The Power of Short SessionBy: Michael Canfield, Clinician at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch
When your spirit wants to spend time with your horse but your schedule will not allow the normal amount of time at the barn (we all know “normal time” and “barn time” are NOT the same). When the weather does not want to cooperate with your plans to spend time with your horse. When your equine partner is coming back after an extended period of time off….what do you do? The “short session” may be your answer.
Depending on the time you can budget, your access to training areas (like a round pen) and the combination of the condition and training level of your horse you can get QUALITY results that will help maintain your partnership in a relatively short amount of time. If you have limited time (30 minutes or less) consider utilizing the round pen for a mental/physical conditioning session. At Lucky Star Horsemanship our “short round pen session” lasts about 15 -20 minutes and included the following exercises:
ROUND PEN EXERCISES (without a lead rope)
Note: Let the horse explore the round pen if it has not been in it before or if it has been a while. Remember to use Body Energy and Body Language to establish communication.
- Establish a direction – this helps the horse read the human and helps the human practice good body position and energy to achieve smooth results.
- Establish a consistent gait at all three gaits – again, this helps the horse read the human and helps the human practice good body position and energy to achieve smooth results through clear and effective leadership.
- Establish a change of direction (inside turn) – this helps the horse read the human and helps the human perfect clear intent and communication.
- Establish Draw – meaning that the horse give you “two eyes” and eventually “lock on” to you and follow.
- Practice Release/Reward – this helps the human perfect their feel and timing.
If you have more than 30 minutes but less than 60 minutes to give your horse you may want to think about utilizing the “short ground work session” which lasts about 45 minutes. It includes the following exercises. At Lucky Star Horsemanship we normally do this in the round pen after doing the above listed warm up. These are done on the lead line.
- Leading – having the horse follow behind you, stop when you stop and back up when asked.
- Respectful Lunging – moving at the gait requested, stopping and look at you (yielding the hind end).
- Yield the Hindquarters – utilizing the touch method and the rhythmic pressure method to disengage the hind end.
- Desensitize – Rope/ Stick-n-String by tossing the rope/string around the horse, on the top line and around the legs while using passive body language.
- Backing to Rhythmic Pressure and Steady Pressure.
- Lateral Flexion.
- Softening at the Poll – lowering the head and neck through the application of soft pressure on the poll and nose.
- The 5 in 1 Exercise – Impulsion, Stop, Hind Quarter Yield, Backing and Forequarter Yield in one steady, fluid motion.
If you have more than 60 minutes but less than two hours then you have passed into the “normal session” length of time. At Lucky Star Horsemanship we like to use about 15 -20 minutes of groundwork to establish communication and control (depending on how consistently the horse has been worked with), while helping to warm the horse up and then we ride for 60 to 90 minutes working on a variety of exercises, based on what the horse needs at their stage in the program.
The key here is to reward QUALITY of movement and effort. If the horse really connects up with you and gives you honest tries and you reward quickly then true learning happens. We see that when we, as humans, are consistent, fair, clear and kind that the horse retains the lesson much better. Be mindful that “drilling on an exercise” too much creates negative feelings in the horse towards “work” and can actually lead to backsliding and resentment. Be creative when time is short and keep the session fun (for you both) and positive. You will be surprised how impactful the use of the “short session” can be in the well-being and maintenance of your horse!
Thanks for reading!