Saturday, January 28, 2017

Taking the Buck Out of a Horse


There is an old saying that working a fresh horse or a horse who has a tendency to buck in the round pen or on a lunge line won't take the buck out of him. There's a large amount of truth in this as if a horse wants to buck, he will. Besides why would someone intentionally get a horse who bucks until they get alot of that nonsense out of him. Melanie wrote in with the question: "I ride my horse mostly on weekends so by the time I take him out of his stall he has a bunch of pentup energy from being in his stall. I've been advised to round pen him to take the energy out of him but not only just this seem not to work very well, it takes away from my riding time. What else can I try to do? "

Melanie did not say how her horse demonstrates excess energy. It doesn't sound like her horse bucks or runs off with her, so I suspect that she needs her horse to look to her more as the leader. And warming him up before you rides can serve both - bleeding of some energy and getting him focused on you.   Sure, penning up young horse, or really any horse, for days on end is likely to make him want to go someplace.  And depending upon what you are feeding him - that could contribute a little bit as well.  But it's all going to come back to Melanie making herself the senior partner in this relationship.

Working a horse in a round pen before you ride him can help take the freshness out of him but it is really what you do and how you do it that will make the difference. Before you get him into the round pen, you can do things with him in a halter and lead to get him listening and looking to you. If he crowds you when you get in the stall, move him off; make him drop his head so you can get the halter on; if he gets distracted, bump him back to focus on you; you may want to go 15-20 seconds of lateral flexion while on the ground, before you move off; gets his front and back ends to disengage independently; as you lead him off see how little feel or change of weight in the lead line it takes to get him to move his feet; make him lead up correctly; stop him, back him again on as little pressure as it takes, but a much as you need.

All of this is reminding him that you are the leader. You can think of these things as pre-ride checks. I do them all of the time, every time. It also helps me gauge where the horse's mind is - they have bad days too you know.

The purpose of working a high energy horse in a round pen or on a lunge line before you ride him is not only to bleed off some of that energy, but more importantly to get the horse responding to you, seeing you as the leader. You do that by moving his feet, not by just letting him move around at whatever speed and direction he wants. This is important. As I help riders correct things like a horse drifting of as they mount or really most bad habits you can think of, I have them move the horse's feet. Almost everytime in the beginning, it's like the rider is just meekly asking the horse to move...... you need to think of it as insisting that they move their feet.

Rider's who previously kind of passively handled their horses will see an immediate change in their horses as they start insisting on things. Sometimes you may get an initial dose of resentment, but they are just trying to figure out if you really mean it and if they have to do it. Same as in a corral with other horses. You'll see ears pinned, teeth showing, necks stretched out and one of the horses will move.

Almost everytime I ride, I'll warm a horse up. In the round pen free lunging, or on a lunge line or using the lead line of my mecate reins. This serves to warm the horse up and let me look for any elements of discomfort and lameness, and also gets that horse looking to me for direction. I change direction often; I'll bump them on the lead if they distracted with something else; I have them stop and roll the back end back over (disengage the backend); I'll have them face me up and back up on vibration or slight shaking of the lead line; and, I will have them change speeds. And in everything, I try to work on as subtle as a signal as I can. Start as soft as you can, but use as much pressure as you need to, otherwise that horse is going to learn, and you can't blame him, that he doesn't have to comply or just comply with the least amount of effort. Kinda like your children when you get them to police up wind blown trash along a fence line.      

Lastly, if your horse is high energy under saddle, then re-direct that energy doing something. Make him move his feet. Back him with energy. Do circles. Double him against a fence. I think if you try all of the above you'll see a big difference, but understand being penned up for days on end is not the best thing for him mentally. Good luck Melanie and let me know how you are doing.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Riding Better Circles

Riding your horse in a good circle, not necessarily a perfect circle, but a circle where your horse's foot falls are reasonably on top of each other is pretty hard to do for most riders and so it is always a good exercise to work on. Carol thinks so so she wrote to me asking: "I am having troubles doing a circle on my horse as she always wants to cut the circle so it becomes a curly cue. Any suggestions would be appreciated."

Circles is a tough thing for me to do well too, Carol. The first thing I'd look at is my riding posture. I have a tendency to slump rather than ride upright with a straight back, fact, I've been told I look like a hung over monkey when riding. But leaning, especially when doing circles or making turns is a more common issue.  
In may appear in the photo at right that I am leaning inside the circle, but if you draw a straight line from the horse's back, up the center of the cantle it should go through my head.   I am looking forward where I want to ride to and through.    
 It is easy to lean inwards towards the inside of the circle when riding circles. A horse will compensate when the rider is leaning. And although it would seem that leaning inside of the circle will push your horse to the outside, sometimes a horse will compensate by trying to move under the weight.
Just make sure that you are upright and centered over the saddle. It may help to have someone watch you or even video you so you can eliminate posture or balance as a problem.

It may help to use a ground aid such as traffic cones to mark a circle. A couple other ways to mark a ground circe would be to mark a circle in flour or even use a stake with a string tied to it and a stick on the other end to mark a circle on the ground. Any method will give you a ground reference on maintaining a circle.
 In the photos for this article, I am using a barrel in the center of my circle. The problem you may find using just a marker for the center of your circle, such as my barrel, is that you may tend to look inwards toward it and inadvertently give your horse a cue to cut the circle towards the center as looking inward will shift your hips, even slightly, and your horse can feel that change in your seat.
When I ride circles I try to tip my horse's head to the inside of the circle just enough so I can see the tip of his inside eye. My inside rein is slightly higher than my outside rein.  On the photo at left you can see my horse's head just tipped inside slightly so I can see the tip of his inside eye from my position in the saddle.
My outside rein is a supporting rein to keep my horse's head from tipping too far inside, but it is common for a rider to have the outside rein too tight so it retards the horse's momentum, or just tight enough so that when the horse's head dips with his stride he gets intermittent bump in the mouth through the bit and may raise his head - I'd watch for these things as well. 

I use my outside leg to give and maintain my horse's forward momentum while my inside leg is basically in neutral. A way to think about it is that your are trying to ride your horse around your inside leg getting a slight bend.
You would use more pressure on your inside leg if your horse's starts to cut the circle. Just like you would use pressure with your left leg to ask your horse to make a side pass to the right. 
At the photo (right) you can see my horse's inside rear foot (his left rear) stepping inside and forward of the right rear.  This is because we are cutting the circle - the problem you describe - and I am using inside leg pressure to push him back outside onto the circle.  It may also help to  slightly bend his head inside so that maybe you are seeing the entire inside eye rather than just the tip of it.         

One thing you can do to work on controlling your horse's barrel or otherwise getting some lateral movement during forward momentum is to ride your circles and intentionally expand them using inside leg pressure.  
Riding alongside a fence, like in the arena, and practicing small and larger circles ending back on the fence where you began is a good way to judge how decent your circles are, absent of having a ground circle to ride around.  And finally, just make sure your horse isn't cutting the circle because it's the most direct route back to his pen.  Good luck and safe journey.