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!

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