The very first thing I want to explore when I’m told that a horse is “dull” or “lazy” is whether or not that horse is living life behind the leg because he’s actually afraid or unsure. If not, the rider has probably accommodated him to some degree, intentionally or not, and he’s decided that being behind the leg is just the easiest route. These horses usually are the horses that naturally have more laid-back personalities, but I have seen plenty of horses that are actually more unsure than they are “lazy”. Understanding the difference is key in addressing these horses.
Once you’ve considered this, go back to examining the horse's reaction to the leg. You almost want to think of the process as re-starting the horse, just learning the leg aid for the first time, but doing so in a condensed amount of time:
Start by putting your leg on just a bit. If you don’t get any response at all, you’ll go to the stick, and I like to do a tap on the shoulder instead of behind the leg. Think more about startling the horse instead of whapping him - that will bring his energy up the way it would if he heard a twig snap in the woods beside him.
Make Sure it’s an Extension of Your Leg
When using a crop on your horse, always make sure it’s connected to the leg. It should be leg- stick (stick immediately after the leg aid), not leg 5 times and then stick. Remember: the crop is meant to reinforce the leg, not replace. Otherwise, you’ll be teaching your horse to move forward off the stick aid.
At the beginning, we’re just looking for 1-2 forward energetic steps. If your horse displays this, then immediately reward them with a break. Remember: horses like this are motivated by breaks.
Keeping your energy up as the rider and encouraging yourself to “think forward” will translate onto your horse. Just as you may take a large exhale when thinking about having your horse slow down, practicing increasing and decreasing your energy on the ground with your horse can be some great tools to use during your training.
Eventually, the goal would be to have the horse be able to maintain its own gait and energy without as much interference from you. The constant nagging of your horse with the leg should be diminished the more you practice reinforcing these principles. Remember that timing is one of the most crucial elements of this, as well as positive reinforcement and creating a “neutral world” as we examined in my last segment.
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