Cerise, my 1/2 TB, Fire, mare and Remi, my QH, Yang Ming, gelding, are so different. I am learning how to approach each horse temperament individually when introducing a new exercise. At the last Tom Curtain clinic we practiced helping the horses get soft in the face and have that softness come out through their feet.
The exercise I introduced to both horses was to bring their head around the the right shoulder and when they relaxed and got soft instead of releasing their head I let them find their way out of the bind by moving their feet. I wanted them to shift back and step out and back with the right front leg and come around and go the other direction. To encourage this I opened up with my right leg and shoulder and looked back to the right.
I could see Cerise’s wheels turning in her mind as she worked to figure out what I wanted but she could not hold the softness long enough for me to change my position to help her. When the release was not there for her immediately she would start pulling again and trying to take her head back. As a Fire horse temperament, Cerise is a quick learner but she is also very sensitive and not very forgiving of a late release. I finally got faster with offering her the way out but I had to change my position just as she was thinking about getting soft. This worked and she came around smoothly and licked and chewed in satisfaction.
Remi, as usual, was not excited about learning something new. He is easier to get soft so I tried changing my body as he softened and he came around but he would lose his softness in the process, plus I did not get a lick and chew reaction. Remi was doing the movement but I could tell he did not see the point of it. I decided to break the exercise down and give him some verbal praise when he got soft but not immediately offer him the next movement. This worked well. I would let him hold the soft position for a second and when he seemed comfortable there I opened up with my body and he came right around and stayed soft. He stopped and licked and chewed because he now knew what he did right. Remi is a Yang Ming and he learns more slowly but retains his knowledge very well.
An exercise like this is much more powerful than it might seem based on how simple it is. By allowing the horse to find their way out of a bind by moving his feet he becomes more confidant and learns to wait for your help. I will often get licking, chewing and sometimes yawning after a simple exercise like this. By offering the horse help in a way that is most suited for his learning style you become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Cerise will sometimes give a soft nicker after successfully learning something new. For the first time I got the same nicker from Remi. Very cool. Madalyn