A great way of gaining spatial awareness on the ground is to start and work with your horse from a distance. Innately, in his wild state, a horse is naturally claustrophobic in the fact that he will continually look at ensuring he always has an escape route. As a prey animal, this is what keeps him alive! When working at a distance, in most cases but not all, he will feel more comfortable and less trapped/forced into doing what is required.
Rhythmic pressure and instant release
In this article, we will look at creating energy from a short distance from the horse by swinging the rope in the direction of whichever part of the horse we want to move, until he yields from the pressure and then we release. The object of this technique is to ensure we create discomfort in the area we don’t want the horse to move into, and comfort (from the release) in the area in which we want the horse to move into.
This is a great technique for starting to train your horse to load into a trailer/box, etc. For example, if your horse moves to the side of the ramp, you create rhythmic pressure in the area that he’s chosen to move into to evade going onto the ramp and release pressure when he moves back towards the ramp.
Backing your horse up
Stand in front of your horse, reasonably close to him. Hold the rope almost at the end and then with your energy up, start to gently bounce your hand that is holding the rope from side to side or up and down (whichever you prefer, as long as you are consistent in the way you ask). If your horse doesn’t yield, then start to use the rope. This will send energy down the length of the rope to his halter. Keep upping the energy down the rope until he steps backwards. As soon as he takes a step in the right direction, release all pressure.
Moving the forequarters away
This is a great exercise for encouraging your horse to be exactly where you want him to be, without having to be up close.
Stand in front of your horse from a reasonable distance and lift your arm out to the side. Apply some pressure to the halter in the direction you want him to go. With your other arm, start to use circular movements with the end of the rope towards your horse’s shoulder. Keep continually asking him without breaking rhythm, until he takes a step in the right direction crossing his front legs, then release all energy and pressure.
Moving the hind quarters away
This exercise is really good for stopping your horse from pulling away from you when he is faced with a difficult situation. For the most part, it is instinctual for us humans to pull back with all our strength when a horse turns tail and runs off with you on the ground, but if we can teach him to yield his hindquarters, then no pulling is necessary. If we focus on his hind end, instead of his head in these difficult situations, we can manage to prevent having rope burns and loose horses. Remember, we can never match his strength, but if we use body language and these techniques, we can avoid running into these types of issues.
Start by standing at a reasonable distance in front of your horse, then walk along the side of him (still at a reasonable distance) until you pass his shoulder. Once you have reached this point, then start to walk towards his flank/hip in a semi-circle, concentrating all your energy and focus in this area. If he doesn’t yield his hind quarter away and cross one hind leg in front of the other, start to swing your rope towards his flank until he moves away, and then release all pressure.
Asking your horse to yield sideways
This is a great exercise for helping your horse to keep his weight central, leading to self-carriage and more intricate lateral work, such as flying changes further down the line.
Start from a reasonable distance and stand at the side of your horse (in line with his ribcage). Start to create rhythmic pressure by swinging the end of your rope towards his ribs until he starts to yield and side-pass away from you. If he leaves his hindquarters behind, then change your applied pressure from his ribs to his flank, and if he leaves his forequarters behind, then change your applied pressure to his shoulders.
A good tip: When you start to work on this exercise, ensure you have good forequarter and hindquarter yielding in place first. Also, you may find it easier to have your horse facing a fence or wall to start with.