The stick and string


I have said before that I feel the most important of God ‘s commandments is the third one. The opposite of misusing God ‘s name is giving God the credit for good and us taking blame for the bad. Along this same theme of giving credit where credit is due, we need to acknowledge where we get all the tools and techniques we use to help us all grow more.

I originally learned about the stick and string through Pat Parelli’s horsemanship program, yet many other famous horse people use it, too, such as Dennis Reiss and Clint Anderson. Besides ultimately giving credit to God I would point to the native American Indians as earlier bearers of this tool. The Indian had a bow for hunting which doubled as a training tool for their horses. An archer keeps their bow unstrung when not in use, therefore at that point it is a stick and a string.
With the three basic ways we all guide our horses: Pressure, rhythmic pressure, and combos thereof, the stick and string represent rhythmic pressure. The string at the end of the stick gives us more reach on the ground, but the stick itself is more useful on the horses back. Ultimately when we want the horse to listen to light pressure, rhythmic pressure helps direct the horse to that goal. The alternative to the stick is spurs, but I feel the stick can give more warning time, and is less likely to cause a horse to buck. To free up both hands when responsive maneuvers are required, ultimately we should graduate to spurs for a back up. But the stick is a great way to prepare a horse for this later on.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

Earlier, when I mentioned giving God the credit for the good and us taking blame for the bad, misuse of the stick would be a good reason to blame ourselves. The three basic ways we would misuse it would be:

  1. Not warning the horse with rhythmic motion before making contact (hitting air before hitting horse).
  2. Not being consistent with the warnings while providing the easier pressure signals through reins, seat and legs first.
  3. 3. Not being sensitive as to how hard or how soft we need to be at the right time.
    Usually a stick is thought of as a tool to motivate a horse to move faster. But realistically it is a great tool to help a horse turn, stop, and move sideways also. Ultimately it is a great tool to help teach a horse to guide with no equipment except our body language. The native American Indians were masters at guiding their horses with no equipment, and their unstrung bow was just the tool they needed to teach their horses. Horses are very receptive to pressure if they are sensitized to it and we’re consistent about how we apply it. To keep it simple-smart, we need to think of putting pressure on the horse much the same as pushing a box across a table. Pressure in front moves it back, and pressure to the side moves it sideways. After pressure is applied by our own seat and legs (for example, left seat bone and leg), then the stick is used rhythmically on the same side to let a horse know they need to listen to the body language or the stick will make contact. We let the horse see the stick moving toward the part of the body we want a horse to move away from.

Sensitive horses do not need the stick to contact them much. Duller horses may need more contact with the stick to get the message. The rider must use feedback from the horse to determine whether to bear down or lighten up. A horse may ignore light contact, or get defensive with too much contact.

A common problem is for a horse to try to outrun the stick when they see it coming. I solve this problem by causing them to turn a small circle moving away from the rhythmic stick and set it up and wait for them to spiral on down to a stop. Then I turn the rhythmic stick into a petting stick to reward the stop. This teaches them to move over and even stop rather than try to escape.

Once a horse tunes into listening to our seat and legs, it is a beautiful feeling to drop the reins and cue a horse through body language alone.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: