This exercise is the foundation of teaching your horse to steer and follow his nose. The first step in steering your horse is teaching him to follow his nose in a straight line. If he can’t go in a straight line, he’ll never be able to go in a circle.
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At first, you’ll use the fence as a reference point for your horse to show him what to do. Then you’ll start doing straight lines off the fence. The goal is to teach your horse to trot and canter along the fence on a loose rein without your help, maintaining his gait and direction by himself.
You’ll need: A mecate or dressage whip, and an arena or pasture with good footing and a safe fence.
Before you begin: Tack up your horse in your regular schooling tack, lead him into the arena, and mount up.
Step 1. Pick up the trot. Ask your horse to trot by squeezing him with your legs. If he doesn’t immediately begin to trot, cluck to him. If he continues to ignore you, spank him with the end of the mecate or dressage whip until he goes the desired speed.
Step 2. Trot on a loose rein. Steer your horse over to the fence, and ask him to trot on a loose rein. Hold the middle of the reins with your inside hand, and put it down in the mane or hold the saddle horn. Rest your other hand loosely beside your body, or place it on your hip. Your horse should follow the fence, staying at the trot.
Step 3. Correct him. If your horse comes off the fence 15 feet, use your outside rein (closest to the fence) to steer him back to the fence. At this distance, he’ll know he’s made a mistake.
When you steer your horse to the fence, get in the habit of opening your outside hand toward the fence. Act like you’re trying to point to the fence with your rein. This will really open the door for him and make it easy for him to follow his nose and understand where you want him to go.
Step 4. Rate his speed. If your horse goes too fast or breaks into a canter, pick up on the outside rein, and pull his nose into the fence until he slows down to the speed you want. Then drop the rein. If he slows down to a walk, Squeeze, cluck, and spank until he trots again. Be sure to let him make the mistake before correcting him.
Step 5. Go deep into the corners. Horses naturally hate corners because the tight area makes them feel trapped and claustrophobic. Go as deep as you can. Follow the fence until your horse starts to get the hang of the exercise.
Step 6. Stop him. Stop your horse parallel to the fence in the part of the arena where he’s the most spooky or reluctant to go (such as a corner).
Use only the outside rein to stop him. Tip his nose into the fence until he slows down and eventually stops. If you pull too hard, he’ll swing his hindquarters out and face the fence, which isn’t what you want.
Ideally, your horse should stop parallel to the fence facing the same direction you were moving. Plan this in advance by starting to slow him down 30 feet before you want to stop. Eventually, he’ll realize that he gets to rest when he’s closest to the fence.
Step 7. Go the other way. Let your horse rest 5 to 10 minutes, then turn him into the fence and do the exercise going the other direction. Keep in mind that when you change sides, you change brains. Let him commit to the mistake of coming off the fence 15 feet before you correct him.
Step 8. Pick up the canter. When your horse can do the exercise well at the trot, do it at the canter.
Don’t worry about what lead he’s on; concentrate on getting him to follow his nose in a straight line.
Note: If you have a lazy horse, start this exercise at the canter rather than the trot, because it seems like the faster a horse goes, the easier it is for him to go in a straight line.
Tip: If you’re doing the exercise with others, don’t just follow behind another horse. Keep your horse moving forward and always pass other horses to the inside.
Clinton Anderson grew up in Queensland, Australia, learning to ride as a teenager and training with many of his country’s top horsemen. In 1997, he relocated to the United States to perfect his Downunder Horsemanship program. Under Anderson’s guidance, horses learn to respect and respond to their handlers, developing willing partnerships. To learn more about Downunder Horsemanship, Clinton Anderson Walkabout Tours, and more, visit www.downunderhorsemanship.com.