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Proper Posture Speaks Volumes - Part 1 - Whoa

Grand Valley Horse Rescue, GVHR has a specific method of training horses which is called Proper Posture Speaks Volumes (PPSV). This method combines the information from three books. The first book is Breaking and Training the Stock Horse (and teaching basic principles of dressage) by Charles O. Williamson and first published in 1950. This book was used by all three of Memaw’s primary mentors, Dick Smith, Dale Wilkinson, and Roy Yates. The second book is Breaking and Riding by James Fillis, which was published in 1902. This was the book which Williamson used to develop his method on how to train a stock horse. This is a very in-depth comprehensive training manual on how to train a dressage or military horse. The final book is Riding Logic by W. Meseler and published in 1933. This book describes in detail the proper body position for each movement of the horse. The illustrations in the book use geometry to ensure that the rider’s body is in perfect unison with the horse. All three of these books have the same principles. 1. The horse is taught on the ground before transitioning to a saddle. 2. The body of the trainer controls the body of the horse. 3. The horse is invited to do the task before any force. The PPSV method depends on the horse wanting to learn and engage with the trainer. To ensure the horse wants to learn and engage, the horse needs to be healthy, happy, and part of the herd. GVHR has implemented the Texas A&M University Department of Animal Science Equine Science Program study, Scientific Principles for Conditioning Race and Performance Horses for their horses. The study has a weekly recommended exercise plan that has aerobic day, anaerobic days, and free exercise days that when implemented properly allows the horse to drop the blood in it’s spleen twice a week which is critical to having a healthy horse. This plan allows the horse’s body to adapt and improve its overall condition as the workload increases. It works well to maintain a horse’s condition for an extended period and can be adapted for horses with injuries or horses that are walk trot horses only. The implementation of these scientific principles is why GVHR states that it trains youth performance horses. The PPSV method has two main components, posture, and poise, which are of equal importance. Posture In the wild, horses communicate with body language and are usually very quiet to prevent predators from knowing their location. The PPSV method capitalizes on their ability to communicate with body language by teaching them to read the trainer’s body language to understand what is being asked. Therefore, the trainer needs to hold their body in the same posture on the ground that they use in the saddle. Proper posture is ears, shoulders, hips, and heels in alignment with enough weight in the heels to be able to bounce the toes. The center of gravity is maintained below the sternum in the V of the ribs. The jaw needs to be at a 45% angle to the neck, and the shoulders are back rather than hunched and hips need to be in the same position as if the person is walking heel to toe. The reason posture is so important is because whether on the ground or in the saddle, the trainer’s head controls the horses head, the trainer’s shoulders control the horse’s shoulders, and the trainer’s hands control the horse’s front legs. The trainer’s body from the belt down controls the horse from the girth back. Therefore, the trainer’s hips control the horse’s hips and the horse’s hip control the speed of the horse making the hip position the most important element. The trainer’s legs control the horse rear legs. Whoa The whoa (like a hoot owl, whooooa) command is the only non-optional command in the PPSV method. The PPSV method revolves around the trainer’s ability to stop all motion of the horse at anytime for any reason. A horse has three fear reactions, flee, fight or freeze. A horse with a solid whoa command has been trained to freeze when frightened. The ideal position of the horse while stopping is hind legs underneath the horse bearing most of the horse’s weight, the front legs light, and the head unmoved. The horse’s hips drive the horse’s hind legs underneath of horse. The body position of the horse translates to the trainer as hand’s lifted, yet NOT pulling on the bit, heels down and pushed forward, and hips tipped back. On the ground, the trainer will lift a hand, move the leg on the same side as the hand with the heel on the ground with the toe lifted and the hip rocked back. In the saddle, the trainer will add additional weight into the heels and starts moving their feet forward as the hip rocks back and the hands raise and move forward to avoid contact with the bit. A bit in the horse’s mouth is a torture device! In the video below, Memaw is carrying a lunge whip in her hand. The whip is not used as a "WHIP" but as the trainer's legs while in the saddle. (There will be a future post on overcoming whip trauma) In the video below, Wall-E is walking next to a fence, the whip will be tapped on him if he falls behind as he should walk with his head in front of the shoulder of the trainer. Since he is preparing to be ridden, it is imperative that he learns to read the body language and signals while the trainer is behind him. Since the trainer is working on Wall-E's left side the trainer's left foot and left hand communicate the stop command with a vocal "whoa". The trainer is teaching Wall-E to watch the left hand and left leg because those parts of the body will be on his left side while riding.


Please notice what there is no pressure on Wall-E to stop. He is asked to stop and once he stops, he is rewarded with a stroke on the neck and a scratch on his withers. He also chews during his reward which means he is relaxed and learning. In the video below show Wall-E's second ride without a lunge line and his whoa command. Please note that he completely understands what is being asked and after completing his stop he chews. The best part of the video is when he turns towards the camera as if to ask "did you get my whoa?"

In the video below, the trainer is teaching Queen to walk and whoa both directions on the lunge line. At the beginning of the video, she is learning that when she stops, she is to stand there quietly. After a few minutes, she asks for reassurance which she receives with a touch on her face. Prior to that moment, she did not want to be touched during the training session. After completing her next walk circle, the trainer steps in and rewards her with a stroke on the neck.


The trainer turns Queen around and starts the process again going to the right. What you do on the left, you have to do on the right! The process is to teach Queen to move forward at a walk when she hearing a soft tongue to teeth clicking sound. The trainer is walking her halfway around the circle then stopping her with the right foot and right hand. Once the trainer has walked several circles, Queen is asked to do lunge around the trainer moving a half a circle at a time and progressing up to a full circle. In the video below, William in lunging at a trot when asked to stop. Since he is trotting a left circle, the trainer lifts the left hand and moves the left foot heal down and tips the hips back. William is asked to stop so there is slack in the lunge line while he stops.

William is not a finished horse, so the trainer is using big hand and foot motions. A finished horse will be able to stop with the slightest of movements. RoeSea, our beloved lesson horse, who passed away last spring, was able to be stopped by the trainer with just a movement of a foot or a slight wave of the hand.


In the last few month, the whoa command has saved two horses from serious physical injuries and one rider at GVHR. In all three incidences the horse stopped all movement with a verbal whoa command. The only time, the verbal command is not used is when the horse is in the show ring where voice commands are not allowed.


This is part one of a series being written so the youth volunteers can refer to it as they learn how to be horse trainers. If you found this information useful and would like to see more training blogs, please sign up on our mailing list.


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