Monday, April 25, 2011

The Half-Pass

I know. The half-pass is better known as an English maneuver, but I don’t know what I would do without it! A half-pass ensures that my horse will lope off in the correct lead, teaches lead changes, positions for spins and is a great tool for correcting if he  charges in a run-down (half-pass to a walk).

The half-pass is the most demanding form of leg yielding, so my horse needs to know how to leg yield in the simplest way – that is, giving to pressure from my inside leg and moving forward sideways to the outside of the circle – before I teach the half-pass. I also teach him to move into the circle (off of my outside leg) before I teach half-pass. So, if you are walking a circle on the right rein, you should be able to leg yield your horse to left a few steps as in Basic Exercise: Leg Yielding and also leg yield him off of your left leg a few steps to right (still walking in a right circle) before you try to half-pass. (Note: When you leg yield into the circle, apply outside leg and outside rein wide to tip the nose to the outside, then inside rein (on the neck) until he moves a few steps forward/sideways into the circle.)

What is a half-pass?
A half-pass is a form of leg yielding whereby the rider re-directs the forward motion of his horse into forward sideways motion with the horse’s head in the same direction as the direction of travel (as opposed to basic leg yielding where the horse’s head is away from the direction of travel).

The Exercise
Walk your horse in a large circle on the right rein. Make sure your right leg is not in contact with your horse. With your weight to the left (it helps to really exaggerate this at first), apply right rein pressure in a “give-and-take” in the direction of your left shoulder – a rein of opposition. I find I need quite a short rein to do this so my hand doesn't get too high. Apply left leg pressure and steady direct left rein pressure until your horse steps to the inside of the circle with forward sideways steps. Your right rein will be holding your horse on the circle and your left leg will be moving his hind quarters into the circle. Ask for only a step or two at the beginning, using your voice or bumping softly with your inside leg for forward motion. Release all aids and repeat, then repeat to the left.

Where can it go wrong?
  • The horse loses forward motion. If your horse does not want to move forward when you have him in a half-pass position, “cluck’ to him (voice) and/or bump him with your inside leg. If you cannot convince him to go forward or he backs up, release the half-pass aids, walk forward (you always have to have forward motion!) and try again.
  • The horse will not give to the inside rein. Make sure you are pull/releasing the inside rein. If you are solid on both reins, your horse will be confused, especially if he is just learning the maneuver. If he is not giving to the inside rein, the rest of the aids for the half-pass are not going to make it happen, so get this working first!
  • The horse does not give to the leg. If your horse does not give to the leg, you might have to go back to more basic leg yielding until he responds better. Also, turns on the forehand might help. Then go back to try the half-pass. Remember, you need only a step at first.

Note: On horses that really resist my attempts to teach the half-pass, I will break it down like this: On the right circle, for a half-pass to the right (inside of the circle), I first apply my right leg to leg yield out of the circle (the simple exercise). When he responds, I shift my weight to the left (outside), apply my left leg, and change my inside rein to the rein of opposition (toward my left shoulder). If he takes a step, I reward with a release of aids; if he does not, I go back to the simple leg yield and repeat. I might also try the opposite approach: leg-yield into the circle (weight in outside and outside leg pressure but with the head to the outside). When he moves off of my leg, change the right rein angle from “on the neck” to toward my left shoulder. He is now in half-pass position. Again, reward for one small step.

The half-pass is not easy for horse or rider if they have not performed it. More balance, engagement of the hind quarters and impulsion is required than a simple leg yield. As the horse learns, the rider must be able to feel when his horse is out of position so he can adjust rein or leg to help. As with all the exercises, when the horse learns at a walk, I first ask for more refinement and more steps, then at a jog and eventually at a lope.

I will try to post a video in the near future on this post to demonstrate the exercise with variations.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Lope and Leads

There’s no faster way to a low score in a reining class than your horse loping in the incorrect lead. Since you will deducted one point for every quarter circle that you are not in the correct lead, and there are twelve circles in every reining pattern, the penalty points can add up! And before we go any further, if your horse is correct in front and incorrect behind, he is not “half right”!!

The lope and leads are hand-in-hand. When a horse lopes, he will be in the right lead, the left lead, or disunited (not ever desirable!) If you watch a horse loping, it will appear that either the left or right fore and hind legs are carried more forward. He is in the left lead if the left legs are extending forward; he is in the right lead if the right leads are extending more forward. If he is disunited, he will be in the right lead in front and left lead behind or vice-versa.

The “correct” lead for left circles is the left lead; the correct lead for right circles is the right lead.

I expect my horses to learn to lope a lot of circles. After my horse is well warmed up with basic suppling exercises, jogging and trotting, I will usually (always on the youngsters) ask for the lope from a posting trot. On the two-year-olds, if I am trotting, I sit down (but lightly – not hard enough to stop), keep some weight in the outside strirrup, move my hands forward and say “lope”. Then I make a “kissing” sound. This works like a charm on a colt that I have never loped but have asked to lope on the lunge line with a “kiss”. Later, and on my trained reining horses, I school the lead departure in the correct lead from a walk or stop (a future post on Reining Training Tips) so I don’t incur penalty points by starting my circle in the wrong lead. The following video demonstates the lope and leads:
What can go wrong?
Sometimes a horse does not seem comfortable in one lead and always uses the other – even when it is the outside lead e.g. he lopes in the right lead on a left circle. This often happens on a two year old that is just learning to lope. If he picks up the incorrect lead, I do not punish him. If it is the first time we loped, I want to make sure to reward him for loping! But this can’t go on for long, of course. After I know he will lope when I ask, I want the correct lead too. I drop back down to a trot if he picks up the wrong lead and try to feel his natural balance and use that to my advantage. There will usually be one part of the circle where I can feel he is more likely to be correct. If he has missed the lead several times, I make sure to change the place in the circle where I asked because he has “learned” to miss it in that spot. Also, I make sure I keep outside rein pressure on him to keep him on the track and help with the outside leg. So much of this is timing – feeling when the horse is in a position to automatically take the correct lead.

I like a pretty loper. There can be quite a difference in the way horses lope. Some of it is training and the different styles of the trainer – very collected or natural way of going for instance. That is personal preference, but the way a horse lopes – the way he is built and the way he uses his body – cannot be changed. My opinion is: Ride a good loper because a great portion of the time the judge is watching him in the reining pen, he is loping!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Circles and Collection

Every reining pattern has six circles so my horse better know how to execute, not only a circle, but a correct, pretty circle. Also, circles are the backbone of a reining training program.

If my horse gives to my hands and gives to my legs, the theory is I can teach him to walk, jog, and run circles. If he gives to the right rein and gives to the left rein, I can direct his head; if he moves away from leg pressure, I can position his ribs and body; if he understands to move forward when I ask, I can ask for any gait I wish - in a circle. That’s the theory…

From the first rides to the finished reining horse, my program is to correct my horse when he leaves the circle and leave him alone when he is on the circle. That, to me, is fair and easily understandable to my horse. Also, that is the way to have a horse that will gallop circles with no rein contact – or even bridleless! In other words, if I am loping a circle to the left, my hand is low as long as he stays on the circle. If he drifts out of the circle, say to the right, I pick up my hand and leg yield him back on the path, then lower my hand again and leave him alone. If he drifts out again (or collapses in), I correct again, then leave him alone again.

Before I go any farther, I must talk about what a circle is. A circle is a figure bounded by a curved line that is everywhere an equal distance from the center – no more, no less.  A circle is round - not oval or lopsided - round! If you are having difficulty ascertaining whether you are on your circle, it might be a good idea to “chalk” one with lime in your arena. Practice walking and trotting this circle until you have the feel of keeping your horse in the correct frame to stay on the circle, and then try at a lope.

Hand in hand with circles is collection (although a horse needs to be collected to be able to perform all reining maneuvers). A “collected” horse is balanced between the rider’s hands and legs. As I drive my horse forward into my hands with my legs, he shortens his frame, rounds his back, and strides deeper behind. He cannot do this if he is not giving to the bridle. When he softens to rein pressure, he can then round his back; when he rounds his back, he can stride deeper with his hind legs. Collection starts with giving to the bridle and is completed when the horse gives to leg pressure. As always, if my horse is green, I expect less.

The Exercise
Walk your horse in a large circle and slowly apply pressure with both legs. Then slowly apply rein contact and hold (I tell my students to “lock their elbows”) for four or five strides, applying enough leg pressure to keep your horse moving forward. You should not keep pulling with your hands – stop your hands and drive with your legs. (Your reins should be at a length so that your hands are not behind the horn when you have taken the slack out of them with your horse giving vertically). The goal is for the horse to give his head to rein pressure and become lighter on the forehand as he places his hind feet farther under his body.
Repeat the exercise at a jog, a posting trot and lope as the horse understands. 

  • Apply legs before hands.
  • Apply more leg than hands.
  • Do not restrict more forward motion than you can create with your legs. In other words, if you have very strong legs, you can apply more pressure with your hands because you can overcome it with your legs. A child, on the other hand, with very little leg strength, needs to be very light on the reins.
This is what keeps your horse moving forward. If you apply more rein pressure than leg pressure, you are actually asking him to move backwards. We want to keep forward motion. At first, relax pressure for three or four strides before asking again but as your horse gets more trained or if he is already trained, you can release pressure for only one stride or even a half stride. The goal is for the horse to maintain the collected frame because he BELIEVES that you will always put him back in that frame. The following video demonstrates collection at a jog, trot and lope on a two-year-old.
I do a tremendous amount of schooling work on circles. After warming my horse up, I jog, then trot, then lope circles, collecting at every gait and, of course, reversing directions. Only after my horse is relaxed in a circle will I ride straight lines. I like to say he has to “earn” his way into straight lines. If he is chargy or not focused in the straight line, I go back to circles and collection in the circles.

Monday, April 4, 2011

How Basic Exercises Relate to Reining Maneuvers

I’ve been talking a lot about basics – simple exercises to warm up your horse for more difficult ones. I’ve explained why I do basic exercises and how they train a young horse. I’ve also said that giving to rein and leg pressure (what basic exercises are) is the “whole program”. That may seem too simple, but it’s true. Of course, my horse must learn to “give” with refinement and at different gaits (which increases the degree of difficulty) and in combinations, but if I keep it simple in my mind – asking my horse to give to my hands and my legs – then he has the best chance to learn and execute anything I ask. And (I’ve said this before but it bears repeating!), if there is a problem at a higher level, it can and should be fixed at the basic level. Those basic exercises are closely related to the reining maneuvers.

Circles: Circles are an integral part of a reining training program from the first rides to the finished reining horse – and I want very correct circles. I use basics to position my horse in the correct frame to lope a circle – forward motion, give to the rein, give to the leg – and I use basics to keep him on the circle. For example, if my horse collapses into the circle, I apply inside leg to leg yield him back on the circle; if he bows out of the circle, I apply outside leg to leg yield him back on the circle. In a reining pattern, circles are performed at a lope but, if my horse is very resistant, I will drop back to a trot, jog or even a walk to correct.

Rundowns: As in circles, I use basics are to position my horse until he understands how to keep his body straight. A lot of times, training is about exaggerating the correction, so if he fades towards the wall, I might leg yield him well off the track. For example, if I am loping in the left lead in a straight line twenty feet away from the fence and my horse starts to fade over to the right toward the wall (he will be pushing into the right rein as well), I can leg yield him left off of my right leg well into the arena (farther than twenty feet!), then allow him to go straight again.

Lead changes: I cannot teach my horse to change leads if he does not give to pressure from reins and legs. That, along with forward motion executes a lead change. If I am loping in the left lead and want to change leads, I will collect my horse (give to the reins), move him off of the right leg a bit, then switch to move him off of my left leg for the change.

Spins: Spins are a series of half-turns on the haunches and a half-turn on the haunches uses all the basic exercises – forward motion and giving to reins and leg. For example, for a half turn to the left: With the left leg off the horse, I ask my horse to turn with my right (indirect or neck) rein, apply left rein in a give-and-take motion to keep nose turned (give to the reins), bump with the right leg (give to the leg). This is for a horse just learning a half-turn. For a trained reining horse, with one hand (give to the reins), I ask him to turn to the left and use my leg only if he needs it (give to the leg).

Stops: Stops are taught, and then executed, using all the basics. I ask for a sliding stop exactly as in the exercise:  vertical flexion, which is about response to my weight, voice and hands. That is, I change my weight (behind center of balance), say “whoa”, and then lift hand only if I need to.

Rollbacks: Rollbacks are merely putting two maneuvers together – a stop and a half-turn on the haunches – along with forward motion. Perfect rollbacks are the result of a good stop, correct response to the reins and timing (the rider’s responsibility!).

Back-ups: My horse learns to back up at a basic level (Basic Exercise: Vertical Flexion) and the maneuver is refined with training, using basics of giving to the reins, legs and weight. The basic exercise in vertical flexion is not really a back-up exercise (it is more about giving to both reins) but it does begin my horse’s understanding of the maneuver. Later, I want him to respond to the motion of my hands and the change of my weight for a pretty back-up.

This is a summary of how basic exercises relate to reining maneuvers. I will deal with each of the maneuvers specifically in later posts.