Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stop Fix #12: Wait to be Asked

The problem: The horse executes a sliding stop but anticipates and initiates a rollback, which results in a downgraded maneuver score or even a zero score.
Why does this problem happen? If the horse rolls back after a stop without being asked once, I can attribute it to mental error. If he makes a habit of anticipating a rollback after a stop, it's time to correct the problem.
Note: A horse can catch a rider by surprise with an uncalled-for rollback. It's happened to me! Sometimes that happens because the rider has schooled stop/rollback too much just prior to the performance.
How to correct this problem: I do not want my horse to ever anticipate a rollback. From the beginning I train my horse to wait for me to ask – whatever the next maneuver is. That way I am always in control. I do not "practice" rollbacks much either. He knows all the parts anyway and if he is responding only to my requests, he will have no difficulty executing pretty rollbacks in the pen.
Exercise: If my horse is a little too anxious to roll back after I stop him, I school him like this: Anywhere in the arena (up and down the arena or diagonal), I run him down and stop him. After he stops, I don’t release my body aid. That tells him to be prepared for something else and that he should wait to hear what I want! (My hands will clear that up for him.) I might back him up and then rollback either left or right (not necessarily the direction my horse thinks it will be). Then I switch it up – lots! Sometimes I stop, back up and rollback to right: sometimes I stop, back up and rollback to the left; sometimes I stop, hesitate a long time, rollback; sometimes I stop back up and relax; sometimes I just stop and rest.
Note: Stop/back up/rollback is never included in a pattern but that doesn't matter – this is about schooling my horse to wait to be asked. Backing up before a rollback (in schooling) gives me a chance to align his body if it is not aligned in the stop as well. I can make sure everything is correct before I ask for a rollback.
My horses pick this up very fast. When they do, it's a great feeling – almost a game – mixing it up and feeling my horse waiting for my signal for the next maneuver after the stop.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Stop Fix #11: No Skipping!

The problem: The horse begins stop correctly, but does not stay in the slide. He picks hind legs up and puts them down again like a stone skipping on water.
Why does this problem happen? Probably the number one reason a horse skips in the slide is the rider. If the rider's timing is not good or unsure, the horse's timing will not be either. The horse feels "stop, don't stop, stop, don't stop, etc" and so that's how he slides – in the ground, out of the ground, etc. If the rider gets ahead of his horse and then throws his shoulders back with one sudden movement for the stop, the horse may skip as well.
Skipping may occur if the horse is not confident enough to commit to the ground or if he is not capable of staying in the ground when the stop is approached with great speed. (I once saw a "longest slide" contest at a reining show and many of the horses skipped because the riders, trying to win the contest, had asked with maximum speed.)
How to correct this problem: If I, the rider, am causing the problem, I can correct that. I don't want to ride forward in the rundown and suddenly throw my shoulders back when I want to stop. I do want my shoulders to be behind the motion in the rundown and when I prepare to stop so my horse is running out ahead of me. If I ride every stride, getting deeper and deeper in the saddle in the rundown, then all I need to do is push into the stirrups, sit down, lock my back and say "whoa".
If I can find nothing wrong with my position and my horse still skips, I must slow things down and review his basic training. All the basic requirements for a correct rundown and a correct approach to the stop come into play – straight and soft in the rundown, wants to stop, will stop without rein pressure, will accept rein pressure if needed – to achieve a sliding stop with no skipping. If these things are not solid, I school my horse until they are. Then my job, as the rider, is to deliver a very clear, consistent message to my horse for the stop. If I believe, he will.
Another exercise that may help is fencing (See explanation of fencing in Stop Fix #1: Straighten the Rundown) because it can teach the horse to break at the loin and become more committed to the stop.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Stop Fix #10: Correct a "Vee" Slide

The problem: The horse's hind legs spread wider as he slides, creating a “vee” until he picks up one foot to regain balance.
Why does this problem happen? The reasons a horse's hind legs spread when he slides are:
1. Conformation
2. Shoeing
3. The horse stops too hard.
Example of "Vee" Slide
How to correct this problem: The first thing I consider if a horse slides a "vee" is his conformation. If his hind legs/feet point to the outside (toe out) then that is surely where his legs will go in a slide. They will start to spread as soon as he sits down for the slide and the longer the slide, the more they will spread until he has to come out of the slide to bring them back together. This kind of horse can be helped by a good farrier turning the sliding plate a little to the inside on the foot (straight with the world). Corrective shoeing may be all it takes to correct the problem!
The other thing to consider if a horse "vees" in the slide is the inside muscle of the hind legs. Good inside muscling holds the horse straight in the slide; conversely, poor muscling in that area can allow the legs to spread.
If the horse's conformation is all right and the sliders are properly positioned and he still slides a "vee", I work on getting the horse to 'soften' his stop. He may be going to the ground so hard that his hind legs spread.
Exercise: I don't stop at speed until I correct the problem at slower speeds. I may not go back to a trot/stop (depending on how deviated the mistake is), but I need to at least go back to stopping at a collected lope and then work up to big stops with speed.
As a rider, I must also be very aware of the signals I give to my horse when I want him to stop. Am I possibly sitting down too hard?
Is the ground good? If it is too slippery or too deep, it could make the problem worse.
There is a mental aspect to this problem, too, so if the horse is not relaxed about his work, I work on that. I must be relaxed as well if I want him to soften his approach to the ground, and very consistent with my rider aids. If he is a good stopping horse (wants to stop, built to stop and tries hard), he already likes his work. I just want him to mellow a bit. This horse (as opposed to the one who doesn't want to stop) has the confidence to stop. I don't want to take that away but I want to encourage him to "enjoy the slide". I want to show him that he does not have to complete the stop in ten feet.
Note: A horse will not ever be able to slide 30 feet if he "vees" and even if he picks up a foot and goes back into the slide, the maneuver will be downgraded.