Ed Dabney Gentle and Natural Horsemanship Confidence Course. Step by step obstacles to develop confidence, trust, agility, awareness on part of horse.
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 Hi Ed
Doc is a little lazy and doesn't
respond to some leg cues, e.g. side-passing cues at the girth.  I get a little frustrated and start banging my leg against his side and still little response.  I assume I should be using steady pressure rather than jabs!  Nevertheless, I have mild roping spurs that I started using in the round pen when riding Doc and those produced a major improvement.  In fact he side-passes to the right pretty darn good.  Going to the left is another matter (event though when I am on the ground he does both directions well). I am slowly working him through the side-passing to the
right.  My question is, he is very sensitive to the spurs on the right side - turns around to look, head tossing, once kicked, etc.  Should I just ignore that behavior and work through it, continuing to lightly use the spurs? 

Hi Dick,
I have never found it necessary to use spurs on a horse I am training.  All horses will respond lightly from just a touch.  Lightness is not something we strive to teach the horse, it is always there.  Your horse is already light.  Whether or not we get a light response depends on how we've prepared the horse and how we ask for the response. 

This is part of the advanced work I would like to show you.  Think in terms of a "separation of the aids" - to accomplish every movement with just your hand and to accomplish every movement with just your leg.  Only after you can do that should you put the hand and leg together to harmonize the cue. 

The old French masters of the 17th century carefully blended the use of the legs and hands. Skillful separation of the hand and leg aids can bring the rider to a clear understanding of this blending. This separating of the aids leads to simplicity in the language and more skillful blending at the same time.  

In order to find the lightness the horse already posses, learn to do nothing on a horse so that when you do the slightest thing it means something to the horse.  To do nothing means you have a completely balanced and independent seat and weightless hands.  The rider must be in complete control of his own body to ever hope to control the horse's body.  (I have some excellent exercises that will help you develop this balanced, independent seat.)

It's not muscle or force that makes a better rider, but a clear mind and relaxed joints and sinews. Riders must strive for total flexibility in their joints - loin, hip, knee and ankle. Only in such a way will they be able to ride in the sympathetic, "non-interfering" way the horse needs.

The horse is always in perfect balance when he is moving by himself, therefore when we are mounted on him we must be in perfect balance ourselves to prevent hindering the natural motion of the horse.  The horse's motion must be absorbed in the rider, not the other way around.

Your most effective cue is your concentration and your focus, not mechanical force or "banging legs".  His "sensitive" response to the spur on his right side (head tossing, looking, kicking) indicates severe irritation with your use of the spur, no matter how lightly you are using it.  His reaction is him trying to tell you that you don't need spurs with him.  Don't ignore his reaction.  The spur is distracting and annoying to him.  I can show you how to achieve the movement you want with just a touch of the calf.  The key is in understanding of the laws of rein effect and positioning the horse for the desired movement.

Enjoy the Journey,

Ed Dabney is an internationally acclaimed clinician, presenting horsemanship and riding clinics all over the US and in Europe.  In 2007, Ed was named Champion of the East Coast Trainer Challenge Series by Equine Extravaganza.  Ed was honored to have been selected by the University of Georgia to teach their senior level Young Horse Training course.

His training articles have appeared in many major national magazines.  Ed produces instructional videos and the “Gentle Horsemanship” TV program which has been seen on RFD-TV.

Ed's blending of natural horsemanship and classical equitation has made an indelible mark with students all across the United States and now also in Europe, drawing the attention of serious riders searching for the lightest touch and the deepest connection with their horses irrespective of breed or discipline.