WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #117
ALLOW THE MISTAKE
Correct, rather than prevent, a mistake? Yes---to help your horse
BY CLINTON ANDERSON, WITH J. FORSBERG MEYER PHOTOS COURTESY OF
"Clinton, my gelding wanders when I'm trying to get him to stick
to the path I've put him on, How can I prevent him from going off
Prevention is actually not what you want here. The error you're
making, and the one most people make, is to think you must
constantly micromanage your horse's behavior to keep him from
making a mistake.
A much better approach is to make your horse responsible for
staying straight, rather than constantly trying to prevent him
from wandering. Let him make the mistake, correct him, and help
him to learn.
STAYING ON COURSE
For example, I have an exercise I call following the fence. I use
it to teach a horse to stay on the track I've put him on, which
later translates to staying on the trail or any predetermined
On the day I'm introducing this exercise, I give what I call the
concept lesson - just a general idea of what I'm asking him to
do. First, I visualize an imaginary line running parallel to the
fence about 15 feet from it. As long as my horse stays at a trot
in between the fence and that imaginary line, I leave him alone -
that's a reward.
But the moment he wanders over that imaginary line, I'll slide my
hand halfway down the rein closest to the fence and tip his nose
back in toward the fence to move him back within that 15-foot
zone. The bit pressure asking him to return to the zone is a
correction that stops the moment he's once again doing what I
want him to do.
So he understands what the mistake was, and what the correction
I do this for about 10 to 15 minutes in one direction, then I
turn and do the same thing in the other direction.
The next day, I may cut that imaginary area down to 10 feet wide.
The day after that, it will go down to four feet wide, and so on.
By the end of the week, I should be able to reach out and touch
the fence as my horse travels alongside it, because he'll have
learned never to leave the fence.
It happens like this because I've made the horse responsible for
his own feet. I do that by allowing him room to make mistakes --
and then learn from them.
If, instead, you start pulling your horse back to the fence
before he really commits to crossing that imaginary line - in
effect babysitting him - he'll never know how to follow the fence
on his own.
Put another way, if you don't let your horse make the mistake
before you correct it, he'll never even know it was a mistake in
the first place.
The same principle applies in many other training situations as
well. It applies when you're teaching your horse to maintain the
gait you've put him in, for example. Again, the mistake most
people make - especially those with lazy horses - is to start
squeezing or kicking their horse the moment he starts to slow
All the horse learns in this situation is that his rider will
always babysit him to make him stay at the correct speed and in
the same gait.
Instead, I tell people to make their horse responsible for
maintaining the gait they've asked for - until they direct him
otherwise. Say you've asked your horse to lope. If he starts to
slow down, let him break all the way down to a trot before you
immediately squeeze, cluck, and if need be spank to get him back
into a lope.
If, on the other hand, your horse tends to want to speed up,
don't try to hold him back. Let him step into that faster pace,
then immediately slow him down so he can understand clearly what
the mistake is, and what the correction is.
Another situation where this principle applies is when you're
asking for lateral movement. Say you're training your horse to
yield his forequarters from the ground. Often, instead of
yielding and pivoting around the outside back foot, the horse
just wants to walk forward in a circle. Most people keep trying
to stop him from moving forward by pulling back on the lead rope.
But what they should be doing instead is letting the horse walk
forward, then backing him up about 10 steps (to let him know
walking forward is not what you want). Then try again.
The more you "allow the mistake" rather than babysitting your
horse to keep him from making it - the more he'll understand his
responsibility. And that means the less you'll have to engage in
the frustrating and exhausting technique of micromanaging his
feet for him.
This series is adapted with permission from Clinton's latest
book, "Lessons Well Learned. Why My Method Works for Any Horse."
For more information on the book, or to learn about Clinton's
clinics, appearances, educational materials, training gear, and
horses for sale, go to DownunderHorse manship.com. Catch his
"Downunder Horsemanship" program (filmed at the ranch in
Stephenville, Texas) on Fox Sports Net.
Watch it! To see a video clip of Clinton teaching a horse the
follow-the-fence exercise, visit HorseandRider.com this month.
APRIL 2011 HORSEANDRIDER
To be continued from time to time