If I were to make a list of the most important elements to have built into your horse, ‘fencing’ would be near the top. If you’ve never heard that term before, ‘fencing’ is where you get the horse entirely comfortable with a human being above his back. Don’t assume that your horse is okay with you being up there just because you have ridden him around for years. He may actually be anxious and stressed about it.
Friend Or Foe
A horse is a prey animal and their instincts dictate that any object above them is a potential threat. Think about a lion pouncing onto their back in an attack. So it’s no wonder that many horses are hesitant about a human being up above them.
Many Horses Lack This Skill
In my experience, the majority of horses being ridden around every day are not proficent at this fencing exercise. Therefore, they can not easily bring their back underneath you without a lot of hesitation and avoidance.
This is one of the root causes of many, many horse ‘problems’. In fact, there have been numerous occasions where an anxious, spooky horse was ‘fixed’ just by doing this one simple fencing exercise. As it turned out, the horse was actually not totally okay with a human being above him. Therefore, his self-preservation instincts would not allow him to be relaxed and in a learning frame of mind. The rider had not convinced the horse that he was not a predator.
I would never get on a colt, or any horse I was not familiar with, without first making sure he would give me his back. As a result, this has prevented many frustrations and bronc rides.
If you would like a list that contains all 7 of my essential groundwork exercises, go here:
Fencing Your Horse Exercise | Step 1
First climb up on a fence panel and sit on the top rail. If you are not physically able to do that, you can modify this exercise by standing on an object that puts you above the horse’s back. Try to use something that raises your waist and trunk higher than the horse’s withers.
Fencing Your Horse Exercise | Step 2
With your horse on a halter, try to have him come underneath your knees with his body parallel to the fence panel or object you are standing on. Line him up for the approach standing parallel to the panel on your right or left side. Then use the lead rope to encourage him to come underneath you taking one step at a time. Each time he takes a step, release the lead rope pressure for reward. If he swings his butt out, abort the mission and put him back to the starting point again. Then try again to bring him underneath you one step at a time.
Fencing Your Horse Exercise | Step 3
After he realizes that being underneath you is the sweet spot, reach out and rub him on his back, neck, rump, and head. Make sure he is not fidgety about it. It’s very important that you don’t try to hold the horse in place. Keep the lead rope loose when he is underneath you. If he moves away, put him back to the starting point and begin again.
Fencing Your Horse Exercise | Step 4
Next, you will progress to putting one leg over his back. Keep one hand and foot on the fence panel and put the other leg on his back. Use your leg to rub all over this back and belly. If he evades, put him back to the original starting point to line him up for the approach again.
Fencing Your Horse Exercise | Step 5
Once the horse is okay standing there while you do all that, climb up and down the fence panel several times and make sure he will still stand in place. He should be standing still because he is confident, not frozen in fear.
Fencing Your Horse Exercise | Step 6
Repeat all of the above on the other side. After a few effective sessions, your horse will actually WANT to be underneath you because you’ve made that the position where life is good.
In fact, I challenge you to try this fencing exercise with your horse. You may find that it takes a few sessions for your horse to become consistent with it. However, the time you invest in fencing your horse will be time well spent.
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