Monday, May 28, 2012

Spin Fix #11: Correcting 'Jumping' into the Spin

The problem: Horse jumps into spin instead of stepping quietly into the spin.

Why does this problem happen? When a horse jumps or ‘dives’ into a spin, it is almost certainly a training problem. Someone has spurred him to ask him to spin instead of encouraging him to calmly and quietly take a step.

How to correct this problem: It’s never good if the horse is scared and if he dives into a spin, he’s frightened. Our goal, as trainers/riders is to not let that happen but if it does, we have to get on a road back as soon as possible to establish trust and relaxation again. That means, again, going back to basics – right to the beginning of teaching the spin.
Exercise: After I have warmed up my horse – suppling, leg yielding, jogging, trotting and loping – I quietly walk him in a large circle. When he’s relaxed, I ask for a half spin to the inside of the circle – no jerking, no spurring, just asking by sitting down, opening the inside leg, and lifting the outside rein a bit and waiting. Waiting is big. At this point, one of two things might happen:
1. He doesn’t go anywhere. This is probably because his leap into the spin was in response to the spur, not outside rein and body aids. In that case, I help him with a little inside rein to direct him. If he takes one or two steps without leaping into it, I walk him out of it. If he still doesn’t move when I direct his nose with the inside rein, I bump him very softly with my outside foot or leg (not spur). Hopefully, he will take a step but if he jumps to the side, I stop him, walk him forward and try again only using a bump as a back up. It might take time to get his confidence back but it will work. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
2. He dives into the spin, probably with no style as well. As above, I will not let him continue if he jumps into the spin. I stop him, walk him forward and try again until he gets one quiet step, then reward him for that.

It’s important for the horse’s head and neck to be low before being asked for the spin. There will be two strikes against him before he starts if his head is up. So I always ask him to lower his head and neck before I ask for a spin. It may come up in the spin but at least we have started it correctly. He will be calmer with his head and neck low. What I want here is for the horse to be absolutely relaxed before I ask for the spin. Then, in response to a change in my body and a signal with outside rein that a spin is going to happen in a certain direction, I hope my horse will quietly tip his nose in the direction of the spin and quietly take that first step to the side and back. At that point, he is locked into the spin and I can ask for speed.

Note: I had a horse come to me for training once that did this. She obviously had been spurred hard into a turn around and that’s how she thought it was done. It took a few months to get it fixed but I just kept working on the beginning of the spin, not the spin itself until she relaxed and stepped. I did not continue if she didn’t step into the spin quietly. She has a fantastic spin now – starts slowly and correctly and spins a blur!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Spin Fix #10: Correct "Swapping Ends"

The problem: Horse throws hind quarters to the outside as he spins, thereby "swapping ends" instead of turning on the inside pivot foot.

Why does this problem happen? If the horse spins “like a top” (i.e. over his middle instead of his hind quarters), he’s not balanced over his pivot foot and has not been schooled enough in the basic turn around to want to do that. Probably he just wants to get around any way he can. He may be trying to hurry (or is encouraged to hurry) before he has mastered the basic maneuver.

How to correct this problem: If my horse is trying to spin like a top, I go back to basics. One thing for sure – he will not get better by practicing the spin incorrectly. I have to slow it all down, paying particular attention to the outside rein, keeping his body straight and encouraging him to lock his inside hind foot to turn. I may have to support him with a little more contact with the outside rein while directing him with the inside until he learns to pivot on the inside hind. (Beginner riders may not be able to tell if their horse is on the pivot foot so it is helpful to have someone watch.)
Exercise: I drive my horse forward in to a small circle keeping him straight between the reins (he may not want to be straight!) and bumping him with my legs for forward motion (he may not want to go forward either!) until he is accepting of what I am asking. Then I change my body (sit down and open inside leg) to ask for a turn around, but continue to bump with the outside leg until he initiates a turn. When he goes into the turn I quit bumping but keep body aids on for the turn for one turn or so. Any time he loses position (does not turn on pivot foot), I go back in to the circle again. I would not ask for many spins at the beginning until his position is consistent and correct in the turn around.

Note: When a horse spins like a top, he will not score well. Also, it can be hard to ride, especially if he is spinning fast. With the center of balance in the center of the horse instead of over the pivot foot, centrifugal force can throw a rider out of balance – even off the horse!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Spin Fix #9: Preventing Forward Steps

The problem: Horse creeps forward as he spins.

Why does this problem happen? If my horse is constantly moving forward when he spins, he is too ‘flat’ and not balanced over his pivot foot and is probably 'dropping his shoulders' and becoming too 'flat'. 

How to correct this problem: If my horse creeps forward in a spin, the first thing I do is go back to basics and thoroughly review the basic turn-around, being aware of correctness – body alignment, front leg steps and pivot foot. Unlike the first turn-around lessons where I concentrated more on correct front legs crossing over, I now think more of pivot foot. Is he turning on the correct foot? Is he, in fact, turning on the hind quarters? If he is not using his hind quarters, I will stop him every half-turn but will not allow him to walk forward. Instead, I collect him and ask for another half-turn. Also, if he is not taking that first step with his front foot to the side and back, then I work on that because that’s how he gets too flat and creeps forward. If he continues to flatten out I might, as a last resort, back him up a couple of steps and then ask for a turn-around, at all times being aware of his front legs – is he crossing in front and not hitting himself? When he executes half-turns, then whole turns and stays in one spot - neither backing up nor moving forward - I ask for more. If he flattens out too much in the spin again, I might be able to correct him in the spins by lifting my hands; if not, I stop the spin, collect and try again.

Note: A horse that creeps forward up in a spin does not stay in the geographical area of the spin (thereby incurring a low maneuver score in competition) and can become too “flat” and lose correctness and/or pivot foot.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spin Fix #8*: Prevent Backing Up in Spins

The problem: Horse backs up when he spins.

Why does this problem happen? A horse may back up in a spin if he has been backed up into the spin too much (I rarely do this – and only to correct another problem – because a spin has forward movement) or because too much rein pressure has been applied while spinning. I have also seen horses with a huge amount of ‘stop’ back a little square as they spin – one step each quarter spin – and I’m all right with that.

How to correct this problem: If my horse wants to back up too much when spinning, I turn-around once, stop him, ask him to lower his head if it is up, and walk him forward into the bridle for a couple of steps. Then I ask him to turn around once again and repeat. After several corrections like this, he might stay correct in the spin for two or three turns. If I feel him backing up again, I push him forward out of it and ask for the spin again. It may take many repetitions of this exercise to change my horse’s mind about backing up while he is spinning but, as always, consistent repetition will correct the problem.

Note: A horse that consistently backs up in a spin not only does not stay in the geographical area of the spin (thereby incurring a low maneuver score in competition) but also will probably cross behind in front and/or hit himself as he tries to cross over.