The JenkuMethod: Relaxation Part 4: Please be seated
Today’s instalment brings us to the end of Jenku’s series on relaxation. To recap:
Step 1 was standing on the ground, face to face and lifting the bit upwards into the mouth corners to get the horse to do a jaw release. Then you would mark and motivate the jaw release. (See Relaxing the Jaw)
Step 2 was asking the horse with the exact same cue where we lifted the bit upward in the mouth corners, but the horse then stretching forward and down and touching your belt buckle before you mark & motivate forward. (See Making the Connection)
Step 3 was to stand next to your horse, hold the right rein just in front of the withers and the left rein quite close to the bit and ask the horse in the same way. As you are now standing shoulder to shoulder with the horse, facing forward, the idea is to still get your horse to perform the same behaviour while we are no longer standing in front of your horse. From here, you are to get up and stand up on the mounting block so that you are higher than the horse. You can do it on the left-hand side and the right-hand side. (See Best of Both Worlds)
Step 4 is where you actually get onto the horse. Because you’ve done such a wonderful organic progression, it’s not such a big leap for the horse in terms of their understanding, because you’ve literally trained the answer on the ground before you ask the question under saddle, and there is a very good chance that your horse will stretch forward and down when you sit on your horse.
Relaxation On Cue
So, I’m going to talk you through the cue. If you sit on your horse, you want to put your elbows down. If you feel for the seams on your shirt or your jacket with your elbows, your elbows are straight down, vertical. Your upper arms will be vertical, your forearms horizontal.
In this way, you are not going to fiddle the reins, you are not going to sponge the reins, you are not going to move your hands from side to side – you are literally going to take the rein in each hand, and you are going to lift both hands simultaneously, applying upward pressure in your horse’s mouth corners.
Because you’ve done the groundwork, there’s a very good chance that when your horse feels upward pressure in both mouth corners, the first response will be to lick and chew and you want to mark and motivate that, because you’ve upped the criteria by now sitting on your horse’s back.
There is a very good chance that your horse is going to perform the same action for the same cue and when your horse does, you have to just give direct and accurate feedback. In other words, you have to let your horse know: “Yes, I want you to do jaw release when I lift the bit up into your mouth corners, even though I’m sitting on your back.”
You want to repeat this cue 10 times in a row and if your horse does a jaw release at least nine out of 10 times, then you know that you’ve got relaxation on cue.
The Next Level
To take it to the next level, to get your horse to stretch forward and down, you’re going to use the exact same cue, but you are no longer going to mark and motivate your horse just for a jaw release. What you want to do is maintain the pressure a little bit longer when your horse starts licking and chewing and wait for your horse to try something else.
Your horse initially might do more of the same, in other words more licking and chewing or he might become a little bit agitated and lick and chew a little bit faster and harder.
Your horse might think that this is not working, so I may try and stretch and take the bit away from you because it’s applying pressure. From your horse’s point of view, he is simply trying to figure out a way: “How do I make this pressure stop? Where is the release? Where are you going to mark and motivate me for delivering the desired response?”
As soon as your horse starts extending his neck, taking his chin away from his chest and lowering his head, his ears starting to move away from you towards the ground – that’s where you want to mark and motivate next.
Keep It Simple
We always start at a standstill so that there’s not a lot of moving parts. Obviously, if your horse is walking and you are asking your horse to do it while he’s walking, you’re not just giving your horse the lesson of the hand, but your horse is also to concentrate on the lesson of the leg and move forward off your leg, so there is more than one cue at a time.
That’s where the stress and the confusion happen.
Remember horses like to learn just one thing at a time. That may be where horses and men are very similar! We are simple minded, intelligent animals and it’s very important to just give your horse one piece of information at a time.
At each level, these exercises are very simple, but when we start combining them, they become quite complex. It is multiple layers of simple exercise that gives it its complexity.
Simple thinking, simple cue, simple response, simple yes or no feedback.