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Horsemanship 101
By Kelli Paulson, Authentic Horsemanship, Mid States Ranch Horses, LLC
Foundation horsemanship skills are essential to having a relationship of respect, communication, safety and enjoyment with your horse. Have you heard the saying, “If only I knew then what I know now”? A really good foundation horsemanship clinic would have benefited my horses and I so much when I was younger. Yes, I had a lot of success with my horses as a youth and young adult. But, wow – it could have been so much easier and so much more successful if only I knew then what I know now. It is not too late. No one will ever know everything thing about horses – don’t let them tell you they do, but there are solid foundation principles that work. I enjoy teaching them and opening you and your horse up to a greater relationship of communication and trust. I hope you can have an opportunity to take a basic horsemanship class.
Recently, I taught a basic horsemanship class to a group of 14 youth. It was so neat to see the changes in them and their horses. The Clinic goal was establishing the basics. This is done first on the ground, then in the saddle. .
We began on the ground. Once proper leading is established practice moving the hindquarters. Think of the hindquarters as the motor of your horse. First, drive your horse in a circle around you, tip his nose slightly towards you and step towards his hip. The horse should move his inside hind leg (hind leg closest to you) over and in front of his outside hind leg as his hindquarters move away from you. As you stop asking for the hindquarters he should continue a step or two until he is facing you. Second, move the front quarters (shoulders) by tipping his nose in the opposite direction of the previous circle and step directly to his front shoulders. He should move his front shoulders away. It is important to do these exercises well on both sides. .
When your horse can complete these exercises and is paying attention to you, your horse will see you as a true leader and will be happy to follow and respect you. .
Once the groundwork is established, it is then applied in the saddle. A proper one-rein stop is vital to you and you horse. It is much more than a safety maneuver. It helps to get your horse to move off your leg, isolates the hindquarters, softens your horse, helps connect the reins to the feet and later helps your horse to use his hindquarters effectively. .
Just like the groundwork, moving the forehand is next. To move the forehand to the right, open your right rein and leg, slightly weight the hindquarters (you want them to stay still), use your left rein to keep your horse from moving forward and from over bending to the right, bump your left leg at the girth or slightly in front of the girth until your horse tries to step his right front leg to the right. The leg should reach out and back when stepping properly. At first it maybe just one step. Reward your horse’s try. .
Exercises are then done to help you and your horse separate the forehand and hindquarters so you can move them together or independently. .
The result: sidepassing and lateral work become simple! .
To sidepass balance your weight, stop forward or backward movement, and ask your horse to move away from your leg. To sidepass right open the door by opening your right hand and right leg. With the right hand, tip your horses head slightly in the direction you are going, just enough to see his eye, yet keep his spine straight. Slightly weight his left legs allowing his right legs to move. Your left hand will keep the horse from moving forward or bending too much to the right. Ask with left leg in the neutral position for the horse to away from your leg. Get one step (a try) and build from there. Don’t expect perfection at first. .
If it doesn’t work at first you will ask your horse to move the front end over a step, then the backend, then the front, then the back and keep repeating until the horse moves it’s front and backend sideways in unison. .
As you gain control of your horse’s feet it opens the door for sidepassing, opening and closing gates, haunches in, leg yield, half pass, better lead changes, working cattle, and competing in a Trail Rider Challenge. .
A Clinic Observation: When we began riding a problem horse showed up fast. The situation appeared dangerous and there was an obvious safety concern. The situation needed to change fast. The rider needed to be clear in the direction he gave the horse. The horse was reacting because he didn’t understand. The pair was not communicating. To quickly help the situation two rules were laid out. One, if the horse wants to buck or rear move his feet forward. Two, use one rein at a time. Once this horse began to understand and communicate with his rider the horse changed. The groundwork principles were then applied in the saddle. By the end of the day communication and understanding were established. The horse and rider were a team. .
The foundation of horsemanship doesn’t change, only trends and styles change. There are so many opinions out there, just listen to the horse. He will tell you what works. You can have more with your horse then you ever imagined! .
If you would like to have a better relationship and communication with your horse I would be honored to help you! .
Kelli Paulson is a Purina Regional Ambassador. Kelli uses Strategy in her training program because it keeps her horses in top condition while maintaining stable, easy to work with temperaments. Her goal is teaching natural horsemanship methods proven to create safe and willing horses by providing you and your horse with tools, knowledge and events that turn every ride into a confidence building, positive situation. Mid States Ranch Horses, LLC offers training, lessons, Trail Rider Challenge’s, Authentic Horsemanship Clinics and Cowgirl Camp. Visit or call 402-427-5515 for more information.