Ground training: exercises with colorful ground bars activate the awareness of horses
Horse owners with horses which are easily frightened and scared can consider the special training units invented by Michael Geitner from Rechtmehringen, Germany. His methods help to overcome the horses fear so that the animal learns that colors are no danger.
In many riding areas, halls and on paddocks yellow and blue are dominant colors. During the course of the last years Michael Geitner developed his training method and traveled through the riding stables to inform horse owners about possible training units.
This special training is about the activation of the two sides of the brain and therefore a kind of brain jogging for horses. The method is based on the fact that horses perceive situations, objects and stimuli differently than humans. If a horse sees something with his right eye the new information becomes memorized in his left part of the brain and vice versa. However the two parts of the brain do only exchange and communicate 15-20 % of the information. This is a possible explanation why some horses react completely scared or balk when they have to pass an unknown object from the other direction than they are used to. For them this means a complete new situation because the brain probably did not communicate the new information to the other side of the brain. Moreover scientists found out that especially the colors of blue and yellow are perceived in a very intensive way. Michael Geitner uses all these information for his new training method.
The idea of the method is simple: stimulate the horse from both sides of perception. Even if this is no new approach the method from Geitner additionally takes other scientific research into consideration.
For the different exercises we recommend to use special equipment. For the ground it is makes sense to use special bars (in blue and yellow) which are filled with foam so that you avoid any possible danger for the horse. For the first training lessons however you can also use simple ground bars (normally every stable has them) to try out if you and your horse like the training method.
The base of the training is the visual stimulation of the horse from both sides. Through this process both sides of the brain become activated and start to communicate information. The horse learns to deal with different stimulations, to coordinate himself, to balance the interior wish to run away and to become less frightened in new and unexpected situations. This kind of behavior eases the whole training and this can also strengthen the general relationship between horse and rider.
The first step is the training with the flag. The rider walks next to the horse: in the one hand he guides the horse and in the other one he holds a flag, crop or a long stick (a yellow or blue bag is tied around the end of the stick). This exercise can only work out if there have been some previous training units between horse and rider. Therefore it must not be a problem if the rider leads the horse in different tempos (walk, trot). For a success of every new exercise horses need enough time to get used to the new objects. Every animal reacts differently so that riders should always be ready to get into safety (always leave enough space so that you can jump to the side). You should only go on with the next step if the horse is not frightened anymore when the flag is next to him. In this case the rider can slowly move the flag towards the neck of the horse. Finally the rider even holds the flag underneath the neck so that the end of the object shows to the other side of the horse.
Lunging the horse
In the second training unit you work with the lunge. For this it can be really helpful to use the ground bars. In general there are many different possibilities to lay them on the ground so that there are no limits for your own creativity. At beginning the horse needs to get used to the simple lunging (without any bars on the ground). Then the rider can increase the level of difficultie step by step. First, the horse learns to run exactly in the lane of the bars. Then the rider reduces the distance between the bars so that the horse has to pay more attention to not step on them. Additionally the rider can vary the speed so that the horse has to pass the bars in trot and canter. The animal learns to pay attention to the ground and concentrates on the different challenges. When the horse is able to successfully run through the bars you need to change the direction of running. The whole training method is only successful if both visual sides and therefore both parts of the brain become activated.
After a successful ground training you can continue with riding. The rider sits on the back of the horse and combines normal training with the special exercises. It is crucial that the horse has to decide on his own how to behave while running through the lanes of the ground bars. Riders must avoid to force the animal to a certain behavior because this disturbs the whole training process. Rewards are a great motivation for a succesfull learning proccess.
While riding you can also increase the level of difficulty step by step. This means to reduce the distance between the two bars or to ride faster through the exercise. The whole training can be varied in different ways. Between the ground bars you can ride other exercises like leg-yield, concentration disciplines or other bending exercises.
In general the rider must not use any additional reins (martingale, side reins and so on). If you make use of these aids the horse will not learn to find his own balance and therefore will not be able to reach the aim of the training. The use of a flash strap has the same effects. The strap does not only disturb the natural work of the mouth but also a powerful movement of the hind legs.
During the whole training process riders must always consider the aspect of time. If the training unit takes too long the horse will lose his concentration and easily feels overstressed. Michael Geitner recommends a training cycle of 10 minutes- 10 minutes- 5 minutes. The horse needs to be completely concentrated during every unit. However, there will only be a learning success if there are enough pauses between: they are not lost time but actually really efficient and necessary. Horses have time to rethink the new experiences, stimulations and objects. During the pause you can ride some easy rounds in a slow and relaxed tempo or otherwise just guide the horse slowly around the paddock. The most important aspect is to offer the horse a pause and therefore a time of relaxation.
Especially at the introduction period 10 minutes of concentration may already be too much. It is crucial that the rider pays great attention to the behavior of the horse and ends the training unit even earlier if the animal loses its concentration. A training unit without 100 % concentration is senseless and disturbs the whole process. Even if your horse generally is really powerful and usually needs one hour only to become warm it can be possible that the animal shows problems with concentration disciplines. Therefore the rider always needs to react to the respective mood of the horse. There are some clear signs how horses show that they lose their interest and therefore their concentration:
- The horse begins to trip over the ground bars even if he performed really well the precious times.
- The horse turns his head and neck to the side (sloping).
- The horse snorts loudly without dropping his head.
- Multiple chewing and licking.
In general we recommend to use gaiters for the legs of the horse. The animal has to get used to the new movements with his legs and easily hurts himself during the training with the bars. Gaiters are a necessary prevention measure. Riders who hold the lunge need to wear gloves. If the horse suddenly pulls really strong the rider has better chances to hold the lunge without hurting his hand.
Additional tips and own experiences
This article can just give a first insight into the training methods of Michael Geitner. If you are really interested in this special training we recommend to read further information.
I also have some own experiences with this training method. I followed the simple principle of “learning by doing”. I read the book and got some further information from some web sides in the internet. When Michael Geitner was near my home town I also visited his workshop. My horse was very powerful and often and easily frightened by many different things. His normal behavior in apparently dangerous and new situations was simply running away. He did not have any experience with concentration disciplines or any similar training units. The first exercises with the flag were terrible and he tried to run away. Moreover it was impossible only to come close to the ground bars. Through the special training with the colorful ground bars and stimulation and activation of both sides of the brain my horse learnt to work with concentration and endurance. Today, in new and apparently dangerous situations, he rarely tries to run away but concentrates on me and stays calm. Additionally he trained his muscles and has much more appetite. In the last months I did not have much time for the training units of Michael Geitner. However, the way my horse and I work together now would not have been possible without this great and effective training method!
- Get past the fear: training units that help horses to overcome their anxieties- Part 1
- Get past the fear: training units that help horses to overcome their anxieties- Part 2
- The importance of the right communication between horse and rider- how to understand the body language of the horse
- A recipe for success: Praising your horse
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