Calm Your Horse’s Mind With This Simple Exercise
by Lorie List
My horse Indie lives on pasture at the upper part of our ranch and it’s about a 10-minute walk down to the arena at the bottom of the property. We make this journey every day of the week and it’s usually a peaceful stroll and we arrive at the arena already warmed up and ready to go.
Last Tuesday this was just not the case. Indie started out walking with a purpose and I think her purpose was, “Let’s get to the barn, get this over with, and get back to my pals.”
Indie started out walking with a purpose and I think her purpose was, “Let’s get to the barn, get this over with, and get back to my pals.”Indie is normally pretty tuned into me, but about a quarter of the way down the whinnies started in earnest. No problem, I thought. I stopped, calmly reached my hand down my right rein and softly flexed her nose toward me, then asked for her to yield the hind with three nice crossovers in back, took my leg off and waited for the magic of the One-Rein Wind-Down to work. This practiced move almost always serves as a reminder to my pony that the only place her mind needs to be is with me. Today, she executed the move perfectly, but as soon as I released her, she let out another plaintive whinny.
We made our way down to the barn with a series of these moves and a few others, but none of them really gave me the response I wanted, which was a relaxed and focused horse. This didn’t bode well for my plan, which was to work on nice and easy canter transitions. Indie’s default mode is FORWARD and we still have a long way to go towards having a quiet canter.
I got to the arena and decided to try a new exercise Chrissy has been focusing on of late; I like to call it the pony pole dance and it’s deceptively simple and incredibly effective. All you need is a ground line – it can be a physical pole, a lead rope on the ground, or just a line you draw in the sand or dirt. In this exercise, you simply ask your horse to be really specific with their feet by asking for one foot at a time to touch down on either side of the pole or line in the sand.
The left front is harder for her, and she tries to switch back to stepping over with the right a few times, but we work through it until the left is just as soft. Whenever Indie needs to think I pause, praise and let her process the information. It’s like she says ‘oh – there are my feet, my feet are on the ground and my feet have a job to do’ and then the rest of the world fades into the background.
Indie’s done this before, so I also spend some time asking for back feet to do the same thing. If your horse has never done this exercise, you can gauge whether or not they’re ready to try all four feet the first time or if the front is enough.
Within 10 minutes, Indie’s attention is fully focused on me and she is relaxed and ready to go to work. When I get on, her focus never wavers and I have a terrific ride with the soft, quiet canter transitions I was hoping to find. As always, I’m in awe of how quickly this connection to my horse’s feet calmed her mind and let us both enjoy our ride.
This is something you can do anywhere, anytime you want to help your horse reprioritize his or her awareness and get rid of unwanted distractions. You can do it getting in and out of a trailer, stepping into and out of an arena, walking over a small branch on a trail or anywhere at all. The more time you spend working on this in the arena, the quicker you’ll be able to get through to your horse’s mind via his or her feet whenever you want. Try it out and let us know what you find! Happy trails.
I use this when I want to capture my horse’s attention, connect to his feet and connect his feet to me so that the environment is not as big of a distraction because we’ve got a job to do together..Chrissy Hoffman