If you have done your snaffle bit homework, teaching your young horse to go one handed should be simple. Putting the horse in one hand is not an overnight job. When I am training a horse to go one hand in a curb bit it takes me about six months before I have them performing every manoeuvre in this fashion.
I want my horse to be able to steer collected first as it is easier to teach a horse to be in one hand when you have them ‘picked up.’ I then teach them to steer one handed uncollected with my hand down low on their neck. When we show a horse we will have our hand low so it is important that they understand how to steer this way.
Step One - Collecting One Handed
If you have done your homework correctly in a snaffle then going one handed in the curb will not be that difficult for your horse. I start at a trot on a circle and pick my horse up, asking them to soften and collect by raising my hand up higher until it creates light pressure on the bit. I just hold my hand still with light pressure on the bit and bump my legs until my horse softens. If after five seconds my horse has not softened I go to two hands and help them soften. I then will go back to one hand and do the process again. Pretty soon your horse will realise that all he has to do is soften, just like he did in two hands. Don’t worry about steering yet, just ensure your horse comes off the light pressure you apply to the bit when you pick up your hand.
Step Two – Laying The Outside Rein
This is the start of steering one handed and I often do this while working on Step 1. I place both my hands together, pretending to have my horse in one hand. If we are going to go to the left I will place my right rein (outside rein) on the horse’s neck as if I would be asking them to steer one handed (the more similar this is to how you will do it when going one handed the better). The horse will probably not steer so I then use my left rein (inside rein) and make them steer. I will do this hundreds of times each way and they will start to understand that when you lay the right rein (outside rein) on their neck it means go to the left and vice versa. I initially do this at a walk and when I achieve a result I move on to the trot and lope. Don’t worry if your horse takes a couple of days to understand this. Just keep doing it over and over; neck rein first (outside rein) then inside rein if they don’t respond to the neck rein.
Step Three – Steering Whilst Collected
When you have your horse doing the softening and steering exercises, you can start to concentrate on steering one handed. Don’t be tempted to steer one handed until you can do the two previous exercises as you will be asking to fail. At a walk I pick my horse up. Once soft, I move my hand to the left or right asking them to steer. When the horse does the correct thing by steering, I keep my hand up to collect them. Once they soften I put my hand down and give them a loose rein as a reward. The reason I will wait until they have softened before I reward them is because I want the horse to understand that they need to steer and stay soft at the same time. If they do not steer when asked I reach down and pull the inside rein, just like in Step 2. This sounds simple and you might say, ‘I have already tried this a number of times and it doesn’t work. It does work; you just have to keep doing it. As with all horse training, consistent repetition is the key to success.
Step Four – Show Pen Steering
When you have your horse steering well by picking them up one handed, it is time to teach them to steer without picking them up. They should know this a little from Step 2. Once again this is about repetition. Ultimately I want my horse to steer like I would in a show pen, with my $hand down low at the centre of their neck with a long rein and no pressure on the bit. I start with my hand here and only move it a few inches to the left or the right as a signal to steer. I give them a chance to respond and if they do not steer I pick them up, move my hand a little further across the neck and make the steering happen like in Step 3. I want to try and do all this in one hand instead of reaching down and pulling with my inside rein as in Step 2.
When I have my horse steering one handed without picking them up and also steering one handed when I do pick them up I can start to go one handed in the manoeuvres like turning and stopping. It is important to ensure that the horse is really comfortable with the manoeuvre before trying it one handed. You will find that in training and maintaining a horse in any manoeuvre you may need to swap from one hand to two hands to make sure it is correct. But once your horse knows how to steer one handed it will not be a big deal to teach them to stop, turn or change leads in this manner.
This whole process is really quite simple but it is important that you are patient and wait for your horse to understand what you are asking. If you don’t worry about it too much and just keep doing it, your horse will be completely in one hand after about six months.
Remember, just because you have started doing something one handed does not mean you have to always be one handed. I am always going from one hand to two hands until my horse can perform the task perfectly one handed
If you don’t make a big deal out of going one handed then it won’t be a big deal and you won’t have many problems
Repetition is the key to teaching a horse to be in one hand