Monday, April 30, 2012

Spin Fix #7: Keeping Head Low

The problem: Horse starts a spin with head low but raises it in the spin.

Why does this problem happen? A horse raises his head during a spin because he gets out of alignment or he just wants to leave!

How to correct this problem: If my horse is just learning to spin and raises his head in the spin, I might walk him out of it, correct any body alignment problems, ask him to lower his head and neck, ask for a spin again and repeat as necessary. If he is trained and raises his head in the spin, I will ask him to lower it again while he is in the spin (assuming his body position is correct), then finish the spin with his head low. To do this, I use gentle bumps with the inside rein if I cannot see his inside eye or the outside rein if he is overbent. Consistency is everything here - if I ask him to lower his head every time he brings it up, he will eventually see the futility of doing so.

Note: It is extremely important to end the spin with the horse’s head low. Otherwise he may think putting his head up is the way to get rewarded! If I absolutely cannot convince him to lower his head in the spin, I end the spin then ask him to lower his head...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Spin Fix #6: Start with Head Low

The problem: Horse steps into spin with his head and neck high.

If he does not start into the spin with his head low, the presentation is not as good as it could be and he may not ever lower it in the spin. A horse cannot spin well with his head and neck high. In this position, his back will be hollow and he will not be able to reach under with his pivoting hind leg.

Why does this problem happen? A horse raises his head when asked to spin for one of three reasons:
1. He has not learned to lower his head in response to rider aids
2. The rider does not ask him to lower his head
3. He is evading the request because he does not know what the rider is asking or he is scared.
If my horse raises his head instead of lowering it when I ask him to spin, I have not schooled the basics enough, especially a basic turn-around.

How to correct this problem: If I want my horse to step into the spin with his head low, I need to have the tools to ask that. If I have schooled basics well, I will be able to lower his head with a combination of rein and leg pressure and, with two hands on the reins, position him into the first step as described in previous post.
As training is refined, I want to be able to lower his head with leg pressure only like this: With two hands on the rein at first (later, with one), I slowly squeeze my legs around his barrel. At first, he will try to move forward, so I raise my hands just enough to stop him but keep squeezing. When he lowers his head just a little first, I lower my hands and reward. With repetition, I can encourage him to continue lower his head as far as I wish with almost no rein contact. When his head and neck are low, I lift my reins to ask for a spin. If he raises his head, I repeat – lower head, release rein pressure if I have applied any, ask for spin. I want him to start the spin correctly with his head low so if he doesn’t do that, I correct and repeat.

This exercise is very useful in the reining pen when my horse’s attention may be on something else just before I want to spin. By lowering his head and neck before I start into the spin, I have re-focused his attention on me and he is also in a perfect position for that first step into the spin.

Note: I see many, many riders ask for a spin when their horse is not in a good position to spin. I teach my students to take the time to prepare – lower the horse’s head and give him a chance to do the job well!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spin Fix #5: 'Find' the Spin

The problem: Horse will not start into spin.

Why does this problem happen? If a horse will not even start into a spin, he has either not been schooled to spin or he has learned to hate it.

How to correct this problem: I go right back to the beginning to ‘fix’ a horse that freezes when I ask him to spin. One of the best ways is to let him “find” the spin like this: I walk him forward and lift the inside rein lightly (not strong contact at all, just enough to let him know something is happening). He may fuss a little, especially if he has some bad memories, but eventually he will drop his nose and turn into the rein. At this point it is absolutely imperative to lower my hand to reward him for complying. I use very little outside rein for this exercise (if he is really resistant, I use none…) and only enough inside until he figures out for himself how to release that little bit of pressure. If I pull hard, he will almost surely pull back so the trick is to just lift the inside rein to take the slack out.

When he relaxes into half turns, I ask for more until he regains confidence. At that point, I can begin to add other corrections - like straightening or speed or pivot foot. I need that first step or two to be willing to be able to advance training.

Note: I can feel very easily the spot where my horse relaxes into the turn - he softens, lowers his head and 'melts' into it. I build on that!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spin Fix #4: Pivot on the Inside Hind

The Problem: Horse uses outside hind foot for pivot instead of inside hind foot. (Example: In a spin to the right, he pivots off of left hind foot.)

Why does this problem happen? As in the last post, Spin Fix #3, too much inside rein and too little outside rein can cause the horse to throw his weight to the outside in an effort to regain balance. Then his weight is on the outside hip and foot. If he has been spinning like this for a long time, he probably thinks that’s the way it’s done (and can be really good at it!) and it can be quite difficult to correct.

Example: Horse trying to spin on outside hind foot.
Example: Horse spinning on inside hind foot.

How to correct this problem:
First let me say this: Spinning the horse faster to try to get him to use his inside foot for pivot almost never works – he usually gets better and stronger at spinning incorrectly!
I slow things down to fix the problem (right back to a half-turn) and I exaggerate the correction – a half-turn, then a leg yield in the direction of the spin. Example: In a turn to the right, I ask him to spin to the right with a slight change in my body (to stop most of the forward motion), lift my left rein along his neck, pull-release with my right rein. At the half-turn, I change his head direction to the left with a wider left rein and leg yield him to the right. This will transfer his weight back to the right pivot foot. I do this many, many times before asking him for a full turn, then a leg-yield. The important thing now is to never allow him to continue turning on the outside foot so every time I feel him transfer to the outside, I change the spin to a leg yield.

Note: Correcting this problem can vary from a few times if the horse is just learning to spin to a very long time if he has been spinning on the outside foot for a long time.