WAVERLY, WV As the horse moves along through his training, you go from showing him what you want to asking him for it and finally he knows what you want well enough that you can just tell him.
For example, when youre heeding a horse on the ground in an arena and you want him canter off on his left lead, youll skipalong keeping your left leg ahead of your right and youll turn your shoulders so they create a feeling of open and forward in the direction you want him to go. In the beginning, since he doesnt yet understand what youre showing him, youll probably extend your right arm out parallel to the wall and wiggle your whip to make a little fuss and create a little more activity in the horse. If he still doesnt get the feel of what you want, you might drop back a little further toward his hip or move in a little closer to him or whatever it takes for the light bulb to go on over that particular horses head.
Once he understands what you are showing him, you can ask for the left lead canter and expect a more immediate response. You wont need quite so many pressures to create the feel in the horse of the shape that you want. When hes consistently giving you the left lead canter whenever you ask for it, now you can just tell him thats what you want with only the beginning of that little skip. That becomes enough to remind him of the full feel of the shape. It has become something like a signal but if the horse gets rusty, you can just go back to using a full corridor of pressures that ask for canter until he associates just one part of the corridor with the canter shape again.
There is going to come a time when you know the horse fully understands the shape you want and you tell him thats what you want but, for whatever his reasons that day, he decides not to listen to you. Then you have to enforce. You might also be starting to work the horse at the higher levels of his sport and now you want him to do what hes already doing but to do it with more energy or a little more precision. Then you have to enforce.
Enforcing means using your aids with greater emphasis. It means disciplining the horse in the spirit of the word disciple. The teacher makes a point by calmly interrupting something thats going on or by stressing an aid as it is applied. Enforcement is not punishment. Punishing a horse is something riders do when theyve made a mistake and they feel guilty and they want to make themselves feel better about it. Its like someone throwing a swear word into the conversation because theyve run out of other vocabulary. Its an action that disrupts the communication between the horse and its rider and breaks up any corridor of aids they had going. The horse doesnt learn a thing except that the rider is being illogical.
Whatever you do to enforce should not raise the horses excitement level. Enforcement should bring the horses attention to a particular part of a corridor of pressures without losing the feel of the whole corridor. If you use one aid too loudly, the horses attention goes to that aid and he loses the feel of the corridor. For example, if your good ole boy horse ignores you when you first tell him to canter so you start right out the next time by telling him to canter with a touch of spur, you are being too loud. But if you touch the horse with a spur at the end of a leg squeeze just as you feel the horse is choosing to ignore the leg, thats a horse logical enforcement.
Timing within the whole corridor of aids is critical in enforcement. Lets say youre coming up on a jump and you feel the horse just starting to ignore your leg pressure and lose his impulsion. You just maintain all the aids youre already using to create the corridor of pressures that lead up to the jump but you add a little tap with the crop to enforce them and prevent a refusal. If the horse refuses the jump and then you show him the jump and spank him with the crop, thats punishment. Its not going to enforce a thing.
Being ready to enforce the things you tell a trained horse to do might mean having the right level of physical fitness to properly apply the aids. Or it might mean adding a crop or whip to your corridor of aids to help amplify one part of the corridor. Some people get all hung up trying to classify things as natural aids versus artificial aids. If its physically a part of you like your hands or your seat or your legs then its natural. If its something you attach to yourself or your horse like a whip or a spur then its artificial. And some people get into all sorts of moral dilemmas about whether or not its OK to use one kind or the other.
When youre enforcing,
it really doesnt make any difference whether youre doing it
with a body part you grew yourself or something manufactured that you
bought at the
The key thing is that
whatever you do to enforce what youve told the horse to do should
not raise his excitement level. Enforcing with dramatic pressures creates
activity and makes it look like something is happening. When youre
using nuances, it doesnt look like much is going on. Good training
is boring. If the people watching you dont feel like anything exciting
is happening, then youre probably doing it right.
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Updated: October 2005.