*other posts in Natural Horsemanship series: Part 1
One of the most important parts of Natural Horsemanship and Liberty Horsemanship is join up. It’s extremely important to begin a partnership built on respect, trust and love, which join up often helps accomplish. A few people asked me to do a post on having a horse naturally follow you and how to accomplish this/why they do it, and join up is a huge part in this. A lot of people can accomplish a natural join up that is constant, without taking the typical route to get there. That being said, a lot of people will do join up once or twice without seeing any improvement outside of when they are actually doing the training, so it’s important to have consistency. A lot of people believe that once a horse joins up then they are ready to be ridden/trained harder, but join up is not supposed to be used as a sign that a horse is ready to be “broke” or “gentled.” It is simply a thing that helps us get there. Some horses will respond positively to join up while some may take longer to realize what you are asking, and some may not ever truly understand. It’s all about the horse and the handler, just like every other part of NH.
How to do Join-Up-
Bring your horse, with his halter on, into a round pen and have with you one long-line, preferably thirty feet long. Stand near the center of the pen and introduce yourself by rubbing with the flat of your hand (no patting) the horse’s forehead, even if you are already acquainted. Now move away and toward the rear of the horse, staying out of the kick zone.
When you are behind the horse or when he flees – whichever comes first – pitch the line toward his rear quarters. This long-line cannot hurt him in any way. At this point, almost all horses will take flight and proceed around the pen. The horse is retreating so you must advance. Keep the pressure on. Pitch the line about two times per revolution or whatever it takes to keep your subject retreating. Maintain the driving (or air) pressure by focusing your eyes on his and keeping your shoulders square with his head. Maintain forward movement as much as possible, but do not enter his kick zone. Try to get the horse to canter five or six revolutions one way; then reverse and repeat, except that this time you are readying the horse for a message: Would he like to stop all this work?
Signs to watch for:
- His inside ear fixed on you while the outside ear monitors his surroundings
- His head will begin to tip with ears to the inside and the neck will bend slightly to bring the head closer to the center
- Licking & Chewing
- Finally, the head drops to the ground
The ear gives you respect. Licking and chewing says “I am a flight animal, and I’m eating so I can’t fear you.” Craning the head down means “If we could have a meeting to renegotiate, I would let you be the chairman.” Experience will sharpen your senses to this communication, but essentially when you observe the horse in this mode, he is asking you to take the pressure off. He wants to stop.
Now coil the line and assume a submissive mode, with your eyes down and your body relaxed. Do not look at his eyes. Bring your shoulder axis to a forty-five degree position. This is an invitation for him to come to you, or at least look your way and stop retreating. If he will come to you, this is good! If he stands and faces you but does not move forward, then start to move closer to him, but do it in arcs or semicircles, not straight at him.
If he leaves you, put him back to work for a few more laps. Then repeat the process. As you move closer, do it with your shoulder axis at a forty-five degree angle to his body axis. For the most part, show your back to him. He should voluntarily move toward you and reach out with his nose to your shoulders. This is join-up!
When you can approach his head, give him a good rub between the eyes and then walk away, moving in circles. He should follow you or at least move to maintain his head in your direction. This is called follow-up. If he does not follow you, then you will find yourself facing his rear and you should put him back to work. Again, stay clear of the kick zone.
Roberts, Monty. The Man Who Listens to Horses. First Vintage Canada Edition, Canada: Vintage Canada, 1998. Print.
After join up, most horses will begin follow up. The horse should now be calm, respectful and follow your movements. In most cases, the horse will be easier going and better at listening to common commands, like picking up hooves, backing up, side-passing, standing and leading. Most people will see results after the first session, although with some horses it takes more time and effort. After join up, a horse will begin to follow up naturally and often, not just after a join up session.
Join up is a wonderful way to cure hard to catch horses and begin a better relationship with your horse.