Thursday, March 28, 2024

Hooking On

The fastest way to start a horse is slow and easy. Groundwork pays off, especially hooking on. For most of us, we want to get to the action as quick as we can. The sooner I can get a halter on him, the sooner I can get in the saddle. But if you take the time to get a colt to properly hook on to you, the rest of horse training is a walk in the park. 

Red is pretty friendly, as long as he has you were he wants you. But once you start asking him to obey, he turns brumby. Not being halter broke yet, we had no choice but to work him in our little square pen. Not a bad set up though. Good pipe corral. 

It's best to learn from the experts. Paul Casey is old-hand at starting horses. He's definitely my cowboy teacher of choice. 

To get a horse to pay attention to you, you have to work it. Meaning, lunge it around the pen. In doing so you can steer it's direction and speed, and slowly show your authority. 

The initial goal is to get him to face you. Pointing his butt at you is unacceptable. When that happens, definitely keep him moving. Any change of direction also happens with a turn towards you and not towards the fence. If he stops and faces you, that's a win. 

Eventually you can start to approach him. It's good to not look a horse in the eyes. It's intimidating to them.

Hooking on is the art of getting them to follow you without force. It's not a mysterious moment of bonding, but a science of teaching the horse that you are worth following. As you work them and they stop, then you can start to draw them to yourself. Takes time. 

Let them use all the senses they can to see that you're no threat. Smelling the thing that is driving them is important. In this case it is Paul's hand, which he is always pointing to where he wants the horse to go. Even if there is something in his hand, like this lunging whip, it's ultimately his hand that is the instrument. This use of communication then translates into a lead rope in hand, and eventually a set of reins. 

Petting becomes the reward. When horse does what you want, pet him. It starts to correlate. When he doesn't, work him. That correlates also. 

Eventually it's time to get him to follow. Put your shoulder behind their head and start to draw him with you as you walk. 

Just turning his head and noticing you moving is a step in the right direction. 

Atta boy. Take time to pet them all over. The more hands on him the more he becomes comfortable being around you. Notice the cocked hip, posture of ease. 

We have the tendency to only work from the left side of a horse. It's important to do everything from the right side as well. It's like a horse has two brains. He may be super sound on the left side, but freaks out when the same thing is done on his right. Teach him from both sides. 

Once you got his head to look your way, then walk to his hips and your pressure will break his feet loose. 

Now in motion he'll be more apt to hook on and follow you. 

A friend of mine used to say that the way to a horse's brain is through its feet. Our body language says so much to a horse. In ground work if I want a horse to move his feet, look at them. 

Again, work off both sides. If I have him starting to walk with me in a clockwise motion, do it in counter-clockwise manner as well. 

The moment of hooking on is when a horse voluntarily chooses to follow you. It begins with baby steps, but if done right and routinely, it transfers into true companionship both on the ground and in the saddle. 

Paul has a few horses under his belt. What I like about his style is that is that it is authoritative and respectful. He understands what a horse is thinking, in good moments and bad. Therefore, he is able to exercise an authority that a horse wants to obey. 

When a horse is truly hooked on you don't need anything in your hand to prod him along.

Your actions are like an invisible lead rope. 

Again, reward him with petting. Repetition is key. Get both hands on him. That forms new sensory data in his mind. 

This is a great time to play with his head. Our next step is to get a halter on him. By playing with the pole of a horse's head, you are basically desensitizing him to a halter. 

You always want to end on a good note. Our hope was to get ole Red to hook on today and he did. 

Another trip in the opposite direction and call it good. 


This is how the good in a horse is brought to life. It takes knowledge, but it also takes time. We are in this for the long haul. The progress can seem slow at first. But if you do ground work right, it's all translatable to the saddle. Once a horse learns that you are worth following, then he wants what you want. Hooking on is key. It may not be too mysterious, but it sure is beautiful. 

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