Before you start this exercise it is important that the Basic Communication with your horse is good, so that you understand the horse and the horse understands you (see the Online Basic Communication Course). It is also useful if your horse can also do Exercise 1 and 1B. If this is confirmed you can further familiarize the horse with the functioning of the (academic) cavesson. In fact, this is also part of the Basic Communication, because you probably already practiced this in Exercise 2 – Responding appropriately to physical pressure to ask the horse’s head to be lowered and raised.
It is important that the horse learns this exercise, and therefore the functioning of the cavesson, well, because the use of the cavesson will always come back in the following exercises. For more info about the cavesson, click here.
We start with the exercise at a standstill because this is easier for the horse and in the beginning also for ourselve. As soon as we add movement, the balance shifts with every step and it becomes a lot more difficult. The horse does not naturally know that he must yield to pressure we exert with the cavesson. It is therefore important to teach the horse at an early stage that he should give and yield to the pressure exerted with the cavesson. The horse must gain confidence in the connection formed by the light pressure we exert on it.
In this groundwork exercise we learn how to lower the horse’s neck and head in a forward-downward direction (the stretch from the back of the hindquarters forward over the back to the head) with the help of the cavesson. The point of attention here is that we ask the head and neck to be lowered until the lower neck (see arrow in the picture below) of the horse is relaxed and the nose remains at least before the vertical. Too far down with the head is not necessary (see module 1 anatomy and biomechanics of the horse).
Let’s look at the exercise in practice.
In the video below you see me with Noa performing the exercises as end result.
Attach the bridle or longline to the middle ring of the cavesson. ATTENTION never put your fingers through the rings of the cavesson! This is dangerous, you can be seriously injured if the horse pulls or is scared and takes off.
○ From a standstill make sure that the front legs of the horse are next to each other as evenly as possible. This is important for the balance (correct the legs so that the horse stands as straight as possible on its legs). Take the correct position yourself (see picture above; face to the horse)
○ Now grasp the rein or long line with one hand (keep the rest of the rein or long line in your other hand) and apply slight pressure by gently lowering your hand with the rein or line.
As soon as the horse reacts even slightly by bringing its head down, you immediately take the pressure off and reward you.
○ If the horse does not respond to the light pressure, then gradually increase the pressure until the horse shows something of a reaction and then immediately release the pressure and reward.
○ Make sure that during the exercise the horse does not lean forward too much, this disrupts the balance and therefore ensures that the horse steps forward and out of balance.
○ Do not ask the horse too far with the head down, further than in the photo (top right) is actually not necessary and only disturbs the balance. The essence is purely that the horse relaxes the lower neck and uses the muscles of the upper line.
(If it is very difficult for the horse to lower the head, accept the first few times that the horse may go too deep, you can “refine” this later).
○ It is possible that the horse loses its balance quickly and takes a step forward, then correct this slowly by putting the horse back.
○ Reward the horse with every good attempt! As you do the exercise more often you will notice that the horse will respond faster and better.
The above is just one short description to teach the horse this. Every horse is different and may need different aids, the trick is to always keep a close eye on what each individual horse needs.
In the video below attention to the learning process. You see Vera again with Icelandic horse Kvikur. After practicing a number of times it is of course still work in progress, but they both learn fast! By “exaggerating” a little at the beginning, the horse often understands what the intention is, and that can also be seen here.