Helicopter Exercise

Teach your horse to accept movement and noise above him with this exercise from top clinician Clinton Anderson.
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Teach your horse to accept movement and noise above him with this exercise from top clinician Clinton Anderson.

Many horses will accept an object as long as it’s at their eye level or below. When an object gets above their eye level, especially if it moves and makes a noise, most horses will start to get nervous. This is a survival instinct so that in the wild they aren’t caught off-guard by a predator jumping on their back from above.

The goal of this exercise is to be able to swing a stick and string up and over your horse’s body with high energy so that it makes a loud noise, while he stands completely still and relaxed. Then he’ll become comfortable with noise and movement above him when you’re in the saddle.

You’ll need: A rope halter, a 14-foot lead rope, a Handy Stick, and an enclosed work area with good footing. (To order a Handy Stick, click here.)

Step-by-Step Technique

Step 1. Position your body. Stand at a 45 degree angle to your horse’s left shoulder, an arm’s length away. This is the safest place to stand, because you’ll be too far in front to get kicked by a hind leg and too far to the side to get struck by a front leg.

With your left hand, hold the lead shank about 18 inches from the snap, and lift it so that it’s level with your horse’s eye. You should stand so that your belly button faces your horse’s hindquarters.

This will enable you to bump his head toward you and get two eyes if he chooses to run around you in a circle or turn away from you. If he pushes into you, you’ll be able to drive him away by tapping him on his jaw or neck with your hand.

Step 2. Position the Handy Stick. Hold the Handy Stick in your right hand, as though you’re shaking someone’s hand. Hold your right arm out straight. The end of the stick should rest on the ground at roughly 5 o’clock.

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Pretend that you’re standing in the middle of a clock. Straight in front of your belly button is 12 o’clock. Straight behind you is 6 o’clock. Your stick should be resting at 5 o’clock, when you’re on the left side of your horse.
Step 3. Keeping your arm relatively straight, swing the stick and string up and over your horse’s hindquarters, back, and neck, then back down to the 5 o’clock position you started in.

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Step 4. Speed it up. Repeat Step 3, but swing the stick faster so it’ll make more noise.

Step 5. Change sides. When your horse consistently stands still and relaxed, change sides, and repeat Steps 1 through 4.

Step 6. Walk around him. When your horse is comfortable with the Helicopter on both sides at a 45-degree angle, walk 360 degrees around him while swinging the Handy Stick.

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To do this, double the tail of the lead rope, and throw it over your horse’s back. Stand on your horse’s left side. Place your left hand flat on his side. Hold the Handy Stick in your right hand, as though you’re shaking someone’s hand.

Swing the Handy Stick in the helicopter motion. Remember to always come back down to the 5 o’clock position.

As you swing the Handy Stick up and over your horse’s body, slowly start to walk around him. Once you reach his hindquarters, continue to walk around him, swinging the Handy Stick up and over his body in a continuous motion. Be sure to keep your left hand on your horse the entire time. 

Step 7. Change direction. Continue walking around your horse 360 degrees until you reach the point where you started. Then turn around, switch hand positions, and walk 360 degrees around him the other way.

If at any point your horse moves his feet, raises his head, or looks worried, keep your feet still, and continue swinging the stick in that exact spot until he stops moving and relaxes. If he moves, follow him while continuing to swing the stick up and over his body.

Don’t move on until your horse consistently stands still and relaxed. When he stands still and relaxes, retreat, and rub him with the stick and string.

Step 8. Speed it up. Repeat Steps 6 and 7, but swing the stick faster so it’ll make more noise as you walk around your horse.

Clinton Anderson grew up in Queensland, Australia, learning to ride as a teenager and training with many of his country’s top horsemen. In 1997, he relocated to the United States to perfect his Downunder Horsemanship program. Under Anderson’s guidance, horses learn to respect and respond to their handlers, developing willing partnerships. To learn more about Downunder Horsemanship, Clinton Anderson Walkabout Tours, and more, visit www.downunderhorsemanship.com.