"The True Way"
The Round Corral ~ The Rope and Flag ~ Hooking On ~ Learning to Learn
Yielding the Whole Body ~ Blanket, Saddle, and Rider ~ In the Saddle ~ Use of Aids
Some Elements of Horsemanship ~ Distractions ~ The Quick Fix ~ Natural Horsemanship?
The Soft Feel ~ Spade Bit ~ Out of the Arena ~ Who's Calling the Shots? ~ Straightness
(last edited 8/13/18))
by Jan Young
Hooking on is the process through which the horse chooses to be with the human, being drawn toward him and following him around without the use of a rope. Before the horse can hook on, the human needs to be able to get the horse's attention, to move and direct his feet.
Turn the horse loose in the round corral and stand in the center. Does he stand and walk off, run off, look to the outside like he's looking for the "exit sign"? Does he ignore you or act bored?
See how little you can do to get his attention. Try making different movements until he glances at you. If you get a response--a glance, or even a flick of the ear toward you--encourage that response by stepping back, away from the horse. You release the pressure you have on him, because your presence in the round pen with him IS pressure, and the closer you are to him, the more pressure he feels.
Now see if you can get a little more attention, or for a little longer. Move a step or two to the side, toward his flank not his head, to encourage him to arrange his body and feet to better look at you. If he does, step away and start over, moving toward the flank again. He may need to step his hindquarters over to look at you. This is what you want. You got to his feet.
Approach him and rub his face, his neck, his withers. He should be relaxing: his head is lower, his eye is softer, his tail is relaxed, his jaw is working. His body language tells you that he is having a change of attitude. As you move around him, he may turn his head completely toward you, the look on his face saying plainly, "What do you want?"
If at any point he leaves, that is fine--just blend in and help him leave, like it was your idea. If he changes direction, help him leave as he goes the other way. If while his feet are moving, he glances toward you, encourage that by backing away from him or even turning and walking away. Just keep encouraging and starting over until he stops his feet and gives you his attention.
Allow him to stand, to rest. He has learned that being with you is the good place. Then turn and slowly walk away and see if he will follow you. Offer for him to hook on to you. Let him decide to be with you. Even though there is no halter or rope on him, you have drawn him right to you, by his own free will.
Another way of saying this is that he has found the "soft spot"--the spot at which the horse finally yields. Softness will become even more important when the horse is ridden. The rider always offers the horse a soft spot, or a soft feel, and asks the horse to respond with softness (relaxation).
Some horses are easier than others to hook on. A horse that is curious or trusting may come all the way in the first time. Others come only part way in at first, or come in but not stay. Each time the horse leaves, the human has another opportunity to work with the horse. Eventually, the horse will usually come all the way in and willingly stay with the human, by his own choice.
A horse that has hooked on will follow you all over the corral. No longer is there a need to "halter break" the horse, to make him accept the pressure of a halter and rope against his will. If he follows you willingly without a rope, he will follow you when he is wearing a halter and you are holding a lead rope. You will also be roping him in the round corral and teaching him to give to the pressure of the rope. When he leaves the round corral, he will be halter broke, and will have been worked on the end of the halter rope.
Hooking on is good, but you cannot have the horse following you all the time. You have more to teach him. You have to be able to send him back out, to the fence. You have more to teach him, but now he must learn to stay hooked on from a distance. You want a little distance to your "feel."
You move your hand toward his face, creating mental discomfort. He may not want to leave; he may even be confused, thinking that now he is where you want him. If he does not go, you may have to apply gentle pressure; you could shake your coiled rope at him, or gently tap him with it. He must learn both to come in and to be sent out again.
Because the horse trusts you and wants to be with you, he should begin to "look you up." Even when he is working out there on the fence, he should now start looking to you for direction and support. Later, once you begin to ride him, he should continue to look you up frequently, giving you his attention and asking what you want him to do.
God wants us to hook on to Him, but He does not use a flag or a rope. He uses trials in our lives to create pressure, to move our feet. Although He stands in the center of the corral, directing us, we may at first be oblivious to that fact. Eventually He gets our attention as He encourages us to look at Him and hook on.
He never forces us to come; He has given us free will. Instead, He uses the pressure/release method. He applies just enough pressure to make it uncomfortable out there away from Him, and when we come to Him, He releases the pressure. We learn that it is more comfortable to be with Him.
We may come only part way in, then leave. Why this uncertainty, this indecisiveness about hooking on to Him?
There are distractions out there; at first it is hard to keep our eyes on Him, so we only glance for short periods of time. We may have a fear of this unknown Person; who is He? What is He going to do? Up till now we have always followed our own will. It is hard to submit, to yield, to give up our will. We have never had to do that before. It seems scary and unnatural.
Once He has us in the round corral, we begin to find that something is drawing us toward Him, a God-shaped vacuum in our lives. Some come in and hook on quickly and easily, but with others, there is a greater struggle in the will. Just like horses, some people are more strong-willed than others, and some are more trusting than others.
But He encourages even the smallest move toward Him, by release of pressure and possibly by some sort of positive reinforcement. He makes the right thing easier and the wrong things harder. As God begins to work with us, interesting, even "amazing," things happen, which we may be tempted to call coincidence. Divine timing of events in our lives reinforces the idea that He is in control, and that His ways are wise and loving.
When we find that it is most comfortable to be near Him, we will willingly stay there for longer and longer periods of time, and even follow Him. We like those pets and rubs, and the rest we find when we are with Him.
Matthew 16:28 Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Then there comes the time when He has to send us back out from Him so He can teach us something else. He makes a noise or waves something in our faces. This is confusing the first few times He does this; the place that He made comfortable, He is now making uncomfortable.
"Why?" we ask, complaining. We have doubts; we feel sorry for ourselves.
But He needs to be able to draw us and send us at His will. He needs to be able to move our feet. He teaches us that we move them when He says, not when we want; and we move them the direction He wants. He never forces us. He just makes it clear that things go better when we do it His way.
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