The Thoroughbred makeover is approaching, and I’ve been working with my off-the-track thoroughbred King, who is my entry for the 2022 Thoroughbred Makeover Challenge. There’s been a lot of learning and progression while he and I have been in Florida. King was a liberty restart where I used no tools and trained him in the open sand arena with no whips, ropes, or halter. I used only my body language and positive reinforcement and retrained him for riding. In the Liberty restart course, you can find all his videos on horesmanshipacademy.com.
Once we arrived back in Canada, King sat for some time while I was doing Equine Affair and had an in-person clinic in Maine. Now that I am back, it was time to kick start King’s training again. King got his first rides under saddle and in our Fusion Halter. I use the Fusion Halter when I start or restart any of my horses because I can use it for groundwork and transition it into riding, which helps keep it consistent for the horse, and they are already used to it. The Fusion Halter is great because it’s the right amount of comfortable and uncomfortable, and what I mean by that is it’s very comfortable on their face, and if I’m not touching it, it very lightly hangs off their head. But if they’re starting to pull on me or lean on me or bracing against me, I can bump that rope halter, and it can make it uncomfortable enough that they don’t want to lean on it, which is an important quality to have. For example, if you’re trying to trailer load a horse, you don’t want them pulling back and breaking your leather or nylon halter. It doesn’t have that immediate comfort and discomfort factor but helps them understand to give to pressure.
I mainly use positive reinforcement in my training, but I use some pressure and release. I do think it is good for horses to give to pressure. For example, if they get caught on something, I want them to understand how to lower their head and give to that. I don’t want them to freak out if they step on their rope. There are lots of instances where a horse could benefit from understanding how to give to pressure rather than be panicked by it.
Another reason I use the Fusion Halter is I find a horse’s mouth tends to be a pretty sensitive area. And can be pretty emotional for horses to have something in their mouth when pulling on them. And so, I often find that if a horse is already a little bit anxious, adding something to their mouth makes them more anxious. In my experience, if there is nothing in the horse’s mouth, they’re more relaxed and easier to train. So, I start my horses just in the fusion halter, and if they need a bit for whatever reason, then I’ll train that separately later.
With that said, I have decided once King has his teeth checked to put a bit in his mouth only because I may be forced to for whatever competition I’m doing. I hope the misconception about having more control of a horse with a bit as opposed to bitless changes in my lifetime. I feel safer on a horse with no bit because horses can sometimes become more reactive with bits, and I have seen horses take off with bits all the time. I feel you have more control over your horses if you can control their emotions, and they trust you enough to know not running off is the safest thing to do.
Now that King has a few rides under tack and has been going, walk trot, canter I decided to try our first little jump course today, which is super exciting. He’s kind of lazy and awkward over the jumps, but at this point, I am trying to figure out what he enjoys doing. I must give him a chance to learn, test, and build his confidence. At the Thoroughbred Makeover, you can choose disciplines like trail, jumper, eventing, field hunter, etc. So, I want to give him a fair chance to learn and gain confidence.
There are many exciting things to come with King and if you are interested in watching his progress, be sure to check out our Liberty Restart Program.