Close Order Drill - Mounted

Our correct drill is that written in Poinsett's Cavalry Tactics published in 1841.  Close order drill means just that.  Mounted you would be boot-to-boot, the horse behind you would be almost right on your horse's tail.  To be safe we must practice this but above all else, if your horse is unruly in close-contact with other horses you need to know how to correct him in the ranks and you need to practice.

There are several methods but the one we use is herein described.  It is imperative that you be able to recognize an impending action BEFORE your horse lets fly with his feet or bites another horse.  You need to be attentive and when punishing your horse you have to have good timing and be more aggressive in your punishment if you horse continues the bad behavior.   I had one of my best horse ruined by a kick in the knee while amateurs were riding her during close order drill so I am adamant on severe punishment, especially with habitual offenders.  By severe I mean, some action the horse will take notice of and not want to happen again.

Who is the responsible party?  You are - if your horse is threatening another.  In the cavalry your horse MUST be able to take close contact!   You are in charge of your horse, or you should be, so you are responsible for his actions.   If you feel out of control or "over mounted" get another horse or let a more experienced rider deal with your horse for awhile.

Punishment: Do not punish your horse with the reins!    This is a communication aid above all else and should not be abused. The legs are the source for punishment.  I might also mention that we usually ride in snaffles when training or we use dragoon bits with snaffle rein contact only.

Aggressiveness and Intimidation

1) Aggressive to horse next to him:

The incident to watch for - While on your horse in close order drill you notice a raising of his head and sometimes a loss of contact with the bit.    Your horse's ears are back beyond the listening phase (not necessarily pinned but flatter than that of a horse listening to its rider).

What is happening:  Your horse is trying to intimidate the horse next to him in the rank.  His eyes are glaring hard and his nostrils are probably wrinkled in a posture that says "get out of my space or else".  This is when to take care of the aggressive horse posture not after things escalate.

2)  Aggressive to horse behind him:

The incident to watch for - While on your horse in close order drill you notice a raising of the head with the ears back and a hesitant stride which may or may not be accompanied by a raising or flash of the tail.

What is happening:  Your horse is trying to intimidate the horse behind him in the back rank.  His eyes are probably hard and he may or may not have his head to one side to view the offending horse.  Again, this is when you need to punish your horse and not wait for a kick.

How to deal with the above incidents before they turn into events - Either incident should have a similar initial response by the rider for a new mount who is just starting out in close order drill.    Using his legs to draw the attention of the horse back to him and by using slight alternate rein pressure if needed will usually take his horse's mind off the other horse.   The rider, making sure his calves are on his horse's sides just behind the girth, should lift his heels into his horse's sides.  The horse should change his attitude, ears coming forward, eyes softening and his focus will return to his rider.   On a real aggressive horse, a habitual bad actor or an unresponsive deadhead you will need to get more severe....(see below)

On a horse that habitually resents other horses next to or behind him and has a wider zone of comfort this is what we do, it works most of the time.


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The rider takes the rein on the opposite side from that of the horse being intimidated and bends his horse in this opposite direction.  Use of spurs is recommended to make an impression on the aggressive horse.  The use of spurs is actually a lifting of the heel and a rolling of the rowel on the horse's  side - not a quick stabbing motion.  The use of the spur can be a light contact up to a heavy one depending on the severity of the incident and the horse's level of sensitivity.   Remember to take your horses head away from the horse being intimidated but also keep your legs steadily on him and even produce a bend in his body away from the intimidated horse.  This creates a new "body language" the other horse will understand as an acceptance of him as well as lets your horse know you are the one he has to listen to for signals.

If the horse lashes out, kicks or snaps his teeth you need to catch him immediately and severely reprimand with your legs and spurs.  Don't try to reason why he did it or make excuses, just take care of it and ride on as if nothing happened.  Timing is everything to get rid of bad behavior.   If you go beyond 3 seconds before you level your punishment you may as well not reprimand him because your horse will not associate it with his previous actions.

Use of a whip (a dressage whip is preferred) will also give you good results.  Touch your horse with the whip on the side away from the intimidated horse and set your horse up to react while you are ready for him.  The whip is a better tool to use if your horse resents spurs and wants to buck.  It is meant to be used unobtrusively, with a quick flick of the wrist and not a raising of the hand.  The horse should not see or feel movement before it touches him, and it should touch him behind the girth.   Use of spurs or a whip is merely an aid to teaching your horse and should not be used instead of your leg.

The horse that wants to kick is a bit different than the one who needs space.   This horse should be driven forward with the legs and set up for a sharp spur or crack of the whip if he continues to threaten.  Keep yourself ready for quick action to save the horse behind you from injury caused by your horse.

The Timid Horse

The timid horse is another problem we run into in close order drill.  The solution seems to be to put this horse between two non-threatening, easy-going trainer horses and close up a little bit at a time while riding.  Another method is to ride by twos to get the horse used to one partner then switch partners to another horse, eventually using these two horses together with the timid horse in between them.  It takes time to get the timid horse comfortable with his herd mates.  This horse sometimes needs to be put in a particular spot in the company so he is next to horses that he gets along with. Punishment for this horse is not merited, and sometimes works against the solution you want.  Be patient.

More Ideas

Don't get discouraged, ask for advice if the above doesn't work.  Horse training is a funny thing, nothing works 100% of the time but some methods will work most of the time.  If you have a good idea that has worked for you, please contact me so we can include it here under ideas.

Article written by Linneus Ahearn