The bridge in an in hand trail patternThe Bridge as part of the In Hand Trail Pattern
Although the bridge is not a mandatory portion of the Yearling In Hand Trail class, it is used frequently enough that I feel it's a mandatory obstacle to prepare for every time. The 2011 APHA Rulebook states that a one or two obstacles from division C must be used in every pattern. The four obstacles within division C are a back through, a bridge, a water hazard, or simulated water. Most clubs and facilities have easy access to a bridge, which will make it a common portion of the In Hand Trail pattern at weekend shows.
Preparation before the obstacle
As in the first three articles in this series, I going to assume your yearling is familiar with the concepts from earlier lessons. He should easily be following your hand, backing from a wiggle in a loose line, dropping his head to pressure, and should be well started in the concepts from Lessons 1-3. If he doesn't do these things without facing an obstacle, how can you expect your yearling to do them with an obstacle?
Remember to set reasonable goals
The goal on the first day should not be "to cross over the bridge 50 times while dropping his head and pausing with an interested expression." In fact, that should probably never be the goal :-) Fifty times is way too many to remain interested! But for the first day, set a goal that is realistic for your yearling. If he is very timid, perhaps just longeing him in the area where the bridge exists is enough. If he is very bold, maybe one complete walk over will be enough. You know your yearling. Pick something that's right for him. If you are unsure, stay on the low side of daily goal setting. It's much better to quit an underachieving winner than to quit frustrated because you didn't get enough accomplished.
How to introduce the bridge for in hand trail
No matter how bold your yearling is, I would never ask him to walk up onto, over, and off of it all at once in the beginning. There is just too much opportunity for failure. Instead, walk him up to the long side of the bridge (this makes a much less daunting obstacle for him to look at). Let him look at it. Wiggle the line and back away. This is a good time to incorporate a circle of Leading Lessons. Come back to the long side of the bridge. Ask him to look again, maybe drop his head, and back him away.
If he isn't scared, I will ask him to put one foot on the bridge. I do this by standing right beside of the yearling and just pushing my hand forward. As in his previous lessons, this invites him to walk forward to take the pressure off his poll. If he is scared and backs away, do not spank him! Do not jerk on the line! This typically just means he is a bit intimidated or scared by this whole thing. Just repeat the process in the previous paragraph until he is relaxed. But usually by this point, they are happy to put a foot up on the bridge. Here, I just stop. Hopefully they stand like that for a minute. Then I wiggle the line and back them off. I make a circle, or do something else for a minute, and come back.
So over the next few lessons, again the speed with which your yearling learns this will vary, I will keep asking him to walk up to the bridge and back off. I will advance to both front feet and using the short side of the bridge. After all four feet are coming up onto the bridge, it is still helpful to teach the yearling to back off the bridge (my good friend and trainer D. John Deas pointed out to me that this is also helpful when teaching one to back out of the trailer).
When I am ready to go forwards off the bridge, I still do this slowly. I am not wanting my yearling to leap off the bridge. I would love for him to put one foot off and then let me wiggle my lead and back him back on the bridge. This is usually the hardest part though. The purpose of all this slowness and perpetual waiting? Control. If I work on all of this all year, I am hopeful by World Show time, I have a yearling that will let me control every aspect of the in hand trail pattern and every part of his body. Yearlings that learn that bridges are just made for crossing are more likely to rush, lose their expression, or fall off the edges of bridges.
More advanced ideas for bridges at home
If your bridge is large and safe, you can incorporate some other exercises later in the summer after the basics are solid. In the past, I have asked yearlings to do 360s on large square platforms. I have changed directions on bridges. I have also put multiple bridges together to form more complicated obstacles. These are not things that you are likely to encounter in the In Hand Trail Class, but working on more difficult things at home after your yearling has the skills and confidence, can make the patterns at the horse shows look easy.
Head dropping at the bridge for in hand trail
Obviously by this point I am assuming your yearling knows how to drop his head to pressure. It would be nice if he would just do this naturally. In fact, the bay overo filly pictured in this article did this on her own at obstacles. She is the most naturally gifted trail youngster I have ever been around. She looked at every obstacle with quiet, confident interest and I didn't teach it to her. She came that way. But what if your yearling didn't come that way? Most of them do not. (photo credit Art & Light Photography)
I have talked to several judges regarding showmanship and trail who claim they hate the fake cues of putting a horse's head down at an obstacle or before performing a pattern (showmanship). Since In Hand Trail is truly a combination of showmanship and trail, I can only assume the same would pertain to it as well. What I do is try to make my "head down" cue less obvious as the summer progresses. You've seen entries in showmanship PULL their horse's head down? For my yearlings, I simply encourage them to follow my hand (sound familiar?), even when my hand goes down. So as we approach the bridge, I bend a little bit and put my hand down...the yearling puts his head down. If we are in sync, who could say if I was following him or he was following me? It makes the whole process just a little prettier.
In Hand Trail comments or questions?
Please let me know what you think about this article. Is there something I could explain better? Is there something that worked well for your yearling? I'd love to know about it!
Yearling In Hand Trail bridges
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