and across his shoulder. If you put
too much pressure on the outside (right ) rein, you will cause your
horse to bring his shoulder into you. Not enough pressure will cause the
horse to over bend to the inside and you will lose your straight forward
If you are just starting your horse, this is a great place to start to
teach baby gives. Start by releasing with your right hand/rein and
vibrating your inside (left) hand. ANY turn of the head in your
direction warrants a click and a treat. Try and get your horse to turn
his head away from you by moving your inside hand forward a bit to
release the contact and vibrating the the outside rein that is coming
over the horse's shoulder. Be patient, and watch for the slightest try.
This is also a great way to get an older horse with a hardened mouth to
soften up. Be sure and only c/t if the horse moves his head and not the
rest of his body. Also by c/t ing you have to drop the reins to treat,
so you are doubly rewarding the horse by releasing pressure on the rein
when he does what you were asking!
Now try this from both sides of the horse.
This is getting long, and if you can coordinate yourself with reins,
clicker and whip in the right position, you're off to a good start. Next
comes the trickiest part, getting the horse to move forward at the same
time you do, without one or the other dragging eachother across the
Today I'll try to explain how to get your horse to move forward with
So you're in position ready to tango. I guarantee, the first few times
you ask your horse to move forward, the both of you will feel like you
have six left feet!
Your first inclination is going to be to lead your horse forward with
your inside hand. It is VERY important to keep your inside hand
positioned behind the bit (4 or 5 inches) and maintaining light contact.
The impulsion to move forward is going to come from behind. Give your
horse cues to move forward at the same time you take a step forward. By
cues, I mean a tap of the whip, the step forward, the verbal command
"walk"...whatever you intend to use when you're up on his back.
CONSISTENCY is important.
You may end up taking your step forward and your horse may not. Again,
the temptation will be to lead him forward with the inside rein....DON"T
DO IT! Get back in position and try again to get your horse to step
forward when you do. A green horse may be confused also by the contact
on the reins but be patient. As soon as your horse takes that step
forward in unison with you CLICK! Remember the click ends the behavior.
Clicking is a good way to stop both of you so you can regroup and you
aren't trying to pull the horse to a halt just yet. If your horse is too
antsy to hold still while you get into position, perhaps you might go
back and do a couple "whoa" and "stand" lessons in the halter.
Once you get you and your horse moving forward without leading your
horse into the walk, of course you're going to want to stop! I will
post that excersise a little later today.
Good luck and have fun!
Giving to the bit is essential
for successful work in hand. Besides getting your horse to turn it's
head to either side, you need to teach your horse to yield to the
pressure without panicking.
While standing at his/her side, in the position described earlier, keep
a constant light...and by light I mean not much more than the weight of
the reins in your hands....with the outside hand. Jiggle/vibrate your
fingers on the inside rein. Again, be patient. Click and release on the
slightest give. Next you want to move your inside hand slightly lower
and ask for a give again. Continue this until your horse has it's head
almost to the ground.
Maintain lightness..the last thing you want to do
is pull your horse in the direction you are trying to go, and click for
every effort. If your horse throws it's head up in the air when you
release, then he hasn't learned the lesson. Again, work from both sides
and by using the clicker your horse will learn to give in no time!
Now, back to the halt. You've hopefully got your horse stepping
simultaneously forward with you, and so far you've stopped him/her with
the click. You're horse is familiar with bit pressure.
As you walk
beside him/her, signal to your horse just as you would if you were in
the saddle...say the word "whoa" and stop your body movements...stiffen
your back, tighten your legs, make a funny face, or whatever you might
do to ask your horse to halt under saddle, just be consistent.
horse may not get the idea at first and keep right on going. In that
case, rather than pull back, fix your hands...in other words, as you are
giving your horse the cues to stop, after giving him/her a chance to do
what you've asked, say three strides, the horse walks into the pressure
himself, finding this "wall" you've created by ceasing your own forward
motion. AS SOON as the horse stops it's forward motion RELEASE and
CLICK! In the beginning I don't think it matters that the horse stop
square...that will come. The important thing here is that the horse
learn to move with you and that you release at the right moment. If you
can get those two things going the rest will be easy!
I think I've given you plenty to work on for a while. Let me know any
questions/problems that arise, and as I said before, I'm open to