Icelandic Horse Connection

Making The Change 2

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." -Bill Dorrance


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 will describe, 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 you.

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 begins.

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 halter:

"Organize your halter in your left hand and your lead rope over your right 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 hand."

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 afraid to 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 days 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 rope.

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 horse.

When this method of haltering becomes easy, let me know and we will add one other aspect to it.

Thanks and have fun!

Exercise #1 Lowering the Horse's Head

This exercise can be found at: http://lesliedesmond.com/ in Part 1 of Developing Lightness on the Ground.

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 constantly be adjusting how we ask our horse for things that keeps lightness in the horse.

Asking too hard detracts from lightness. Sometimes though, you have to get more firm 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 daily. Once 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 began to 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 horse and 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 feel. 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 to being there in the moment with your horse, that it can really start working for you. Maybe we just 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 partnership and we are looking for the horse to help us) that we can teach him to understand this too. We are basically looking for a relaxed posture and attitude from the horse.

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 exercise? When?

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

This is exercise #2 on Bill's site which can be found at: http://lesliedesmond.com/

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 with it.

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 while riding.

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 the horse.

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 need 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 and 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 them out. 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 pressure 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 areas. Try to release as closely as possible to when your horse eases the pressure 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 your hand on the rope will send a message to your horse, the rope will carry your feel.

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 arise.

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 I'm standing 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 all circumstances.

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 the end.

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!

Page 3

Main Page for "Making the Change"

To contact us, please go to the Contact Page.