The JenkuMethod: Relaxation Part 2: Making the Connection
In the first part of this series, we were talking about getting the horse into a calm, relaxed state, attaining a jaw release. Once you have consistency ( 9/10 times), the next step is to train your horse to stretch forward and down and assist him in making the connection.
A Simple Exercise
The actual cue is the same cue you used for the jaw release. (See Relaxing the Jaw)
However, there’s one tiny little change that you make.
In this exercise, you actually apply a little bit of downward pressure on the nose band with your index finger and your middle finger. Because the cheekpieces are attached to the poll piece, there is actually poll pressure and that’s why the horse wants to come away from the pressure on top of their poll and as a result, drop his head.
Initially that might be a good way to trigger your horse to want to lower their head. Once you have your horse willingly lowering his head for you, you can move on to step two.
In step two, you actually add upward pressure to the mouth corners. The early warning signal was the poll pressure, and this is then the follow-up action.
The aim is for your horse to touch your belt buckle – if you have a belt on. If you have breaches on, there is normally a little button on your breaches. You’re trying to train your horse to touch that button or to touch your belt buckle. When your horse puts his nose against your belt buckle, at that moment that his touches your belt buckle, you want to make the “tsk” sound, the mark. This then marks the desired response of saying, “yes, I want you to stretch forward and down.” At this point, you motivate with one pony nut.
Basically, it comes down to this: If you give the same cue, you’re going to get the same response. It means that you’re going to give the same positive feedback and the more you run the pattern, the more your horse is going to want to stretch forward and down.
This is what the old masters meant when they said the horse must chew the bit down to the ground.
The intention is literally to build in a button on the ground so that your horse knows what the answer is on the ground before we actually ask the question under saddle.
Why is This Important?
This is the next part of training your horse to take a connection. When you’re sitting on your horse’s back, once you’ve established the jaw release and your horse stretches forward and down, the intention is that your horse will want to stretch forward and down and ultimately take the slack out of your reins. In this way you can feel your horse’s mouth corners, and in return your horse can feel, through their mouth corners, your hands.
The connection is between your horse’s mouth corners and the rider’s hands via the reins.
It’s really important that you have a consistent connection. If your horse bobs their head up and down and they are not comfortable taking the connection, you are going to have intermittent feedback, or you will only be able to communicate with your horse intermittently.
It’s like trying to speak to someone on the cell phone when the signal is quite poor and then you keep losing the connection. You hear a few words and then you lose a few words and then you catch another few words here and there, and then it goes away again. Ultimately, that is quite frustrating for both parties and can be quite stressful, especially if you’re talking about something that’s really heartfelt or important.
A nice consistent connection is vital so that you can communicate with your horse through the mouth with the body, when you want him to shift his weight to his hindquarters.
Applying This in Practice
When you do a half halt for instance.
If you have a steady connection, the horse is relaxed and into a nice and steady connection, the horse will not get anxious because you do a half halt. The horse will actually shift his weight to his hind feet, rotate his pelvis, and bring his hind feed more forward and under, which is ultimately the intention of dressage: to engage the hind legs.
That is only possible if you have a horse that is firstly, mentally relaxed. Then, physically relaxed over the top line. When your horse is physically relaxed in his back and in his neck muscles, the whole top of his body is uncontracted. Only then can we start contracting the stomach muscles because muscles always work in pairs.
Unless the back releases, the stomach muscles can’t do their job properly. This means the horse can’t rotate his pelvis and if he can’t rotate his pelvis, he cannot bring his hind feet to move forward and under the deepest part of the saddle where the rider’s weight is.
(See Understanding the Mind/Body Connection in Horses)