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!
The Exercise Part 1
On one of the straight lines, I ask for a lope in the outside lead. That is, if I am jogging on the left rein, I will pick up the right lead. I may do this from a jog or a walk. At this point in training, my horse understands how to lope off in the lead I ask for (See Half-Pass to Lope). As he lopes in the outside lead (counter-canter), I apply the aids to half-pass to the outside for just a couple of strides, and then release as I did at the jog. When I release rein and leg pressure, he will relax into the position of comfort again with neck low – but still in the outside lead (I’m careful not to shift my weight or apply the outside leg…). I repeat this several times still loping around the arena – straight down the sides and around the ends. It is a little more difficult to keep him in the outside lead around the ends so I usually “help” him there with stronger aids and release on the long sides.
What can go wrong?
- The horse breaks back to a jog. This may happen because the horse does not understand, is not well enough schooled in half-pass at a lope or because rider aids are not clear. I either ask him to lope in the outside lead again or, if I think he resisted half-pass aids, I might school him on that at a walk and jog before asking at a lope again.
- The horse changes leads to the inside lead. If this happens when I am asking for a half-pass, I know my horse is not responding to my leg and I will school that before asking again. If he changes leads when I release the aids, I check that I have not applied leg pressure with the other leg (thereby asking him to change); if that is not the problem then he simply volunteered a maneuver I did not ask for. I sit down (I don’t pull him down; I just let him break down) until he jogs.
After repeating the exercise several times, I allow my horse to walk, then reverse and repeat in the other direction.
The Exercise Part 2
When my horses understand this exercise very well in both directions, I incorporate a lead change into the exercise like this:
After half-passing to the outside several times, and if my horse is relaxed with his body in alignment, I ask him to change leads by switching my weight to the outside stirrup on one of the straight lines. Usually, he changes and hardly knows why he did because his body is so well-aligned and, again – he wants to be comfortable. (The combination of my weight in the outside now and him in the outside lead encourages him to change.) If he doesn’t, I do not fight with him to do it; I just pick another spot in my track around the arena and ask again. If he continues to ignore my aids to change, I know I have not done enough work or have not been clear enough with my aids in the previous exercise. The important thing is for me not to punish him for not changing (it’s probably my fault anyway!) I use many “lead change exercises” to encourage my horses to change leads without anticipation or fear and I will talk more about that subject later.
The Exercise Part 3
If my horse is handling all of the above, I join the two directions together like this: Instead of breaking down to a walk to change directions at a lope, I, after half-passing, relaxing, half-passing, relaxing, etc, change leads and then, at one end of the arena, reverse by loping a “teardrop” shape to come back on the straight line in a counter-canter in the other direction. I then school the second direction, half-passing to the outside, relaxing and finally changing leads.
This exercise is all about the horse finding and keeping a position of comfort as he performs for me. Because he is comfortable, he is happy; because he is happy, he performs well which, after all, is the goal in the reining pen.