This is what happened with my two year old just this last week. I was working on lunging using the techniques that I talked about in the first 21 Steps to Broke article and I felt we were getting nowhere at first. He had his head high and he only wanted to pull on the lead rope when lunging like he wanted to be anywhere but with me. When I'd ask him to face me he would glance at me like he wanted to do it and then he'd continue around the circle. Talk about frustrating. It can make anyone question what their doing.
Questioning yourself can turn into a positive though. By asking yourself what your doing wrong you may not realize that your adding pressure when you shouldn't or your asking your horse to do something in the wrong way. It can be as simple as how your expression is on your face or the slightest change in your body language and position.
I found myself doing a couple mistakes myself. In the time passing that I wasn't getting the results I wanted my frustration got the best of me and I realized I began to ask for things in the wrong time and adding pressure to soon, AND my frustration was coming through in how I asked because I was stiff. When I finally let the horse have a minute to think about things that were happening, it gave me a break to think about things, as well. Realizing how tense I was after getting a chance to take a breath and relax made me change my communication with my horse. Instead of being so intense with how I asked for things I asked slightly and then waited to see if my horse understand and then GRADUALLY add pressure a little bit at a time if he still isn't picking up on it, until he does.... then RELEASE that pressure immediately.
This meant that getting my horse to start circling slowly by slightly adding pressure with my training stick and once he started to circle I released the pressure. He did end up stopping a couple of times, but once he understood the slight pressure cue meant to move his feet, keeping him going didn't take much. He was having trouble with his turning towards me so I would have to add pressure by stepping towards his hip and pulling on the lead rope to add halter pressure to get him to turn his head and face me. It can get frustrating here because a horse that's new to this can have his head turned over and over but he'll continue to go around in a circle. Take a breath and keep asking and asking until he finally does it and then RELEASE all pressure. Let him stand there for a few minutes and thing about it. If you get the licking and chewing then he's thinking about it and starting to understand what you were asking. The next time you ask him to turn to you it shouldn't take as long.
The first couple sessions with Ike were the frustrating ones. The last time I was lunging him all I had to do was step towards his hip and he'd turn and face me. With the point of my hand and just a little pressure and he'd turn and start circling the other way. Another good habit to get into is let the horse turn and face you and then walk backwards and pull the lead rope slightly but let it slip through you hands so it looks like you continuously pulling, and let him walk towards you and to you. Rub his head, neck, body, legs, whatever, and let him know this is a nice reward for doing the right thing and turning towards you and coming to you.
Now that you should be on the right track with lunging lets talk HALTER PRESSURE. Halter pressure is something that every horse needs to learn because it's basics for responding to ANY kind of pressure. He learns halter pressure- then he learns to give to it and he'll get a release of the pressure. This will come in hand with bit and curb pressure, as well.
First I would start with a good halter and lead rope. The halter I recommend is a one with the knots on the nose. These knots are placed to where they hit certain pressure points on the horse and a small pressure cue can have a big meaning. It helps the handler to use less pressure and the horse gets a more clear cue and therefore has a better chance of responding correctly and faster.
Now one can get a halter/lead rope combo, as well, but make sure that it's made out of good quality materials. You can spend anywhere from $25-$90 on a good halter lead rope combination depending on where you get it. Clinton Anderson is popular for his tack, which is great quality, but the prices are steep, so just take note that you can also get products of good quality on different sites and save some money.
Getting back on track with the halter pressure, we have already introduced some to our horses. By adding pressure and pulling his head around to have him face you, you have already started teaching him to give to halter pressure. To add onto this, another exercise is to place the lead rope on the opposite side of the horse you are on, then gradually move it down to his tail. The next step is to pull the lead rope and the horse should turn AWAY from you towards the halter pressure and pressure on his butt. Reward him but having him continue around until he is facing you again and you can rub his face as a reward. Make sure to work both sides so he is soft and supple in responding to cues on both sides.
Start off by NOT actually TYING your horse, just do a single loop around the post or panel so that you can hold the loose end and can give to the horse if he starts to move backwards. This is a great way to also start a little sacking out your horse so he doesn't spook while tied. While holding the lose end of the lead rope take anything like a white rag, a plastic bag, or even your ball cap. Be creative because you never know what could spook your horse. Start by waving it around and if your horse moves backwards give him slack so he can. If a horse feels trapped by being tied he will only pull back harder. If he can move his feet a little he will eventually stop moving away.
A great video to watch for this technique is what Clinton Anderson teaches. I also recommend the Tie Ring. Clinton Anderson has one for sale, but I think you can find them elsewhere for cheaper. They are a great thing to have around your barn and arena area for safer tying. It allows the rope to slide through with SOME pressure. This way your horse gets the feel to be able to move his feet, but most likely he wont move so much to escape. Bring different objects to him and even introduce different tack, for example: saddle, turnout blankets, splint boots-anything you may use with him. Don't put it on him, but let him smell the blanket, saddle and bridle as you bring it up to him.
To add a LITTLE more pressure and make it SLIGHTLY harder for you horse to pull the lead rope all the way through, simply take the lose end of the lead rope and hang it over the lead part that connects to the halter. The more time you loup it around the harder it is for the horse to pull... but they aren't completely tied so you don't run into the problem of them pulling back to the point of a bad accident. They are a great training aid so you don't have to hang onto the lead rope, as well. Once the horse has been trained by sacking out while tied, he is most likely to stand easy for you... the tie ring allows some peace of mind so if he does get in a situation where he pulls back, he wont get the lead rope pulled tight with no escape. It prevents accidents but still acts as a good tying spot.
Any way that you can teach your horse to give to halter pressure, whether it's teaching them to trot next to you, follow you over a bridge, or turn and face you, it will be beneficial in the near future when we go further into the training process.
Giving to halter pressure will only teach your horse to listen to your cues and pay attention to you (try to be subtle and see how LITTLE it takes for you to ask, in order to get the response you want), and he will respect you more and more each time you handle him.
I hope this helps you in getting into the next steps of your training process. If you have any questions or comments let me know and I'd be happy to get back to you!
Until next time,
"You can't get somewhere if you ain't gettin'"