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Teaching your horse, from the ground, a cue to move forward can be an invaluable tool in your horses training. It can be used to teach your horse to cross obstacles like bridges, tarps, water and even to load into a trailer.

You will need to have your horse in a halter with a lead rope. You will also need a 36-48” dressage whip or something similar with which to tap the horses rump. (That’s TAP not beat). Start by standing at your horse’s side with your left hand on the lead about four feet down from the halter and facing the left side of the horse. Now, holding the whip in your right hand, begin LIGHTLY tapping the horse on his left hip. If the horse moves forward, stop tapping immediately and give him some pets and praise so that he knows that he did a good job. If the horse does not move forward, keep tapping until he does move a step forward. The tapping will not hurt the horse, but it will be an irritant that he will want to stop. After a while, he will try something to get away from the irritation. We want him to move forward. It is very important to stop tapping immediately as you horse begins forward movement so that he understands that is what gets him relief from the tapping. It is equally important that you keep tapping until he gives a forward movement. Otherwise, if you stop before he moves, the lesson he learns is that if he stays still, you will eventually stop tapping.. Repeat this exercise until your horse consistently moves forward when you initiate a tap on the rump. If you teach the lesson well, the horse will begin to move forward even before the tap. Just raising the whip will be enough to get him moving forward.

Okay, your horse “goes” on cue. How do we use this in training???? Let’s take an example of crossing a small bridge. Lets lead our horse toward the bridge and when we feel that he is beginning to tense and will stop, we stop him first. Now let him stand there and look at the bridge and relax for a moment. We want to keep our horse from getting too excited. If he starts getting worked up, we are pushing too hard. We must let him know that everything is okay and he can trust us. We he looks relaxed standing and looking at the bridge, we begin tapping on the rump with the dressage whip. We keep it up until he gives us any small movement forward and we immediately stop tapping. Again, we do not stop until we get forward .movement. As soon as we get the forward movement, we stop and let him just stand and relax. We repeat this process until he puts a foot up on the bridge. At first, he might move a bit forward and begin pawing at the bridge. This is okay. We let him paw until he stops on his own. Remember, we want to keep him from getting too upset. When he is relaxed again, we begin tapping again until he takes a step onto the bridge. If he takes a step on the bridge and then immediately steps back, this is okay. We want him to know that he will not be trapped there and he can get off if he has to.
 Remember to pet and praise him after every movement forward. This is very important in building his confidence.

Now we repeat the process, moving the horse further and further onto the bridge until eventually he is all the way on the bridge. Then we just let him stand there for a moment and relax. Remember that anytime that he wants to back off the bridge, that is okay and have confidence that he is not trapped on the bridge. Next, we back him off the bridge and away a few feet and re-approach the bridge. If he hesitates or stops, we resume the lesson. If he walks up onto the bridge, we stop him and praise him and then walk him further on the bridge and off the other side. We repeat crossing the bridge until it is second nature and the horse exhibits no anxiety at all.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to keep the horse calm. Getting him all worked up will be counterproductive and only serve to drag out the time it will take for him to achieve the goals of the lesson. If the horse is getting upset, we are going too fast.As we noted above, this cue can be used for a variety of lessons with our horses. Crossing obstacles, crossing water, trailer loading, etc. Good luck with your training and remember to be good to your horse. Lots of praise will help reinforce the lesson he is learning. Be consistent and the horse will be consistent. Most of all, have fun with your horse.