equine clicker training

using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people

Alexandra Kurland’s Training Progression – Groundwork to Riding

An Overview of the Training Progression from Groundwork to Riding Using Alexandra Kurland’s Rope Handling and Single Rein Work

In July, I taught at a clinic in Vermont where we coached students on rope handling and other skills related to learning to safely lead and do groundwork with horses.  The focus of the clinic was on providing lots of opportunities for hands-on practice and we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the benefits of Alex’s rope handling and how it fit into her training progression.

When I got home, I thought it might be helpful to put together a general outline to show why the rope handling is important and how it leads to single rein riding, and then riding on two reins.  So, I’ve collected some material here to describe both the big picture (how you get from here to there) and some of the reasons that it is taught this way.  I also wanted to include some information to show how you would integrate other behaviors and/or cues that you have taught so that you have a variety of cues you can use in both your ridden and ground work.

This is a very general overview and while I’ve included some details and tips for each stage, they are provided more to explain the “why,” not to describe the “how.”  If you are interested in learning more about Alexandra’s rope handling, groundwork and single rein riding, her books and DVDs are excellent resources and can guide you through the process.

In this article, I will refer to the “training progression” from groundwork to riding, but it would be more accurate to say that it is both a progression and a continuum, meaning that you can move back and forth along the spectrum as needed.

Within each stage, you might find that one technique is most useful to you and your horse and that you use that one most of the time, or you might use one technique to get to the next stage, and then find you don’t use it as much anymore.  

The general progression I use is:

  • Groundwork in a halter and lead.  I start by introducing lead rope cues using Alex’s rope handling techniques.  I also introduce walking casually and start to teach other cues for some of the same behaviors (stop, go, turn) so I have the option of using the lead or not.
  • [optional] Groundwork on two reins – either in a halter with reins or a bridle. Depending upon my goals and my horse’s preferences, I might add this step to introduce the outside rein before I start single rein riding.  Or, I can introduce the outside rein through single rein riding and then go back and add it in so I can do groundwork on two reins.  It’s not necessary to do Alex’s groundwork on two reins in addition to the work in a halter and lead, but if you are interested in more classical in-hand work, you will want to teach the horse to work between two reins on the ground.
  • Single rein riding (Alex’s version), which she sometimes calls “Riding on a triangle.”  This is the ridden version of her groundwork and uses the same technique where you pick up the rein, slide to a point of contact, wait for a response, and release.  It is easy to transition from the groundwork to single rein riding because the basic idea is the same and you can use the same exercises to improve your horse’s balance and responsiveness.
  • Riding on two reins – Once a horse is balanced and responsive in the single rein riding, you can pick up the second rein and ride on two reins.  When riding on two reins, you can use any existing cues your horse already knows, but you may find you want to re-teach some of them if they cause your horse to brace or become anxious. I do use rein cues when riding on two reins but the release is much smaller so that I can ask for several behaviors in a row before I give a full release.

The complete progression is covered through Alex’s books and DVDs, so I’m not going to try and explain it in detail here. Instead I want to explain why she teaches using this progression and look at how the early work lays the foundation for later work. I’ll also share a little bit about how you transition to the next step. 

Groundwork in a halter and lead: Teaching Lead Rope Cues

In this phase, the focus is on teaching the horse to respond to lead rope cues and teaching the student to use the lead rope in a clicker compatible way.  As part of this, you and your horse will learn about the importance of body awareness, clarity, consistency, and balance.  The basic technique of sliding down the line, asking the horse for a specific response, and releasing for a correct answer is based on John Lyon’s “give to the bit” work, but has been modified by Alex to be more clicker compatible.  It creates light and balanced horses who are very responsive to suggestions from the trainer, but also good problem solvers when a new exercise or behavior is being taught.  So, when you think about teaching lead rope cues, you should be aware that it’s never just about the lead rope.

Alex’s use of the lead rope is different than how it is used by many traditional trainers who use it either to get horses to go places (by pulling) or to prevent horses from going places (by restricting them).  In her work, the lead rope is a sophisticated communication tool.  Cues are taught using a combination of negative and positive reinforcement where the focus is on educating the horse so he learns to pay attention to changes in how the lead rope is used. 

The goal is to have the horse recognize and respond to lead rope cues in the same way he would respond to any other positively trained cue.  Therefore, in the early stages, when the horse responds correctly, we click, release the lead rope, and treat.  When we release and treat, the horse is reinforced both by the release and by the food reinforcer.  Later, how you reinforce may change and will vary depending upon the exercise, the horse’s understanding of what you are doing, and the value of the release. You may find you can use a release alone or a release in combination with some other non-food reinforcer.

I should also mention that we are also looking for opportunities to show the horse that it’s ok to experiment and encouraging him to actively participate in his own learning. It’s very important to recognize small efforts on the part of the horse and set up each exercise so that he can be successful. 

Alex has spent a lot of time looking at the details that matter when using a lead rope to ask for behavior.  The basic rope handling involves learning to slide down the line to the point of contact, waiting for a response, and releasing.   Building on this, you can teach cues for basic behaviors like going forward, stopping, backing, and turns.  More advanced rope handling techniques can help teaching horses to move in balance and be used to teach lateral work.

Rope handling is a complicated subject and both the horse and the trainer have to learn many new skills.   I’ve listed a few key points below, both to serve as reminders, for those who have already had some exposure to the work (either through clinics or her books and DVDs), and to explain why using the lead rope this way is so powerful.   These are not complete instructions. If you are new to this, I recommend you buy Alex’s rope handling DVD or study the rope handling in the groundwork DVDs.  

A Few Key Points About Alex’s rope handling:

  • The trainer learns to use both hands on the lead, sliding with the hand farther away from the horse. If I am on the left side of the horse, I slide with my left hand until I reach the snap or point of contact. Learning to put the second hand on the line so you have two points of contact completely changes how effective you can be using the lead rope because it allows you to control the horse at two points (head and shoulder). 
  • The slide needs to be smooth and soft so that the horse doesn’t find the contact and/or movement aversive. Some horses are very sensitive about ropes, hands moving toward their heads, or pressure, so it can take some time for some trainer/horse combinations to both become comfortable with sliding to the snap.  The advantage to sliding is that the horse has time to prepare for your request and you can teach your horse to respond to lighter and lighter requests.
  • When her hand reaches the snap (pinky to the snap), the trainer can either ask the horse for a specific behavior using a known cue, or if teaching a new behavior, she can wait for the horse to offer something.  Some cues that are commonly used in combination with the slide to the snap are requests to go forward, backward, flex (laterally or vertically), or turn.  Learning to wait is important as it gives the horse a choice about whether or not to respond.
  • As soon as the horse responds, the trainer clicks, releases the line gently and treats. More advanced horses may not require a click and treat for every release (more on this in the next section.)  The release is important for several reasons. One is that it functions as a reinforcer.  Another is that the timing of the release tells the horse when it has given the right answer.   
  • And finally, it encourages the horse to learn to move and balance without relying on support from the lead rope.  If you don’t release and put slack back in the line, it’s easy to end up with a horse that is being pulled around or supported by the lead rope.  But, if the lead rope is slack between requests, the horse has to learn to balance on his own and instead of the lead rope being used to physically move the horse, the horse learns to move his own body in the desired manner. This leads to lightness of balance, responsiveness to the lead and a nice connection between the trainer and the horse.

For example, if I ask my horse to turn by sliding down to ask him to start the turn and I then release the lead, he has to find his own balance around the turn.  If he falls in or out, I can slide down and ask him to adjust, which I may have to do every step at first. But eventually he will learn to balance himself around the turn without relying on the lead for balance. 

When teaching behaviors using the lead rope, it’s important to think of shaping in small steps. When you start asking for a new behavior, you want to click and release for any small change in the right direction.

This groundwork is not just about basic leading. It can also be used to teach horses to move with better balance on straight lines and circles. This leads to lateral work and more advanced in-hand or liberty work.  

Groundwork exercises (can also be ridden)

Alex has several different exercises that help the trainer and horse to explore improving their balance and connection. Some of the most useful ones are:

Pre-Why Would You Leave Me – Teaches the horse to walk and stop on a circle.  Practicing the transitions improves the horse’s balance and the circle encourages bend and a little bit of engagement of the inside hind leg.  This exercise also provides lots of opportunities to develop “go forward” and “stop” cues.

Why Would You Leave Me – The horse learns to walk on a circle maintaining bend and connection without rein pressure.  It is started using lead rope cues (sliding down the line) but can eventually be done at liberty if you wish.  WWYLM is a good way to improve your horse’s balance on the circle and introduce lateral work.  It works well with horses that tend to counterbend or brace against the lead rope because it focuses on softening and getting flexion in the front end.

3Flip3 –  3Flip3 builds on WWYLM by teaching the trainer how to access the hind feet without causing bracing or disengaging the hind end.  The goal is for the trainer to learn to influence the inside hind leg so it steps up and under the horse. This creates bend and better balance.  Once the trainer understands how to ask for more engagement while maintaining softness and bend, they can use the exercise to teach shoulder-in and haunches-in.  

Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder (HSS) –  This was originally a John Lyons exercise and is used to build connection to the hind end so you can ask the hind legs to engage more, both on circles and straight lines.  This leads to better balance as the horse learns to shift his weight back instead of falling on his forehand. HSS can also be used to teach the horse to disengage and stop, which is helpful if you have a horse that tends to be too strong on the ground or when being ridden.

Teaching a horse to respond to lead rope cues is an important part of groundwork, but we also want our horses to respond to other kinds of cues. When leading and doing groundwork, I use both verbal and visual cues with my horses.  Some of these cues may initially be taught in conjunction with the rope cues, but I can also teach them separately and I usually do this when my horse is comfortable with the behavior Alex calls “walking casually,” which I will discuss next.

Groundwork in a halter and lead: Walking Casually

Alex coined the term “walking casually” to mean walking with the horse on a lead, but without using the lead to actively cue behaviors.  When I first heard the term, she was using it in a lesson where we were walking in a simple pattern and using verbal or visual cues to ask the horse to go forward and to stop.  We did have the horses on a lead, but there was slack in the line, so the lead’s only job was to remind the horse to stay with the person. And, it was there in case we needed to use it to keep everyone safe.  

The term has evolved over the years and now I use it to mean walking with a horse on a loose lead rope and asking for behaviors with mostly visual or verbal cues.  It’s less formal than in-hand work and I am usually less concerned with head position and balance. I just want the horse moving with me at an appropriate pace and distance.

If a horse already has a basic understanding of leading, walking casually may be an option from the very beginning and you can use it as part of your basic groundwork. I like to use it when I want to give the horse a little break and I also find it helpful to introduce visual or verbal cues when walking casually.  A lot of visual cues, especially those based on body language are easy to teach out of walking casually. For example, while walking with the horse, I can make a small change (maybe slow my pace a little) and click if the horse also slows down a little.   I could repeat this until I had shaped a slower walk or a halt and eventually add verbal cues, if I wanted.

If a horse doesn’t have any basic leading skills at all, I can teach leading using whatever training strategy I want (rope handling, shaping, targeting, etc.) and shape walking casually over time.   If I was going to work on leading with rope handling, I would be sliding down the line to ask for changes in his balance, pace, or direction and clicking and reinforcing for correct responses.  

Initially there might not be periods where he maintained his balance for a few steps without needed some intervention on my part. But, as he became more comfortable with leading, I might find that he can walk along with me easily on straight lines or in simple patterns and I don’t need to slide down the line as often.  At this point I would be clicking for maintaining behavior as well as for responding to cues and I would have opportunities to explore other kinds of cues during the periods when we were walking casually together.

It can be fun to play around with changes in your body language, position and energy and see how your horse responds. I like to do this out of walking casually because I find it is easy to just change one thing and see how the horse responds.  It’s a good way to find out what your horse notices and decide if you can use it as a cue.  Later, I often combine these body language cues with my existing lead rope cues and that gives me a lot of adjustability.

Some of the things you might want to explore are:

  • Pace – does your horse slow down or speed up when you do? Can you build some adjustability at the walk?
  • Posture – does your horse respond to changes in how you walk? Most horses will slow down and carry themselves a little better if you do the same. What happens if you lift your legs a little more with each step?
  • Weight shifts.  A lot of horses respond to shifts in the trainer’s balance and these can become cues either by themselves as part of a more complex cue that has several components.
  • Orientation – I use my upper body position (torso angle) to influence the shoulders and hips.  If I turn toward the horse, I can shift the forehand away. If I turn away from the horse, I can encourage the hind end to step under and over.
  • Does your horse respond to verbal cues?  Sometimes verbal cues get attached to other context cues so it’s a good idea to practice using your verbal cues under a variety of conditions.  If your horse becomes very fluent in verbal cues on the ground, he will learn to respond to the same cues under saddle more quickly.

Verbal cues are useful because you can use the same cues on the ground and under saddle.  This is true for many “body language” cues as well. It may seem unlikely that a horse will recognize the ridden version of a body language cue, especially if it has a visual component, but I find that they do. I think part of it is that if you practice a cue a lot on the ground, you become very consistent about how you do it, and the horse gets reinforced a lot for the associated behavior.  Then when you are riding, the horse already has some reinforcement history for that behavior and can make the connection to understand the ridden version (as long as you are consistent when you get on board).

I do want to mention that while I’ve written about teaching “non-lead rope” cues out of walking casually, you may find there are opportunities to teach lead rope cues too.  I find this usually happens when I am experimenting with something else and the horse notices and starts to respond to a change in the lead rope that was secondary to what I was doing.

For example, let’s say I am teaching my horse to slow down when I think of becoming taller and I walk a little more slowly. As I do this, I might be lifting the lead rope slightly.  This lift of the lead will become part of the cue to slow down, which is fine.  Interestingly, some horses will take it a step farther, especially if they are sensitive to lead rope cues, by generalizing and slowing down any time I lift the lead rope.  If I click and reinforce for that response under other conditions, then I have a new lead rope cue. 

Ultimately you are going to want to have a variety of different types of cues for both groundwork and ridden work.  I like to have several so I can choose the one that is most useful and so I have a back-up if the horse doesn’t respond to one.  You may find that some horses respond better to different types of cues or that some cues are more useful in different situations.  Any time you put into teaching cues on the ground will pay off when you get to riding.

Single Rein Riding

If you’re used to riding on two reins, it may seem odd to learn a riding technique where you only use one rein.  But the single rein riding is a natural progression from Alex’s groundwork because it builds on what the horse and trainer have learned in the groundwork.  It uses the same process of sliding, waiting, and releasing for a correct answer, builds on your horse’s understanding of lead rope cues, and your horse’s balance under saddle can be improved using many of the same exercises. Single rein riding can lead to riding on two reins, if you wish. 

The advantage to starting with one rein is that you can build softness and responsiveness with one rein before adding the second rein.  It’s very common for horses to feel trapped when the rider picks up two reins and this can lead to physical and mental bracing.  By starting with just the inside rein, the horse is getting information primarily from one rein, which is simpler than trying to teach him to respond to both the inside and outside rein at the same time. Then, when he is well balanced and understands how to respond to the inside rein, you can add in the second rein (in small steps), and teach him what that means, building on what he already knows.

Single rein riding also has many of the same advantages of the slide/release technique that Alex uses in her groundwork.  I’ve already mentioned that it is simpler for the horse if he learns about one rein at a time. Here are some other advantages:

  • The rein aids become cues that ask the horse to make a change, instead of being used to physically move the horse.
  • Using the slide means the horse has the option of responding before you take all the slack out of the line. This leads to lighter rein aids.
  • The release functions as a “yes” answer.  As with the groundwork, I initially click and treat in combination with the release, because I think it adds clarity and most horses will try harder for food reinforcers than for the release alone.
  • The horse learns to carry himself and move in balance because he is not depending upon the rein for support.
  • Learning to slide to the point of contact and release is important for riders who might be inclined to pull or hang on the reins. It teaches them to be more aware of when they are asking for a change (“cueing” the horse) and the importance of releasing for a correct answer. It also makes them more aware of how sensitive a horse’s mouth can be and how important it is to learn to be gentle with the reins.

If you’ve used Alex’s rope handling techniques in your groundwork and your horse understands lead rope cues from the ground, it’s usually fairly easy to transition your horse to single rein riding because the basic technique is the same.  The difference is that in ridden work, you pick up the reins at the buckle, slide down one rein to a point of contact (near the neck, not the bit), wait until the horse responds, and then release both reins all the way down to the buckle again.  Alex likes to say that riding is just groundwork where you get to sit down. 

If the horse has done a lot of single rein groundwork and is fluent in responding to rein cues on the ground, he may quickly recognize the same cues, even when they are given in a slightly different way because you are now sitting on him.  If not, you can shape the behavior again by clicking and treating for small approximations toward the final behavior.  

Some horses, especially those that have been previously ridden with the reins used in more traditional ways, may be initially confused or revert back to previous learned behaviors including bracing, pulling or avoiding the contact. So, you may have to start at the very beginning, by asking for baby gives and releasing and reinforcing for any softening on their part. The good news is that using single rein riding is a great way to help these horses, both because it is different than their normal rein cues, and because it never makes them feel trapped between two reins. 

When introducing single rein riding, I usually to remain fairly passive in the rest of my body, meaning I don’t give a lot of additional cues or aids (seat, leg, etc.) until I have a sense of how the horse feels about them.  If a horse has learned to brace against my leg or reacts negatively (twitching the tail, scooting forward, etc.) then it’s counterproductive to combine them with the single rein riding, which is an opportunity to start with a bit of a clean slate. On the other hand, if the horse seems fine with them, and I feel they provide useful information to him, then I might add them in, as needed, during the exercises.

In addition to rein cues and any other accepted cues/aids, I can use any verbal cues that I taught during the groundwork. I usually teach go forward and stop as verbal cues so I can use them when I start riding. Again, some horses will respond to the cues right away, others may be a bit confused because I am no longer next to them when I give the cue. Having an assistant to help the horse understand that it’s the same cue when I am on his back, or doing a little shaping can help get past that step.

In single rein riding, you can reinforce a correct answer by releasing, clicking and treating, or both. I find I usually go through the same steps that I did when working on the ground. This means I may start out by clicking, releasing, and feeding for every correct answer. But, then I may find that there are times when just a release is sufficient information and reinforcement, and I click and treat after several good responses, or when I get one that is slightly better.

Riding on Two Reins:

In the early stages of single rein riding, the focus is on the inside rein.  But the outside rein is not completely inactive. The horse will feel it when you lift your buckle hand to slide down the inside rein and the horse may make contact with the outside rein if he bulges out away from the inside hand.  Alex refers to “Riding on the Triangle” which means you need to be aware of the function of the outside rein as a modifier for what the inside hand is doing.

When the horse is nicely balanced in single rein riding, I can start to experiment with picking up the outside rein and see how the horse responds.   If he stays nicely balanced and accepts the rein connection on both sides, then I can start to explore riding on two reins.  At first, this may mean I just pick up the outside rein and carry it, but don’t actively use it.  I might ride with both reins for a few strides to see if he can maintain his balance, or I can ask for a simple behavior that I can cue without using the reins and then click, release and treat.

As he gets used to the pickup of the outside rein and being on two reins, I can slowly start to use it more actively, mostly to adjust his balance, bend, and head elevation.  I also have to teach my horse that I can change the bend without giving a total release and picking up the new inside rein. 

When riding on two reins, I can use any of my existing cues for new behaviors and also start to explore how I can influence the horse with my seat, weight, and other subtle aids. I can experiment with these aids or cues when I am riding on a single rein too, but it’s often clearer to the horse once I am on two reins because I can sit very quietly and just change one thing.

Some horses may be confused when you first transition from single rein riding to riding on two reins and will be unsure about what the outside rein means.span style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  OOne option is to go back to single rein riding, paying more attention to what your buckle hand is doing, and finding moments when you can introduce the idea that the buckle hand has useful information too. Another option is to go back to the groundwork and work in a bridle or halter with reins and introduce the outside rein on the ground before going back to riding.

When a horse is carrying himself in balance on two reins, I am going to ask for changes without giving a full release as I did with single rein riding. Alex calls this “floating on a point of contact” and it means I give a small release (maybe just a softening of my arm) so I don’t disrupt the connection, but the horse still gets some acknowledgement of any change he has made.

I usually transition to riding on two reins over several lessons, or even several weeks.A typical pattern would be to warm the horse up using single rein riding and then go to two reins when I feel he is balanced and responding well to rein cues.  I might ride on two reins for a while if things are going well. If he gets confused or braces, I can go back to single rein riding to get him soft and light again.  Over time, I end up spending more of my ride on two reins than on one and eventually I can get on, pick up both reins and start without any single rein work.

A Few Common Questions about Rope Handling and the Training Progression

Do I have to slide all the way to the snap? In riding, the question is “Do I have to slide until I take the slack out?”

I teach novice trainers to slide all the way to the snap as this is the most useful position when starting this work.  I also usually slide all the way to the snap when working with a new horse.  However, as horse and trainer become more connected and fluent in the rope handling cues and associated behaviors, they may find that it is not always necessary to go all the way to the snap and if. 

So, if my horse starts to respond correctly before I get to the snap, I do have the option of releasing when he offers the correct behavior, even if I have not yet reached the snap.  This is how I build lightness because my horse learns to respond to a request while there is still some slack in the rope.  This works well if the horse has enough information to know what behavior I want, but I need to be clear in my body language or have some other cues so the horse is not guessing.  Some horses will start to offer a variety of behaviors in response to the slide and can become frustrated if they can’t figure out which one you want.

I also want to point out that if I never slide to the snap, my horse may not learn to be comfortable when I am working with that amount of direct contact.  Ideally a horse should be able to work on varying levels of contact or accept my hand on the line at varying locations. It’s a bit like training a horse to work on both a light contact or float, as well as with a more solid connection.  Every horse is going to have preferences, but it’s worth building in at least some degree of flexibility since this will give you more options.  As the horse and trainer become more connected and lighter, the trainer may not need to slide all the way to the snap, but she should be able to do so when needed.

In riding, the equivalent of “sliding to the snap” is “sliding down the rein and taking all the slack out of it.”  This may happen in the beginning when the horse has not yet learned that the slide is a request for something. It may also happen if the horse is distracted or braced.  As with sliding to the snap, it’s something you should be able to do, but you may not need to do once the horse learns to respond to lighter rein cues.

How do I know when to just release and when to click and feed?

When I am starting with a new horse, I both click, release and reinforce for every correct response. If I do not get the response I want, I try to wait until I get some tiny step toward the correct response before releasing. If I am not getting anything to click, I can release and start over, but I need to be mindful that the release is reinforcing, so releasing too many times for an incorrect response can create confusion. 

If my horse responds well to the lead rope cue and has a strong reinforcement history for that behavior, I can try reinforcing him with only a release every now and then and see if the behavior is maintained. If he continues to respond well, then I can slowly decrease how often I click and treat, and just keep releasing. If the behavior deteriorates, I need to continue to click and treat when I release.

I do want to point out that horses develop expectations, just like people, so you may have to omit a few clicks/treats over a few days to be able to accurately assess if any deterioration is temporary and just because he was surprised he didn’t get clicked and treated, or if you actually need to keep clicking and treating to maintain the behavior.

For the most part, I find it’s easier to introduce the idea that I might not click for every release by doing it in the context of an exercise the horse already knows, one where I need to ask for multiple releases to get a larger piece of behavior. For example, when first teaching a turn, I might slide down the line three times as I make the turn.  I click, release and treat after each correct response. But now I want to do more of the turn before I click, so I might slide down, release, slide down, click, release, treat so that I asked for 2/3 of the turn before stopping.  Once my horse can do that, I might do all three slides before I click, release and treat.

How do I build duration in the behavior I have cued with the lead rope?

When first using lead rope cues, I am going to click for a correct response to the cue.  If I slide down and ask the horse to go forward, I will click as soon as he steps off.  I want to mark and reinforce the correct response to the cue.  Then I slide down and ask again.  Once I know he will reliably step off after I ask with the lead, I can wait a few steps before clicking.  Most horses will follow my body language and keep walking if the “go forward” cue is following by a release and they have some history of walking with people. For a horse that is brand new to leading, I may have to build this more slowly by clicking after 1,2,3,4 steps.

With most horses, I will continue to occasionally click and reinforce a nice response to the cue, even if most of the time I am clicking for movement.  How well a horse initiates movement is often a big factor in the quality of the movement itself and the overall quality of behavior may deteriorate if the horse knows he will not be clicked until a certain duration has been reached. Therefore, I do click particularly nice responses to the cue so that that I maintain the quality of the behavior from start to finish.

Do I have to slide for every behavior I want while leading? Can I use other cues, or use the lead rope in other ways?

Cueing with the lead rope is not the only option when leading a horse.  Horses respond very well to verbal and visual cues, especially if the visual cues are based on body language.  Since most horses are led using a lead rope, I do think it’s important to teach them how to respond to it, but you can also teach any other cues you want. 

It’s always useful to have a few different cues for any behavior so I might have verbal, visual and lead rope cues for a stop, go, and turns. These can be taught separately using a variety of methods (targeting, shaping, etc.) and then introduced during leading.  So, if I have taught my horse to go forward using a target, I can add a verbal cue and then use that cue when leading him on a lead rope.  

As my horses become more balanced, I find that the slide and release may become more subtle or I may not slide and release as often as I did in the beginning.  Instead I use more visual and body language cues. For example, if I am working with a horse and he has a nice connection through the lead and is maintaining his balance, I may choose to ask him for a simple behavior (turn or stop) without using the lead. Doing this on a regular basis helps him learn to maintain the balance and connection through transitions, turns, and changes of bend or position. 

Do you have a question about the training progression?  If you send it to me in an email (kabart@gmail.com), I’d be happy to answer it and post it here. 

If you want more information on how to follow the training progression, Alexandra’s book “Riding with the Clicker” can guide you through the steps. She also has several DVDs that focus on rope handling, groundwork and the single rein exercises.  For more information on her work, visit her website www.theclickecenter.com.

Katie Bartlett, 2017 – please do not copy or distribute without my permission