A Safe Handle On The Reins

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A Safe Handle on the Reins

 

By Heidi Nyland Melocco with Julie Goodnight

 

Learn how to safely use your reins on the trail with top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. She’ll explain how to hold and use both rope and split reins, plus how to stop and ground-tie.

 

When you’re on a long trail ride, you want comfortable and functional reins to hold. It’s important that the gear you choose helps you feel comfortable, keeps you relaxed, and helps your horse quickly and easily understand the slightest cue. If you’re dealing with reins that are too long, too much to hold –or are just not comfortable for you– your ride time may be impacted by your tight grip. If you find the reins you can easily shorten and lengthen and that feel great to you, you’ll relax in the saddle and enjoy your ride.

While your horse may not care if you have the trendiest gear, he does care about how you hold and cue with the reins. When you’re moving along at a casual pace, he wants to know you can easily lengthen the reins to give him room to move. When you want to speed up, you’ll also want a rein that you find easy to shorten so that you can give a more direct cue when necessary. It’s important to consider what material feels best in your hands. It’s also important to make sure that your reins are long enough to allow your horse to relax and reach down to drink.

Here, top trainer and clinician, Julie Goodnight will help you understand your rein options and talk about how to hold different types of reins. She’ll help you understand how reins work to communicate clearly to your horse and she’ll also give you safety pointers to help you avoid common mistakes when bridling and when stopping for a rest during a trail ride.

 

A Weighty Issue

“It’s all about quality,” Goodnight says. “The heavier the rein is, the easier it will be for the horse to feel what you’re doing with your hands and the more subtle a signal you can give. Plus, when the reins are made of quality leather or rope, the horse will feel your hands’ release sooner.”

Riding with well-weighted reins will help remind you to put slack in the reins because you’ll feel the downward, gravity pull. Your horse will feel the rein’s weight and also feel any movements of your hands amplified because of the weighted drape. When reins are made of inexpensive and light-weight cording that flops loosely, the horse doesn’t feel the rein and may have a tough time feeling your slight rein aids. That means you may find yourself pulling on the reins more than should be needed (and therefore applying undue pressure to the horse’s mouth) to get a response to a turning cue.

What difference does your horse feel when the reins are weighted just right? Goodnight suggests this visualization. Stand and place your arms straight out in front of you with your palms up. Picture a penny on your right index finger and a feather on your left index finger. Now imagine. What would it take to balance the item on each finger? Which is easiest to balance?

You’d probably be able to balance the penny easily and you’d shift and move to keep your finger under the feather. Goodnight says that the same law of physics at work with the penny and feather applies to how your horse feels and balances himself within the weight of reins. If your reins are lightweight leather or nylon webbing, there isn’t much weight and it becomes difficult to feel and balance.

When there is more material (such as a high quality leather or a thick marine-type rope) the horse will be able to feel the movements you make with your hands and will balance himself more easily. He’ll know what you’re asking because the weight of the rein echoes the slightest movement from your hand. No matter what type of rein you choose, this weight and quality consideration applies.

 

Rein Types

There are many variations of each rein type, but here we’ll stick to the traditional Western rein types. Split reins are commonly used for Western riding—and what you’ve probably seen for years on old Western movies. Today, loop reins, mecate, and traditional romal reins are all fashionable for Western events and on the trail. Here’s a little bit about each….

Split Reins

Today’s choice in Western tack is most often to ride with split reins. Leather reins are long and versatile—you can make them long and short, use them independently or to ride one handed. They can be great for trail riding because you can easily ground tie by laying the reins down on the ground. But while these reins are a common choice, Goodnight says some riders may find them cumbersome on the trail and they can be easy to drop.

Split reins can be held in a variety of different ways—that’s what makes them versatile for training or for showing. You can switch how you hold and where you hold to cue your horse in different ways.

 

The traditional pistol-grip hold is the rein hold used for competitions. Hold the reins in one hand with your index finger in between the two reins. The trainer’s hold or bridge is made by laying one rein on either side of the horse’s neck crossing the reins over each other and holding both reins in both hands or one hand. You’ll hold your hands the same position as if holding bike handles while making a “bridge” with two pieces of leather as the reins cross over the horse’s neck. This allows the rider to ride with two hands and work each side of the horse’s bit independently.

The traditional rein-hand is the left hand when riding Western—that’s because it’s assumed that you may need to use your dominant right hand to hold a rope or open a gate, shoot a gun, etc. If you are riding with split reins, the bight of the reins needs to lie on the same side of the horse’s neck as the hand you are using.

 

Romal

A romal is attached to the set of closed reins and was developed as an attached tool to help the rider move cattle with an aid. The romal is held without a finger between the reins and you have less ability to articulate with the reins than you may with split reins. You ride with two hands—but one is holding the reins to cue the horse and the tail of the reins (or the actual romal) is held in the opposite hand. These reins are best for a horse that is very well trained and knows how to neck rein without needing corrections.

Continuous Loop Reins

Holding a single loop rope rein is the easiest for most riders. This rein is easy to use and comfortable to hold when you’re following a trail and not needing to guide a horse’s every step. You can hold the rope rein right in the middle—to allow your horse to ride on a loose rein. The rope rein fills up your hands and is easy to hold onto. The rope is easy to shorten and lengthen (compared to split reins).

“The reins I designed have a marker in the middle so you know where the middle of the reins is and can easily make sure your reins are even,” Goodnight says. “A corded quick connect allows you to put the reins on easily, but it also allows the reins to drape and easily communicate with the horse.”

There are all different lengths of continuous loop reins for different jobs. A roper or barrel racer may ride with a continuous loop rein, but they ride with a short length—maybe only five or six feet. Out on the trail, you want your horse to drop his head and move in a relaxed frame so you want to make sure you have a longer rein than may be used in fast sports. Goodnight says that most horses do well on the trail with a nine-foot rein. If your horse’s neck is long, he may like a 10-foot rein—and this isn’t about how big your horse is, it’s about his neck length. That length allows the horse to reach down and drink and inspires you to make sure to ride on a loose rein and not have constant grip on the reins.

Mecate

The mecate is the long lead that comes off of the left side of the bit—and is attached to a continuous loop rein. The reins are usually attached with slobber straps. Some trail riders love the convenience of the mecate—allowing them to dismount and hold onto their horse, with the built-in lead. To others, the extra rope can be bulky and a lot to handle.

“I prefer a halter and lead separate from the bridle—I either tie my halter and lead onto the saddle or sometimes ride with the halter beneath the bridle,” Goodnight says. “This means there’s less to hold and when you tie your horse, you aren’t tempted to tie with a rope that is connected to the bit.”

 

One Handed or Two?

Whether you’re riding one handed or two handed depends on the type of bit that you’re using and on the training level and the obedience of the horse. If you’re riding in a snaffle bit, you should ride two handed. Riding with one hand in a snaffle bit causes a jointed snaffle to collapse in what’s called the nutcracker effect. The bit collapses around the horse’s tongue and pinches the jaw.

A curb bit is designed to be ridden with one hand. However, if the bit is designed so that the shanks move independently form each other, you may also ride with two hands for training scenarios.

 

Connected to the Bit

Goodnight says she does not like a metal clip on the end of her reins. It may be convenient to the rider to be able to click the reins to the bit, but the metal-to-metal connection can be annoying to the horse. The metals rub and vibrate—a vibration your horse feels constantly. A rope or leather connection to the bit gives you a better feel and helps you know when your horse moves or makes a change. You don’t need to change the bit or reins frequently; take a few extra moments to tie on your reins or otherwise secure without a clip.

“I like a quick connect, but one that isn’t metal,” Goodnight says. “Leather or rope connections are fine. Though I’m not a fan of , decorative slobber straps—they’re too bulky for me and don’t allow me to finesse the reins. Plus, they ar cumbersome to take on and off.”

A split rein will usually have a tied-on connection—a kind of slobber strap made of the same leather as the rein. The leather piece is breakaway and will save your horse from pain if you drop a rein and he steps on it. If that piece does break, it’s pretty easy to repair while out on the trail. .

 

Ground Tying Safety

When you dismount and lay the reins on the ground, a well-trained horse knows that means he should stand still. Laying the reins on the ground should only be done with a split rein, not a continuous loop rein. If your horse were to step on the long leather rein, he won’t step into a loop and get caught up. The worst-case scenario is that the horse may break the leather of a split rein, but he won’t get caught up or pull excessively on the bit with a material that won’t break.

Make sure never to drop loop or continuous rope reins in front of your horse—you should always hold loop reins in your hands or over your arm to keep the loop far from your horse’s feet. If you want to ground tie with a loop rein, keep the loop over your horse’s neck or use a lead attachment to a halter beneath your bridle and allow a lead to hang down there.

For safety’s sake, make sure that some part of your reins, bit and headstall is made of a breakaway material. If you have rope reins, connect them to a leather headstall. Something needs to give in case of an emergency.

 

No matter what rein material and type you choose, make sure you’re making the best choice for you—what is comfortable and safe for you and your horse. Only you know where you’ll ride and what configurations, tying, and riding you’ll need to do along the way. Opt for comfort for you and your horse over any perceived notion of what must look right out on the Western trails.

 

 

SIDEBAR

Reins for Kiddos

First and foremost, make sure that any rider—no matter their age—has reins to hold. If you’re giving a pony ride to a young child, make sure reins are attached to the halter or that you lead from a nylon halter beneath the bridle. Even though you are leading the horse, having reins present will help you teach the child to cue for directions long before they are ready to take full control of the reins—and you’ll empower any rider to make sure they feel in control, even when they’re being led.

Make sure that the reins you choose for a child are slim enough to fit easily in their hands. Also make sure there’s not too much extra rope to hold onto. Keep it simple! You may opt for continuous loop reins with a narrow diameter or rainbow training reins which allow you to give clear directions and allow the rider to easily visualize how to keep their reins even. You can say, “put your hands on the yellow section to shorten your reins,” or “make sure to hold on the green with both hands to make sure your reins are even.”

In any bridle, make sure there’s some breakaway component to make sure you don’t get tangled.

 

 

SIDEBAR GLOVES

When do you wear gloves? If you’re riding a fast-paced trail or endurance challenge, you’ll be holding the horse with contact and you’ll feel friction on your fingers. You’ll need gloves then. You may also want gloves if you’re riding in heavy brush—if you need to reach up and break branches.

Goodnight says “I always want gloves on if I’m ponying a horse or doing any kind of rope pulling work. I always make sure there are gloves in my saddlebags in case I need to help pony a horse in an emergency.

“I like a leather glove for the feel. The new technical fabrics are great, though, too. The fit is the key no matter what the material. If the gloves fit well without extra fingertip length, you’ll be able to feel the reins better and not lose the feel of the reins as you’re shortening and lengthening.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canter Malfunctions

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Top trainer Julie Goodnight helps you analyze your riding posture and prepare you for the perfect canter. Find out how rider errors contribute to wrong leads and more.

By Julie Goodnight with Heidi Melocco

PHOTOS BY HEIDI MELOCCO

Cantering is the topic of choice at many of my clinics. Riders want to know how to ride the complex gait with confidence and what they can do to canter more easily. I often hear “my horse will never pick up the right lead,” “what can I do to stop this horrible fast trot that comes before my horse will canter,” and “my horse won’t keep cantering once we get the gait.” These are my top three cantering complaints and the easiest problems to fix—with a little bit of rider awareness, a new plan to make cantering cues clear, and an attitude shift to help riders know that they are in charge and can expect their horses to do what was asked.

When a horse is well trained and has cantered many miles in the past, I believe that ninety-nine percent of canter concerns are rider induced—there’s always something the rider can do to make their ride better and to help their horse know exactly what they expect. Here, I’ll help you understand how your body position, tension and timing may be telling your horse something different than you think. You’ll have the tips and tools you need to step into the canter with a clear cue and knowing that you’re sequencing your cues so that your horse can easily understand your requests.

Cantering Leads

Why does the lead matter? It’s difficult for the horse to balance himself if you ride around a corner. If your horse is following your exact cue, he should take the lead that you ask for—not just start cantering and choose a lead himself. Plus, for competition, there’s often a required lead depending on the direction you’re tracking or according to the pattern. All that said, if you’re riding straight down the trail or the middle of the arena, there is no correct lead to take. But to be a better horseman, it’s best to know what you’re asking your horse to do.

When riders come to clinics and they want to work on leads, I first ask if the horse takes the wrong lead when traveling both directions. If the horse misses his leads in both directions, there’s most likely a cueing problem. The horse isn’t clear about what lead you want him to take and he isn’t set up to take the correct lead.

What goes wrong with a cue? Many riders can’t state what they do to cue for the canter. Because you have to cue for a specific gait and cue for a lead, there are lots of variations in cues and there’s lots of confusion.

The horse pushes off into the canter with the outside hind leg. If you’re asking for the right lead, the horse first pushes off with the left hind (and vice versa).

Use your outside leg to reach back a few inches and apply pulsating pressure there with your Achilles tendon. To prep for a right lead, move your left leg back. A well-trained horse will step his hips to the right. This movement is done at the walk or while standing still. I practice this move at the walk in a relaxed and easy frame without thinking about adding speed. You need to be able to reach back and get the horse to yield his haunches. That needs to be a cue to move the haunches and not just a cue to speed up. I like to walk straight down the long side of the arena, reach back, if the horse yields his hip, release him and pet him. Do that over and over until the horse knows that the cue to move his hip. Once your horse can proceed with a canter cue. The horse is now set up for the correct lead. That’s called “haunches in.”

For me, the canter cue is outside leg to move the haunches in, then I lift up and inward with the inside rein to keep the horse from diving in, then the actual cue to canter comes when I curl my hips in the canter motion (which is a move like pushing a swing.) I also like to use a kissing sound. It’s all about the sequence—outside leg, inside rein, push with the seat and kiss. I would guess that 80 percent of people who think their horse has a lead problem find that the problem goes away once they clarify their cueing sequence.

Caption: Practice “haunches in” at the walk and trot so that you know you can control your horse’s hips before adding speed and cueing for the lead at the same time.

If your horse is still having trouble with leads after working on “haunches in,” try cueing your horse right before the turn to the short side of the arena. Make sure to cue before the turn and not during the turn. If your horse enters the turn, he’ll actually turn his hips to the outside and he may take the wrong lead as his hips pop out. This is why circling isn’t a great way to teach a horse to pick up a lead. As you pull your horse into the circle, the horse pulls his hip to the outside, he can’t pick up the correct lead, but if you’re going straight then just start to turn, he’s still moving correctly at that moment.

Caption: Cue your horse for the canter just before you turn to help him place his hips correctly to pick up the correct lead.

If the horse will only take one lead, there’s a chance that there’s a physical issue. This is true especially if your horse usually takes the correct lead and suddenly isn’t so willing. If that’s the case, I want to rule out physical issues and have the horse evaluated by a veterinarian or veterinarian who’s also an equine chiropractor. If it’s an old injury, especially on a hind leg, the horse may have learned to compensate and just isn’t as strong when traveling to one direction.

 

Trotting into the Canter

Cueing can be the culprit again. If you release the horse from the cue at the wrong time, the horse will learn to do whatever he was doing when he got the release. I typically see two types of horses who become afraid of the canter. If the horse becomes afraid to canter, the rider may be reluctant. The rider picks up on the reins or pulls back at the moment of cueing. Even if the rider is reluctant in their mind, the horse may pick up on that.

Other times it is a cueing issue. If you think you’re cueing for the horse to canter and instead he just trots faster and faster and faster, you’re probably releasing the cue at the wrong time. Compliant and trained horses can learn to take the cue to canter as a cue to trot faster. If the horse mistakes the cue and you start riding a fast trot—by posting or by sitting the trot—you are condoning the trot and telling the horse that he’s doing the right thing. Or, the rider stops the horse because he trotted instead of cantered. Once the horse gets a break, he thinks he’s been rewarded and he did the right thing. The horse doesn’t want to canter, he wants to work as little as possible.

If the horse mistakes your cue, make sure that you have a clear cue. If you’re confident of your cue sequence and your horse still trots faster, let him know that isn’t what you’re asking for. Stop him abruptly and immediately recue him for the canter. If he does it again, abruptly slow him down with a stop cue using your seat and reins then immediately ask again. Make sure not to give him a break and keep applying the pressure of the whole cueing process until he gives you the right answer and starts to canter. This is the same training sequence you’d use if you want to alleviate the trot or even a step taken before the horse begins to canter—to teach the stop to canter or walk to canter.

Caption: This young horse had not cantered often and thought a cue to speed up meant to trot more. Notice that I am sitting deeply and not posting with the trot. Soon, he understood and picked up the canter

Note that when the horse began to canter, my hands are forward and low, in front of the saddle horn. This position lets him know that rein pressure won’t mean too much pressure on his mouth when his head moves down into the canter.

Make sure to praise your horse when he picks up on your new, more precise cues.

Avoiding the canter: The horse’s nose dives down with every stride of the canter as he’s lifting his back and hindquarters and stretches his nose down. This happens especially on the first stride when he moves from no impulsion to full impulsion. If you as a rider don’t actively give a release with your reins, with each stride and at the beginning, the horse hits the bit. If you’re even just tense and don’t relax your hands to help the horse get a release of the reins, you can be adding to the problem. If your horse has a lazy demeanor and hits the bit, he takes that as full permission to stop cantering. If your horse is sensitive and nervous, he may hit that bit and get scared and therefore lose trust in you as a rider.

Whether it’s because of a cueing problem or because the horse has felt the bit in his mouth, the answer is the same. As soon as you step into the canter and with every stride of the gait, you need to reach forward and down (not up, that can still hit the horse in the mouth as your horse’s head goes down). If your horse is reluctant to canter –they actually become afraid to canter and throw their heads in the air and run in a panic. When I’m attempting to break that habit, I over exaggerate and reach farther forward than necessary to show the horse that he can trust me.

If you don’t think you can make an exaggerated change to break this habit with your horse, consider asking a more experienced rider work with your horse to show you how the canter can look and to remind the horse that stepping into the canter doesn’t have to mean getting hit in the mouth. You’ll still have to make an exaggerated change when you’re back in the saddle because he knows the difference between riders. You’ll have to focus on fixing yourself, but you’ll get a boost of confidence to see someone else riding your horse and knowing what your horse can do.

Trotting into the canter can also be a problem if you haven’t cantered your horse for a long period of time. If you haven’t cantered recently, your horse might think that your go faster cue just means trot and trot faster. It will take your horse a few times to understand what you’re asking for and it’s important to cue your horse with precision.

 

Breaking Gait

Once you’re already cantering, it’s the horse’s job to keep doing what you asked for until you tell him to do something different. He should keep cantering and not choose to slow down on his own. However, horses don’t necessarily want to canter around and carry a rider –it’s hard work! Some horses will look for any mistake by the rider and use it as an excuse to stop.

Fix A Grass Grabber

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Top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight tells you how to stop your horse from grabbing mouthfuls of grass during trail rides.

Q. My young Quarter Horse gelding is always grabbing a “snack” while I’m riding through tall grass on the trail. I don’t like his eating with a bit in his mouth while we’re walking down the trail. I try to stop him, but nothing works. How can I stop him once and for all?

Colleen Frank
via e-mail

A. You’re right to correct your gelding for snacking during work time. Snacking on the trail is a rude behavior and may be a sign that he doesn’t accept your authority.

While some riders allow the behavior and think of it as a horse’s natural instinct to graze constantly, it’s important to think about how horses act when part of a herdand how they associate food with dominance.

Your grass-grabber thinks of you as the subordinate herd member, because you give him first dibs on the tasty grass.
Your grass-grabber thinks of you as the subordinate herd member, because you give him first dibs on the tasty grass.

The Problem: Dominance
In the herd, horses establish the herd hierarchy by determining who controls food and water. Dominant horses always eat first and will run the subordinate horses away from the food supply until they’ve had their fill.

Horses think they’re dominant any time you allow them to get to food.

With this in mind, imagine what’s really happening when your gelding drags you toward grass as you’re leading him. And think about who’s really in charge if he’s eating as you ride, pulling the reins away from you to graze at ground level.

In your gelding’s mind, he’s in charge! He shows his dominance by controlling the food. He thinks of you as the subordinate herd member, because you give him first dibs on the tasty grass.

The Fix: Apply Pressure
To fix this bad habit, you’ll need to change who’s in charge in your herd of two. Examine all aspects of your relationship to see whether you can name other areas where your gelding makes decisions, calls the shots, and controls you.

Does your gelding step off without a cue as soon as you mount up? Does he paw and beg for food or treats when you get back to the barn? You’ll need to address all aspects of your relationship to make sure you’re firmly in charge.

When it comes to grass-grabbing on the trail, adhere to an age-old training principle that applies to all animals even humans: Find the amount of pressure that motivates change.

Whatever your gelding is doing at a specific moment is what he’s most motivated to do; in your case, he’s motivated to eat grass while you ride. To change his behavior, you’ll have to find the amount of pressure that motivates him to rethink this action.

It may be a little pressure or a lot, depending on how sensitive your gelding is and how motivated he is to eat grass on the trail. But one thing is for sure it’s more pressure than you’re using now.

Whenever a behavior isn’t changed by your correction, either the timing of the correction is wrong or you aren’t using the necessary amount of pressure.

Pressure can be physical (such as the spank of a rein or having to work hard immediately following an attempt) or mental (such as issuing constant directives that requires your gelding to focus on you).

What to Do
Here’s how to apply pressure to your gelding to correct his behavior and establish yourself as herd leader.

Use one rein. When you correct your gelding for eating grass while riding, jerk up harshly and quickly on one rein. Any time you pull on both reins, you start a tug-of-war with him and you’ll never win that contest. But with one rein, you have control.

Ask him to work. If you’re riding in a flat, safe location with good footing, ask your gelding to work immediately after you correct him. Trot him in one direction, then another. Make him move. Make him associate his grazing behavior with having to work hard.

Be strong. No matter what type of pressure you use, the consequences of eating without your authorization need to be harsh enough to overpower your gelding’s urge to eat.

Your grass-grabber thinks of you as the subordinate herd member, because you give him first dibs on the tasty grass.
Your grass-grabber thinks of you as the subordinate herd member, because you give him first dibs on the tasty grass.

Avoid a Rut
Your grass-grabber thinks of you as the subordinate herd member, because you give him first dibs on the tasty grass. If you’ve been trying to correct your gelding’s grazing behavior for some time with no success, he’s learned to ignore your corrections. He now thinks that you’ll never use enough pressure to bother him.

With this ingrained behavior, you’ve gotten in a rut. Your gelding tries to eat; you say no. He doesn’t worry about the consequence and tries again; you say no. He tries again and on and on.

It’s better to give one strong correction than to get into a nagging relationship such as this. A firm correction will motivate your gelding to change. This is much kinder than pulling on his mouth over and over for years. Make one correction, and be done with it.

Establish your leadership role in your herd of two. Invest time in your young gelding to give him the best manners you can.

This investment will increase your gelding’s value and your riding enjoyment for the rest of his life. He’ll also be better behaved for your veterinarian and farrier.

Horses are happier in the presence of authority.

Step Into Sidepassing

Improve your horsemanship, and develop a kind, trustworthy relationship with your trail horse with top clinician/trainer Julie Goodnight. Teach your horse to sidepass for greater on-trail maneuverability.

When you teach your horse to sidepass, you learn to control his every foot placement and guide his every step. If you teach your horse this skill correctly, he’ll respond to your every cue and to your natural aids (seat, hand, and leg).

Here, top clinician/trainer Julie Goodnight will teach you how to position your body so that your horse will quickly understand that you’re asking for sideways movement. She’ll help you reinforce this new skill by asking you to practice it using a fence line as a guide.

Exercise Prep
Natural-horsemanship lesson: You’ll learn how to use your primary natural aids – your seat, legs and hands – to cue the horse to move sideways. You’ll apply these aids to control his every step.

Why you need it on the trail: On the trail, sidepassing is an important skill. Without it, you may find yourself in a jam when you need to dodge through timber and tight openings or sidle next to another rider to offer aid. Sidepassing also comes in handy when it’s time to open a gate, drag a log, pony another horse, push aside brush, and avoid a rock or even a snake.

What you’ll do: You’ll begin by learning how to position your body so that your horse will understand the go-sideways cue. Next, you’ll reinforce your sidepass cues as you ride next to a fence or barrier to help him understand which direction to go. Once you’ve mastered your work on the fence line, you’ll progress to sidepassing over a ground pole and logs.

What you’ll need: If your horse hasn’t been trained to sidepass at all, it’s best to start out with a snaffle or curb bit with articulation between the shanks (rather than a solid mouthpiece). A bit with movement will help him better feel your side-to-side rein aids.

Skills your horse will need: Your horse needs to know how to stop with just a seat cue, go forward off your leg cue, and back up on cue (using more leg than rein).

sidepass1

Step #1. Learn the Cues
Tack up (see bit recommendation, above), and warm up as usual. Practice starting, stopping, and turns to make sure your horse is listening to your cues.

In this step, you’ll learn how to use your body to ask your horse for this precise cue. In the next step, you’ll introduce him to the training process by using the cue.

Keep in mind that there are only six ways a horse can move: forward, back, through the right shoulder, though the right hip, through the left shoulder, and through the left hip. Imagine these directions as the “doors” that you can open and close with your leg and rein aids. To start, we’ll open the doors to the right and close the doors to the front, back, and left.

Pick up the reins, and slightly shift your weight back to block your horse’s forward motion (that is, close the door to the front). For a sidepass to the right (shown), open the right rein (lift it slightly to encourage your horse to lift his shoulder), and slide your left hand to his neck’s midline (closing the “door” to movement to the left and opening a passageway to the right).

Open your right leg by stretching your foot to the right. (Be careful not to stiffen or brace this leg.) Close your left leg on his rib cage, and bump your lower leg against his side.

By disallowing forward movement with your hands, opening your right aids, and closing with your left aids, your horse will move toward the opening, that is, to the right (Photo 1).

Step #2. Use a Fence Line
Now that you know how to position your body, it’s time to teach your horse to move sideways. For this, you’ll need the help of a fence. Use a safe, solid fence to remind him to move sideways and that there’s no chance of moving forward.

Fence work will give you a visual guide to work with and provide a natural barrier to block your horse’s forward movement. You’ll also make sure that you’re truly moving to the left or right and quickly make any corrections.

Walk your horse up to a fence, and stop him with his nose to the rail and his body perpendicular to the fence. Keeping his body straight and perpendicular to the fence, ask him to sidepass using your opening and closing aids.

As soon as any movement occurs, release the cue, and return to a neutral sitting position. Reward your horse with a release and a pet no matter how small of a sidestep he takes. This lets him know that he moved in the correct direction.

Pause briefly, then ask your horse to move to the right once again. As soon as he steps to the side, however small, reward him with a quick release of cues

and a pet. When he associates your new cue with moving sideways, you can begin to ask for more steps before rewarding him.

3 steps of sidepassing

Repeat these steps to ask for a sidepass to the left. That is, open the doors to the left, while closing the doors to the right, front, and back.

When your horse understands your sidepass cue and is responding well (that is, he’ll easily walk two or three steps before needing encouragement), ask him to sidepass a longer distance.

Troubleshooting tips: As you begin to teach your horse to sidepass, he may (1) move forward or back too much; (2) move his shoulder in front of his hips (this is most common and causes a turn instead of a sidepass), or (3) move his hip before his shoulder.

To fix these problems, use your aids either to block movement of a body part or to encourage more movement of another body part. For instance, if your horse moves his shoulders too far and lags with his hip, block his shoulder a little by closing with your right rein.

To do so, bring your hand back toward his neck (don’t pull back), and bring your left hand back and up toward your belly button in an “indirect rein.” At the same time, reach back more with your outside leg, and bump his side to encourage his hip to move. Apply slight, backward, equal rein pressure to close the door to forward movement.

Any time your horse moves correctly, or tries extra hard, reward him with a release and a pet. Moving laterally isn’t easy for him, so don’t overdo it. Once you get a few steps, reward him, and end on a good note.

If your horse gets nervous when working on this, he’s feeling too much pressure. Slow down, shorten your training sessions, and reward him for a smaller amount of steps.

Work on a sidepass to the right until your horse is compliant (Photos 2A and 2B). Repeat to the left. Then gradually increase the number of steps until he can sidepass 10 to 15 steps while staying fairly straight through his body.

When your horse is moving well off your aids, try sidepassing away from the fence, with his tail near the fence and his nose pointed away (Photo 2C). Focus on keeping him straight through his body so that his shoulders and hips are fairly even. In this position, he won’t have the fence to guide him visually, but you can easily note and correct any straightness problems.

sidepass3

 

Step #3. Add a Ground Pole
As your horse progresses, test your sidepassing skills over a ground pole. Work to keep the pole between your horse’s front and back feet. You’ll quickly notice any idiosyncrasies if your horse steps forward or back.

Work to the left and right, and always remember to stop and praise your horse for his efforts. Ride around the pole, then return to sidepass over it, in front of it, or behind it. Then he won’t learn that his feet must always be over a pole.

When your horse easily sidepasses over a ground pole, progress to sidepassing over larger logs on the trail. Look for other opportunities to sidepass, such as moving toward a post to pick up a slicker or rope.

Horse Tip Daily #75 – Training an Off The Track Thoroughbred

Horse Tip Daily #75 – Julie Goodnight, clinician, trainer and host of the RFD-TV show “Horse Master with Julie Goodnight” is back to speak to us about dealing with the Off the Track Thoroughbred.

http://horsetipdaily.horseradionetwork.com/horse-tip-daily-75-julie-goodnight-on-the-ottb/

Afraid Of The Canter Cue

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Question: Dear Julie,
When riding in the arena at the canter, for the first few strides my horse throws his head up in the air. Why is he doing this?
Puzzled
Answer: Dear Puzzled,
This is a very common response from the horse that is afraid of the canter cue. The reason why he is afraid of the transition is that he has been hit in the mouth too many times when a rider asked him to canter. Always rule out a tooth/mouth problem first, but it is likely that if this were a physical problem, it would continue as you cantered.
At the very first stride of canter, and every stride thereafter, the horse’s head drops down as he lifts his hind legs off the ground. If the horse is not given a release when you ask him to canter, then when he drops his head down, he hits the bit and in effect, he is punished for doing what you asked him to do. After a while, he is afraid of the canter cue and either throws his head in the air, runs off or both.
As I said, this is VERY common. I see it in every single clinic I teach. Many riders are a little intimidated by the canter, so they tend to clench up on the reins at the moment the horse departs into the gait. Or, the rider is concerned about the horse going too fast, so she pulls up on the reins at the same time she is asking the horse to go more forward. Or sometimes, the rider’s hands are just not moving with the horse as he drops his head in each stride.
When you cue a horse to canter, you should reach up toward his ears with both hands to give him the release he needs to drop his head in the stride. With each and every stride of the canter, your hands should extend forward as your hips move forward to give the release he needs with every stride.
Your horse has already learned to fear the transition, so you’ll have to really exaggerate the release for some time and eventually he’ll come to trust that you will not hit him in the mouth and he does not have to be afraid and throw his head up in the air.
All of these issues—how to cue, how to ride the canter and dealing with problems—are addressed in volume 4 of my riding DVDs, Canter with Confidence. In addition, it covers refining the canter, lead changes and collection at the canter.
Good luck!

Keeping Focused

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Ask Julie Goodnight:
What can I do to keep my horse focused when we’re on the trail?

Question: Dear Julie,
My 6-year-old-AQHA gelding is very focused in the arena, on or off cattle, keeping his face directed at our target or direction. On the trail, he likes to look all around and, if I don’t re-direct him, follow his face off toward whatever catches his attention. If I allow that behavior (meandering, I call it), am I creating long-term problems for us? As always, I appreciate your expertise. Thanks, Doc.

Answer: Doc,

In defense of your horse and in the spirit of “you can’t have everything,” you have to understand that a horse bred to work cattle does not always make the best trail horse. A “cowy” horse’s mind is keyed into movement and wants to follow it; he notices every little thing and tends to stay on alert. While this works out great in the arena and on cattle, it is not ideal for trail riding. Having said that, being cowy is no excuse for disobedience, and yes, if you allow disobedience it will cause bigger problems for you down the road because it erodes your authority and leadership.

An obedient horse will be focused straight ahead and will go in the direction you ask, at the speed you dictate, without constant direction from you. Many riders micro-manage their horses by constantly steering and correcting speed with the reins, so the horse becomes dependent on that. Once you cue a horse to go at a certain speed and in a certain direction, he should continue on that path and at that speed/gait until you ask him to speed up, slow down, turn right or turn left.

To check how obedient your horse is, find a target and give him a cue to walk or trot straight toward your target, then lay your hand down on his neck with a loose rein, and see if he continues. If he changes speed or direction without a cue from you, it means you have a horse that is either disobedient or co-dependent on you and you have some work to do. You need to break your habit of micro-managing, give clear directives, then give your horse the responsibility to obey. Correct him with your reins and legs if he makes a mistake; but leave him alone when he is obedient. Use enough pressure in your corrections that he is motivated to behave.

I have written a lot about having nose control on your horse. He should not be looking around while you are riding him, either in the arena or on the trail. Simply correct the nose with the opposite rein—if he looks right, bump the left rein, and visa-versa. Do not try to hold the nose in place; just correct it when he is wrong. I use the point of shoulder as a guideline; he can move his nose all he wants as long as it stays between the points of his shoulder; as soon as it crosses the line, he gets a correction. In short order, he will keep his nose pointed in the right direction.

Keep in mind, that just because you control the nose, does not mean you control the rest of the horse. He can easily run through his shoulder and go in the opposite direction that his nose is pointed. The most important thing is to control the horse’s shoulder but if you cannot control the nose, you have little chance of controlling the rest of the body.

How strict I am on the horse’s nose and his looking around, depends somewhat on the horse, his level of training and his willingness to be obedient and subordinate. If I am riding a horse that has proven to be well-behaved, responsive and obedient, I may let him look around a little, as long as he does not alter the course I have set in either speed or direction. On the other hand, if I have a horse that has proven to be disobedient, spooky or otherwise fractious, I will have a zero tolerance for looking around.

For your cow-bred horse, you will have to factor in his training, temperament and obedience and decide how strict you will be. Always correct a horse when he changes course without a cue from you, but with a cowy horse, that is bred to be very alert to any movement in his environment, you may have to cut him a little slack as long as he remains obedient.

The most important thing for you is that you have a clear and consistent view of what will be corrected and what is expected of your horse. That’s why I use the points of shoulder as a landmark—that way I have clearly defined what I expect and I know exactly when to correct the horse and when not to, so that the horse can clearly understand the rule and that I can give consistent corrections.

You’ll have to use your own judgment with your horse, but as long as it is clear and consistent, your horse will learn quickly. Good luck!

–Julie Goodnight Trainer and Clinician
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If you liked this article, Julie suggests the following products to help you continue the work with your horse (http://shop.juliegoodnight.com or call 800-225-8827 for ordering help):
The Goodnight’s Principles of Riding 5-Part DVD Series