The aim of this basic groundwork exercise is to teach the horse how to yield, in other words “going along” with gentle driving aids. The “yielding to driving aids” is often called “yielding to indirect pressure”. You apply a form of pressure in an ‘indirect’ way, so without physical contact and from a distance.
Personally I prefer to call this “yielding to driving aids” (instead of indirect pressure), because this way the emphasis is on “aids”. It is meant that 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 start moving. For instance by stepping forward, but also backwards or sideways. However, with driving aids you can also ask your horse to slow down or to stop.
When handling horses we often communicate with such driving aids and that is why it is important that the horse learns to yield instead of going against it. This is something we can do step by step, in a way that is as respectful towards the horse.
Exercises where driving aids are given are for instant:
- Defining your intimate/personal space
- 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 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 stil or moving, to yield backwards or sideway
Communication without physical contact
Of course horses can already yield to driving aids, it is part of their natural way of communication. It is mainly the humans who have to learn how we can give driving aids in a way that is also understandable for horses. It basically is a matter of getting attuned to each other. By learning this we can ultimately communicate through subtle driving aids, like horses also communicate among each other.
Almost all their communication happens without direct contact, so only from a distant by means of body language, through driving and inviting body language. If we would also communicate with the horse in such a clear way, without too much touching, then this will give a lot of peace to the horse and trust.
Horses do not always like being touched a lot.
However, this is what often happens and what is often the reason for undesirable behaviour (from the point of view of humans), while the horse only communicates that it doesn’t appreciate this and that it needs more space.
How do you start with it?
It is extremely important that you form a solid d basis for this during the Horsfulness Liberty Training and the 8 connection exercises. By first working with this in liberty and developping a clear communication with your horse in liberty -that also, among other things, exists of driving aids- you are able to work more subtle when you line your horse.
How do you do that?
You give driving aids from a distance where you firstly work with a lot of feeling and the right intention.
The combination of the energy you generate in your body, your position to the horse, and the movements you make with your body make sure that your horse understands your question.
Energy: when you excite more energy in your body, the horse too will be activated. When you lower the energy in your body, the horse will also become less active. Imagine that you are ready to sprint and you are busy exciting the energy in your body, without actually moving already. Now imagine that you are almost falling asleep, you inner energy lowers. So you can excite energy or lower it without moving your body. This is also the kind of energy you use when you communicate with horses.
Posture: when you raise yourself, you basically make yourself taller. 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 you position yourself behind the drive line of the horse during leading and with this you give driving aids, then this works activating on the horse. The horse will start to move – faster. When you position yourself before the drive line of the horse during leading and you give driving aids then this is experienced as inhibiting. The horse will slow down or stop completely.
Also where you are pointing your body towards is important. For example: when you point your belly button to the horse’s shoulder, you ask the horse to yield the forehand sideways. When you point your belly button to the hindquarers you ask your horse to yield the backhand sideways. The position of your body and how you turn your body in relation to the horse is therefore very important during communication with your horse.
Movements: the movements you make with your body can motivate or demotivate your horse to become more or less active. Raising your arms and moving them from side to side and/or up and down are driving movements. The horse will, for instance during circle work, start to walk faster. When you lower your arms the horse will slow down. Walking faster yourself will stimulate the horse to accelerate too, walking slower will invite the horse to slow down too. To reinforce our movements we could use a whip. The whip is of course never a means to punish but an aid.
Just like giving physical aids, it is also very important that driving aids are given in a very subtle way. As a trainer you have to give the horse time to think and try.