Training the Horse at the Tilt

When training the horse at the tilt, care must be taken to establish that riding next to the tilt is a calm, everyday experience. The rider needs to exude calm and confidence, and the horse should learn that working next to the tilt is a normal everyday activity which requires the horse to pay attention to the rider and listen for guidance. Heading down the tilt should not be automatic, nor is there any particular hurry -- it is not a race.

The ultimate goal of this training is a horse that:

  • Stands calmly at the start of the tilt
  • Heads down the tilt only when cued, and at the requested gait
  • Stops easily at the end of the tilt, and again stands calmly

The Challenges

The herd mentality

Horses aren't used to passing each other going opposite directions. Left to their own decision making, they usually will want to follow their instincts and pull a u-turn and run in the same direction as the other horse.

The perception of aggressive behavior

Another horse making a head-on charge can feel like a display of aggression. Riders can unwittingly reinforce this by tensing or flinching as the other horse passes, and horses who are perceiving aggression or danger will swerve when passing the oncoming horse.

Excercises (without a lance)

Let the herd mentality to work for you rather than against you. Assemble a small group of horses to work on joust training at the same time.

  • Start with 3 or 4 horses and riders on one end of the tilt. Walk down the same side of the tilt in single file, continuing past the end of the tilt. Repeat on the other side.
  • Split the group so that half of the horses are on each side of the tilt, on opposite sides. Walk down both sides of the tilt and past the tilt, then repeat.
    • If you have a novice horse, have them follow an experienced horse.
  • Keep the herd happy and not stressed. There is no hurry.

You can counteract the perception of aggressive behavior by making these passes routine and uneventful.

  • Do not look at horses and riders heading in the opposite direction. Passing them is no concern.
  • Expect your horse to be indifferent to this oncoming traffic, and project this to your horse.
    • If a horse becomes aggressive, remove them from the exercise until they calm down. Put them behind a more experienced horse if necessary.

Next, have the horses doing the passes stop calmly at the far end of the tilt once the pass is complete.

  • Use very subtle signaling to queue the stop. Do this with your seat if you can.
  • Once stopped, horses should stand quietly. Just sit there for a a while.
    • Make sure the horse knows that this is what you are expecting them to do: stand quietly. You can reward them for this after a suitable period of time.
  • Then move to the other side of the tilt and repeat the pattern -- stop at the end again, and stand quietly at that end.

Eventually, add stopping at the near end of the tilt also. The entire pattern should be:

  • Stop at near end. Stand quietly.
  • Make the pass, calmly and without any changes when you pass the oncoming horse.
  • Stop at far end. Stand quietly.

Once your horse is comfortably and consistently doing this exercise at a walk, increase the gait to a trot and repeat the process.

Once the horse is consistently standing quietly at both ends of the tilt after passes at the trot, increase the gait to a canter and repeat the process.

Once you are cantering down the tilt, regularly go back to walking and trotting down the tilt as a routine part of your training. The horse should always look to you to establish the timing and the gait, and not assume that being positioned next to a tilt automatically means "canter" and "now".

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