Sunday, November 23, 2014

More Exercises

     I hope everyone understands the value of (good) loping circles but there are so many things you can do with the circle as the basis.  Of course, your circles need to be consistant in size and speed, with the ability to speed up and slow down.  The circles need to be as round as possible - not elipses or ovals.  Once you've established good loping circles then you can really start having fun!
    I always teach my horses to spiral into a small circle and then spiral back out into a large circle.  I push out the circle out with my inside leg, keeping the horse's whole body arced nicely, then push the horse back into as small a circle as he's comfortable with, then repeat.
     I teach all my horses to counter bend when loping circles, again, making sure to move the rib cage, not just the head and neck.  About this time in a horse's training I will also introduce simple lead changes.  I always do simple changes before teaching flying changes as this helps a horse to collect up and get ready for the advanced maneuver of a flying change (assuming I choose to teach them and they're able - some horses just aren't built to do a flying change comfortably).
     I start doing counter-canters about this time as well.  I deliberately lope the horse into an egg shaped counter-canter pattern, exagerating my cues.  As the horse gets better with this, you will not have to use such obvious cues and your egg shape can potentially become a counter-cantered circle.  (Email me if this doesn't make sense and I'll help you visualize it!)  Counter-cantering really cleans up a lope and helps slow a horse down as well.  It does this by really lifting the back and shoulders and forcing a horse to use the leading inside leg.
     I also like to lope circles into the wall, using the wall as a tight barrier on one side of my circle.  This helps a horse drive up underneath himself, without me having to force the issue, just some encouragement with my leg is all that is needed.
     I really like a stop, pivot, lope off routine too.  Usually I pivot to the outside and lope off on the opposite lead, being careful to keep my circles the same size and the horse's shoulder up, with their body straight in the transition.
     Another exercise I sometimes use is to ride a circle then ride a straight line out of it and then build another circle (visualize a P or a 9, with the tail of the nine straight though! - the top is your circle, and the leg of the P or 9 is your straight line, then at the end of the leg, build another circle...).  Your horse should line his shoulders up straight whenever he comes out of your circles.  I make sure my horse is not on the wall when I do this as the wall will support the horse and I want to make sure the horse is straight in the shoulder from my cues and my leg and not just from the support of the wall, and I want him to stay straight until I arc him into my next circle.
     An advanced maneuver that is very good for Western Pleasure horses is to lope squares.  The trick here is to have very straight lines connected with sharp 90 degree angle turns.  This helps a horse to lift his shoulder but don't try this unless your horse gets very good with all the circle work I've described and remember that you'll really have to ride the rib cage to accomplish this!
     Another execise I like is to put my horses on the rail at a lope and then flex them off the bridle both to the inside and outside.  Be careful to keep their shoulder up and straight and just flex them in the poll, not the middle of their neck.  Having a horse work the wall with his head and poll flexed to the outside will really slow a horse down but again, make sure he has good basic circle work before you introduce this. 
     It takes quite a while to accomplish everything I've described here,  probably close to a year for most horses but it's well worth it.  Don't try all of these at once and don't over-ride any of them but add them patiently and carefully into your routine and I think you'll find they're a challenging way to keep your horse - and you - in tune!  Talk to you next week!  JD

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Does "Bridle Horse" Mean?

     One of you recently asked: what does "bridle horse" mean.  I love the question because there's so much to the answer!
     "Bridle horse" is an old horseman's term that came specifically from California.  It was a term used to describe a horse that had moved from the snaffle to hackamore to bridle.  Usually the term was used to describe a horse that was completely finished and "in the bridle".  These were horses that carried a spade or modified spade bit.  Often working in four reins for a year or more.
     Though the term is used today, it describes a different horse.  The old bridle horse was completely accepting of the bridle and could do any job asked of them while "packing" that bridle.  Nowadays, we usually just mean a horse that has a lot of headset on a loose rein, carrying a curb bit. 
     The old bridle horse not only carried the bit well but carried his body well.  This allowed the horse to do difficult maneuvers while "up" in the bridle.  In other words, not pulling and getting stiff, he
showed no resistance.  Many times the modern horse just hangs in the bridle, accepting the bridle but not necessarily being totally comfortable with actually working with the bridle.  Most horses today carry a different type of bit in the working classes, bits that are much easier for a horse to accept.  The modern demands of the show ring and the lack of time to bring horses along prevent us from making true bridle horses.  We still achieve horses that carry the bit well and can be very pretty but, in the true sense, they are not "bridle horses" even though they are still bridled up.
     So no, the Western Pleasure horse working in Romels is not a true bridle horse.  That phrase and the tradition goes back, way back, to when vaqueros worked cattle in California and carried 60 foot reiatas and sometimes even roped Grizzlies!
     Hope this clarifies the term for you.  If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you!  Talk to you next week, JD.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


     I cannot tell you how very important it is to believe in your horse.  This is something I harp on with my riders all the time!  Now, this belief must be predicated on choosing the right horse for the job and choosing the correct level of competition for the horse and rider.  That being said and understood, I'll go further with this short discussion.....
     Believing in a horse's abilities gives the rider a confidence that just shines through when needed.  It gives a "look at me" appearance that can be the winning edge at a show and it helps the rider ride with assurance.  It also helps manage nerves - they just seem to melt away, allowing the rider to enjoy showing their horse.
     Believing in your horse gives the horse confidence as well.  That confidence can help them give their best performance too.  Good horses have a way of coming through with very good performances when they are allowed to succeed (read: believed in!!) by their humans. 
     So, before your next show do your homework - work hard and diligently, build and stick with those practice routines I've discussed in prior blogs - but then set the highest, most realistic expectations you can - and believe in yourself and in your horse. 
     Go to your next show or just your next lesson or ride with an "I know we can" attitude and you'll find you can achieve a lot more than you thought -  and probably have more fun along the way too!  Talk to you next week, JD.