September 3, 2013
Horse training for straightness and pace can set the stage for a perfect stop.
By AQHA Professional Horseman Casey Hinton with Larri Jo Starkey in the American Quarter Horse Journal
The perfect rundown is what we all want. A perfect rundown leads to a perfect stop, and we practice the fundamentals of a rundown more than any other maneuver.
Straightness and pace are the two ingredients that we work on to create reining’s trademark maneuver, the stop. Once I have taught a horse what stopping is all about, I spend more of my time working on the perfect rundown.
Straightness and Pace
The first part of a good rundown is getting the horse to run straight and true like a laser. How straight he runs usually affects the kind of stride he has and the kind of pace he has. Many reining patterns include the stop from a horseshoe turn. If a horse doesn’t steer well to square up to the turn, I’m already starting crooked.
I like to make sure I have lots of steering to get that turn square, almost like a square corner instead of a round corner. When I make that turn, I think about the ground.
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At a competition, I will have looked at that ground during practice to notice where it might be wet or dry. If I’m at an outdoor arena where the water truck might have gotten the ground a little too wet in one spot, that will affect my decision on where to lay my track.
During the practice, I also will have picked out a sign at the end of the arena and will take my horse to that spot, though I might change that spot depending on where I am in the drag and how many riders have already stopped their horses at that spot.
So in competition, as I’m coming around the corner, straight, I start thinking about pace. I want my horse to accelerate steadily. I want each stride to be the same amount faster than the one before it. For example, if I’m going 1 mph, I want the second stride to be 2 mph, then 3 mph, then 4. You don’t want a rundown that starts off fast and then ends with the horse dragging the rider to the end of it.
The pace should be a constant acceleration exactly the same from the beginning of it to the end of it, where we want it to look easy. We don’t want him to back off with his back feet. We don’t want him to change his poll. We want it to look easy, as if he’s running and then he’s running into the stop.
Straightness and pace are how we do that.
Getting a true, free rundown is hard work. One day it might be too fast, and the next too slow. Our ultimate goal is showing inside indoor arenas, but often a horse can develop a freer stride on the outdoor slide track, where he can really learn to relax his front feet, so it’s important to alternate the training between the two.
My goal is for a horse to feel comfortable so that he can go slow when he goes really fast, and that’s probably the hardest part. Riders have difficulty with it, too. When you add speed to any endeavor, it becomes harder.
Often, when a horse goes quicker, he’ll elevate his poll, surge forward, lose his timing and hit the stop super-hard. A faster stop means faster to the ground and a faster response. We don’t want a faster response.
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What we want is to get the horse to respond slowly. We want the horse to run so smoothly with such perfect acceleration that there is no resistance, and the horse runs right to the stop. That’s how they make it look easy.
Loping Straight Lines
Older horses begin to figure out how things work. They think, “We did this yesterday and last week and last month.” Staying ahead of an older horse’s anticipation is a constant challenge.
Horses that get chargey on the rundown can get into a bad cycle. The way it often works is an amateur has a chargey horse, so the rider pulls on the reins, holding the horse back until right before the end of the run. Then, he throws the reins to the horse and cues him to go faster.
The horse begins to recognize that pulling on the reins means a rundown is coming, and that signal becomes a trigger.
What I like to do is lope my horseshoe a lot so the horse gets used to it. I try to vary the pace, sometimes riding the whole horseshoe quite fast and then for the next two laps, I might lope slowly. It should be my choice, not the horse’s. The lines are straight, because I’m not practicing my circles. I’m working on keeping my horse from anticipating, and I’m working on keeping the horse straight.
All that helps keep the horse in condition for a stop. I might only stop an older horse twice a week, but the straight lines keep the horse legged up.
You have to have goals that are one-dimensional for horses to understand. Running straight and keeping a steady acceleration of pace are easy goals for the horse to understand.
AQHA Professional Horseman Casey Hinton has been training reining horses for many years. In 2009, he was ranked No. 5 in ownership with the National Reining Horse Association, and in 2010, he guided Play Dual Rey to the Farnam Superhorse title at the AQHA World Championship Show as one of the Play Dual Rey partners.
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