When training in the round pen from the ground the trainer can make her walk, trot and about one circle of lope and then she slows. Everything she does, she does real slowly. The point is that she doesn’t always do it and it’s hard to find the trigger that makes her go.
When working with any horse, there are several rules that I follow. If you follow the rules very closely and 100% consistently, your horse will become extremely responsive to your requests.
Rule #1: Horses are lazy.
Plain and simple. Horses will try anything to get out of work.
Keeping this in mind, you need to show the horse that what you are asking is not going to be too hard for her to handle at the point in training where she is at. If you ask her to do too much, she will begin to regret following your cues in the first place.
For example, when you ask the horse to move faster, she may be thinking that she will have to canter around the pen several times. In her mind, this is hard work, and maybe she’s only willing to canter around the pen once. So, she decides on her own to stop after going around the pen just once. We don’t want this. When she decides to stop on her own, the trainer is not in control.
What we need to do, is change her mind about all this. We don’t want her thinking that every time we ask her to do something, it will be hard, or will take a long time. Remember, horses are lazy. Once she begins to realize that our requests are small and are not very hard to execute, she will begin to enjoy performing them.
You’re probably asking, “Well, how do I do that?”. Here’s how: Start at a walk in the round pen. Ask her to move into a trot. If you think that she will quit and stop listening once she gets 1/2 way around the pen, then ask her to stop and walk when she only gets 1/4 way around the pen.
She will begin to think that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she first imagined. By using this technique, you are avoiding the situation when the horse stops listening to your “speed up” cue. You don’t want the horse stopping on her own. You must take control and stop her before she decides to stop on her own. Since, you are asking her to obey the “stop” cue before she even begins to think of trying to stop on her own, you are in control. She is then listening to you, and not her own thoughts. You are making the decisions, not her.
Rule #2: Never, EVER lose at the Patience Game.
You can read more about the “Patience Game“.
In a nutshell, if you begin to ask the horse to move faster (for example: by swinging the rope), you MUST continue swinging that rope until the horse moves faster. If you stop swinging the rope before the horse has begun to move faster, you will have taught her that swinging the rope means “don’t do anything”.
Rule #3: For every single cue that you give the horse, there must be a reward.
If there is no reward, the horse will never learn to obey the cue consistently.
For example, when you swing the rope to ask the horse to move faster, the VERY instant that she begins to move faster, stop swinging the rope. When you stop swinging the rope, that is her reward. She knows that she performed the action correctly because you took away the stimulus of the the swinging rope.
If you continue swinging the rope once she has gone faster, you will “burn-out” the cue. She will soon learn that when you swing the rope, it means “do nothing”.
Rule #4: There is NO cue to tell the horse to “keep going”.
You can create cues that tell the horse to “speed up” and cues that tell the horse to “slow down”. But, you can NEVER create a cue that tells the horse to “keep going”. The reason for this is: if you ask the horse to “speed up” (for example: by squeezing with your legs), and you use the same cue to ask the horse to keep going (by squeezing with your legs), you will soon burn-out the “speed up” cue. She soon learns that the “speed up” cue does not mean she should actually speed up. And, she stops obeying it since she receives no reward.
If you would like your horse to keep going, and you do not want to burn-out the “speed up” cue, you must wait until the horse begins to slow down on her own (or better yet, you ask her to slow down before she does it on her own!). Once she slows down, you can ask for the “speed up” cue again.
So, the only cues you should use to teach your horse to obey you when asking her to speed up are the “speed-up” cue and the “slow-down” cue. There is no “in-between” or “keep going” cue. If you decide to try using a cue as a “keep going” cue, it may work once or twice, but the horse soon learns that your “keep going” cue actually means “don’t do anything”, since she does not receive a reward from doing so.