H2H Fundamental Skills

Basic Ground Handling Skills:

(For basic care:  Leading/Grooming, Farrier, Vet,)

Head Down Cue

Touch and Turn(TNT)

Language Lesson


Round Pen Basics (ideal for a more advanced relationship)

In the H2H program, there are basic skills that need to be established in order to accomplish the following:

*To ensure my safety as a trainer, your safety ongoing, as well as the horse’s safety in advancement.

*Caring for the horse’s basic needs requires some basic handling skills.   The above list is my thorough version that will ensure that the horse has access to basic needs and care to be healthy and happy.

The skills listed above are also the very first things I evaluate with a horse that I am meeting for the first time. If I can successfully complete these requests and get the appropriate responses, then it gives me access to more advanced challenges that can show me how much training the horse needs or has overall. Thus developing results from my Evaluations and being able to develop an initial training plan for the individual horse.

Walking through the Basic Handling Skills

Head Down Cue, Head Control

The head is the first thing we handle.  It’s the part of the body we typically retrieve or restrain in order to control the rest of its body. While there are some alternate ways of ‘controlling’ or desensitizing a horse without restraint to the face, I would like to discuss these steps assuming that the horse can be haltered in general.

The ‘head down cue’ is merely a phrase or term, but to me it is a general statement that the horse has learned to give to pressure from the points of contact on the halter.  The more thorough you are in teaching the horse to ‘give to contact points’ the better the horse will be able to feel and determine the direction in which he should give to pressure.  Helping the horse to get consistent Give responses to these contact points will help the horse when faced with more challenging tasks, such as standing still for the farrier, shots from the vet, or bridling quietly.

This is one of the more simpler ‘cues’ you can ask of the horse when he is faced with added pressure or challenge.  Asking for the horse’s attention can be difficult in high energy or stressful situations, so having a simple task to ask of him first, is the safest bet overall and will likely keep him from getting overwhelmed and giving up altogether.

Once the horse has learned to give to the pressure or guidance of your hands at the poll and nose, maybe with the added security of having the halter in place, you can then begin to additionally show him how to give to pressure laterally.

Just like when you use your reins to ask the horse to Give(or to ‘flex’ as some people refer), these are requests of the horse to come around to the side towards their ribs or shoulder point.  These are great stretches too, and you should keep an awareness of his comfort level as you ask him to stretch into these positions.  Especially if the horse is new to the exercise or stiff physically.  Keep in mind that you are merely asking the horse to feel where the contact is applying pressure and to figure out for himself HOW to come away from that specific contact.  The moment in which you release his response is where he LEARNS what he should be doing in response.  So be sure that you are releasing when he is actively trying to release the pressure for himself.  Ask in stages, not all at once, or you will end up being sore and frustrated.  The moment the contact is being applied is when you are essentially making the request, make sure you are aware of every request you might be making.

Once you have achieved being able to ask the horse to give to various angles from the halter, then you can begin connecting the feet.  The advanced version of this exercise includes being able to move the feet forward and backward while the horse’s head is giving downward(head down).  This is a fundamental piece for training a horse to be tied safely, or retraining a horse that pulls back on the lead.

Touch and Turn (TNT)

This exercise is one that I find extremely important for a well-rounded relationship and a great ‘go-to’ exercise when a horse is emotionally stressed, lacking focus, or needs a reminder of my boundaries. There are so many different things to apply to this simple exercise that, if clear and consistent, will create more balance in the relationship emotionally, mentally and physically.

The Touch and Turn, otherwise known as TNT offers first and foremost, desensitization; or in other words an explanation (to the horse)of what intentions you have when making contact to the horse’s body.  Desensitization to me is so important before RE-sensitizing him to your cues or personal boundaries and expectations.  It helps the horse to feel safe in your presence, but to also respectfully accept contact and pressure in areas that would otherwise be untouched.

This is actually the first exercise I go through when introducing myself to a horse. And many times before I even ask for a horse to drop his head from pressure(Head Down Cue).  However if the horse is moving around a lot, tossing his head, or otherwise pulling on the halter or lead, the Head Down cue is necessary to help the horse settle off of pressure and have a general understanding of how to respond.  Tuning into the TNT and the Head Down Cue (or control)as soon as possible is equally important in getting the horse to a calmer, easier-to-control state.

The first part of Touch and Turn, is the Touch; being able to make contact with the horse ALL OVER his body while the horse stands quietly.  Over time the difference between Touch and Turn is when to Stand Still and when to Move his feet.  The ‘Turn’ part  of the exercise is also very important for teaching the horse to give his full attention when needed.

This exercise is a very clear presentation to the horse of using contact cues versus body language.  The energy in which we project when asking for the horse to yield to our boundaries and to be attentive is very natural for them, and should be used graciously so as not to dull or overwhelm the horse’s natural responses.

One key to this exercise is using patterning or a consistent routine to condition the horse to memorize your actions.  The importance of this over time is the horse’s natural ability to anticipate what comes next which leads into ‘weight shifts’ and ease of control and boundaries overall.

A general approach to the exercise is entering the left side of the horse, scanning with my hand literally from nose to tail, including picking up of each foot.  When picking up each foot, my first expectation or request of the horse is that he shift his body onto the other 3 feet, offering a Give or release of that corner of his body.  To be sure that the horse is Giving to this request, I’ll lift the horse’s front foot from the knee, so that I can check to be sure he is ‘dangling’ that front foot without struggle or resistance.  Some young horses need lots of repetition in order to get to a consistent release in the body.

The back foot can be a lot harder, as I have found that many horses struggle a bit either emotionally or physically to develop the appropriate balance in order to go right into the Give from that corner of their body.  Many times I use their tail in specific ways to help them to relax more or to help shift the weight where it needs to go(into the other hind foot).

Once I have finished the entire scan, which should be a constantly moving process so your keep his attention, I then request for a Turn and Face.  This can be done in two ways in order to perfect or challenge your horse’s focus, or to help develop the proper weight shifts and yielding to your boundaries.

Then I repeat on the other side.

Typically, I will repeat this many times, and as needed using the Language Lesson (next lesson below) in support if the horse ‘NEEDS’ to move.  The TNT them becomes even clearer for the horse in order to understand the difference between my signals to move his feet and standing still.  He also learns the difference in my intentions and how my energy and projection relate, which in turn builds clear leadership.

In the pictures above, you may notice that I carry a flag.  This is the advanced stage of Touch and Turn, where I am desensitizing with the flag.  This is to help develop the advanced stages in your horse’s understanding of your intentions.  Learning that even though the flag is waving or moving, does not mean that you are giving signals to move.  This also adds further coordination in your horse handling skills, and a big part of becoming thoroughly AWARE of your projections compared to your actual intentions!

If you can master the TNT lesson alone, your farrier and your vet will love you forever!  😉


Stay Tuned

Next Monday, March 13th…

Language Lesson

-Advanced leading/lunging and body language training-


Riding Pre-Req


Advanced Refinement or Correction





Intro to Saddle/Cinching



Intro to Mounting




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