This sticky is meant to be a collection of ideas on how to inspire forwards movement in your horse, instead of just ambling along when you are running together. Some of the methods discussed elsewhere in the forum can be very helpful for that, for example Chase the tiger
or Point to point
. They make use of an external object or focus point to inspire the horse to approach it, which can work wonders for a horse's running motivation. Actually the same goes for any purposeful activity. Most horses are much more eager to move forwards while going for a walk, for instance, where they have somewhere to go to, instead of just doing arbitrary circles in an arena. However, this sticky focuses more on factors inherent in your own behaviour or movement. It will consist of two main parts, with the first one being about your own attitude and the second one specifically dealing with ways in which you can use your body language to elicit more forwards movement.
The attitude part can be summed up in a single concept: be forwards yourself. Often when people want to run with horses, they do that like an exercise, a task to be accomplished. However, in order to convince your horse that running is fun, it is helpful if this is reflected in your own expression as well. I am learning this again and again when watching the children who play with my horses. I refer to this as the Aylin lessons, named after a young girl who got my Titum to canter again at a time when he was nothing but bored with me. The whole story can be found in this post
, but here are the lessons:
First, she loves the horses. She is happy about whatever they offer. Second, and this might sound contradictory to the first point but I think it really isn't, she just doesn't have the patience to sit and wait for the 500th repetition of an exercise. Once something got done, she needs a new task. Third, she never uses pressure with the horses. She just never learned about interacting with animals in a pressure-based way (and after watching her I can say with absolute certainty that she also hasn't taught herself to do so
). Fourth, she LOVES movement. She doesn't run with the horses because she wants them to run with her, but because she wants to run with them. The difference might sound very negligible, but I think that's basically what it all boils down to, and it makes a whole world of a difference to my horses.
If it is hard for you to enjoy running, you can change that by simply turning it into a habit. For example, after having watched Aylin, I set up a rule for myself to run every little distance in my everyday life, unless there was a reason that made it impossible. Accordingly, running became my default mode of moving, and after some time it actually felt weird not
to run. This also made it much easier to run with my horses, and suddenly they got interested in running with me as well.
Besides these more general matters of attitude, there are several ways in which you can use your body language to inspire forwards movement. One aspect that is important in all of them is the precision of the horse's reactions to changes in your body. Before even starting to play any running games with a horse, I do something that I call "binding the horse to my moves". This means that I try to make sure that even small movements of mine trigger a corresponding movement of the horse in an almost automatical manner. The basics of this are described in the Encouraging politeness
When working in that way in general and when running together in particular, it is important to stay connected with the horse. Thus, if you start walking and the horse doesn't follow, don't continue walking for several meters until he finally starts moving as well. Instead, you can turn back to him and walk past his head in a more sideways manner (or cue a sideways movement of his shoulders with your body language). If he turns with you or even just shifts his weight in the beginning, reward immediately. It seems to be a rather general thing, by the way, that horses are more likely to react to a cue suggesting movement if this movement requires a rotation of their body instead of a mere forwards movement.
Another aspect of this binding to body language is that I always use some sort of small preparatory interaction (a detailed description of preparatory cues and different cue levels can be found here
). That is, I usually don't just start running but first signal this to the horse in a more implicit way, and make sure that he is ready to join in. This can be done by first tensing up in your body and only when you see the horse attend to you and tense up as well, you initiate the actual change in your movement. The timing of your body language is crucial for that, and it works best if you manage to capture the movement right at the point when you see that the horse is just about to start moving, because it is much easier to change an ongoing movement than to start one from scratch.
Besides the timing of your body language, also its actual shape can influence the movement of your horse. For example, many people start running but then turn towards the horse and constantly look at him, thereby standing on the brakes and decreasing his forwards movement. However, horses usually are much more willing to run if you look forwards and into the direction in which you are running... or actually not just look there, but throw your focus forwards and then jump after it.
When you start running, it also is helpful to not just plod forwards. Instead, you can do that with some momentum, a bit like you were pushing forwards/upwards against a spring. Thus, if you start running less gradually but with a more marked change in your energy, your horse will be more likely to do the same. Also, your hips play an important role in cueing forwards movement: They can be used to flip the horse forwards while you are walking together, which is explained in the sticky about Walking positions and their variation
And lastly, you can use different kinds of variations, for example between different directions, movement speeds or tension and energy levels. When working with a horse who does not show a lot of forwards movement, I try to avoid whole movement sequences and instead change my own movements quite often, sometimes after two or three steps already. By keeping the predictability of your movements to a minimum, your horse will have to stay attentive if he does not want to miss these variations. However, be careful to adjust the frequency and intensity of such changes to the needs of your horse. Some horses, especially those who don't run because they are shy and insecure, may feel even more insecure with these changes. But also horses with higher confidence levels may disconnect from you and start doing their own thing if you are too snappy and unpredictable for their taste.
Well, that's everything I can think of for now. Please add your experiences on inspiring your horses to run or move forwards in a more energetic way!