Howdy friends and neighbors! For you folks who have been following my teachings, I thank you very much. If you are new to this program, welcome and enjoy!
Everything that I talk and teach, the horse and mule already know from birth. It is their nature. It is my desire that the reader understand and be able to study this process.
There are two versions of body control that we must understand. When the animals are quiet, calm and relaxed, they are soft and unassuming. This means that they are down in their feet, their bodies are soft, head & neck flexible without brace and are not rigid. The second version of the horse and mule is to be high headed, defensive and in a self-preservation stance. Version two is what I like to call “What happened before what happened, happened!” This is also natural to them and I believe they need this as well. I do not take this away from them; I teach them to understand they do not need to be scared or defensive with us.
We want to build version one to keep the soft feel and maintain the comfort through the body, down to the feet and to calm the mind. We must control the body and the feet at all times.
In order to understand this process and build upon it, I would like you to study the basic movements first. Forward movement, back up, side pass left, side pass right, hindquarter movement and front quarter movement. We must also understand placement of their head and neck. Is the neck up or down? Is the neck and head down and in? We must know how to identify that our animal is breaking at the poll and giving a soft feel (giving to the bit).
These articles will be a series of progressive lessons and I hope you will enjoy coming along on this journey with me and your stock.
This month we are going to talk about total body control and how to achieve it with your horse or mule. More importantly, why we must have it. Our goal is to achieve soft, supple and safe.
We will start by talking about the movements of the horse and mule, the natural thinking of the mind and the total control of their feet. In this month’s article, I strive to give you a clear picture of each maneuver controlling the body and how that will assist you in everyday riding as well as be so valuable for safe trail riding.
We start by talking about body control and understanding the maneuvers. As a rider, it is very important to understand WHY and learn HOW to achieve the five basic maneuvers.
1 – Forward movement and how to achieve it
2 – Back up and how it helps to build a stop
3 – Side pass to the left
4 – Side pass to the right
5 – Stop
In order to get a SAFE trail mount, we must be clear in building direction. Forward movement is the most important thing that we can put on our riding animals. Forward movement creates courage. Consistency builds confidence. For example, while riding down the trail my animal sees something up ahead and puts the brakes on and might even back up. This is a major fault. And what is interesting in a case such as this, is this issue is a lack of forward movement. When forward movement is achieved under all conditions, the concern or the threat ahead does not exist.
To achieve forward movement, I sit up and apply my seat and legs to encourage and keep moving forward. DO NOT pull back on the reins while trying to go forward. Don’t worry if you get forward with a little sideways or moving into your leg. Work on and reward one thing, which is the forward movement.
If we were riding down the trail and our animal chooses to move to the left or right without our asking, we have an animal moving away from a concern or threat. This can build into a very bad habit. We must teach our animal to move left or right upon request and not run into our leg while we are going down the trail.
Practice your leg yields in a controlled area first. It is best to be moving forward, then ask for a soft feel (giving to the bit), slow the forward with both hands as you apply one leg to move sideways. Release as soon as you feel them move sideways. Remember, both legs at the same time means forward or reverse, where one leg at a time is one side, moving off your leg laterally. Repeat the same steps on side two.
The backup, although a natural gait for the horse or mule, it is not something that they will do with very many steps. If a horse or mule gets into trouble and needs to back up, they will do so in a few steps and turn to leave the scene. That is the extent of the natural backup. We will see a very active back up if the horse or mule wants to back into another one, push another away, or in a fight. They can back up very quickly and very effectively.
I teach the backup slow and easy one step at a time. Although the backup is a diagonal step that will come in time, don’t be in a hurry. When asking for the backup from a standstill I release my seat and legs, sit down, take the slack out of the reins, pull back softly on the reins until they move a foot backwards. Remember your soft feel. Also, take note that I am not pulling back on the reins hard to pull them back, but firm enough to not let them go forward. If they are moving forward at a walk or faster gait and I want to backup, I take my legs off, sit down, ask for a soft feel, say whoa and wait for a step back before I release. Know that the backup, when used properly can eliminate bolting forward, running off or getting in a hurry. It will also help build a stop. Between forward and reverse is a stop.
In a nutshell, we must figure out how to implement forward movement that is consistent and with courage, we must talk about and identify side passing left and right, then we must work on a backup, and stop. All these maneuvers help create total body control and will ultimately leave you with a better ride. It is very important to have body control anytime we need it. It is not only for our safety but for our stock and everyone around us. In April we will discuss these steps further and how to be safe and in control on the trail.
Visit Mules and More YouTube channel or Tindell’s Horse and Mule School Facebook page to find videos that demonstrate these maneuvers. Please feel free to contact me at (760) 403-3922 or [email protected] if you have any questions.