In my last post I talked about teaching your horse to lower its head while you’re on the ground.
It’s also helpful to know how to achieve that same calming effect when you’re mounted or when your horse is moving (since it’s not so practical to jump off your horse when he starts to get anxious).
I came across this post on the COTH about teaching your horse to relax while on the lunge line:
For my OTTB and for every youngster I start now, I teach them a verbal cue on the lunge that transfers to under saddle. On the lunge at EACH GAIT I teach every horse a verbal relax cue. In a very basic explanation I put them at a faster pace of whatever gait we’re working…say the trot. As they are trotting around I use my voice and say “RE-laaaaax” as I slowly bring the circle in. As they slow down and lower their head I reward “Good!” and release the pressure on the lunge as well as continue to praise for staying there. If they start to speed up we repeat. We do this at every gait until they go off my voice only at any time. I simply say “RE-laaaax” and they immediately slow down the gait and stretch. I can repeat it over and over…slowing the gait one more level with each “RE-laaax” cue until they go from huge trot to western pleasure job if I want…and everything in between Then, when I back them and start riding anytime they get nervous and start speeding up, without touching the reins, I simply say “RE-laaaax” and voila! My horse takes a breath, slows down and stretches! This has been a LIFE SAVER on some really bolty/spooky horses. It teaches them self control without the need for physical control. I simply condition their mind to feel relaxed and calm upon hearing that cue.
Timing is everything. The minute the horse slows the gait and begins relaxing reward immediately with a verbal “Goooood” and release any pressure on the lunge. The horse is taught to stay at whatever pace I ask them to be at until told to go faster or slower. However to start reward for the smallest effort even if they speed up right away. Just repeat, reward, repeat, reward until they hold it longer and longer. It doesn’t take long as they learn quickly how good it feels to move relaxed and soft as opposed to quick and tense.
Here’s a technique to use under saddle, as shown in this video.
Certainly all of these techniques can be very helpful. I’ve always used a “brrrrrr” sound to encourage my horses to slow down and relax, but I’m going to be incorporating some of these other techniques into my work with Freedom, too.