The JenkuMethod: Relaxation Part 3: The Best of Both Worlds
Now that you’ve trained your horse how to have a relaxed jaw and how to stretch forward and down to make the connection, the next step is starting to work your way around to mounting the horse and achieving it all from up in the saddle.
However, there’s an important transitional step between facing the horse and actually sitting in the saddle.
The Mounting Block as Training Aid
In your horse’s mind, when you are up on the mounting block, you are up there behind him where you would be if you were sitting on him. The advantage is that you are still able to reach down and reward him when he does stretch forward and down. Also, you are in a position where you can still move, you are still mobile, you’re not sitting on the horse, you are somewhere between standing facing him, and sitting in the saddle. This is the middle ground.
From the horse’s point of view, it is quite a big step to make. One second you were standing in front of your horse getting him to release his jaw, getting him to stretch forward and down and literally cueing him with a hand on either side of their face (see Making the Connection), and suddenly you are standing behind him and now you want him to do the same thing.
So, sometimes your horse may need a little bit of help, and this is why getting up on the mounting block is such a handy tool. From here, you can always step off the mounting block, go back and stand in front of your horse and ask, just to remind him what it is you’re looking for.
If you run the pattern, if you do the exercise a few times in a row, there’s a very good chance your horse is going to start offering you the answer to get the reward – the appropriate response. The input looks different because you are now higher up than your horse and you are cueing him from up there rather than standing in front. When he then does stretch forward and down, you want to reward him for doing exactly that.
Something else that I also find works really well, is if you put an empty feed bin down on the ground. He will definitely stick his nose in the empty bin, anticipating food! Then, as soon as he stretches forward and down, you can make the “tsk” sound and throw one pony nut in the feed bin to reward him. This gets him to really stretch and that is training the answer.
The Next Phase
Now you want to lift the bit up. To do this, take a rein in each hand and get up on the mounting block. Hold the right rein with your right hand on the right-hand side of the withers, and your left hand on the left rein on the left-hand side of the withers, like you would do if you were sitting on your horse’s back.
Lift the bit upwards in the mouth corners and as soon as he tries to stretch forward and down, you make the “tsk” sound, and let the rein slip through your fingers so that your horse actually feels that there is release.
The one mistake that a lot of people make is they don’t want the horses to snatch, which I understand. But, if you don’t allow your horse to stretch forward and down and you are constantly trying to block him, your horse goes to a place in his mind where he may think: “Make up your mind! Do you or don’t you want me to stretch?!”
The answer is… yes! Yes, I want you to stretch! And then also – the ground will stop the horse; they will never put their nose through the floor. That’s a promise.
It’s fundamental to get your horse to stretch all the way down to the ground and then, once he is able to do that as soon as you lift both hands on either sides of the withers, while stretching his neck out, taking his turn away from his chest, and starting to lick and chew, then you’ve got something that you can work with once you physically get into the saddle.
You can do this exercise on the left- and on the right-hand side which makes it a little bit easier for a lot of horses. Fundamentally the horse sees you only with one eye at a time and that also reduces stress (see Understanding the Importance of Monocular Vision in Horses). If you are sitting on your horse’s back, you are literally on both sides of your horse at the same time (see Addressing Claustrophobia in Horses).
I have personally tested the steps in this process and trust that you will achieve the same results in due time.