Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Lope

     What is it that makes for a good lope?  Well..... let's start wth the basics, a lope is a three beat gait and it's sequence should go like this:  first beat = outside hind leg; second = inside hind and outside front moving together and third = inside front. 
      A lope has a "lead" and the "leading" legs are the inside front and inside hind.  Now ideally the inside back and front legs should move equal distances.  The outside hind is what I always call the "push off" leg - the leg providing the initial impulsion for the gait.
     (And a reminder for those of you who are just starting out:  Unless the rider has deliberately asked for a counter-canter which is rare, a horse is on the correct lead when leading with his inside front and back legs or, another way of putting it: when loping to the right, the horse should be on his right lead with his right legs leading.  We'll talk about counter-canters in a whole other blog!)
     Often, you will see some horses that appear to be "trotting" behind when loping but actually, what is happening is the horse is short striding behind to the extent that there is no longer a leading hind leg.  Of course this is not correct but you may see it in some novice horses as they learn to properly push off and reach up under themselves with their hind legs (and unfortunately, you also see it in some of today's Western Pleasure horses when they lack proper impulsion).   When horses are loping correctly the lope should be an even, flowing stride, exhibiting the same cadence and same speed all around the arena.
     A horse that is loping well does not drop his shoulder when going through a corner but rather pushes deep with his outside hind and then takes a longer stride with his inside hind because of the arc of the corner - or line - the horse is traveling.  If a horse must pass another horse at a lope, he also should not drop his shoulder but should almost move over laterally.  When horses drop their shoulders they pick up speed and generally just look a little sloppy because they cannot be collected when traveling with a dropped shoulder.   Remember that a horse must always be balanced from back to front and also side to side.  The operative word here is balance.  No "leaning Towers of Pisa"!  No pushing on your leg or rein!
     In short, a good lope has a "distinct gait, an easy pleasant way of going, nicely bridled, soft on the rein, carrying his back and shoulders up, engaged with the hip".  The horse should not pick up speed but stay in the same frame, at the same speed and with the same cadence all around the arena or obstacle.  
     I hope this helps you fine tune your lope or perhaps just learn to see or feel your leads better.  Talk to you next week and, Merry Christmas to all!  JD.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pivot, Turn-around, Spin

     In the winter or any off season I like to focus on exercises that can improve a horse's "basics".  I gave you some ideas last week but here are some more thoughts on some key movements.
      Pivots, turn-arounds and spins have similar components but they are not the same things and I most definitely train each as it's own separate maneuver.  This can be alot of ground to cover so I'll talk the pivot in a later blog....
     A turn-around is, simply put: a slow spin.  It's a maneuver that teaches a horse where to place his feet.  A horse should be very limber in his shoulders and execute the turn-around in a low, sweepy manner.  Turning on his haunches but reaching with his front legs.  The sequence is: outside front, crossing over inside front.  The outside leg always crossing in front of or "over" the inside leg - this is very important as the opposite impedes impulsion and will cause the horse to lose his forward motion.  Many people forget that the turn-around is a forward maneuver - especially as it builds into a true spin.  As horses build up speed in the turn-around, it helps to stablize their hindquarters but only when a horse is good at this maneuver though will I worry about their inside hind leg or "pivot foot".  Many times, this develops as you ride them. 
     A trotting circle establishes good rythm, a walking circle teaches a horse where to place his legs.  Counter bends are important because they "push" the shoulders over.  Horses that are over-bent never learn to spin properly.  I tell my students that a good general rule is to always keep a horse's body arced along the line he is traveling.
     So, lateral work is very important when teaching these moves.  Small, correct trotting circles help because a small circle positions a horses front legs correctly, helping the horse to begin the cross-over.  As I stated before, I always teach the cross-over first.
     Really good side-passes are a necessary prerequisite too.  A horse should move front and back together, not leading with either shoulder or a hip.  The body should be straight with little or no bend against the line of travel.  Often you see horses that need more work on this bent incorrectly against the line of travel, for example: side-passing to the right but bent to the left.  The bend is a training aid that helps a horse accomplish this move but as you work on the side-pass your horse's body should get straighter and straighter.  This allows the horse to really step over with that outside leg.
     If a horse starts to stall out a little when he's asked to turn-around, just squeeze with both legs, asking the horse to slightly move forward and then bump with your outside leg. 
     As you progress, the horse should "seek" the turn but not over bend or "rubber neck" so I like to bump with my outside leg, push the shoulder with my outside rein, bump the head to the inside with the inside rein and lastly, take my inside leg off the horse and give him space to move into. 
     Good luck with your regimen of winter exercises and stay warm!  Talk to you next week, JD