The aim of this basic groundwork exercise is to teach the horse how to yield, (or “go along with”) gentle driving aids. “Yielding to driving aids” is often called “yielding to indirect pressure.” You apply a form of pressure in an “indirect” way (without direct contact and from a distance).
Personally, I prefer to call this “yielding to driving aids” (instead of indirect pressure), because it puts emphasis on the word “aids”; the horse experiences the driving pressure as an aid, something that helps him understand what is being asked.
With driving aids, you can ask your horse to move by stepping forward, backwards, or sideways. You can also ask your horse to slow down or to stop.
When handling horses, we often communicate with such driving aids, so it is critically important that the horse learns to yield to the aid instead of pushing against it. This is something we can teach gradually in a way that is respectful towards the horse.
Driving aid exercises examples:
- Defining your intimate/personal space
- Moving forward (from the partner position or the driving position)
- Turning (from the partner position)
- Stopping in an active way (versus stopping in a passive way)
- Stepping backwards
- Leaving/staying on the circle
- Asking the horse to step sideways
- Asking the horse, either when standing still or moving, to yield the forehand to the left or to the right
- Asking the horse when standing still or moving, to yield backwards or sideway
Communication without physical contact
Of course, horses already know how to yield to driving aids, as it is part of their natural way of communication. It is mainly us as humans who have to learn how we can give driving aids in a way that is comprehensible for horses. This is basically a matter of horse and trainer becoming attuned to each other. By perfecting this skill, we can ultimately communicate through subtle driving aids, just as horses communicate amongst themselves.
Almost all communication between horses happens without direct contact (only from a distant), through driving and inviting body language. If we can learn to communicate with the horse in a similar way, without too much touching, this can foster trust and provide peace for your horse, as horses generally do not love being touched too much.
However, most people do not attempt to communicate with their horses in this way, instead touching them incessently. This can lead to undesireable behaviour (from the point of view of humans), while the horse is only trying to communicate that he doesn’t appreciate all the touching and needs more space.
How do you start?
It is extremely important for you to form a solid base for this during the Horsfulness Liberty Training and the 8 connection exercises. By first working at liberty and developing a clear line of communication with your horse (which includes driving aids!), you are able to cue more subtly when you line your horse.
Giving subtle cues
When you first start working with driving aids, you give them from a distance, always with intention and feeling. The combination of the energy you generate in your body, your position to the horse, and your body movements helps to ensure that your horse understands your request.
Energy: when you generate more energy in your body, your horse will reflect that energy himself. When you lower your energy, your horse will become less active. Imagine that you are ready to sprint and generating potential energy in your body, without actually moving. Now imagine that you are almost falling asleep, and your inner energy lowers. You can generate energy or lower it without even moving. This is the kind of energy you should use in communication with horses.
Posture: when you raise up to your full height and stand tall, this has a driving influence on the horse.
Position: depending on your position in relation to the horse, your horse will experience your aids as driving or inhibiting. For example, when positioned behind the horse’s drive line while leading, driving aids work to activate the horse (encouraging him to move faster). When positioned in front of the horse’s drive line while leading, these same driving aids are experienced as inhibiting. The horse will slow down or stop completely.
The direction you point your body is also important. For example, when you point your belly button at the horse’s shoulder, you ask him to yield the forehand sideways. When you point your belly button to the hindquarers, you ask him to yield them sideways. Being aware of your body position in relation to the horse is therefore very important for successful communication.
Movements: the movements you make with your body can effect your horse’s energy level. Raising your arms and moving them from side to side and/or up and down are driving movements. For instance, during circle work these movements will cause your horse to move faster. When you lower your arms, the horse will slow down. Walking faster yourself will stimulate the horse to accelerate, while walking slower will invite the horse to slow down. To reinforce our movements, we can use a whip. The whip, of course, should never be used as a punishment, but as an aid.
Just like physical aids, driving aids should be given in a very subtle way. As a trainer, you have to give the horse time to think and try.