Monday, January 23, 2012

The Counter Canter

Definition: A counter canter is a lope in the outside lead. That is, I ask my horse to lope in the right lead if we are in a left circle.

Although almost all reining trainers now use the counter canter as a training tool, I remember a time when almost no one did. And, though most trainers now use the counter canter to school lead changes, there was a time when many trainers didn’t school lead changes at all – they just rode horses that naturally changed. Fortunately for me, I never was of that mind set and my mentor, Vern Sapergia, taught me how to train a horse to change leads.

“Those reiners have the option of picking another futurity prospect if a horse is not a natural lead changer,” he said. “We don’t. We may have only one or two in our barn so we better have a lead change program.” That's when I started counter cantering my horses.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Finding the Position of Comfort: Exercise Two

This exercise is actually a continuation of the last exercise but if my horse is just learning I may not advance for a few rides.  If he is thoroughly schooled in basic exercises, he is usually mentally and physically ready for this step up very quickly – I let him “tell” me, to a great extent. But I don't walk into the arena and start here. I will have already jogged my horse around the arena, half-passing him to the outside, releasing and letting him find the comfort zone in both directions (See Finding the Position of Comfort: Exercise One). Then I take same exercise up a notch – to the lope!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Finding the Position of Comfort: Exercise One

In the last post, I talked about promoting a comfortable body position for my horse because he is happiest and can perform best when he is comfortable. But horses often don’t figure that out without a little help from the rider. Here is a non-stressful basic exercise that will encourage a horse to find the “comfort zone”:

The Exercise
I jog my horse in straight lines down the sides of the arena (but 15 feet from the walls because I rarely work a reining horse on the rail - reining patterns require rundowns to be off the fence) and around the ends. As he jogs, I half-pass him to the outside i.e. push his hindquarters to the outside with his nose to the outside. After a few steps, I release rein and leg aids, jog a few steps and repeat. Staying on a track in a straight line down one side, around the end, down the other side and around the end, I repeat this simple exercise several times.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Comfort Connection

A horse will always strive to be comfortable. If we, as trainers/riders remember that, we will have accessed a valuable “teaching” tool! I call it the “comfort connection”.

It’s really quite simple. I’ve already talked about releasing aids (hands, legs, body) when my horse is doing what I ask but if I think one step further and think about tapping in to my horse’s “comfort”, I am limited only by his talent and what I wish to “teach” him because he, in fact, is teaching himself. He wants to be comfortable; therefore he will try to be comfortable. If I take advantage of that, the whole training process is easier.

Example 1: A horse’s spine is aligned best if his neck (not just his head!) is low. He instinctively knows this but, with someone on his back asking him to respond to something he doesn’t know yet, he may resist to pressure on the reins, stiffen,  and put his head up. He is not comfortable with his head in that position so, as I walk, jog and lope, I encourage him to lower his neck with leg pressure. When he does (and is rewarded with release of pressure), he becomes comfortable again. My horses understand this very quickly. (I can almost see the “light bulb” go on…). Then they are happy to respond the next time… because they are comfortable. As always, it’s important to reward for even the slightest response at first. It’s amazing how fast a horse will learn when he is finding a comfortable position.

Example 2: A horse is most comfortable spinning if his body is in correct alignment. It will be easy to turn around if his neck is low, his shoulders are “up” and his barrel and hips aligned. In fact, spinning is so much easier that he will float around with the help of centrifugal force. If his head is up, his back is hollowing; then it is difficult for him to place a pivot leg under himself; if he is resisting rein pressure on one side and his shoulder is “stuck out”, it will be difficult for him to cross over in front.

Example 3:  A horse will stop best if his body is aligned. Again, he will be more comfortable that way and therefore he will be more willing to stop and will perform the stop much better. This starts in the rundown. If my horse does not feel or act comfortable in the rundown, I will often go back a step or two and correct that – by encouraging him to find the comfortable position again.

A horse will perform any maneuver better if he is correct and he will only stay correct if he is comfortable. A horse will seek out the comfortable position once he is shown where it is. That’s the “comfort connection”.