What Least Resistance
Training Is

Part three -
Applying the Principles

As we stated in the beginning there are several different methods that can achieve good results. Which one a handler chooses often involves his or her skill level, with what tools he/she may or may not be handy and the temperament of the horse involved.

At the Wild Horse Workshops we have clinicians teaching with ropes, with poles, with clickers, the Navajo circle, "Stressbusters" approaches, TTeam approaches, using round pens, using square pens, using safe squeezes, even a poker game. It is not the tools being used but the process that is the most important.

Wild Horse Workshop '03,
Twelve pens, no waiting

Here are the consistent steps that work presented in a logical sequence.

1. Making contact

The handler has to make non-threatening contact with the horse. This can be accomplished with a bamboo pole, a chute, a round pen, even using clicker training. The critical element is that the handler must time his/her approaches so that the horse remains engaged in the process of meeting the human. Imposing oneself on the horse only maintains those defensive barriers and "compartments."

When using a chute the handler has to be particularly careful not to force him/herself onto the horse

2. Lowering the head

The horse must start to relax. Head lowering is a major component of relaxation. Some horses will respond to light pressure on the lead. Other horses may have to be coaxed to lower their heads using whatever tool is available. We prefer that the horses start to bend toward us when they relax their necks and lower their heads.

With a reactive horse, curiosity may be the best tool. Here Keno is lowering her head to investigate a small stick.
3. Simple Bends

The horse has to be comfortable bending toward the handler. Bending also establishes a baseline response that produces nice disengagements on the ground and "one rein stops" from the saddle. Bending is one of the most important safety mechanisms we have when training horses.

It is also extremely important for the horse to learn that bending into the handler is a really comfortable and safe place to be. When our horses get scared, we want them to look to us for comfort and direction, not exit stage left.

We can't overemphasize bending. Once the horse finds that spot of comfort in bending to the human, the "compartments" start to break down. The horse can see, smell, hear and feel what's going on. This multi-sensory stimulation helps most horses reason through that something happening in one compartment can be OK if it occurs in another.

With Keno we had to ask her to bend to look at an object. Shortly afterward we were able to "ask" using light pressure on the lead.
I ask for Keno to bend and relax before touching her with the brush for the first time

4. Bonding

Once the horse is comfortable being touched, the most important element is bonding.

The horse has to look upon the handler as being a social companion. It's not so important to assert oneself as the social leader at this point as it is to help the horse relax. When the horse isn't investing mental energy in being defensive he can learn. Getting the horse to feel good around humans is the way to accomplish this.

Bonding doesn't mean that the handler is a door mat for the horse. This level of social interaction is primarily designed for the horse to understand that the handler is not a mortal threat and that interaction with humans can just plain feel good.

Bonding is an activity that is better done sooner rather than later and should be fit as early into the gentling and training process as the horse can comfortably accept.

"Aaaah! A little more to the right!"
"Look, Ma, no lead rope"

Continue to Part Four

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