In a previous post I gave a brief description of the method of ground work in which I learned to train called Heeding.
Heeding is defined as a methodically applied directional pressure used to create a shape. Read that part again. My body is the most important tool in my training bag. Until I really knew how to create a shape with my horse, the majority of my ground work was fruitless.
The horse has two lines of influence. Heeding uses the lines of influence to indicate the shapes we want our horse to take. By changing the lines of influence we can ask the horse to walk, trot, stop, back or turn and to do those things in the direction and speed of our choosing.
The PRIMARY LINE OF INFLUENCE runs the length of the horse along its backbone, straight out the front between its eyes and straight out the back. We're not talking about an actual line but about the horse's perception of things in his environment. Your primary line of influence runs the same direction from your nose through the back of your head.
Most horses are curious enough that when something new enters their space (stall or paddock) that they will naturally turn to take a look at it. If they don't, you might make a very small noise or gesture in order to get there attention. By small I mean a small clicking or kissing noise, tapping your hand against your thigh, shaking a lead very quietly. Then we move our secondary line just a little relative to theirs to put a little pressure on their "space."
If they still don't turn and give you their attention, we do not make the pressure louder. We just continue the pressure until it becomes annoying enough that the horse decides he's got to have a look. By annoying I mean similar to when you feel someone staring from car next you at a light, or someone reading over your shoulder. You don't feel threatened but you feel a silent pressure that is "annoying" enough to look over as if to say "Did you want something?"
When your working with a horse in the round pen, body pressure works the same way. Start walking quietly behind the horse, lining up your primary lines. You obviously want to walk at a SAFE distance, as you are walking behind the horse. If you move left, the horse will turn its head to keep on eye on you. If you move right, the horse will turn its head that direction to keep an eye on what's going on. If the horse looks away from you, again make a little fuss to get his attention back on you.
Once the horse feels this pressure he'll turn and face you to put both eyes on you. This turning to face you is the first understanding. It says that even though you're following like a predator, you are actually safe. At this point I stop following, and stand perfectly still, and avert my eyes (staring him in the eye can be perceived as predatory.)
The next step is to walk directly toward the horse keeping your primary line aligned with his. If the horse says not to come any closer by starting to turn away or showing any sign of nervousness, stop and step back. The horse shows a level of trust by how close he allows you to approach.
After doing this a few times (sometimes over a few days), the horse will start coming right up to you. When he does, move to the side and face the horse's shoulder. So that primary line on the horse's secondary line (facing the horses shoulder. You're going to use this position as a cue that tells him he's in a safe spot and he can relax. Scratch and groom him to reinforce this cue. As the lessons progress, you want to work both sides and continue building the feeling that whenever you're at his shoulder, he's safe.
At this point he will most likely begin to follow your lead from the shoulder. Meaning once you face forward (still parallel to his shoulder) and begin to walk forward, so will he. Then if you wish to stop, turn and face the shoulder again and he will stop. This is the beginning of shaping him using the primary and secondary line. If practiced these beginning steps can evolve into free (without a lead line) lunging, backing, trotting along side you, lateral movements, and on and on.
One more small word of advice on this exercise. Just as you are asking the horse to pay attention to you, you must pay close attention to the horse. It is a common mistake for a handler to miss the first signs that the pressure you are putting on the horse has become too loud. Usually the beginning signs are subtle and get increasingly more obvious but by the time the handler becomes aware that they have crossed the line, the relaxation has already been lost. Some of the signs to look for are: Holding their breath, Pinning Ears, a tensed back, neck, or a swishing tail.
Heeding uses methodical, logical pressures to create a feel of a shape in the horses mind. By paying close attention to the horse and being consistent in the way we ask our horses to move, they learn not only shapes and direction but trust and understanding. Horses are at ease when they just know what to expect. Calm and consistent communication. I don't think their asking too much...