Fundamental: Focus-in, Focus-on
The very first thing I teach my horses to do is to focus in and focus on me. This focus-in, focus-on has many different names throughout horsemanship and training circles. Focus-in, focus-on looks a little different at each stage of training from the first interactions of a horse that has never seen a human before to a finished performance competitor. Even though the application looks different depending on the stage of training, the principle is consistent at every level of training which is why chose to give this fundamental a different name in my own training. This way I can refer to the fundamental, not just the application. This blog will explain how-to teach a horse the focus-in, focus-on fundamental.
Application: New horses
Equipment: Round pen
Let's take a look at how to apply the focus-in, focus-on fundamental to a new horse. This is the application that I use for horses that are in the first 30 days of training, or a horse that I have never met before. The objective is to direct the horse’s attention in-side the round-pen on you rather than anything else that may be going on in their environment.
1.Position: The horse should be on the rail and handler should be in the center of the round-pen.
2.Direction: Pick a direction left or right. This is the first direction of travel. The handler will move the horse around the round pen on the rail in this direction while remaining in the center of the round pen.
3.Movement: To encourage the horse to move forward, I use both hands. One hand is a directional hand and an impulsion hand. Extend the arm that is the direction that you want the horse to move so that it is parallel to the ground. Example: a horse moving left around the round pen extend the left arm, horse that is moving right around the round pen extend the right arm. This is the directional hand. Next use the opposite hand for impulsion. I like my horses to respond to verbal commands like clucks and kisses. So I first cluck wait for a response, then reinforce with the impulsion hand by rotating it in a circular motion towards the horse or slapping my thigh until the horse takes a step in the desired direction.
Pay attention to your body position relative to the horses body position. Forward motion is best achieved when you drive your energy towards the should of the horse from a position the is parallel or slightly behind the point of the hip.
4.Stopping and focusing-in: Before the horse is stopped I look for several things that clue me into knowing that the horse is shifting its focus from its environment to me inside the round-pen. An ear flickering into the middle of the round pen, licking and chewing, and looking towards the middle of the round pen are all signals that the horse is shifting its focus. Once the horse is sending me the signals that he is ready to focus-in then I ask for the stop. To do this drop your hands to your sides, take several steps at angle to cut off his forward motion, then as soon as the horse begins to stop take three big steps backwards. When the horses feet are stopped, I say “whoa” so that they can begin to learn the meaning of the word for later on down the road for the big slide stops. The horse should turn and look at the handler, focusing-in.
5.Focus-on: From the stopped position, walk up to the head of the horse. Pet their face, neck, and body if they will let you. This is good time to let them rest and reward them for focusing in. Then take a couple of steps towards the horses hindquarters. If the horse takes a step or two in and effort to follow the handler, this is the beginning of having the horses undivided focus-on the handler, and the goal of this exercise.
From here the handler can expand and refine this technique till the horse is freely following the handler all around the round pen in both directions.
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