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Learning Made Easy -
Guidance techniques and fading

It's a lot easier to learn how to keep your hands steady while jumping if you begin by holding on to a neck strap. And it's a lot easier to learn how to keep your legs steady while sitting the trot if you begin by riding on a lunge line. Or maybe it isn't. Neck straps and lunge lines are guidance techniques, teaching methods that use physical barriers to either force or restrict your movements, making it easier for you to perform a particular skill. A neck strap gives your hands something firm to hold on to, which keeps them steady and helps you balance. And lunge lines, although they restrict the horse's movements, restrict your movements as well because you don't have to use your hands, seat, and legs as much to keep Sonny trotting in a circle.

Guidance techniques help you learn by showing you what a skill should feel like when it's done correctly and keeping you from being overwhelmed with staying on or controlling the horse. Other examples include: Ground poles placed before a jump to steady the pace of your horse. Elastic bands affixed to your feet to keep the stirrups in place. Dollar bills slid under your thighs to encourage contact with the saddle. Someone's hands on your hand, knee, or ankle to guide it through the desired movement.

Guidance techniques may make the learning process more pleasant for the horse and safer for you, but they may also make you look like you're learning more than you are. Guidance techniques can actually short periods of time early in the learning process in conjunction with another technique called fading. Fading is the gradual withdrawal of a guidance technique. For example, you may learn to jump while holding on to a neck strap. But as your hands become steadier, reliance on the neck strap needs to be faded away as soon as possible and replaced, perhaps, with a clump of mane.

Our partner at work Side reins and martingales are guidance techniques for horses; they restrict their movements and help teach them to maintain certain body positions. These techniques, however, should be used early in training and then gradually faded out so that horses learn to perform on their own. John Lyons' conditioned-response training methods avoid the use of guidance altogether. To learn more, visit

Johanna Harris
The Equestrian Athlete
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