Groundwork That Strengthens the Horse & Rider’s Relationship

A guest post by Reese of Horses of the Ozark Hills.

There he is right across from you, your horse. His feet beat the ground in a rhythmic pulse, his nostrils flare with his deep breathing, then suddenly there it is! He starts to hang his head low, licking his lips. Recognizing the signs of submission, you lower your eyes and take a tiny step back.

Bam! His attentive gaze saw your movement and his whole body whipped around to face you. Head high, he walks toward you. You put out your hand and stroke his warm nose. It is very hard to paint a picture of what it’s like to Resistance Free train your horse.

You might have heard of “Resistance Free” training, trademarked by Richard Sharke. However, Richard Sharke was never mentioned to me when I was being taught the Resistance Free training method by the high school teacher and volleyball coach I much respected and wouldn’t have guessed had a past in training horses.

What is Resistance Free Training?

Resistance Free training or Least Resistance training is different from other methods in that it rewards the horse for doing good in order to improve the horse’s behavior. The reward is rest. In this method once the horse obeys you allow him to rest. You only “punish” the horse when he behaves wrongly. By punish, I mean you get the horse to move, to trot or walk in the round pen.

 For example, I have a horse named Phoenix who bites and naws at my hands and pockets in an effort to get treats. So I brought him into the round pen and waited. Once he began to nudge me hoping for sweets, I used the aid in my hand and got him trotting in circles.

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After a few minutes of his obedient trotting, I took a step back and he turned toward me. Having done this before, Phoenix knows that when he stands by me in the round pen, he doesn’t “work,” it’s when he is far away that he has to trot, so he came up to me.

After many attempts of trotting than coming to me in a failed effort to get a treat, Phoenix realized what he was doing was wrong. I finished our session on a good note, with no nibbling my hands for treats. 

It’s important to point out that horse training is never really “resistance free,” yet neither is horse herd behavior. Horses are very physical in their interaction with each other. Wherever there is pressure, there will be resistance. Resistance free training is about knowing when to apply “pressure” and when to stop.  

Do It Yourself 

Using this method takes time and patience, but it is not hard to do. Plus, it has lots of benefits and uses. First, it is great exercise for your equine. Second, it allows the horse & owner to work through and fix problems/vices. Thirdly, it causes the horse to see you, the rider, as a figure with authority, not just another human walking around; thus it strengthens the relationship between horse & rider. 

How is this accomplished? Well, you need a horse, a round pen, and yourself! I use a short whip as an aid to get the horse moving. *I use the whip to “extend” my arms and not to hurt my horse* Remember movement is a punishment, so you must “wait” for the horse to act up. It can be a simple pinning of the ears, or looking away from you. *You want your horse to focus on you and only you*

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Get Him Moving 

Once your horse is going, keep your inner arm pointed at his shoulder, staying behind his driving line and looking him in the eye. After a few minutes of this obedient behavior, take a small step back and lower your eyes and hands.

It will take time, but he should turn in toward you. Looking straight at you, awaiting your command. If he looks away or doesn’t turn in, punish him by getting him moving again. 

Turning in

Once he starts to turn in, take a step closer, with your eyes down, and put your hand out to stroke his nose. If he takes his focus off you or does something you don’t like, wave your hand and click to get him moving. If he keeps his focus on you, stroke his nose while next to him and take a step or two back.

Getting Him to Follow You 

Now that he is turning in, the object is for him to move after you. If he doesn’t get him going. This part can be tedious and requires patience, but the results are very pleasing.

After a few sessions with my horse Max, he began to follow me around the round pen!! It is so cool to see how this groundwork can build a horse & riders relationship!

Make sure and work your horse so that he trots in both directions. You need to teach each side of his brain what he needs to do. Work both sides for the same amount of time.

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Remember, rest is his reward. Once he starts licking his lips and lowering his head in submission to you, you have earned his respect. Finally, always finish on a good note, after your horse has been obedient to you.

Other methods that involve chasing your horse or using harsh tactics establish a relationship built on fear between horse and equine. However, this method of  Resistance Free training allows you to work through problems with your horse and exercise him, while building a healthy and safe relationship between horse & owner. 

Reese is a teenage girl who loves living on a farm in the Ozark Hills with her horses and dogs. She has been riding western pleasure since age seven. She shares her experiences and insights on caring for six horses on her blog Horses of the Ozark Hills.  

1 Comment

  1. Joan Shingleton
    July 21, 2020 / 7:34 am

    I have to be honest, what drew me to this post on Pinterest was the picture you used; the grey dapple.When the picture popped up, I almost came to tears. He/she looks EXACTLY like a thoroughbred we raised on the farm I grew up on. His name was Ghost Voyage and I belonged to him. I’m sure you know what I mean by that. We had a connection from the time he was born. this picture took me right back to my pre-teen/teen years when I got to be with my “best friend” every day.

    I am also looking for some simple training tools to pass on to some boys/young men at a children’s home in Mexico where my husband and I are missionaries. I like what I read in this post and will try to use it with the older mare that is here at the home. She has not been worked with very much over the last several years and is a “bit sour”. We refer to her as our “grumpy old lady”. If you would ever be interested in taking a mission trip to Mexico to do a horse camp for some orphans, please let me know. We can help make that happen.

    God’s blessings,
    Joan Shingleton

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