This article was written by Lindsey Forkun, Equine and Natural Horsemanship Expert, and author of the book Natural Horsemanship Answering the What, Why, and How for ALL Disciplines.
Yesterday I was playing with the big Clyde x Friesian mare named Bree. I was teaching her some new things, one of which was the sideways circle. Bree has already learned the basics and can do circles, haunch turns, forehand turns, etc so I have been working to test her understanding and our communication with more difficult tasks.
I decided to teach her sideways circle because it is an exercise that has the horse focus on me, think more, and establish myself as a leader. This is because it is an exercise where I stand in the centre of the circle, and the horse steps sideways around me. It is an exercise where I stand still and the horse does all the moving – which helps the horse realize that I am the leader of our herd because I don’t move, but they do. The horse is always facing me so the horse learns to focus on me and follow cues. The exercise gets the horse moving sideways with no forward or backward movement which helps the horse become more of a thinker because sideways takes a lot of thought.
Bree is a very smart horse and she picked up the cue really quickly. When teaching a horse something new, it is good to remember:
- Be patient: allow the horse time to think about what you are asking them to do, don’t expect an immediate response
- Quit when you have understanding: once the horse gets what you are doing, reward the horse by moving on to something else… if you keep practicing the horse will start to think they are doing it wrong and they could give up or get very frustrated
After Bree started to move in the sideways circle, I allowed her time to stand and think. Then we started doing something familiar to her – the circle – so that her mind could take a bit of a mental break. After some circles we did some work with hula hoops – getting her to stand with her front feet in the hoop. Then I asked her to do sideways circle out of the hoop – to my delight she remembered the cue and did it perfectly both directions!
Key tips for this week:
Horses can only show you how smart they are if you move beyond the basics. Challenge yourself to try and teach your horse something new.