Sunday, May 3, 2015

Next Step with Green Broke Horse

Jordan wrote: "I have a four year old quarterhorse who I have trained myself. She is a pretty calm horse, has never tried to buck me off or kick me and turns pretty well even when I'm running her at the trot. She stops pretty good and I can back her up. I guess she doesn't give my farrier any trouble. While she has spooked at running dogs sometimes she is very safe. I'm kind of stuck on what else to teach my horse and I am looking for some ideas. This is my first horse and I'm self taught for the most part.  Can you tell me generally what things I should be teaching her now? BTW, I'm am not interested in roping or rodeo events."

Hey Jordan, it sounds like you are doing great. I'm hesitating to give you any advice as it may mess you up, but since you goes:

While people like you and me, anyway,....will never have the skills of a Buck Brannaman or a Craig Cameron, or a long list of other top clinicians, - meaning we will likely never have a truly finished horse. But that's good news as well, as we'll always have something to do and always have something to improve on with our horses. To me, the basics, or much what you and your horse have already accomplished are so important as it establishes a foundation for everything else.

So I reckon that if your horse is well behaved and you can walk, transition into a trot, then a canter - getting the lead you've asked for, without any disagreement or signs of anxiety from your horse, and you can stop, back, move the front end and rear end independently of each other and side pass as well, and your horse willingly giving when you asking her for lateral and vertical flexion, then you can use that foundation to do more advanced work.

I wouldn't forget the ground work, or continuing your ground work in things like leading and working off the lead line. Many horses that are being ridden daily by recreational riders aren't really completely broke to a lead rope. Your horse should lead up correctly following the feel of the lead rope, such as: following you off to the side and slightly behind you and keep the pace you establish even if you are walking slow, medium or fast; the horse should stop immediate when you do; you should be able to back your horse using the lead rope - I want the horse to back with me as well as back when I'm standing still when I signal the horse to back using the lead rope.

You should be able to send the horse, on the lead rope, ahead of yourself through gates, between you and obstacles (like a fence or rail), or around you like you are lunging him; You should be able to disengage his back end and have your horse give you his face (giving you both his eyes). I think that working on these things are important and these things can be largely worked on when you halter your horse to lead him to the tie rail, trailer, shoeing stand or another pen.

I would continue doing the basics and ensuring your horse is soft and accepting at everything you ask. I like several different exercises on horseback, that may be basics to some people, but are sometimes a challenge for me and my horses, among these exercises are:

Riding circles. Riding in large and small circles at the trot and canter, and intermittently asking the horse to get soft in the face, is very useful not only for your horse but for you as well. The objective is to ride in a perfect circle with your horse soft and giving - this is something I have problems getting done. Common problems I make are: my horse not getting soft or collecting when I ask for it; I'm posting on the wrong diagonal during the trot; I'll tend to look down at the ground just past the horse's head and my horse can feel that slight balance transfer and sometimes break from the canter to a trot. But all those things give me something to work on.

Neck reining. Even if you are riding in a snaffle bit or hackamore (bosal), designed to be ridden two handed, your horse should eventually be able to be ridden by neck reining. You may not always have both hands useable. What if you are holding a plate of nachos in one hand?

Negotiating serpentines such as a series of cones or buckets, usually about 8-12 feet apart, is an excellent obstacles and training tool for starting a horse at neck reining. You'll be able to gauge the progress of the horse as he/she gets smoother and more responsive to the neck rein when snaking around these cones. The serpentine course can be also be used for backing in series of arcs, side passing, then moving forward, then side passing the other direction through the cones as well. You can even used the cones to do leg yields, also called two tracking.   

Expose your horse to obstacles like a tarp or piece of plywood on the ground or practically anything he isn't use to seeing is also going to make him a better horse providing your never demand that she negotiate an obstacle but instead take the time to allow it to be her idea. Horses are naturally curious, so if we don't create anxiety for them, they will usually close with the obstacle or scary object.   Other obstacles you can try would be opening and closing gates, dragging a small log, or going over ground poles..       

Turning in a circle on the fore hand (front end). With your horse keeping his inside front foot on the ground move his back end in a circle around the front.

Turn on the back end (turn on the hocks). I struggle at turns on the back end. I think it is easier for the horse to learn a turn on the forehand as the majority of their weight is on the front end.

Work on backing in an arc or a circle. You will have achieved something when your horse can back smoothly, getting soft and in a collected and balanced manner. Backing in a circle to the left, then in a circle to the right, like a figure eight, is a good exercise and a task you'll sometimes see in arena obstacles challenges.

Trot small circles, then transition into a turn (continuing a circle) on the back end. Trot small circles then transition into a turn (continuing a circle) on front end.

Leg yields at the trot, what I've always called two tracking, is the horse moving forward and you ask for the horse to continue forward momentum while also moving obliquely to the left or the right. The front outside foot and the rear outside foot are going to alternate crossing over the inside foot. I find this very useful out in the desert riding where I'm trotting and there is an obstacles ahead of me and I can maintain the gait and move the horse around the obstacles.

Work on simple and flying lead changes. Being able to depart from a stand still into a canter, on the correct lead that you have asked, for is the basics you'll have to master before moving onto simple then flying lead changes. Simple lead changes are moving (at a canter) on one lead, say the right lead, then dropping to a trot and asking for the canter again on a different lead, in this case would be the left lead. Flying lead changes are cantering in a left lead for example, then asking the horse to switch to a right lead without breaking down into a trot.    From to never lack in finding something to get better on.

Jordan, you really asked a question that takes a book or two to answer. I would suggest that in everything you do, try to see how light you can ask for it.  I would also suggest getting some of the excellent training DVD's that are available. One that may give you the best bang for the buck could be the 7 Clinics with Buck Brannaman, available from Eclectic Horseman, who also produce a very good bi-monthly magazine, and worth a subscription.

I get it that you are to not interested in events like roping. There are many other diverse events that you can look at to see if it interests you. The great thing is that training for, and competing in these events almost always make your horse a better horse. Among these events are Western Dressage, American Competitive Trail Horse Association Trail and Arena Challenges, Extreme Cowboy Racing, Cowboy Mounted Shooting, Team Penning, and Ranch Sorting to name a few. Many of the skills that are needed for, and evaluated in these events are great ways to make your horse more supple, get a better handle and provide you with training ideas or expose things you have to work on.

One idea may be to get someone to video tape you to allow you to evaluating what you and your horse are doing. Video taping yourself is two edge sword. I occasional do videos and I recently reviewed one of these videos of me walking to my horse to mount, and I thought "Good Lord, I walk like a little broken old man, ha!" But all in all, video taping is good as it will allow you to see what you are doing from a different angle and it is worth the time and trouble to do.

So there you have it Jordan, a life time of things to do.   

I'd try not to get caught up in trying to perfect anything in a short amount of time. Be happy and accept the slightest improvement and build on that. Find a balance in training and just riding and enjoying your horse - my wife gives me this advice all the time, I'd be wish to take it.

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