Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Teaching the Turn-around

As soon as my horse is solid in basic maneuvers, I start teaching him the turn-around (spin). He must be reasonably responsive to rider aids in order for me to “place” him in a correct position so I wait until he is far enough along in his training to accept what I am asking - usually after 30 days or so. At that time, he is far from finished but has enough understanding of my aids to begin learning a basic turn-around.

Before I work on turn-arounds, I warm my horse up well with basic exercises, jogging, trotting and loping. Then I let him walk relaxed for a few minutes.

At first, I ask only a half-turn. Sometimes I work on the large circle I have just loped, turning to the inside, walking a few steps then turning to the inside again. This means I change directions every time, though, so more often, I will only work one direction at a time, asking a half-turn, releasing, walking forward in a straight line anywhere in the arena, then asking another half-turn the same way. When my colt is responding as well as I think he is capable of for his level of training I work the other direction.

Example to the right with two hands on the reins: Walk the horse forward (spins need forward motion!), brace your body just enough to stop most (not quite all!) of the forward motion and at the same time place the left rein on his neck (in the direction of your right shoulder but not pushing on the neck or over the neck). Now “help” him with the right (inside) rein with a pull-release motion and, if necessary, your left leg until he turns 180 degrees (half-turn). Release all aids and walk forward. Repeat several times. Change directions and repeat several times in that direction.

  • Do not completely stop before you ask for the turn.
  • Do not pull the outside rein across the neck. Instead, “ask” with only a touch.
  • Do not lift your outside rein high – 4 inches or so is about right. Remember it is the asking rein and you have other aids to back it up.
  • Maintain body aid until turn-around is completed. (If you release body aid the horse will walk forward out of the turn-around.)
  • Use pull/release pressure with inside rein.
  • Apply leg pressure with a “bump”, not a steady push.
  • Make sure your outside leg is not asking for the spin first (It will be a correction if used last and hopefully the time will come when you do not need it.)
  • Apply leg pressure last and only if it is needed.
  • Release all aids and walk forward to a “new” spot to repeat.
Note: It's necesary to release rider aids slightly before the turn-around is completed because the horse is in motion and will complete it on his own. After your know your horse well, you will know how fast your horse "shuts off."I release most of mine at about one-eighth before the completed turn. In a class, this will ensure that I don't pick up a penalty for over-spinning.

When my horse has mastered a half-turn, I ask him to make a full turn (or one spin) by putting two half-turns together with a slight release at half. That is: walk, brace body, outside rein, inside rein, outside leg if necessary, then after one half-turn, release rein pressure slightly (but not body aid), ask for another half-turn. Release all aids and walk forward. Repeat as necessary. The following video is the only one I could find in my collection to demonstate teaching the turn-around:

It could be several months before I feel my horse is ready to perform multiple spins but when he is, it's only a matter of adding to what he already knows. After all, multiple spins are only multiple half-turns! i.e. four spins is eight half-turns. What is important in the first few months of training is correctness. A horse cannot spin fast if he is not correct. Conversely, when he is correct, the speed is easy - the spin almost takes on a life of its own. Speed, however, will magnify any little problems at the basic level. Speed increases the degree of difficulty (that's why we are rewarded for it in the reining pen!) In future posts, I will address several spin "issues", spinning with one hand and specific exercises to make a spin better and faster.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Neck Reining 101

As everyone knows, reining horses must perform all the difficult and demanding maneuvers of a reining pattern with only one of his rider’s hands on the reins. Ideally, that rein should be loose so that a mere touch of the rein on the horse’s neck (combined with body and leg aids) guides him to – and through – each maneuver. This means the horse must respond to the outside rein or indirect rein (as opposed to the inside/direct rein) - no small thing to ask but definitely trainable over time.

There’s no mystery or magic formula to teach a horse to neck rein, but there are a few principles to understand it:
  1. Neck reining doesn’t mean forcing the horse to turn with a lot of pressure on the outside rein.
  2. Neck reining means asking the horse to turn with a touch of the outside rein.
  3. Neck reining isn’t learned overnight. It’s learned with consistent signals from the rider.
Much of the schooling of a reining horse is two-handed. Certainly I use two hands to teach my horse. However, I never lose sight of the ultimate goal – one hand on the reins – so from the very beginning I think about the outside rein. I ask with it first, then back up with the direct rein and/or legs. And I never pull it across his neck. This applies to circles, spins and roll-backs. If I pick up my outside rein first to ask him to perform the maneuver, then back it up with my inside rein (and leg if necessary), he will learn to respond to the first signal – the neck rein. Here are two photos of my stallion, Running With Wolves. In both photos I am asking him to spin. In the first photo, as a immature, two-year-old in training, I am riding with two hands but asking with the right rein first to spin left; in the second, I am showing one-handed and he is responding to the touch of the left  rein to spin right.
Pick up outside (right) rein to ask, back up request with inside rein.
Pick up left hand toward right shoulder so rein touches neck to ask to spin right.
 For example, when I lope a circle to the right and am riding two-handed, I might pick up my left rein first on my horse’s neck and follow it with a direct pull with my right hand. It’s so important to not “baby-sit” with the inside rein. If there is always pressure on the inside rein, not only will the horse “lean” on it – he will rely on it to turn. And that is counter-productive. If he is relying on the inside rein all the time, he’s going to wonder what happened when he’s asked to perform off of the outside rein in a one-handed reining class when his rider cannot have contact with the inside rein!

The other thing I keep in mind is how close my hands are together. In the beginning of training or if I have a problem, I will widen the distance between my hands but to keep on track for “Neck Reining 101” I ride much of the time with my hands close together in front of the horn – just where one hand on the reins would be! This is especially true for the inside rein. If he can see my inside hand (even if I don’t move it), I will be baby-sitting my horse. If I have to use the inside rein to correct, it is truly a correction because my horse has not seen my inside hand when the outside hand (neck rein) asks.

A third consideration is the level of my hands. If I am thinking ahead to showing one-handed, it’s not much good to apply pressure to either rein with my hands below my horse’s neck. (Just try to do that with one hand on the reins!) So I try to keep both hands above the neck (just like one hand has to be).

Walking With Wolves running circles in his first year showing one-handed
To re-cap:
  • Ask with the outside rein first.
  • Hide the inside (correction) rein hand until you need it.
  • Don’t let hands drop on each side of the horse’s neck when riding with two hands.
So – two hands on the reins are good (and should be used for much of the training) if the rider always keeps the ultimate goal in mind throughout training – one hand on the reins or "neck reining".