Facilitated by Nancy Allen and Dan
"There is nothing a horse will respond to much better than a good feel from
the person handling him, which works because it's natural to him right from
the start." -Bill Dorrance
"MISSING A SPOT: When you're talking about missing a spot, that could
mean that there's alot of LITTLE THINGS that have been overlooked and one
main thing it's liable to be is feel."
PUTTING ON THE HALTER
Putting on the halter is one of the little things that Bill Dorrance
spoke about. It's something easy to take for granted or rush through every
day. The ideas here are just as quick as any way you might choose though.
The more that you practice and make a point of doing things the way that I
then the smoother and easier it will get. Remember: look for the little
things. This is one of them.
Vocabulary: TIP THE HORSE'S NOSE TOWARDS YOU. This term I'll start to
use quite a bit. You're asking your horse to move his head towards you. To
give you his attention. Not to have his head straight or turned away from
you and giving his attention to something else. You're asking him to be with
When I first started haltering this way, I had to tell myself that I
want to include feel in all that I do with Dan. So for awhile I had to
conciously make it a point to
always halter in the way that I'm going to describe. Now it's second nature.v
In the beginning, if you aren't used to tying a rope halter, it'll just
take longer. Practice your knot tying
before working with your horse. That'll help you to be smoother later.
I also bridle my horse in a similar manner. (All of our exercises are
interrelated to our riding). Right from the start I am asking
my horse to be with me. That is the MAIN point of this method of haltering
for the horse to give you his attention, be with you and help you with it.
From now on, in ALL that you do, you do it together. There is an expectation
that the horse will help you accomplish things, and haltering is where it
First, let's just review how to put the halter on properly.
This is important so I'm repeating it: You're asking your horse to meet
you half way right from the
beginning and it sets a precedence for all future things that you do
together. It also means that a person is going to take every opportunity
that comes their way to develop a mutual feel and solidify their partnership
with their horse. Don't ever pass up an opportunity to do that! It's like
money in the bank!
Remember, EVERYTHING is of equal importance to the horse, so it is of
equal importance to me. If you have any problem with this, ask questions and
we'll get it worked out.
I'm going to use Pat Parelli's description of how to put on a rope
"Organize your halter in your left hand and your lead rope over your
elbow. Place your right arm over his neck and place your halter under his
neck and hand it to yourself. Use the fingers of your right hand to PUSH HIS
HEAD TOWARDS YOU as you slip the halter over his nose. Adjust your halter
with your left hand and tie it off with the (proper) knot with your right
If you don't know how to tie the knot (as I mentioned) just ask. Of
course a web halter with a buckel is dandy for all of this too. If you are
untie the halter because you aren't sure if you can retie it, don't worry,
we can talk
you through it!
Things to work on here: asking your horse to lower his head and accept
you being above him (when you put your arm over his neck).
Head lowering is our first official exercise that we will start in a
couple of days. I think that the haltering has to go first though because
some people need that halter with the lead attached to have their horse stay
with them in the beginning. If head lowering is a problem during haltering
don't worry, we will be working on that next.
We can already
start thinking about incorporating it now though. Maybe some of your horses
already are helping you out by lowering their head for you for haltering.
You have a nice start then.
The head lowering is what you will always ask for. It will always be
one of those "little things" that you include with haltering along with
tipping the horses nose towards you when you PUT ON and TAKE OFF the halter.
Let's say, your horse lowers his head, but turns his nose away from
you. This is another detail that you want to fix. It might seem like a small
thing but it is very important.
Back to the haltering procedure: Your horse's head is now in a sort of
loop made up of your arm over his
neck and the other arm under his neck and the open halter in between. Use
the open halter to ask your horse to bring his nose back to you. The halter
becomes your support to what you're asking your horse to do. You can use
your hand to do this, but utilizing the halter works well too. I can give
more details on
this part if it's hard to picture. Keep asking
until your horse keeps his head tilted towards you and works with you. Even
just tipping his nose towards you a small amount is a great beginning and
it's a good "try" to encourage. When the nose comes your way you can give
his cheek or neck a rub with your hand holding the halter.
You may have to ask your horse over and over many times to keep his
nose tipped towards you. And I mean MANY times. Don't get frustrated or pull
on your horse. Just look at it as, "this is what we are working on today and
soon we will accomplish it". Your horse might "forget" for the first few
about what he should do, just gently remind him. Pretty soon it will be
second nature to him too.
By asking the horse to tip his nose towards you he is working with you.
If he looks away then he's not quite with you and he may be thinking of
leaving. Tipping the nose towards you asks the horse to be with you.
You're also in a good position to pet your horse for his trys. As Ray
Hunt would say, "Never miss an opportunity to pet your horse."
Now if any of the horses have trouble with the lead rope attached, take
it off and help them as much as you can by directing the halter over their
nose so that it doesn't bump or bother them. Sometimes this is just where
you have to begin. Be considerate of the young horse especially or the hard
to halter horse. In the end we will look for your horse to readily put their
nose into the halter and REALLY help you out!
In the end what is nice is to stand a distance away
from your horse, offer him the halter and have him walk to it, put his nose
in, tip his nose towards you and wait. I would consider you both an expert
at haltering then!
If your horse has some issue about touching their ears or having you
stand over them, they'll be pretty obvious now. We can talk on this too if
we need to.
Be considerate (espectally of the youngsters) and gently adjust the
nose band and the part of the halter that goes under the jaw.
Attach your lead. You might want to attach it so that the snap, that
you open with your thumb, faces in. This is pretty minor, but sometimes the
little notch on the snap can bump the horse's chin when you begin to use the
Another goal can be to walk up to your horse at liberty, from at least
10' away and halter him.
This is where we'll start.
If you halter your horse in a stall, eventually
try to do it out in pasture. If anyone's horse is SORT OF with them, but
steps away when the actual halter comes up, start again and gently put the
lead rope over their neck if the horse continues to be unsure, hold onto
both ends and let the rope help you ask him to stay. Only do this if the
horse just needs some support-but not if he seriously needs to leave. That
would be another issue that we can talk about if anyone needs to.
Let the list know how it goes! Was your horse comfortable with this way
of haltering? Could you walk into the pasture and halter him?
An advanced haltering exercise might be something such as:
Can you run up to your horse with the halter, jog around him, have him
stay and then help you halter him?
Can anyone else think of some haltering exercises that we might try?
Points to remember:
Ask the horse to lower his head.
Before putting on or taking off the halter, ask the horse to tip his
nose towards you.
Do not lean your head over the horses head in case he brings his head
up quickly. When you come to, you'll realize that that wasn't the best
thing to do!
Think of the areas where you reward your horse in some way
and fill the list in on these areas and things that you've noticed with your
When this method of haltering becomes easy, let me know and we will add
one other aspect to it.
Thanks and have fun!
Lowering the Horse's Head
Take a little time to read through the exercise (in Bill's words) and
also read the preliminary information if you haven't already. There's alot
of good information there.
These exercises are best read in Bill's words. Once you read them
then we can discuss them and clear up some things that might be a little
hard for people to understand (especially if you have a little trouble with
his writing style) and I will try to point out why certain aspects are so
important. Also, let's get as much input as we can from everyone because
that's where we will begin to learn the most.
The exercises in our on-line clinic "are the start of building
lightness in the horse in response to your feel."
Remember, lightness is what the horse is born with. He doesn't need
us to make him light. Our goal is to keep him light by not detracting from
his natural lightness.
The release is what teaches the horse what is correct but
with our good timing and our realization of how important it is to
adjusting how we ask our horse for things that keeps lightness in the horse.
too hard detracts from lightness. Sometimes though, you have to get more
to get the horse to a point where he is able to feel of you better.
Ask questions about that one if it seems confusing.
The order of the exercises are what Bill considers best for MOST
horses. You may find though, that with your particular horse, that it is
better to arrange the exercises in a different order. That is fine as long
as you still do every exercise.
Head lowering, to me, is really an ongoing exercise to be practiced
our horses are responding consistently on the ground, we'll work with it
under saddle with the end goal being any time we direct our horse to lower
his head by lightly touching his head, neck or poll-he will. Asking for
calm, and immediately getting it.
As Bill mentioned, we should really look for the time when our horse
let's a breath out, licks or chews. That is a real key thing to look for,
IMO. With Dan these are things that I'll really try to wait for. When he
do some of those things, that's when I'd release and reward him. I wanted
him to know that
his relaxation is the right thing. That's our true goal in this. So that
will be something we work on alot too.
I notice too that whenever I work with Dan on the ground and
he gets distracted or sort of "zones me out" sometimes, if I ask
him to lower his head, boy, he snaps right back into the game.
It seemed to change his way of thinking in an instant, and it was always
a change for the better and so easy!
Dan reads a visual cue for head lowering from a distance that is very
helpful too. Later, you might think of incorporating this yourself into your
training. For right now though, we are working to develop our feel of the
our horse's feel of us.
I was thinking too about really concentrating on that feel. Pretty soon
it seems like you start to know the instant before your horse's head is
going to go down. If I put my hand on Dan's poll and close my eyes, pretty
soon just by concentrating I could feel the moment right before he responded
so it was easy to be right on the ball with the release/reward.
This begins to get into probably the hardest area to understand about
It has many aspects. The seen and the unseen. There is a part inside of you
that begins to understand things before they happen. That's the part of the
horse that's connected right to your core, as Bill would say, to what is
inside of you.
Sort of like intuition or a hunch and maybe in a way sort of like instinct.
All I know is that once you open yourself up to this type of feel and
being there in the
moment with your horse, that it can really start working for you. Maybe we
really start to get on the same level with the horse, since they truly live
in the moment, I can't say for sure.
I know that the release is pretty powerful.
Also, some people wondered how low the horse's head should go.
Someone mentioned in a previous clinic that the horse will find the most
appropriate and comfortable place for themself. I think that this is true! I
also think that if, through your feel, you ask your horse to lower his nose
to the ground, he will begin to respond to this well. Also, if he needs to
bring his head up some to help you with this task (remember, it's a
and we are looking for the horse to help us) that we can teach him to
this too. We are basically looking for a relaxed posture and attitude from
This exercise is for both horse and human to begin to learn about and
experience the "feel" of one another. It's just as important for the horse
to learn your feel as it is for you to learn his.
The best advice that I can give on learning feel in this exercise is
get into the
moment with your horse. Be right there in the now.
Questions: Did anyone get some inklings of what feel is in this
Was it easy to keep your horse's head lowered or did
it pop up alot? What did you do to fix/work on that? Can you see the
advantages of teaching this for use under saddle?
If anyone is having problems with this, let us know and we'll talk
about a few options that you might have.
Thanks, have fun and hope to hear from you soon!
Leading Up Real Free & Backing Slowly
From here we'll break it up into two parts, leading and backing.
Leading Up Real Free
"A horse that doesn't lead up well when you want him to, isn't going to be
reliable to ride. When you cannot control the timing and placement of his
feet in response to the feel you present with the lead rope, your intent
won't be clear to him through the reins either." -Bill D.
Much is entailed in this exercise and alot of nice "extras" go along
If a horse leads well he should tie well, he should load into a
trailer better and he will get more intuned to your feel through the reins
Leading Freely not only includes the horse following your feel as you
walk forward, but that he will match your pace and we're also looking to
control the length of his stride and to start to control all four corners of
By all four corners of the horse I mean that we will begin to have
access, through the lead rope (and after a while, even without the lead
rope), to ask and influence the horse to move whatever individual foot that
we ask for. We will also be thinking about WHERE each of those individual
feet are at any time-this will carry over to ridden work too.
This exercise is about building a nice light feel while leading that
will carry over to work under saddle. It doesn't rely on equipment, all you
is your halter and lead, but focuses on your presentation of "feel"
in how you lead and direct your horse.
Leading Up Real Free includes working with "float" in the lead rope.
Float, as you know, is maintaining a slack in the rope (and
eventually the reins). Sometimes as your horse learns about this, you may
have to take some of the float out of the rope to, what I call, speak to him
more directly through the lead. Some horses will require a little clearer
message in the beginning, but with the horse's response we immediately
release and return the float into the rope. Soon the horse will learn to
respond before the slack is taken out of the rope. This is how he begins to
learn about your feel.
Feel is dependent on observation too, you will watch and also
physically feel through the rope when the horse responds to what you are
asking. The horse will also watch you and then physically feel your release.
So what he sees and physically feels will contribute to the other type of
feel that we are working towards. The type that is unseen and only felt
inside of the horse and the human. The intuitive part of feel.
Why do you want to make maintaining float in the lead rope a priority?
It helps the horse learn to be light in his entire
body without any resistance to pressure as it is presented to him by the
person handling or riding him. (This is what helps the horse to learn to tie
better too). He has nothing to lean on and he uses his own
natural lightness and doesn't learn how to brace. It teaches the horse to
search for the release and come off pressure on his own.
It helps to think of a "brace" in our horse as apprehension on his part
of what might happen. It could be created by fear or mistrust among other
things. This tension of the brace affects his ENTIRE body.
Remember too then (and look for this) that leading should relate to
feeling the whole horse. We learn to direct the horse's feet by feeling of
the whole horse and realizing what the horse's body has to do to accomplish
what we ask .
Sometimes you need to work close to the horse to supplying him with a
clearer message of what you are asking him to do. Generally
though, you don't want to be up close to the horse or hold your hand too far
up the rope (too close to the snap on the lead). Bill's brother Tom relates:
"If you get too close it interfers
with their decision to figure things out. So don't crowd them."
Your goal is for the horse to get his feet moving before you take the
slack out of the rope. There might be a few "misunderstandings" that arise
this doesn't go as smoothly as planned. First think about what little thing
that you can do to change how you ask. Make your observations. Think about
putting the horse in the best position, physically and mentally, to succeed.
When problems arise though, let us know and we'll see if we can iron
If at first the horse doesn't follow through, you might use a smooth,
firm pull (no jerking and gear your firmness to the horse. Only use what
you need to get the job done. Also gear it from moment to moment as things
will likely start to change). Your release, when he gives to that
pressure, is what he will start to learn from and build on.
Work on both sides and from in front-he may need more work in certain
Try to release as closely as possible to when your horse eases the
off of himself and this will add to your feel.
Hold the lead rope loosely if possible, (but be ready if you need to
take a firmer grip). Later, as you refine things, simply opening and closing
hand on the rope will send a message to your horse, the rope will carry your
Problems you may encounter: Your horse's feet are stuck. He's too fast
or too slow. He bumps you. What others? We can discuss these too as they
Once you are feeling comfortable in one area start expanding where you
go with your horse. Start small and work slowly up to longer walks. As you
go, observe your surroundings and let the horse know that you are observing
things. Don't ever force any issues but work with them. We can expand to
leading over obstacles and in different environments.
Okay, have fun and work with lowering the head too and the nice feel
you're developing in haltering!
Keep us posted!
>>He_will_ most times stop when I lift my hand up and back a tad, without
taking out the slack, same motion I use if I'm asking for a step back when
to the side.<<
This is good, especially with a horse that always seems to want to be
in your space and is part of what you can use with an active horse who
really wants to move. We will talk about this more in the standing still
exercise to come, but some horses need to learn how to stand still, or be
patient, or follow nicely by being allowed to move. The two are connected.
It's directing the movement that is important.
I have a friend who loves to have a horse that has an over abundance of
life. He says that this is when he can direct them the best because they
have all of this energy that is just waiting to be used all he needs to do
is use it.
Part of this is bringing the horse (mentally) to a place in which he is
ready to learn. We have to face the fact that when energy is there, it has
to go somewhere so in the beginning, while he learns more about feel, you
may need to direct that energy more until be understands what is expected of
him. He needs to be able to concentrate in other words.
Once he is at that place of learning I would back track a little here
and work at the very beginning of Rusty's feeling of you education. Can he
take one step towards you and one step back through the feel that you
present to him? Can you begin to place any of his feet anywhere simply
through the influence of your feel?
"What I mean by "leading up real free"," Bill Dorrance writes, "is a
horse paying attention to the feel of your halter rope, or your reins and
following the feel you present....and he won't be trying to take over with
his own ideas."
That's what it would come down to for me anyway, is teaching him the
meaning of feel and this will take time. Until he matures in his knowlege of
feel it will be hard to expect him to lead well.
You may be thinking, well, heck, all I want to do is lead him from the
stall to the pasture-but it still fits the criteria. Maybe you'll need to
work more on feel after he has been turned out some. Later, as he learnes,
he will understand it right from the start and be able to do it under mearly
When you think of these youngsters, all full of themselves with energy
wanting to shoot off in all directions, we just need to help them by
directing it. That at times is easier said than done, I admit, but you can
do it and you will improve each day.
Some of it will have to do with you catching things before they happen.
If they happen the horse sort of looks at it like you let it go on, so it
must be okay and then when it's not, well, it's confusing.
I have swung my leadrope in front of Dan at times if he is being
bargy-if he crosses in front of my shoulder then his nose might feel the end
of the lead. I only use this if he gets excited and I need to bring him to
that spot that we talked about in which he's thinking again. All in all
though, this is sort of just a momentary answer because I really want to
solve it with feel because feel will come through for you consistently in
I think too, as we move through the exercises that this will help you
and Rusty with feel and I think that things will generally improve. It's
hard to teach a horse to lead well and I'm with ya on this! It takes time
and alot of horses out there do not lead well.
It takes time spent together and being consistent and not sending
confusing messages to Rusty.
I hope that some of this helps-if you have questions or need some more
thoughts, let us know!