Early in my teaching career I noticed something I thought important enough to share. Not that others have not figured this out, but maybe it can help a new teacher or two.
Years before I decided to teach, I ventured into breaking horses to ride. The only horses I could afford were standard-bred horses that were not able to race anymore. These horses do not make great riding horses but you go with what you can get.
I found out early that many owners of these horses have no word or sound for “stop”. Apparently so the horse does not get triggered by someone else during the race. These horses are the ones that pull sulkies (cart). The bit in their mouth is more for steering not stopping. So, my first lesson, after getting the horse to allow me on her back, was to teach it to stop.
The first day I stopped for some baby carrots before heading out to the farm. With the carrots in my pocket I saddled and rigged her with the halter and bit. Without getting on I started to walk the horse. After walking a bit I thought I would try the typical “whoa”; it meant nothing. I tried pulling back on the reins but those bits are very mild and pulling harder just confused her. It was time for the carrots.
Several times I tried the common signals and finally had to resort to physically grabbing her and stopping her. When I did get her stopped I gave her a carrot. After a few days of this reinforced positive behavior she was following directions verbally and with signals from the bit. I even jogged with her to see if she would still respond correctly. We must have gone through two bags of carrots. Now it was time to get on.
I jump on and she immediately starts walking which is not good. She was not yet broke out of her race habits. A few well placed kicks and a sharp turn or two and I had her out of her race gate and into a canter. She became more comfortable with every lap; but will she stop? I gave the signals several times with no luck so I slowed her best I could and steered her into a corner to stop her. I dismounted and started the program again of walking her and providing signals and carrots for positive behavior. She seemed back on track so I jumped on again. Am I the best horseman or what?
Across the corral we go with a nice smooth turn at the other end and back we come. She reads my signals enough to slow to the point I jump off, she stops completely and I give her a carrot. Success!
On again I go and across the corral, turn and back and she stops. Am I a great teacher or what? I taught her to stop. It took some time and some work but I never did think this horse was all that smart.
Out of the corral we go and into a field twenty times bigger than the corral. She is out of her race gate and we are moving smooth and fast. Suddenly she hits the brakes nearly stopping dead in her tracks and I dismount through no voluntary actions of my own. (I was thrown) As I lay on the ground the horse walks over and starts nosing around my pocket. As it turns out this great teacher and horseman never did teach the horse to stop. I taught it how to ask for carrots. Stop……get a carrot.