Episode 55: Training aids or gimmicks? Martingales, draw reins, etc.

In this podcast episode, Stacy discusses various horse training aids such as martingales, training forks, draw reins, and their potential benefits or drawbacks. A listener named Maxine asks about their place in horse training, specifically for her hot horse with a high headset.

Stacy explains that these tools can be considered either training aids or gimmicks, depending on their usage. She highlights the importance of clear communication with the horse and the rider’s reasons for using these aids. Stacy emphasizes that it’s crucial to ensure that the use of such tools stems from a good place rather than frustration.

Stacy delves into the intended and unintended uses of some training aids. For instance, she discusses the design of training forks to encourage horses to lower their heads when their noses are lifted too high. However, she notes that many people use these tools differently, often as shortcuts or Band-Aids.

The primary question is whether training aids help in training or merely serve as temporary fixes. Stacy suggests that while some aids can provide short-term solutions, they can become counterproductive if they limit the horse’s choices or emotions. She emphasizes the importance of allowing hot horses to learn emotional control through groundwork, where they can make choices between staying still and fleeing.

Overall, Stacy encourages riders to reflect on their reasons for using training aids and to focus on clear communication and long-term training principles. She also offers private coaching calls for more personalized guidance.


Click Here For The Full Show Notes
[00:00:33] I’ve been talking about horse tack and today I’m answering a listener question about martingales, training forks, draw reins and the like. Let’s listen to the question.


[00:00:44] Hi, Stacy. My name is MAXINE. First of all, I wanted to thank you for your podcasts. They’ve improved my communication with my horse a ton and I’m excited to continue listening to them. My question is about equipment. I have a hot horse, probably a 7 on the teeter totter and she naturally has a fairly high headset and really wants to go. I’ve been practicing lowering her head in a walk and trot, getting a proper frame from her with some success. So my question is about training. It’s for riding and lunging and how you see their place in horse training as I’m not using them, but maybe could benefit from it. I’m talking about martingales, training forks, draw reins, side reins  and I’m sure the list goes on. Do you see a benefit? And if and when would you use them, if at all, to the help and training? Or are they just a Band-Aid? Thanks Stacy. I’m looking forward to continue listening and learning from you. Greetings from Canada.


[00:01:37] Thanks for your question, Maxy, and I’m glad to hear that the podcast has been helping. Some people would consider these things to be training aids and other people would consider them to be gimmicks. Let’s have a conversation and see if we can come up with a few different ways to view them. And then at the end of the podcast, you get to decide what you believe. Everybody listening does. Now, this might sound like a rabbit trail, but go ahead and follow me for a minute. When you imagine riding a horse, the rider typically gets to steer the horse with either direct rein, or indirect rein,. And just for a quick review, direct rein, means that left rein, means go left, right rein, means go right. So if we wanted the horse to steer to the left would pull on the left rein,. The horse would bend to the left and the feet would move to the left and you’d head to the left. Same thing going to the right. But in indirect rein, or neck reining, the opposite is true. So if you are neck reining horse, you hold both reins in one hand, and if you move your hand to the left, the outside rein, makes contact. So the right rein, would make contact, but the horse would be expected to go to the left. So that’s considered an indirect rein,. But let’s stop and think.


[00:03:03] When we first see a horse ridden under saddle, let’s say the first ride or the first 10 rides. Most commonly, if these are the two things you have to choose from, what do you typically see them steered with? Direct rein, or indirect rein,? And why? I’m going to say that most commonly when you have these two things just to choose from, you’re most commonly going to see a horse that is steered with a direct rein,. And that’s because the direct rein, so left rein, pressure means go to the left tends to be more clear. It shapes the horse. So it bends the horse to the left as it communicates with the horse to move the feet to the left. Now, we all know that this is not the only way to steer a horse. A horse can be steered with the outside rein, the indirect rein,. A horse can be steered with legs. A horse can be steered with voice. Have you ever seen really good driving team? Those people can actually steer those horses just with their voice cues. And there’s all kinds of other creative ways, especially now with the Internet that you can see. But. The kind of standard thing you see is a direct rein, because it shapes and it’s very clear. So go back to and think about episode 52 when I talked about shanked bits and snaffle bits.


[00:04:29] Do you remember back in that episode that I talked about the shanked bit having a different signal? And on day one, the very first day that I put a shanked bit on a horse that’s only ever ridden before in a snaffle bit, the horse will have a different response to that bit because of the different pressure points, the different signal, the different way that that feels. Well, that is where I’m going to go with this conversation about training AIDS. So many of these training aids that you’ve listed have kind of a similar idea behind them as the idea of the shanked a bit. So to different degrees, these different training aids applied different types of pressure that give the horse a I’m going to phrase it this way, a more clear way of changing their body or shaping themselves. But. Before we get sucked into the thousands of different combinations that are possible with all the different training aidsthat are out there. The first thing you’re going to have to do is you’re going to have to ask yourself, do you like your reason for using any of these tools or any of these methods? Because that’s the same. You’re going to apply it both ways, tools or methods. So think about it like this. If you’re working with a horse and you’re frustrated that you’re not able to communicate with the horse on a certain subject.


[00:06:00] So you think about grabbing a different aid, that could be a red flag that maybe this might be. Might not be the best time to change. So what I’m saying is like, what is your reason? And do you really like that reason? Because if you think that you’re being unclear and that the horse doesn’t understand, you’ve got to really reflect on everything that’s going on with you, because there’s probably a lot of different ways that you could become more clear with your communication. So let’s just jump in and use the example that you did. You mentioned lowering the horse’s head or bringing the horse into a different frame. There are going to be numerous ways that you can work on this. So just make sure that it’s coming from a good place and not a place of frustration. But I’m going to get a lot more direct here. So let me answer your question a bit more directly. One of the questions you asked was if and when would I use them? When I was in school. And you’ve got to remember that I went to a four year equine school. During those four years, we the students learned how to use all of these different things. We learned how to use martingales, and training forks and draw reins. And we learned what the intended use of these things were.


[00:07:25] And we also learned either directly or indirectly from what the unintended uses could be. And what I mean by that is that maybe something that was intended to be used one way, let’s just say training forks or depends on who you’re talking to. But let’s just say the one where you would snap down to the girth, it would come up and you’d have these little rings and your reins would run through those rings. So let’s just use the word training fork. But this is becomes where people mix all these different terms around in different ways. So those rings are intended or were designed by somebody so that they would be adjusted a lot higher up are a lot longer than what most people adjust them. So the intended use of those was that if the horse were to be ridden in a snaffle bit and was to lift its head to vertical. So we’re thinking the front of the horses knows that the front flat part of their face instead of going up and down to the ground vertical. I actually phrased that wrong. Imagine that horse taking that nose and lifting that nose way up until they’re until their nose was horizontal with the ground. So we’ve got this very up, up, up position. Horses can discover that if they lift their head very high that the bit no longer has pressure on their on their gums, has now just pressure on their cheeks.


[00:09:01] And horses that will discover that will actually pick their heads really high up to change the pressure point. So these idea of these like training forks was designed so that if the horse lifted their head up that high, that the pressure coming from the rein, that’s being redirected through those forks would now still be applied to the horse’s gums. So that’s the intended use. But the unintended use that a lot of people use them for is they make them very short and they use them to pull the horse’s head down. So that’s what I mean by an unintended use. But there are lots of different tools that have been created for little situations like that. And there are some of these tools that I would consider extreme, even when they’re used being used as intended. So in this case, these forks, when adjusted the way that the designer meant for them to be adjusted, they would only ever be engaged if the horse flipped its head very high upor sometimes when people are right, a little bit like my horse flipped his head upside down. And they what they mean by that is that the horse took its nose way up in the air, way, way up in the air, up to horizontal or higher. And these  this one tool I’ve been describing was designed to only engage when the horse’s head was incredibly high like that.


[00:10:25] But I’m telling you that probably 90 percent of the time, if I’m traveling around and I see I’m being used, they’re not adjusted for that use. They’re being used for a different use. But again, I’ve seen tools when I’ve traveled around and gone to different expos that I would consider extreme even when they were used as intended. So can you hear how this gets kind of foggy in here? Well, let me answer another one of your questions. Do I see a benefit to any of these training tools? Well, first of all, I don’t use any currently, and we’re gonna get to that in just a minute. But when I look back at them and I go back to my college years looking back, can I see where some of these tools can be useful? The answer would be yes. And the way that I can say that is because I can see where some of these tools could be used to show a horse. Where the rider wanted him to go, but here’s the much bigger question. Here’s the primary question that I see in this whole thing. Do they help in training or are they just Band-Aids? To me, this is the really big heart of the question and the reason that I don’t use them now, but the reason why I can also say yes, that I do see how they had a purpose back then and why people are still, you know, curious about using them now is that you have to again go back to like your bigger training principle.


[00:12:02] So I don’t use them now because I would rather do things in a long, slow way. And these training tools can often become Band-Aids because the horses can apply grandma’s rules. So let me go a little deeper here. Remember, my idea of grandma is rules is this small children quickly figure out that adults have different rules. I’m talking really little kids. So if, for example, if grandma thinks something is cute, like jumping on the bed and allows it when the when the small child comes to her house, then the child will happily run in and do that cute thing of jumping on the bed, even though they’re not allowed to do that at home. And then sometimes, depending on the family dynamics, the parents might walk in and the kid might look at the parents and run and jump on the bed knowing the parents don’t allow it. But also looking to grandma to be the one that’s like grandma is going to allow me to do it. Parents are not going to be happy. And the kids are really just kind of poking this button to be like, OK.


[00:13:08] And what happens in this situation and the family dynamics are going to play out how that goes? Well, if very small children know how to test the different rules of different adults. And then really, if you look at it, the school aged children, they’re famous for testing substitute teachers. Horses do this too well. They do this with people, but horses also do this with training aids. So the reason that a lot of the training aids don’t work when they’re removed is that if the rider doesn’t know how to handle the situation, it’s going to pop right straight back up as soon as the rider goes back to riding without the aid. So in the end, when you figure out the timing of your aids to get the horse where you want it to be, you will find that you don’t need these other tools. And interestingly enough, the training will be more solid. But. I can also see where there are times that people could use these for a short amount of time and show the horse the way. Show the horse the shape. But again, I’m not going to go through each and every training tool out there that’s considered somewhere between a training aid to a gimmick.


[00:14:33] The training fork is only engaged when the horse’s head is upside down. But I’m also here to say there are many ways to communicate with the horse to not have its head upside down without necessarily using those. But are those ones those ones, in my opinion, used correctly, don’t fall into that category of extreme where I think there are aids out there that do. So, again, double check why you want to use this. And do you like your reasons? And then one last thought that applies specifically to your question that you asked. You mentioned that your horse was hotter and hotter. Horses are often the more emotionally reactive horses and they tend to get a lot of these aides put on them even more.  So do the really duller, quieter horses. The aids that we end up discussing there sometimes tend to be more like aids to get them to move forward. But hot horses greatly benefit from learning to control their emotions through groundwork. Because in groundwork, when you’re doing the way that I’m going to explain here for a moment, the horse needs to see that they have a choice. So let’s just use the choice to stay still and stand and look at a scary thing versus running away. So they need to have the option of doing either. So they need to have the option. So let’s just picture that I’m standing there and I’m going to start whipping the ground really hard with a stick and a string.


[00:16:03] And that’s gonna make a lot of noise and a lot of energy. Well, those hotter horses are going to have more of a likelihood of choosing to run away and they need to be able to see the choices between I could stand here or I can leave. And we’re not going to go into the full subject of, like how you train that here. But it is that choice that where they know they could leave. And they know they could stay. And it is you learning how to apply that pressure and not think that for the horse to stay, you have to have no pressure and that the horse is going to leave for sure if you add pressure. It is that dance of figuring out that puzzle that then leads the horse into curiosity of how they could apply. Like, oh, that seemed like it was a highly emotional charge thing and my first instinct was to run away. But now through this conversation I’ve been having with this this handler rider, I now see that there are many different options. And wow, it kind of feels good not to go into flight mode, some getting even more curious and more brave. But it’s interesting because if you think of it. If you take away the option of leaving and you just let’s just pretend you like hog tie them together so they can’t leave.


[00:17:25] That’s not going to get you the horse that’s going to be making a choice to stay. And I think sometimes with certain aids, certain training aids versus or maybe even gimmicks, sometimes when they’re used, they take away the horses choice completely. And that becomes not in the long run what we want, because the challenge is that if that horse feels trapped. They’re not really making a choice. And one more thing with these hotter horses, when you have a hotter horse, if they have not learned how to control their emotions, if they’ve not learned how to make some of these choices, when you put them into martingales or draw reins or a lot of these other aids, many horses take those as feeling trapped and a horse is already emotionally charged and then feels trapped can really become a challenge. So I hope that that gives you a lot of different thoughts to ponder. And as always, if you have a question or you want follow up information on something I’ve talked about, you can go to my Web site and there’s an orange button on the right hand side where you can click and leave your voicemail. And I also want to let you know that I do offer a limited number of paid coaching calls per month as time allows.


[00:18:42] And these are really great for people who want direct private coaching from me on the phone or in a video call. And sometimes it just really helps if you want to ask your questions, but you don’t really want to do it in a public way or you want me to review a video and we can talk about it together. Are you working with your horse? Riding your horse?


[00:19:00] And, you know, sometimes it just helps to get someone else’s opinion on something you’ve been pondering. So if you’re interested in that, I’ll put a link of my calendar of availability and all of that over in the show notes of this podcast episode.


[00:19:15] Thanks again for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.


Links mentioned in the show:

Stacy’s calendar for paid private coaching calls: https://calendly.com/westfallhorsemanship

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