Training the Halter Horse
To start, one needs to teach the horse the whoa command. This command is the foundation of the whole halter training program, as without learning the whoa, one can not expect the horse to participate appropriately in a halter class. How does one go about teaching this command? It's rather simple.
First lets gather the necessary equipment needed.
- Halter (web, not rope)
- Stud chain
- Lead rope
For showing, your halter should fit the horse right; a lot of people have the halter on too loose. Rule of thumb, the halter should lay half way down the bridge of the horse's nose, between eyes and muzzle, with some adjustment going up... never down: too far down makes the head look long, too far up gives the same appearance. The fit should be snug, (at least one hole tighter than your web halter. Jowls are accented by the jowl straps being placed directly behind them, (not on them but *behind* the jowls.) The side strap should be directly in the center of the jowl line going down the face. Up too high makes the eyes look too small, down too far makes the jowls look unbalanced. All end straps should be tight against the halter. Poll straps should be tucked into the rings directly below them (you dont want anything flapping).
After placing the halter on the horse, take the lead and lace the chain through the metal coupling on the near side (side you lead from which means the horse is on your right side), under the chin out the coupler on the off side, back to the ring by the rear of the horse's jowl. The chain must be long enough, do not try and use a short chain, as hooking to the upper halter ring gives the halter more stability. When you are done, the chain should be laying against the horse with no slack.
Now we will lead the horse a few feet to a spot, where we will continue to work with the horse (the spot needs to be free of any obstacles or other horses.) When we arrive at this spot, you will stop saying "Whoa" in the process. If the horse fails to stop, put pressure on the lead and give a short quick jerk on the lead chain, while repeating the whoa command. Repeat this command until the horse stops and stands still. The amount of pressure on the lead will vary from horse to horse; some are very responsive while others will need more pressure to get their attention. Lets stop here for a moment and define what I mean by Whoa...
Whoa is a command in which the horse stops immediately and stands still. What it is not: saying whoa and taking a few more steps, or stopping but then turning sideways away or into the handler. It is a complete stop facing the direction in which the horse was originally traveling. This is very important to understand and to be done. One may need to repeat this process several times before the horse understands the command the first time. We will spend the first time with the horse just asking it to stop straight, on command.
Practice by walking the horse and asking the horse to stop. Remember prior to walking the horse, one needs to give the "Walk" command verbally to the horse. We will learn how to walk out later. But right now, you will ask your horse to "whoa" and just prior to walking from the standstill, you will say "Walk". By doing this, the horse knows it is to stop when hearing "whoa" and is only to move when it hears "walk". You are teaching two commands here that interact with each other. You want to repeat this process until the horse *immediately* stops for you and stands still in the direction that it was originally traveling. The ultimate goal is to have the horse stop as soon as you do without having to say whoa. I have had horses stop, walk and trot beside me without any voice or physical commands, all by them just keying in on my body movements.
The Hind Feet
Now that we have the "whoa" command down, we can proceed to the next phase in our training. In this step, you are going to start to place the horse's feet. One could do this by themself, but I find it easier with a helper. I have my helper hold the horse after I have stopped it (whoa command given) in the spot where I want to work. Prior to giving my helper the lead shank, I will reinforce the "whoa" command. My helper will take the lead at this time while I step back from the horse. The reason for the "whoa" command here, is the horse knows to stand still even though people are moving around it. The horse also knows the helper now is the person to obey. If the horse attempts to move, I will immediately take hold of the lead, giving a short jerk on it, telling the horse "whoa" again. Once I am not holding on to the horse and it is standing still, it is the duty of the helper to enforce the "whoa" command when needed.
Now we are going to start to place the hind feet. I like to teach my horses to stop on their off side rear foot first. Why? This foot is the farthest foot away from you when you are holding on to the horse and by stopping on this foot, you don't have to step around the horse to deal with placing the foot. Now you need to step back and view your horse as to where the hind feet need to be placed for the horse to look it's best. Personally, I like the hind cannons to be straight up and down (I know some people like to put the legs underneath slightly but I have never cared for it.) To achieve this, drop either an actual line or an imaginary line from the outer point of the horse's hip (hip here being the point of the buttock,) straight down to the ground.
The outer side of the rear cannon bone on the horse's leg should be just resting against the line. You may have to physically place the leg in this line. The proper way of doing this is to step by the horse's hip on the near side, facing rear, place your left hand on the horse's hip. Both you and the helper will say "whoa", you will then bend over and taking your right hand, grasping the horse's leg as near to the ankle as possible (do not squat down), you will put pressure on the leg to pick it up as you say *pick it up* or *foot up*, (which ever you prefer). If the horse attempts to move out of place, you will stop and start again with the basic *whoa* command then proceed to this point again. Now you have the foot up, (just a little off the ground) you will put the foot where you want it. If you are placing the foot backwards, when you start to push the leg in a backward motion, you will say "foot back" and just the opposite if you were to move it forward. Prior to placing the foot down, you will say either *foot down* or *put it down* which ever one you want, but keep the same wording each time that you do this.
Prior to straightening up, have helper say *whoa* again, at which time you can straighten up and step back to see if this one foot is in the correct spot. If so, you will repeat the same procedure on the other side for the other hind foot. Again you need to practice this repeatedly till the horse freely gives his foot to you or it stops in the right place immediately. Now lets review the commands the horse has learned. The horse has learned the *whoa* command which means stopping and standing in place. It has learned to pick up and place it's feet on command and it has learned to walk only when told to do so by the *walk* command. We are building on each command that is learned and that is why each command must be mastered prior to going to the next level.
You should now be at the stage where you can transfer the message regarding foot placement through the lead shank, i.e. moving the horse's feet by put pressure on the lead chain. To move the horse's feet by using the lead, you first need to walk the horse to the spot where you want the horse to set up. Now, after saying *whoa* and the horse has stopped, examine where the horse's feet are. Let's say the off side hind is placed properly, however, the near side foot is slightly forward. You are now going to put slight pressure on the lead chain and push backwards, saying *foot back*. The horse should, by feeling the backward pressure along with the voice command of *foot back*, yield to the pressure and move the foot backwards. If the foot was too far backwards, you just need to reverse this process to have the foot move forward. You will probably have to do this a few times, until you have the foot placed right. Remember, if all else fails, you can hand place a horse's foot in a halter class (showmanship is different.) Repeat this process until the horse understands where you want the feet to be. Repeat the whole procedure...walk, stopping, and setting up (feet in proper placement) several times a day.
Go to Page 2: The Front Legs