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 movement.

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 arena!

Today I'll try to explain how to get your horse to move forward with you.

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.

Now, your horse may not get the idea at first and keep right on going. In that case, rather than pull back, fix your 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 suggestions!

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