Implementing the Kel Jeffrey Method of Starting a Young Horse
While there have been many exciting aspects to Rocío’s training, the one everyone seems to be most curious about is the riding part.
Ainslie and I have always been a huge follower of Clinton Anderson’s training methods. Even though we have branched out to other trainers as well over time to maximize our education, we usually follow Clinton’s basic framework when starting a young horse.
Clinton uses a method called the Jeffery method to start his young horses. Some people call it the “Human Currycomb.” Here’s a picture that illustrates why.
As you can see, I’m laughing to myself a little bit. It doesn’t make for the most flattering pictures, but I can absolutely vouch for this method.
First of all, the horse gets used to the rider’s weight without the added complication of the saddle and bridle. Similarly, the rider doesn’t ask anything from the horse – he or she simply sits there and lets the horse get used to their presence.
However, there is a lot more that goes into this than one would think – hence the currycomb analogy.
While most riders try to mount their horses and go about their ride as gracefully as possible, it’s inevitable that eventually, the unexpected happens and they’ll stumble as they try to mount. Or, their leg will hit the horse’s flank inadvertently as they ride.
In order to prepare for for these situations, we purposefully create situations that may make the horse uncomfortable. However, we only use our bodies to do this at first. We jump up and down near the horse, and hang over them like a potato sack, and rub our hands and legs all over his flank, belly, back, and hind end.
Then, in order to get the horse as used to as many unusual movements as possible, we slide off of the horse’s rear end before ever dismounting conventionally.
Eventually, when we introduce tack, we will simulate similar uncomfortable situations by hitting the horse’s side with the stirrups and lunging with the stirrups down until the horse is comfortable before we consider mounting. Clinton even enhances this by taking empty milk jugs, filling them with sand, and tying them to the saddle. Once the horse is comfortable with those things his side while he lunges, he’s pretty much comfortable with everything else.
This was clearly new for Rocío as her eye told us she was wary. However, she stood quietly and accepted my ungraceful implementation of this exercise. As with all new desensitizing type exercises, I only stay for a few seconds at a time and then slide off to let her know that the situation isn’t permanent, and to back off before she reacts. Sliding off before she reacts also rewards her for standing still. The timing of this takes a lot of effort and it’s something I’ll be working on my whole life. Learning to read the horse better will help with this, as most horses give slight signals before they’re about to react.
Once she was fully comfortable with my rubbing her all over her body with my hands and legs, jumping up and down near and on her, and sliding off her rear end, only then did I sit on her the “conventional” way.
The main reason that this training session was so successful, however, is that we completed some important prerequisites before doing this. We had taught her to give to pressure and turn and face us, having her look at us rather than face her hindquarters to us. This way, if my timing were off and she were to react strongly to something I was doing before I could stop her, I could slide off and pull her towards me.
We also made sure she was comfortable with us touching every part of her body on the ground.
When my trainer and I start young horses together, she usually holds them for me. Clinton implements this method solo and without a mounting block, but I’m not the most graceful person out there, so for the sake of this small lady’s back, I use a stool. Plus, we figure that this is the safer way to do it if we happen to have two trainers who are familiar and experienced with the method.
The next step to Rocío’s riding training, besides introducing tack, was to teach her to respond to conventional aids. We will post more on this process next time and hope you enjoyed this post!