Nancy Cahill explains “the world’s simplest, hardest exercise” for you and your horse.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Nancy Cahill with Christine Hamilton in The American Quarter Horse Journal
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To have “guide” in your horse means that you move your hand an inch, and you get a “mile” of movement. When you neck rein an inch left or right, your horse’s nose bends, then his poll, neck, shoulders, ribs and hips all follow in the same path, immediately.
You can ride an island of cones for a young horse learning to neck rein or to reinforce an older horse’s guide. Eventually, what you want to have is your reins in one hand, and when you lay the rein to turn, he wraps his head around a cone in the direction you want to go. But you have to take the time to help him get there.
In the beginning, you have to put the horse where you want him and make it clear in your cue. In a turn to the left, lay the right rein on his neck and a quarter second later use a direct left rein to turn him. You know that when you lay the right neck rein the left turn won’t happen, but you put the cue there because that’s what you want him to learn.
Do that a thousand times, every day, over and over, walking or trotting.
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When you lay that outside rein and he tips his face a little on his own, try riding with one hand, but always be ready to reinforce the cue with the inside rein. You might have to help him more going one direction than the other. Just reach down and help him and go back to one hand.
This exercise helps with a lot of things. For one, it’s a basic suppling exercise that teaches good forward motion and lateral motion. You’re constantly putting that horse in the correct position for things that are round, left or right, and getting him to move off your leg, hand and seat.
It also works to bring the neck down flat, making it more level. As you pull, your horse will tend to lift up his nose, but as you use it in your riding, it will work the base of his neck and strengthen it. The neck will level out, and he’ll be less resistant to your rein.
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It also takes the edge off a fresh horse. If your horse wants to be prancy, hit this at the trot for 15-20 minutes. It’s very hard work, like aerobics – you’re not going very far, but it’ll knock his socks off.
The World’s Simplest, Hardest Exercise
Drag your arena and put a cone in the middle. Walk a perfect circle with that cone in the center, any size circle, and then do it again in the other direction.
I do this at every clinic I give, and I can see experienced riders roll their eyes when I tell them what we’re going to do. What’s beautiful about doing this in slick dirt is that the dirt will explain to you that you cannot do it. You’ll see it in your hoof-prints: It’s going to be an egg.
It will make you use your hands, legs, eyes, everything. For one thing, it is a human thing to want to stare at a horse’s head when you are moving. I always tell kids, if you stare at the hood of a car like you do the back of that horse’s head, then you’re not getting a drivers license because you’re too dangerous. You have to watch where you’re going.
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To build on the exercise, use a big, heavy cone and a 15- to 20-foot piece of clothesline or twine. Tie one end to the cone, stretch the line out from the cone until there’s no slack and hold the end in your free hand. Ride a perfect circle keeping the line taut, without pulling the cone over. Keep your hands in horsemanship position – you can’t run your hand in and out to take up the slack. The whole point is for you to move your horse to make that circle. When you go the other way, change your rein hand so the inside hand is always the hand holding the line. Once you can do it at the walk, then do it at a trot and then a lope.
Then, shut your eyes and ride it by going off the feel of the tautness of that rope. When you’ve got the kind of control over your horse to make that circle perfect, you’re moving as one.