Get your horses attention, stop anticipation and get her listening

One of the most common causes of rider chaos is that our horse is thinking ahead, making their own decisions and simply not paying the right amount of attention to what we’re asking of them.

To get n`sync and capture attention every step of the way, here is Professional Natural Horseman, Phil Johnson’s four easy steps to fixing the problem.

Perhaps you have a horse that is stubborn on the bridle and doesn’t want to soften up the feet. The common rule for all of these exercises is doing it until its right. If you have to repeat an exercise 5-10 times, then do it. Your horse needs to develop the habit of getting things done correctly, and keep repeating until your horse softens up and is obedient to the task at hand. These exercises are great tools to remind your horse to “listen to me” and re-establish leadership in the sadel. Just like on the ground, the way we obtain respect is by controlling the feet in every direction.

Box Game, pole run & Figure 8:

Box Game: Set up 4 cones about 2 meters square from one another.  Keep her nose ahead of the feet, and keep the feet moving. Zig zagging and  turning in and out of the cones. MIXING IT UP is the key, never making the same run twice and always keeping her guessing. If your horse anticipates one direction go the other.

Pole run: Take the same four cones, but make a horizontal line with about 1.5 meters apart. Start out with a slalom course. Then starting making continues circles around a cone before advancing to the next once. Change it up every time, and follow the same rules of, nose goes first and keep the feet moving. For both the box and pole run game, make sure to do this forwards and backwarks as well.

Figure 8: Maintain tempo control, starting in walk then taking her to trob and back an fourth.  After about 2 runs, change directions and patters and then overrun the circle several times. If your horse begins to anticipate the next move, it’s then time to switch it up again. Tap the reign and the leg, and maintain that pressure until she follows, only then, release her forward as reward for her obedience.

Over exaggerate the nose, tap until she gives:

The feet follow the head and the body follows the mind. We always work “tap and release” technique on the nose, never applying steady pull on the rein, rather tapimg her until she make the choice to give the nose. In the moment when she brings the head in (50% flex) and down, then release and let the feet follow through. Each time your horse’s ears or attention goes elsewhere, tap her back and turn the feet. Any time I ride, I want to set my horse up to safely succeed. If we’re on the trail and going around a rock or tree, the nose goes first.  In the exercise the body should be a figure C before releasing. When playing golf, whats better, “a putt that too short or too long?” Answer: “Too Long”. Why? “Because a putt that is to short, never had a chance.” I would rather over exaggerate and give my horse a chance, then under estimating and never having a shot.

Move her feet in every direction:

Forward, backwards, side-pass, spin and hips. You need to have control of every foot in every direction. If not, your not even close to ready. This is how we gain RESPECT and maintain leadership. Use the cones and do this in the box drill. Start out with a commando, stop, Go, stop. Until your horse is listening. Once you can do this successfully, do the same drill with no stops in between, being able to make instantaneous movment changes like water. NEVER the same run twice. Do this drill, until the feet are soft and your horse is moving off your feet like butter.

Nose on the fence and around the cone:

If for some reason you are still having issues. Take her to the fence. Nose on, side-passing and ending on the pole. Put a cone on the ground and maintain the nose position over the cone and move the feet around the cone.

Happy Trails,

Phil Johnson



Phil Johnson Horsemanship & Bucking Bulls