Gentle Horse Training, Translating Under Saddle

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Let’s recap before we move on to the finale. I’ve successfully completed a Wholistic Lunging where my horse follows me at liberty changing direction and backing up in sync with me as we are dancing at liberty (no halter–no leadrope) and it’s fun! She has the 3 Foundations well established by leading respectfully at least a half horse length behind me, she’s backing up with just a jiggle of the lead rope and she’s flexing easily and lightly bobbing her head to the safe and loving place we go when we are in trouble. With the Four Core Emotional Concerns in mind I’ve been able to balance my nature as a human with my horse’s nature recognizing our similar needs and applying herd leadership that my horse is genetically wired to require. Now it’s time to advance my horse’s learning by teaching her the Five Fundamentals that translate under saddle for a safer ride.

Every time I bring my horse out to work with or to ride I do the Five Fundamentals, which only takes me about five minutes. It re-establishes my herd leadership and provides consistency that I’m the same predictable herd leader today as I was yesterday. Consistency and predictability builds trust and confidence in my horse with my leadership and companionship.

So I’ve brought my horse out to begin working with her making sure she leads nicely, stops when I stop, we’ve bonded with flexing and she’s giving to pressure lightly “BEAUTIFUL”! Now I’m going to start with the first of the Five Fundamentals which is WHOLISTIC LUNGING. I added the word Wholistic to Lunging because I am working with the WHOLE horse. That means I want her full attention on me consisting of her eyes, her ears and her mind. Therefore I stand in front of my horse, not to the side, but in front of her where she now sees me with both eyes, has both ears forward and her mind is on me. Since horses are prey animals they are designed to see independently with each eye receiving input separately into their brain allowing them to be alert to predators from either direction, but when I am standing in front of my horse, about 8 to 10 feet away, out of her blind spot, I now have her WHOLE attention.

Standing in front of my horse as mentioned above about 8 to 10 feet away (out of her blind spot) I have the lead rope in my left hand, then I will lift the lead rope to the left, cock my head to the left, look directly in my horse’s eyes asking with my body language to move left (her right). As my horse looks at me trying to figure out what I’m asking I will lift my training stick with my right hand and ask again with a cluck or kiss maintaining my “move left” body language (head cocked, lead rope lifted). If she does not respond by moving I will tap her left shoulder with the end of the training stick once while making the cluck sound and then tap again continuing to tap until my horse takes a step in the direction I’m asking. As soon as she takes even one step I instantly drop all pressure, (stop asking) by dropping both hands down and bowing at the waist dropping my eye contact and saying “good girl.” Then I will drop the training stick and come up to my horse’s shoulder and stroke her neck. If my horse licks and chews all the better, but if not I will stick my fingers in the corner of her mouth where there are no teeth and feather her tongue to get a lick and chew, and then continue stroking her neck and expressing appreciation.

HINT: Licking and chewing means “ah ha, I’m thinking on that” and is a relaxation response. I want my horse to be relaxed and not frightened by my asking to lunge. Remember the stick is simply an extension of my hand which is for loving and applying measured pressure (AMP). If you have a horse that is afraid of the stick, please read the section about desensitizing before attempting to use the stick.

I will ask again and maybe this time I won’t have to tap my horse to move, but I will not hesitate to tap on her shoulder to get my horse moving. If you raise your training stick you must be prepared to follow through and use it. It’s like another horse nipping saying “move.” Don’t hit your horse, just tap and increase the tapping (AMP) until your horse moves his feet. Once I’ve got my horse stepping in the direction I am asking, I keep her moving by swinging the training stick behind her to add pressure asking “keep moving please.” Remember to praise verbally as your horse responds to what you are asking. I always drop the hand that is holding the lead rope down to my side relaxed in the neutral position once my horse is moving/lunging. She will learn that she needs to keep going and that I’ve simply stopped “asking” to get her started in the lunge. If my horse stops moving her feet, I simply raise the lead rope and ask again. I keep the energy flowing and advise not to be hard on yourself–your body is learning new techniques so it will take some time to get a rhythm between you and your horse. Praise yourself for trying.

Now I’ve got my horse lunging so the second Fundamental of the Five Fundamentals is a ONE-REIN-STOP on the ground which is the start of my horse’s emergency handbrake which will translate under saddle. As my horse is lunging around me I drop my training stick, take my right hand and grab the lead rope behind my left hand (not in front of my left hand) and start pulling the lead rope through my left hand, gathering it in long loops in my right hand as I walk towards my horse’s girth area. My horse will most likely continue walking as I work my way towards her, but as I get closer I will draw my horse’s head towards her side and girth area (flexing her) leaving 18” of lead rope from under her chin to my hand as I rest my hand on her back as my point of reference. I move with her if she is still moving her feet, but I do not release her nose until her feet stop moving. I always exhale releasing my energy and talk softly to my horse saying “ho ho” or “whoa whoa” while stroking her neck with my right hand. Stroking my horse’s neck will calm and soothe and promote relaxation so she’ll stop moving her feet.

Once my horse’s feet stop moving I do not release her nose until she “gives” which is either slack in the lead rope or her nose bobs towards her girth. As soon as I get a “give” from her I open my left hand and drop the lead rope like a hot potato. I still have the lead rope in my right hand, but I have to instantly release the pressure with my left hand giving my horse her head. I instantly praise and stroke her neck allowing her “soaking time” while she thinks on what she did. I’ll feather her tongue with my fingers to get her to lick and chew if she doesn’t fully relax. I will even ask for her head down with slight pressure on the lead rope as I taught her in the Three Foundations–Where the mind is the body follows.

The secret to training is INSTANT RELEASE and allow for soaking time. I often will only work with my horse 10-20 minutes and put her out for the day to soak on the lesson. There are dendrites in the horse’s brain that make electrical connections when learning and research has found that during rest the dendrites continue making connections. That’s why you’ll notice sometimes your horse is farther in his/her training if you’ve returned after a day or two. I remember a time in 4th grade during math I was struggling to understand the concept of fractions. was worried about falling behind my classmates, but returning to school on Monday I had an “ah ha” moment that happened when we opened our textbooks and resumed our lesson–it all made sense because my dendrites were able to continue working on the math subject while I rested over the weekend.

Now for the third Fundamental which is DESENSITIZING–you simply cannot desensitize your horse enough. I’ve used my training stick to encourage my horse to lunge by tapping on her shoulder to move away from the pressure. Now I want to desensitize my horse to the training stick by making it a “feel good” extension of my hand. I never want my horse to be afraid of the stick just as I would not want my horse to be afraid of my hand–the two are synonymous, one in the same.

To begin I stand at my horse’s left shoulder with the lead rope in my left hand and my training stick resting in my right hand pointed down to the ground. I shorten the lead rope to 18-24” gripping it overhand which is little finger towards the horse and thumb towards me with the end of the lead rope draped over my thumb (see YouTube video I reach up with my left hand and stroke my horse’s neck telling her “good girl” keeping her nose tipped slightly in my direction. This position allows me to desensitize my horse more safely since at any time I can pull my horse’s nose towards me sending her hind end away and keeping her from running off.

NOTE: Stroking the neck is a good way to get your horse to calm down and relax while having the lead rope in your hand to react quickly if necessary. Standing at the shoulder stepping a couple feet away is a safer position when desensitizing so you can pull the nose towards you if your horse tries to kick out and/or run away, and you can block your horse with your hand lifted up at the eye if he/she tries to run you over etc. all the while keeping the lead rope 18-24”.

Now I take a few steps to the right away from my horse, but keep her nose tipped slightly towards me and begin introducing the stick by gently rubbing on her foreleg working my way up to her shoulder and back. I want to keep her nose tipped towards me so if at any time she tries to kick out or take off I can pull her nose towards me which sends her hind end away from me. If she gets a little worried I stroke her neck, but I keep loving her up with the stick.

NOTE: It’s very important to stand at your horse’s shoulder when desensitizing as a matter of safety for you. If at any time your horse gets scared, simply put your left hand on his/her neck and stroke him/her telling him he/she’s ok; ask him/her to drop his/her head if he/she starts to get really upset. Never push him/her to a melt-down, simply go back to a starting point and take baby steps rubbing him/her with the stick.

I continue desensitizing my horse to plastic bags, tarps, milk jugs, swinging rope, you name it I want my horse to know that when she’s with me I will help her through any fear. Watch the desensitizing episodes of Starting Under Saddle on YouTube at

The fourth Fundamental is YIELDING HIND & FOREQUARTERS. The purpose of yielding hind and forequarters is first to help my horse connect her brain to her feet. When my horse is aware of where her feet are she is much more sure footed on the trail and in the ring. I want my horse to move her hind-end away from me with just a point of my finger. Also, refining the hind quarter yield will translate under saddle when I’m teaching my horse the emergency handbrake, the one-rein-stop, by pointing at her hip when she isn’t responding to my heel pressure. When I touch her girth I want her inside foreleg to cross in front of her outside foreleg which will translate under saddle when I ask for a side pass, half pass and turn on the haunch. A purposeful look at the hip is true refinement in communication and I will soon develop that with my horse once she responds to the point of my finger. Everything I teach on the ground will translate under saddle, so I want to get it good on the ground first.

To begin yielding the hind quarters, I stand at my horse’s left shoulder, tip her nose towards me slightly with my left hand and raise my training stick just above and behind her hip (above the left side of her rump) and start tapping the air while counting 1-2-3, 1-2-3, then gently tap my horse’s bottom with the end of the stick counting 1-2-3. As soon as she takes a step with her hind feet away from me, I instantly rub her bottom with the tip of the stick (extension of my hand) telling her “good girl” and stroke her neck with my left hand. Remember stroking the neck releases a chemical response that accelerates learning and supports my horse to be calm. I’ll pause while she licks and chews thinking of what just happened or I’ll invoke her thinking if she’s tight mouthed by feathering her tongue with my finger as described earlier.

If my horse isn’t moving her feet away from the tapping on her bottom, I will AMP (applied measure of pressure–increase) my tapping while maintaining my count and as soon as my horse moves her feet I praise her while stroking her neck. The release of pressure is everything so be instant with your release and profuse with your praise. What I do on one side of my horse I must repeat on the other side starting from the beginning using the stick as an extension of my hand. As my horse’s response gets to the point of just raising the stick and she’s yielding, I drop the stick and point at her bottom with my finger with intensity in my body language and a cluck if I need to. WOW now she moves that hip away from me trusting that I am her herd leader controlling her feet.

HINT: Your horse doesn’t have to “get it” the first session. Just have him/her yield his/her hindquarters a couple times on both sides, then stop and go for a walk with him/her. The fastest way a horse learns is short periods of training and lots of support with praise and touch. Also, when on a walk with your horse it’s a good time to practice the Three Foundations. I often stop, back up my horse, ask for head down and then resume walking. My horse must pay attention to me as the herd leader even when the neighbor horses are showing off.

Yielding with just a point of your finger will translate under saddle when you ask your horse for a one-rein-stop and for whatever reason he/she is not moving off the pressure of your heel; you can add the point of the finger which will instantly remind him to move away from the pressure.

Now I’ve got my horse yielding her hindquarters so it’s time to move onto forequarters. It’s very important to be aware of the placement of pressure so it will translate under saddle. When asking my horse to yield her forequarters the placement of my foot under saddle is on the girth or slightly in front of the girth. I use my toe and upper side of my foot right behind the shoulder which depending on the horse I’m riding can be slightly in front of the girth or on the girth. Short backed (short coupled) horses tend to have less space between the girth and their arm pit compared to longer back horses; horse training is not an exact science since each horse is unique in shape and temperament.

To begin training my horse to yield her forequarters I start with my horse facing the arena wall, or a fence. This allows me to ask her to move sideways without stepping forward to get out of the pressure. I’m going to teach my horse to follow her nose as my starting point while I apply pressure at the girth with my thumb. Eventually I’ll only apply pressure with my thumb and my horse will yield her forequarters which will translate under saddle with my foot.

To yield the forequarters is to have the horse cross the inside foreleg in front of the outside foreleg. So with my horse facing the fence and me standing on the her left side with the lead rope in my left hand (over hand), I’m going to apply pressure with my right thumb at the girth where my foot would be in the saddle, and raise my left hand palm open at her eye level. I’m going to press with my thumb which probably isn’t going to mean anything to my horse at that moment so I’m going to then pat the air with my left hand towards her eye which will invoke my horse to move her head away from hand making her move her feet to follow her nose. As soon as my horse takes a step away from me I will stroke her neck with my left hand while rubbing her girth with my right hand praising her verbally. By the way this is all done at first without a saddle on my horse so she can feel the pressure at the girth.

If my horse is simply not moving away from my patting the air towards her eye I will bump her cheek with the heel of my hand so she’ll move off the pressure. I may have to AMP my bumping until she moves away, but I will not take it to the point of hitting, just bumping. Is my horse just simply doesn’t understand I will grasp the shank directly under her chin with my left hand and turn her nose away from me while I press with my right thumb pushing her to follow her nose and step over. As soon as she takes a step I rub where I my thumb was pressing and I praise her. This can take a while so have patience. Remember you are teaching your horse a new language and he/she’s struggling to understand what you are asking. It’s ok if your horse doesn’t cross his/her feet right away, just stepping away is the beginning. Once your horse does cross his/her feet praise profusely and let him/her soak on it working his/her mouth.

HINT: Depending on the horse, I will quit after only a couple successes especially if the horse has had a real tough time figuring out what I’m asking. Come back the next day or two and try it again asking this time with just your thumb pressure. If your horse doesn’t understand go back to the beginning with your hand raised at his eye level and repeat until just the thumb pressure is sufficient and he’s crossing the inside foot over the outside foot. Eventually you will want your horse to yield his forequarters without using the arena wall or fence. Getting this good on the ground will make laterals, side and half passes that much easier for your horse as it directly translates under saddle.

The last of the Five Fundamentals is CHANGING DIRECTION. This means changing direction while lunging and the reason it is a fundamental is because it creates agility, suppleness and above all brain development. Changing Direction is the start to dancing with your horse on the ground. It’s rhythmic and fun and is a playful time that builds confidence between you and your horse.

Changing Direction starts with the WHolistic Lunging. By now your horse should be able to lunge without the stick, but it’s ok if you need it from to time; you can use the stick while changing direction it just takes a little extra coordination.

HINT: Before you start with your horse, I recommend doing the dance steps without your horse so you’ve created new pathways in your brain first. I like to tie a halter to a gate or fence post so I can practice with it in-hand first so go ahead and get started using your rope halter. I want you to stand as if you are in front of your horse and get your horse lunging to the left (I’m trying to be consistent with you starting everything from the left, but you don’t have to start on the left every time with your horse). Now I want you to step your left foot to the side about 18-24”, but don’t move your right foot. Your feet are spread apart giving you stability. Notice how you can shift your weight between each foot from side to side with stability. Be loose and comfortable with slightly bent knees. Next reach overhand across your body with your right hand and grasp the lead rope about 18” in front of the left hand and then lift the lead rope to the right asking your imaginary horse to now go to the right. Your imaginary horse is now lunging to the right; pretend your horse has gone one full circle around you, now step with your right foot to the side 18-24”, reach over with your left hand about 18” in front of your right hand lifting the lead rope up and across now asking your horse to go to the left. Practice a few times both directions until you feel comfortable with the moves. When you are ready try it with your horse. There will come a time with you and your horse that all you have to do is step to the side and give your horse “a look” and he’ll rock back on his haunches, pick up his front feet and hop over changing direction–that’s when it’s dancing.

To begin I want to first to teach my horse to stop in front of me before she changes direction. So I get my horse lunging the I take a step to the left with my left foot, reach over with my right hand about 18” in front of my left hand and pull the lead rope across in front of me and bump, bump bump the lead rope under my horse’s chin asking her to stop and face me. As soon as she stops facing me I put my feet together, drop my countenance, lower my eyes and bend slightly at the waist bowing while I praise her profusely. Then I walk up to my horse and stroke her neck with a smile on my face and delight in my voice “good girl.”

When my horse stops and turns to face me I make sure her rump is out of my eye line, meaning I can look straight down her body and her rump is not hanging to the right or left. If her rump is hanging out to the side I will yield her hindquarters by pointing and clucking with a purposeful look in my eye directing it at her rump. I want my horse’s body to be in a straight line with eyes forward paying attention to me. A hanging rump sticking out is an attitude of disrespect and since I’ve taught my horse to yield her hindquarters with just a point of my finger she will line up her body respectfully. I maintain my horse’s respect if my herd leadership by controlling her feet and watching her body language for disrespectful behavior. My horse is going to be relaxed and trustful of me so long as I am the herd leader she genetically requires.

Once I’ve got my horse stopping in front of me respectfully with attention, the next step is to ask her to change direction. So I ask my horse to lunge to the left, then step and reach stopping her for a moment then I lift my right hand with the lead rope as I described when you were practicing by yourself in the HINT above, and ask my horse to go the right. She may stand there for a moment and then realize I am asking her to lunge, but if my horse is resistant to lunge here’s where I can incorporate my training stick. The trick to the stick is to pass it under the leadrope as I switch hands. So my horse is lunging to the left and the stick is in my right hand. I step to the left, pass the stick under the lead rope to my left hand then reach out with my right hand and grasp the leadrope as I did before, then I lift the stick for added pressure as my horse changes direction. She’ll respond quickly and respectfully so long as I have followed through using the stick in the beginning of training.

I actually have to use the stick with Benny, my Autistic horse, when changing direction by simply lifting the stick straight up to keep him from coming into me. Benny has a lot of draw, which means he likes to be close to me, too close, so when I ask to change direction, he wants to come towards me, but simply lifting the stick straight up, not even pointing it at him, he respects the stick and rocks back on his haunches as he darts in the direction I’ve asked. Don’t hesitate to use the training stick as an extension of your hand to guide your horse and to keep you safer.

I’ve completed the FIVE FUNDAMENTALS on the ground and by now you can see how they will translate under saddle, THE FINALE. The first application is a one-rein-stop under saddle which is my horse’s emergency handbrake. Upon mounting I flex my horse’s head to one side, reach down and stroke her head reminding this is the safe and loving place we go when we’re in trouble. As soon as my horse dips her nose toward her girth or there is slack in the rein I instantly release the rein INSTANTLY releasing pressure. The way I flex my horse is I slide my hand down the rein and gently pull my horse’s nose to my foot, but not all the way since I want her to flex on her own the last 1/3 of the way or so. When pulling her nose to the girth I bring my hand to my hip as my point of reference so as not to pull my horse’s nose up, but to the side. Pulling a horse’s nose up like to your knee level can tip a horse over like the stunt horses in the movies. Just pull to your foot gently since your horse should be good at flexing all ready as you taught on the ground. I flex each side before we start moving forward loving up my horse.

Next I want my horse to understand the one-rein-stop in a walk, trot and canter so I’ll ask her to move out a few steps at a walk and then reach down sliding my hand down the rein and flexing her nose towards the girth while pressing my heel behind the girth asking my horse to disengage her hindquarters. Remember to put your heel where your thumb was when you taught this on the ground (translating under saddle). If your horse does not disengage, then reach over with your other hand and point to the rump and cluck asking for the yield. Once your horse disengages release your foot pressure, but do not release the rein until your horse’s feet stop moving and the horse has “given” to the pressure of the flex just like you taught on the ground. Repeat this in the trot and canter getting your horse’s emergency handbrake good under saddle. Stopping your horse in a crisis is not about pulling back, it’s about shutting him/her down with a safe, responsible one-rein-stop controlling his/her feet. If you had a bit in your horse’s mouth when performing a one-rein-stop the bit can slide through the mouth popping the entire bridle off the horse’s head (I’ve had it happen), not to mention the tearing of sensitive membrane and tissue in the horse’s mouth from the bit. Bitless riding is a safer, painless way to ride your horse and when the Five Fundamentals are good on the ground first you can ride your horse IRON FREE which enriches your relationship with your horse.

Internationally recognized horse trainer and member of the Association of Professional Humane Educators, Missy Wryn provides comprehensive horse training, horse management, and effective communication workshops, clinics, and presentations across the globe and at her Zen Barn in Estacada, Oregon. Missy is the producer of the famed, “free for viewing” Training the Whole Horse and Starting Under Saddle video series, plus founder of HorseMAREship, and DO NO HARM Productions. Missy is also the creator of the All-In-One Bitless Bridle, founder of IRON FREE RIDING, and the Equine Support Center for Fibromyalgia. For more information visit Missy Wryn’s website at or call toll free 888-406-7689.






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