Every since I started working with horses I have been fascinated with the daily in-hand work as practiced by Dominique Barbier, Neuno Olivera and Philippe Karl. Over the years I have developed my own techniques and methods – a bit simplified but effective for my level of practice. Your mileage may vary.
The following video is a demonstration of the way my horse and I do our daily dance – work-in-hand. It is important to note that the prerequisites of ground work (Parelli, Braniman and others) are the foundations that make it possible to progress with work-in-hand.
I usually begin working with Cruzado the moment I collect him from his stall in the morning. I expect his cooperation as I put the halter on, then turn him out to stretch his legs while I clean the stall and fill water buckets. Then while I am grooming him I ask him to move about, offer legs for the hoof pick and in general cooperate. In order to save time I tack him up before starting work-in-hand – and I will begin our ride right after our five (or so) minutes of in-hand work.
A lot is going on in this video. Notice that I try to keep in-step with the horse (synchronously). Maintaining step with the horse will lead the horse to eventually try to keep in step with you – which is useful even from the saddle. The outside rein is being used primarily to establish the angle – three or four track (or other angles). I hold the outside rein across the saddle and down at the side near where my foot will fall when riding. I use my thumb to encourage the angle if the rein isn’t working well enough – it varies day to day. You might notice that I carry a dressage whip in the hand that holds the outside rein. I use the whip to encourage energetic movement and as another method to maintain the angle.
I watch the footfalls to observe the angle. For three tracks the inside hind should step into the track left by the outside fore. Going left that means the right hind will step into the footprint of the right fore. The inside rein is used to maintain flexion of the jaw. Maintaining mobility of the jaw contributes to a relaxed horse. We work on flexions left and right as well as keeping the TMJ moving freely. At least once during a trip down the wall I ask the horse to halt, back three steps, then proceed. It works best for us if I use verbal cues – so I say things like WHOA and WALK, etc. If he doesn’t respond to the verbal cue I initiate the halt with the outside rein – it is just what works for us.
At the end of the wall I turn the horse around and do the same thing from the other side. It is very important to do all exercises in both directions. Once again I ask for cooperation during the turn around. Notice that when asking the horse to turn around I ask the horse to move – I don’t walk around him. It’s just a bit of reinforcement that when I ask and he does.
After we finish both directions I usually ask for a trick so I can reward him. It makes the exercise something he looks forward to – or at least doesn’t resist.
Then I do the same exercise from the saddle. The only difference is that at the corner I don’t ask him to turn around but to continue on with the same bend – but doing haunches in along the new side. The corner helps establidh the direction and the bend. I’ll try to develop a video of the saddle portion later.
Here is a slightly different bit of instruction – from someone else – of beginning work-in-hand.
Have fun – and stay safe…. — Dave
P.S. Feel free to comment – constructive criticism and/or observations. I’m no expert so cut me a little slack. Of course, if watching my efforts has helped or inspired you – please comment.