Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stop Fix #1: Straighten the Rundown

The problem: Horse does not run straight to the stop (rundown).

Why does this problem happen? If a horse is not staying straight running to his stops, he has not learned to align his body or the rider is not sending him down straight.

How to correct this problem: If my horse is weaving down the arena when I’m asking him to run straight, I don’t do much stopping until I fix that because stops are all about the rundown. Straight rundown, straight stop. Crooked rundown, crooked stop.

First I want to be confident that my horse is well schooled in basics – give to the reins, give to the legs – so I know I can correct his mistakes. If he is responsive to leg and rein aids, I can fix the rundown.

Exercise 1: I lope straight down one side of the arena (off the rail), around the end, straight down the other side of the arena (off the rail), around the end, etc several times, collecting around the ends and encouraging my horse to run straight lines down the sides. I will probably have two hands on the reins at first with my hands low, wide and in front of the saddle to run the straight lines. If he veers right or left, I correct him like this: When I feel him pushing a shoulder and/or rib out, I lift (not pull) the rein on that side and back it up with leg pressure (or a bump) on the same side until he aligns again. Then I put my hand down. Every time he lets his body drift to one side or the other, I correct but I don’t hold him in line. I want him to be between my reins while I push him forward with my legs and seat.

Note: I would not do this exercise loping around the ends of the arena with a horse that anticipates a stop every time he lopes around the end. Instead, I use the next exercise, correcting alignment mistakes as above.

Exercise 2: Fencing! There is probably no better exercise for straightening the rundown than fencing but the exercise and its purpose is often misunderstood. Read on…

What is fencing? "Fencing" is an exercise whereby the rider lopes his horse in a straight line from one end fence of the arena to the other end fence of the arena.

Why fence a reining horse? I fence my reining horses to improve the rundown – for straightness, gradual acceleration and to teach them to wait for cues.

How I "fence" a reining horse: I stand my horse at the fence on one end of the arena with his hindquarters at the fence. He should be absolutely straight and I should be looking straight down the arena at a point the same distance from the wall on the other end that I am on this end. If he is not relaxed, I stay there until he is. Next, I ask him to lower his neck, depart at a lope in the lead of my choice (another topic) and lope in a straight line all the way to the other end, at all times staying aware of his body alignment. If he veers right or left, I correct him as in the previous exercise.  I want to have all the correcting done by the time I near the fence so I can lower my hand to his neck, sit down for the stop and let the fence stop him. I don't wait until my horse is right at the fence to ask for the stop but I don't want to be too far away either (a mistake that many new reiners make). If I am a long way back from the fence, I have partially defeated the purpose of the exercise – to run all the way to the fence!

I do not usually say "whoa" at the fence – I want the fence to stop him. (The exception to that is if I have added a lot of speed to the rundown and therefore ask for the stop earlier.) If my horse stops crooked at the fence, I straighten him (with legs and/or hands) and then let him rest a few seconds or longer facing the fence. If he stops straight, I rest him. Then I turn him around, straighten him if needed, collect him and lope off (in the lead of my choice again…) to the fence at the other end.

My horse should never crash into the fence – that is not good fencing!

Note: If my horse has not been fenced before, I start the fencing exercise at a trot until he is comfortable with the fence stopping him at that gait. At a lope, his rundown may be quite crooked the first times, especially as I near the fence. I understand – he is a little confused – so I might allow him to break down to a trot. I still try to keep him straight but I don't want to scare him. It doesn't take long at all until he is comfortable loping to the fence if I don't force the issue at first and let him find out that there is a rest (reward) at the fence.

After my horse has learned to lope a straight line fence to fence, I add speed to the rundown. The added speed may magnify little problems, like crookedness or anticipation, so I can correct. I also switch it up lots – sometimes I lope to the fence, sometimes I build speed to the fence, sometimes I pull him down to a walk and walk to the fence and sometimes I just walk the entire line. It's important, too, to alternate leads in the rundown.

Note: I don't overdo fencing or any stopping exercise for that matter. Although my reining horses need to stop enough to build up their muscles, repeatedly stopping often results in the horse making mistakes. I quit on a nice stop (for the level of training) and go back to the barn with a happy horse.

Exercise 3: If the horse is persistent about running crooked, I try this: When his shoulder bulges (causing him to be out of alignment), I steer him in the opposite direction with both reins and outside leg. Example: If he is veering right, I steer him to the left with both reins to the left and right leg pressure – an exaggeration of the correction.

Any time I feel my horse running crooked to a stop in a schooling session, I fix it, even if I have planned a big stop! If I fix the crooked rundown problem, the stop will improve a whole bunch – just because the rundown did!

The goal of a good rundown is a good stop and the best stops are those where the horse’s body is perfectly aligned and in balance; therefore his body must be aligned and balanced in the rundown. A sliding stop is only as good as the rundown to the stop.

Note: When a horse can stay straight, he is better in all maneuvers! A straight horse is a balanced horse!

No comments:

Post a Comment