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Guest writers

Clair Thunes
Summit Equine Nutrition

Clair Thunes

As an equine nutritionist Dr. Thunes has worked with a wide range of horses from lactating mares to competitive dressage horses, and with a variety of physiological problems including insulin resistance and muscle myopathies, and she is happy to work in conjunction with your veterinarian. Dr. Thunes believes in finding the right balance between the horse\'s diet and needs and the client\'s resources. She works with both individual horses or an entire barn and enjoys working with owners to find the optimal feeding solutions. Services provided include diet evaluation and formulation, hay analysis interpretation, custom supplement formulation and farm visits. Dr. Thunes also offers phone and email consultations. Dr. Thunes can be contacted at 916-248-8987.

Articles by Clair Thunes:




Charles Wilhelm
Ultimate Foundation Trainings

Charles Wilhelm

Charles Wilhelm is internationally known as America’s most respected horse trainer and is the creator of Ultimate Foundation Training, an equine training technique that combines the best of traditional, classical and natural horsemanship into a methodology that is applicable to every riding discipline.

His training facility located in Castro Valley, CA, offers extensive hands-on learning programs for every level of horsemanship, from novice through trainer.  His programs truly reflect his motto “Success Through Knowledge”.

Articles by Charles Wilhelm:

Introduction to De-Spooking and Sacking Out

Training Month IV - Continuing Linework & First Bath

Training Month I - A Good Mind & Haltering

Training Month II - Leading & Picking Up Feet

Training Month III - Basic Linework

The Role of Equipment in Horse Training


Training Month III - Basic Linework

by Charles Wilhelm

Last month we covered leading basics. Hopefully if you have been practicing, you can lead your colt or filly over most of the grounds of your facility. With Jaz, we have been leading her everywhere, including across the bridges we have at the ranch, and have been working on getting her to automatically stop when we stop, turn left or right as we do, and to maintain the correct distance, between herself and her handler -- not too far ahead or behind as we walk. This is what I call teaching them the “equine heel.” This leading work is fine-tuning the halter-breaking process, and is the precursor to teaching how to lunge.

Now honestly, if I have a round pen available, I usually start there prior to lunging for a couple of reasons. First the round pen provides a safe environment which allows more control of the green or unruly horse. Second, it’s a great place to build a relationship in which your horse respects you, where she starts to look to you for leadership and guidance, and where you establish all the basic cues for going forward, halting and changing direction – all foundation for line work. But lots of folks don’t have a round pen, and while it is a great tool, it is just a tool and you do not need one to succeed. And in my case, I have a round pen but encountered a not-uncommon issue in using it with my yearling, Jaz – she tried to go through it!

Now if you have read the last couple of my columns in Ride!, you know that Jaz has been extremely easy to work with so far. Quiet, compliant, naturally responsive… The training exercises to date have been very straightforward and she has not displayed much of the typical baby behavior that we normally see. Now don’t get me wrong, since I am training her to become my personal horse I have been thrilled at what a great mind she has, but I have also recognized that it could be making for a bit of a bore for reading. So I was not entirely displeased when Jaz did show me she can be a typical baby when I went to round pen her for the first time.
I use a sixty-foot round pen, with panels that are six feet high, have five rails, and are of very strong pipe construction. Now green horses will sometimes try scary tactics to escape the pressure they may feel enclosed in a round pen with you. While you just want them to move off right or left, they may try to jump over the wall (hence much safer to have six feet panels than five-footers), charge at you, and sometimes do what Jaz did, which was to stick her head through a panel and try to get the rest of her body to fit as well.

Now while Jaz has been pretty relaxed in general, something about the round pen put a lot of pressure on her. No matter how relaxed I kept my body language, or how softly I cued her, whenever I asked her to move out she tried to go through a panel. It was simply too much pressure and she only wanted to escape. She had not yet learned to go forward around me to satisfy the flight instinct, so she just wanted to go through those panels. I have had several horses in the past have a similar reaction, and there is an easy fix. Since safety has got to be your number one priority and I have all the time in the world to train this wonderful filly, I went straight to line-work – but we did the line-work exercises in the round pen.

Since she has been quite relaxed for haltering and leading work, I decided instead to teach her the basic cues for going forward, stopping and changing direction on the lead-line (versus starting these “at liberty” in the round pen). By doing the work in the round pen on the line, I had control of her nose and could teach her that pressure is about moving forward not away!

Like the round pen, line work is about controlling space, and establishing the respect and leadership required for a desirable relationship with your horse. For most horses I typically begin with a twelve-foot lead line and halter. This gives a fairly safe working distance, while allowing for a high level of control. The shorter the line, the more control you have (back to pressure and release basics). However, with a horse that is extremely emotional, out of control, or just plain aggressive, I will start out with a twenty-five foot line, and then work back to the twelve-foot line as the training progresses. I would also highly recommend starting out with a cowboy or “string” halter. The narrow construction of the equipment actually puts more pressure on the poll when they resist. You should not have to or want to use one of these long-term, the goal is to move into the less severe web-halter, but they are a good training tool for green horses that need to learn to give to pressure.

10-30 TIMES, AMD KEEP ASKING UNTIL THEY GET THE CONTIUNOUSLY – KEEP STOPPING, KEEP ASKING – DON’T GET IT YET. Now while Jaz was emotional from feeling the pressure in the round pen, she was not at all dangerous or aggressive, so I did begin with a 12 foot line to give me a greater degree of control. I wanted that nose in! My initial goals for the line work with Jaz were simple. I wanted her to move forward in the direction I asked, when I asked and to keep moving until I asked her to stop her feet.

Let me mention this especially, because it is so common. Young and green horses will not understand at first that you want them to keep moving. Expect to keep having to ask them (maybe ten to thirty times) to go forward. They will keep stopping and you must immediately keep asking, until they get that you will leave them alone as long as they are moving forward, that there is no pressur while moving. And then of course I wanted her to stop her feet when asked, and I wanted her eyes and her focus on me. So for the first step, I asked her to move out clockwise around me. Depending on the emotional level of the horse, you can use whatever “pressure” is required (a verbal cue, rope, lunge whip, etc). The trick is to use as little pressure as possible, but as much as you need to get her feet moving in the direction you ask. And no matter what, stay with it and follow through until the feet are moving. And then the instant the feet are moving, release the pressure to reward her. Only reapply it if she stops again before you have asked for a “whoa” or halt. And as I said – expect to have this happen a lot at first.

So once Jaz understood going forward continuously, I had her circle around me several times (anywhere from four to twelve rotations), then I asked for her to stop by removing the slack from the line and maintaining the pressure until she stopped her feet. Now of course when you are just beginning to teach this, you will have to do more than just take up the slack. You will likely need to start with twenty, thirty or more pounds of pressure to get the horse to stop its feet. Just like when you are asking her to go forward, the key is to use only as much as you need, and never more than that…along with the immediate release of the pressure as soon as they stop (give). Your eventual goal is to have the horse stop her feet as soon as you simply remove a bit of slack from the line… lighter and lighter. This takes time and lots of practice. We don’t expect success up front, and even this initial lesson could take up to three or four hours.

Once Jaz had stopped her feet, I paused for a moment. The pause is very important for several reasons. First, it is a reward in itself – a respite from pressure, and as horses are by nature lazy animals, no movement is a reward in itself. Second, it helps teach them to look to you for what to do next – not to anticipate. Third, you are training another fundamental building block lesson: the “stand.” Your horse needs to learn to stand well to be mounted, at the wash rack, for the farrier, to be groomed, for lots of every day activities, and this is where it begins.

So after a five-second pause or so, I asked Jaz to do it again. Clockwise go forward several circles, ask for the stop, pause, (praise as needed), and then do it once more. Do not go on to something else or change direction until the horse is moving out and stopping her feet well, along with keeping her attention focused on you. Once those are happening consistently and the emotional level has come down, then you can change direction and start all over again, but going counter-clockwise this time. For correct change-of-direction line work, which is a gymnastic as well as mental exercise, you need to be paying attention to the nose, shoulders and hips. The following can used to measure your success over time: * Pay attention to the nose. The nose should always be in toward you (even if just slightly). This means your horse is paying attention and focused on you. If/when the nose goes away, pick up lightly on the line - just enough to get the nose back in – and then immediately release the pressure. You may have to keep doing this, but do not give up until the nose is in and stays in consistently. * Balance. Always look for a slight arc through the body as your primary physical goal. For example, you do not want the shoulders either in or out; during line work the horse must be balanced at all times. For the proper physical development of your horse, it is critical to be aware of how your horse is using her body while moving. If your horse is balanced she will neither be pulling on you, nor dropping his shoulder inward. Balance typically begins once he is relaxed during the exercises. * Relaxation. A key sign that your horse is looking to you for respect and leadership is when your horse is conducting the exercises well in a relaxed posture. Common signs that your horse is relaxed include a consistent gait that is not frantic or choppy (look for a lengthening of the stride) lowered head, licking and chewing, tail swinging.

Now these will NOT happen early on! You look to develop those as you progress. You start out looking for forwardness when asked, halts when asked, and to change direction when asked. The rest is fine-tuning over time. I mention them only so you know what your goals should be.

Now the real beauty of this exercise, once well-established where your horse truly understands the cues, is that you will be able to use this as a fundamental tool to calm her down and get her attention any time and place you have that need. Whether for trailering, shows, anything new or spooky; this will become a reliable way to calm your horse and center her mind.

Now once your baby picks up the change of direction exercise and is consistent and solid, you can then move on to Landings. This is what I have been working on with Jaz this week. Landings are a fantastic exercise to teach the stop cue, teach giving to the halter (and later to the bit); encourage a horse to be soft and responsive, and also greatly promotes self-carriage.

Landings are asking the horse to move out to the end of the lead line (about 10 feet only). You start by having her do a full circle before asking for the stop. Once she has mastered that, you then send her out for just a three-quarter circle before asking for the stop. Again, once that is being done well, you work down to a half circle and finally just a quarter circle. You work the horse on one side repeatedly, and you keep at it until she is doing three things: keeping her eyes on you the whole time, stopping when asked, and NOT walking back into you. The goal is to have her stop and stand at the end of the line when asked. If she comes in to you, send her out right away and then immediately pick up the line to ask for the stop. It is critical that you make certain she understands the lesson at each stage before moving on to the next.

I should mention also, when you first start working with a horse and bonding with it – it is fine to have her walk in to you for praise, affirmation, a bit of loving. However, please stay focused on the need for the horse to respect and listen to you! So once the bond is established – you need to be able to begin asking for (and expecting) your horse to stand away from you and not be jumping into your back pocket. You have to keep raising the standards as you progress with your training.

You may have to practice Landings over and over again until the horse really “gets” it. I probably did a hundred repetitions with Jaz before moving on to the next side with her, and for many horses it’s been three hundred repetitions. Seriously. And the tricky thing with Landings (this is handler training), it is easy when you start doing these to apply too much pressure when you pick up the line to ask for the stop, and then accidentally pull the horse into you. It also takes a lot of practice to release at the right time. Like all of us, horses start a stop before actually coming to the halt. Reward for the behavior not the mechanics. When they start to stop, that’s the time to release.

Well hopefully that will give you enough to practice on with your horse, along with continuing to fine tune our earlier exercises. Remember you should be working regularly on haltering, leading, picking up the feet, preparing for the vet and farrier, and getting your horse accustomed to be touched and groomed all over his or her body. If you have any questions, you visit online at Otherwise, see you next month as we continue training my yearling Jaz and your own young horses!

Until next time,

Charles Wilhelm

Andalusian Dressage Partners
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