I call focusing on that other place or thing we want “destination addiction.” Here I’ll discuss why destination addiction can hamper your training and riding progress and how to move away from it once and for all.
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Your horse’s destination addiction can be associated with anything inside or outside the arena. It can be the gate, other horses in the vicinity, or the barn. The thing is, you might be tempted to try to “ride him through it,” kicking him past the place he wants to be, pulling him away from the other horses in the area, or pushing him past the barn that he drifts toward. This wears out your leg and hand cues, making him less responsive and duller to your requests.
Here, I’ll demonstrate how to bust destination addiction involving a gate. You can apply these methods to anything that attracts your horse.
For this example, lead your horse into the arena, about 30 feet from the gate that attracts his attention. Face him away from the gate, so his focus is on something else other than the attraction. Mount up, and settle for a moment.
Ask your horse to walk. Instead of telling him where you want him to go—to the rail or the other side of the pen—allow him to show you what he’s thinking about and where he’d really like to be. Don’t steer with your reins, seat, or legs—just go with your horse’s plan.
Ray Hunt had a saying: First you go with them. Then they go with you. Then you go together. This method follows that ideology. Your job is to go with your horse, keeping your thoughts, hands, and seat neutral. Go with your horse like it was your idea. He wants to go toward the gate, let him. Go with him and his destination addiction for the time being.
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When you reach your horse’s destination, begin your warm-up routine. For example, I like to start with a lot of lateral bending while moving forward. This is the portion where the horse goes with you. You’re still in his desired spot, but you’re directing the activities that happen in that spot. Begin with your regular suppling routine. You can make it more strenuous in later sessions as you reinforce your message and bust his destination addiction.
Here you can see the benefits of small, bending circles. My horse is soft and relaxed in his jaw and over his topline, and he’s using self-carriage to step deeply underneath himself with his inside-hind foot. This work promotes relaxation and connects the reins to his hind feet, which is necessary for effective riding.
Once your horse becomes soft, reaching deeply with his hind legs, and he’s warmed up and breathing, ride away from the gate (or other attraction), out toward where you mounted, about 30 feet away from the gate. This is the “going together” portion of the exercise.
Stop and praise your horse. Rub on him, and make that a great place to be. After he airs up, ask him to walk again. If he turns back toward the gate, repeat the process. The more times you repeat the steps, the less attraction your horse will have to the gate. Your horse will be mentally “with you” for the rest of your training session without being concerned about the gate or other object of attraction. He’ll move forward off your legs and respond better to your cues because he can focus on the job at hand rather than his destination addiction.
Warwick Schiller, Hollister, California, began his lifelong riding career in Australia. He moved to the United States to pursue his passion as an educator and horse trainer. He’s a past NRHA reserve world champion and competed for Australia in reining at the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games. He now offers cross-discipline educational clinics and an online video platform, warwickschiller.com.