Icelandic Horse Connection

Passenger Lessons

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By Dolores Arste

For those who asked, this started as a challenge from Alex to drop my hand to Cadbury's neck total float in the rein and ride. I proceeded to ride about 1/3 around the arena and then Cadbury took off bucking down the diagonal. I stayed on, Alex remarked that I was not to fall off on her watch. She left me that day with a hole to be filled. I spent a winter developing the clicker version of the passenger lesson.

It originates from a Parelli exercise explained in a Savvy article. It is also used in a training step by Clinton Anderson. Both of them refer to it as "the passenger lesson".

In the Parelli work, it is meant to teach the student to get in tune with the horse. The idea is to go with the horse where ever he chooses to go.

In the Anderson work, it is designed as an emotional control exercise. It's used to build a throttle and brake. It was Anderson who coined the term "no unrequested forward". However, it was I who put tons of importance on this little in passing comment of Clinton's.

At the time, I still had a lot of fear when I rode Cadbury. That's because Cadbury could go from zero to 100 and then buck in a flash.

I had worked with Alex on the good, better, best, yield the hip exercise. So the pre-requisite for this is to be able to ask the jaw to soften and get a "yes" answer most of the time.

When we teach head-down, we slide down the rein and pick up contact and release and click when the head begins to drop. It's important to note that this is "not a forward moving exercise".

For the passenger lesson, we must now teach the horse to soften the jaw, and neck and stop the feet. I started teaching this on the ground. Place your closest to the horse hand on the whither and slide the other hand down the rein and ask for a give. This time though, you are not asking for head down. You are asking for the jaw to yield. If the jaw is already soft, you can bring the sliding hand to meet the hand on the whither. You are looking for the whole jaw, and at least the neck to soften to you AND for the feet to stop moving. You may put in baby releases for softening, but you will withhold the click until the feet stop. This becomes your brake.

When you can do this on both sides, and get the feet stopped almost at the same time as you begin to slide down the rein you are ready to try it at the mounting block. Before mounting, we'll ask for head-down and for the "neck bend to a stop". In the early stages, it is simply a neck bend to a stop. If the feet move, go back to the ground work of following the horse until the feet stop. Repeat on both sides. When the horse can stand still at the mounting block while you ask for head-down AND the neck bend, you are ready to get on. Here is where "no unrequested forward" comes in. When you get on, it's common for the horse to move off. Why shouldn't he? That's what we usually want. But, in this exercise, we want the horse to Wait. It's this waiting for instructions that becomes key. So, when you get on, if he goes forward, you will slide down the rein to a point where you can bring the rein to your hip and lock it there and the horse must yield his nose and stop his feet. Once stopped,immediately drop the rein as if it were on fire and click treat. Thenl repeat the exercise on the other side.

Not until you can slide down the rein on both sides as many times as you want and the feet remain still are you ready to ask for forward. This is key. These brakes must be solid. I like to explain that anyone can drive a high performance car with great brakes even if that car has no steering wheel. All you have to do is press the gas, go a few inches and stop. And, no one can be afraid of riding a horse whose feet are stopped. It must become an automatic response for you whenever you feel nervous or threatened or you even think he might spook or leave to bend to a stop.

Now you'll ask for forward. Forward in passenger lesson is simply that "go forward". Where you go is the horse's decision. Start at the walk. Walk only as far as you are comfortable. Then bend him to a stop. Once stopped, bend on the other side.

Be sure to do this in a safe fenced area because you will not be directing him. Your hand is on his whither, your reins are completely loose. If he walks toward a wall, it's his responsibility to find out how to keep walking. Do not direct him in anyway. You can walk as far or as few steps as you are comfortable with. At any time, you may bend him to a stop. Until you bend him to a stop, he must continue in the gait you asked for. If he is walking and he begins to trot. Bend him to a stop "no unrequested forward" If he walks to a rail of wall and stops. Oops, continue to ask for forward. But, resist the urge to direct him out of the spot he's gotten himself into. He'll figure it out. Just ride where he takes you and try to relax. Do not nag him while walking. As long as he is walking and not walking so fast as to make you nervous, leave him alone. Only ask again for walk if he comes to a complete stop. If he walks to a fence or wall and hesitates, give him time before asking him to walk on. The braver of us will tend to ask too soon again for the walk. The less brave will be afraid to push through the wall or fence. The exercise will help to balance both types.

As you are riding along, you may feel tension in your body. Try to relax each and every part of your body. Take note of how he responds. If he offers you something pretty or something you like feel free to click which should also bring him to a stop and treat.

Several things will happen as you ride this. You will begin to "feel" where he's going to go next. That's because you have turn over all the responsibility on where to go to him. You are the follower in the dance. And, while he may initially hang at the gate, he'll begin to venture off further into areas he may have been afraid to go. Trust him. And, remember that at any time you wish you can bend to a stop.

Then you will do this same exercise at trot and canter if you feel up to it. When you ask for trot, he must trot and trot now. If he speeds up, bend to a stop. Do the same with the canter. There is no rush to get to trot or canter while teaching this lesson. Do it only when you feel completely relaxed and comfortable. If you don't feel comfortable, you haven't spent enough time at the walk. For you and him, this must be automatic.

While trotting resist the urge to nag him while trotting. If he is trotting and slows to a walk, that's great. Simply ask again for the trot. Never make him feel wrong for slowing down.

Remember, you can bend to a stop or click to a stop any time you want. But, be sure you only click if you like what he's doing. Bend, if you feel you or the horse is at all nervous.

If you have a foot mover, you will most likely get the hips when you bend to a stop. That is to say that the hips will step over as he is softening and bending. If you have a quieter horse or a physically challenged horse, you may not get the hips. If you have the Step by Step book this is what occurred during the Spook on Lance. I got the stop but not the hips. It was OK then because we were both OK.

But, getting the hips is important. So, when you bend be sure to wait for the hips to step over even if the feet have stopped when you begin to refine this lesson.

As you have surmised, this is your emergency stop as well. By building all of this in, you will learn to ride your horse's spook and be able to diffuse it without thinking.

Riding the passenger lesson is great when you horse is excited. You will find that you don't need to micro mange him. He'll be responsible for his emotions. Once you have this there are other steps to put in to make this pretty. I'll try to address how this expands to pretty in another post.

Refining the passenger lesson. In the initial stages of the passenger lesson, the goal is to simply install brakes and a gas pedal that work 100% of the time no matter what distraction or movie is playing outside you and your horse's bubble.

But, there is much more that can be accomplished. As Alex says, you never know what develops out of an exercise until you spend enough time with it. Due to Cadbury's explosive tendencies, I spent one heck of a lot of time with it. And, I still do.

Each and every time I get on a horse, I spend at least a few minutes in passenger lesson. Part of the value I learned from this lesson is that turning loose allows you and the horse to feel each other. I don't have a perfect seat, or a perfect body. I will never be able to ride like Bettina or Clinton Anderson. My legs are simply too short. But, horses can learn what you feel like when you ask for something. And, that's the goal. Turn loose and begin to feel each other. But, be sure to have installed the toolkit in yourself and your horse to stay safe. You will appreciate it and so will your horse.

If you are just starting passenger lesson and your horse feels hot or you nervous the bend to a stop can be just that. Bend that nose around and wait for the feet to stop. As you are panicking in your heart, you don't need to think of anything else. You horse is probably feeling the same panic. Also, as you are riding along, feel free to hang onto mane, saddle neck rope whatever you have handy. You'll know you are beginning to relax when you begin to let go of your handle. Feel free to grab onto mane or saddle at any time. Allowing yourself this privilege is especially handy as you are trotting toward the wall and you do not know which way or when your horse will choose to turn. There are no set number of steps that are required. If you stomach jumps into your throat at one step, bend to a stop, click/treat. That's the reset and then off you go again.

Pretty soon, when you begin to panic, your horse will already be slowing down for you. This is because every time you felt panic, you bent him to a stop. He's now able to help you because he's now learned the feel of you and your needs. He'll be happy to help. I think they are happy with this new responsibility.

If you've been going along for a while and you are both relaxed, a funny thing will start to happen. You haven't clicked yet and you are still walking or trotting. You horse will begin to experiment with offering you things that have been clicked before. He'll offer the things that have been most reinforced at other times such as head-down or flexing at the poll. At first you may be stunned and surprised when this happens. If you like what he offers, click it, stop treat and start over. But, do not start again unless YOU have asked for forward. And, after each and every time you stop, ask for the lateral flex.

At first when you bend, you may be bringing his head all the way around to his rib and locking your hand on your hip to get the stop. This is great for an emergency but not for performance. For a further explanation about flexing the neck, refer to Alex's Step by Step book.

Unless it's an emergency, just as you are about to bend to a stop, sit and stop riding for a count of 1001 - 1004. If he stops before 1004, C/T he has just begun to "read" your body language. Now you can begin to refine the bends.

Before you leave the mounting block every time you get on, you will ask for a "give" on both side. If his feet have remained still you can refine the "give" you ask for. If his feet move, bend to a stop. Each and every time the feet move without being asked to go, bend to a stop. This may take many, many repetitions before you ever take your first step. Eventually, he may offer you head down in between each request to "give". I c/t this offering.

When I mention refining the "give", I am referring to John Lyons "give spots". I believe these are also in Alex's Step by Step book.

So, now there you are standing stock still and relaxed at the mounting block. You can now slide down the rein and ask for a refined give.

For Cadbury, who has done a lot of lateral work, I ask for a give all the way back through to the hindquarters. This means that his nose bends around, his poll rotates on the vertical, his neck bends in a nice bow shape, his whithers lift and his weight is shifted to his hindquarters. When he shifts his weight to his hindquarters they may move to square up. This is not forward movement. Be sure to notice the difference. Now this expectation is at home. If you are in a new and exciting environment, you may decide to relax this expectation. For example, at Equine Affaire in MA, Cad had no problem giving all the way through. But, at Equine Affair in OH, I could only get thru to the bow in the neck and perhaps a whither lift. After the demo, we got it all in the practice ring. So, you need to be adjustable on this. It's a matter of building trust.

Harvey is only 5 and has not done nearly as much lateral work. When I work with him on the ground, I ask for lateral work and a give all the way through. But, his balance is not such that I can ask for this level of deep bend under saddle. So, I accept and click for the nose and bow in the neck. I'll go back to work on the ground to get the poll. Then, it will carry over to the saddle.

Having done all this work without even leaving the mounting block, you can now begin to ask for the same level of refinement every time you slide down the rein. Remember as you work thru this pretty stuff that if lightening crashes or the wind howls, you may always fall back on bend to a stop - simply stop the feet. Keep the pretty work for experimenting with when all is going well and the horse and you are calm.

This work leads naturally into the "hot-walker" exercise. Because, now, you can begin to ask for the give and for the feet to continue forward. Never loose site of "no unrequested forward". He must never offer you a faster gait or a faster version of the same gait without your requesting it.

Depending on the level of you horse's training any or all of these passenger lesson refinements can be added at any time. So, if you've already got a great shoulder in bend, be sure to incorporate it when you ask for the nose and hip in the one-rein stop.

Don't worry if you don't have these things built in. You can start at any stage in the horse's training to build this "dance partner" like relationship. For a horse that is just being backed, you never need to leave the mounting block. For a baby, not yet backed, they can learn the work on the ground. You can just work on the "give" part. If you really get the "give" refined before you ever leave the mounting block the first steps forward will be balanced and controlled. I have seen a baby foal, just weaned, take responsiblity for keeping his lead rope centered on his back with float in the rope to the halter. As he experimented with the balancing of it he balanced himself. What a treat it will be to ride him the first time. If he lost the rope, it was quietly replaced for him.

Unless it's an emergency, just as you are about to bend to a stop, sit and stop riding for a count of 1001 - 1004. If he stops before 1004, C/T he has just begun to "read" your body language. Now you can begin to refine the bends.

Be sure when you sit to resist the urge to pick up the reins. Just sit. Allow your horse those few seconds to read you and your intent to stop.

There are a couple of notes I'd like to add to the previous posts before going on; --When you slide one hand down the rein to being the one-rein stop, leave the other hand in the middle or at the buckle and resist the urge to take the slack out of both reins. Be sure the buckle hand leaves slack in the outside rein.

--Be sure when you sit to resist the urge to pick up the reins. Just sit. Allow your horse those few seconds to read you and your intent to stop.

Now, as you begin to slide down the rein you will ask for "gives". Early on you may find yourself dragging the head around to get the feet stopped. If the horse is very forward, you may indeed have to do this for awhile.

However, soon you will want to ask for the "give" with more finesse. How much finesse depends entirely on your confidence level. If all is relaxed and you 've gotten so you don't have the bending hand stationed over the rein ready to slide, then you can slow down the request to "give" into John Lyons Good, Better, Best, Yield the hip.

For those not familiar with this, it means to slide down the rein and ask for a softening of the jaw, slide again and ask for a deeper softening, slide again and ask for deeper still, then slide down and look back over your shoulder at the hip spot. By this time you will be stopped.

You will at this point be connecting the rein to the hip. When this becomes good and you and your horse are completely comfortable, you are ready to move past the passenger lesson. As soon as you begin to direct the dance beyond go and stop, you have left the passenger lesson and are ready to move on.

The key to the passenger lesson is to "let go", give up control of the direction but not the speed.

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