What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-
- Figuring out why your horse is dead to the leg
- Committing to consistency going forward
- Creating a ‘rule’
- Refining your ‘rule’
We have all been there. You are in the saddle on your horse, you are riding away – you apply your leg, and … NOTHING. He is just completely ignoring everything, and you must resort to these huge kicks. Oh yes, the horse that is dead to the leg.
It is extremely frustrating, because you know the key to everything is forwardness, but you just cannot get into first gear to get any forwardness happening. Why does this happen?
Figuring out why your horse is like this
There are a couple of reasons, and today I want to touch on the three main ones that I see happening time when dealing with a horse who is dead to the leg.
- Some horses are just more ‘docile’ than others. They are laid back and not really concerned about how fast they can go or how high they can jump. They like to take life nice and easy, and take you the rider with them! Of the three we are going to talk about today, this is probably the smallest group of horses.
- Lack of Consistency. By this I mean the lack of consistency as a rider. One day the rider is in the saddle and focused on schooling and responsiveness. They have expectations of their horse based on what they are doing that day. The ‘lack’ comes in when the next day, they just take it easy and let the horse do whatever they want. Not really caring what is going on with the legs or any other aid. This can lead the horse to become a little confused, or rather he thinks the rider is confused! He then just decides to ignore all further directions coming from the legs of the rider in the saddle. This is how a lack of consistency can cause a horse to be dead to the leg.
- Consistently doing the ‘wrong things’ in the saddle. I am referring to a rider who is consistently banging and moving about in the saddle. Many riders are up there and have no control over their body. They are slapping their legs, and moving and wiggling and shaking… The horse just never knows if that was a speed wobble from the rider, or if it was an actual aid. So again, the horse decides to do nothing. I personally think that this is the most common cause of horses to become dead to the leg. It is also worth keep in mind that it may not have been you that has trained the horse this way. This potentially happened long before you met or rode your horse, when somebody else was riding your horse.
The third point is seen a lot in riding school ponies – bless their souls! Because there is that consistent nagging (slap slap, bang bang, slap slap) going on from rider’s legs on their sides, which they have learned to ignore.
However, when you get a rider who wants to communicate, well, they ignore it as well unless the rider makes it quite clear that they are open to having a real conversation, rather than just banging and shouting at the horse.
This not only happens with riding school ponies, but you also get all sorts of horses that just over time have been exposed to riding in that way, and therefore their default method of ‘staying sane’, is to ignore the rider.
Whatever the reason is – and I think it is important to understand what the reason is with your horse – we now must start looking at how we can turn things around.
Committing to consistency going forward
Firstly, we should commit to consistency going forward, but it must be doing the right kind of things consistently in order for this to work . What we are looking for here, is that every time you are on your horse, you are consistent in how you are ask or communicate.
Gone are the days where one day you are so strict and you want everything to be so refined and perfect, and then the next day you just let your horse do whatever he wants. There must be a consistency from you the rider, to improve your horses responsiveness. This is particularly true when to reschool a horse to listen and respond to the leg aids again.
Creating a ‘rule’
In order for you and your horse to know where you stand with each other, you need ‘rules’. The way I would go about creating a rule in this situation, is using a schooling whip. I prefer a schooling whip over perhaps a jumping crop or a shorter whip, so that when you apply the aid, your hands do not have to come off the reins and break the contact.
The reason we would use our stick is to remind our horse that, “Yes, I just used my leg, and that means please respect my leg and respond”.
How I would use this is that when you put your leg on and your horse ignores it, immediately give just a tap behind your leg. The timing is everything here, it must be immediate so your horse begins to see the connection.
The schooling while is almost like the way a teacher would use a pointer in the classroom, to point something out on the board. Or bring the classes attention to something specific.
You are going to use the stick to tap behind your leg. This is key. Not the shoulder, not the hindquarters, not behind your thigh, it must be behind your lower leg where you are applying the aid that he has just ignored.
It is also important that you always give the option of the leg first, otherwise it does become like ‘beating’ the horse. By doing this you are saying to your horse, “Excuse me, I just said something and you ignored me – can you please answer me”.
In my experience, it usually takes no more than three to four times before the horse starts to listen to the leg. He realises there is a consequence. A direct reaction to their inaction. This is where the consistency on your part comes in.
You say leg, he doesn’t respond, you respond straight away with the tap with the schooling stick. That is how you create the rule.
Refining Your ‘Rule’
Over time, you will obviously need to start refining the rule. It is not practical to have a schooling whip with you all the time, reminding, reminding, reminding!
How you will begin doing this is by again applying the leg but initially asking with a slightly stronger leg aid than what you would normally do. This could be applying more pressure, or it could be an actual kick with your leg.
Over time as you are refining it, you are more using the muscles in your leg, and it becomes about varying amounts of pressure. More of where you want it to be. The secret conversation, as opposed to Pony Club.
Remember, as you are refining it, it is going to become softer and gentler.
Allowing Your Horse To Respond
The final piece when reschooling a horse who is dead to your leg, is that when you ask your horse to go forward, you must allow your horse to then go forward. So many people will ask for forward, and as soon as the horse goes forward, they then shut the whole thing down.
This could be a conscious (I don’t want him to ‘run’) or a subconscious (I don’t want to be run away with) reaction. Whatever the reason, if you keep asking and then changing your mind, your horse will begin ignoring you again.
Because we are reschooling here, and he must respect what you are saying, you must then follow through with allowing him to complete whatever task you asked him to do. This comes into not only forwardness, but if you are asking for lateral work or whatever else you may be asking.
You must allow and facilitate that happening underneath your saddle, for it to become a new, and better way of you and your horse talking to each other.
Links mentioned in the episode:-
- Increasing Your Horses General Responsiveness
- Training Your Horse to Move Forward Off Your Leg
- What to do with Your Leg while Riding