In more recent years I’ve done a lot of in-hand and loose work with Soldier. He always used to be aggressive on the lunge and it took about eight years before I could get long-lines on him without him panicking.
Long-lining is a much more effective way of working a horse and I can now use them to do all the same things that I do when I ride and all without aggression. Soldier will now do all his lateral work, extensions, collections and rein-back without a problem. Working a horse loose with just your body language to control him is not easy and it has taken me many years to get to the level where I feel confident, even with other ‘aggressive’ horses.
Having mastered long-reins and done a lot of ‘join-up’ previously I then went on to improving my own techniques at loose schooling. I find that Soldier actually works best like this. His self-carriage and expression is brilliant to watch. He also has the freedom to play a little more than when controlled on lines. He used to be very serious and self-contained and was too nervous to interact with me in this way.
Nowadays he bucks and kicks his was around the school out of pure joi d' vivre. It is useful to be able to control your horse from a distance, for example, when you fall off. We’ve all been there after a fall watching your horse gallop away into the distance. Soldier doesn’t tend to do this and I’m sure it is because he is used to being worked at a distance away from me. I can remember the first few falls I had from him and he seemed to be terrified at being abandoned. If for no other reason, it is a worthy safety precaution.
Over the following pages I have tried to group together the various techniques that I have used with Soldier and other horses. The first technique that I used with Soldier was pressure halters; though they use negative reinforcement and must be used with care, it was quite simply the only way that I could control him in those tricky situations. For several years I even rode with one under his bridle so that I could dismount and retain control.
As I began to understand Soldier’s issues better I devised a number of ground work techniques and then in more recent years I have explored clicker training; this uses only positive reinforcement and is the way the perhaps the idealistic way to train!