December 11, 2012
With the basics down, AQHA Professional Horseman Robin Frid explains how to put on the finishing horse-training touches.
Editor’s Note: Did you miss Part 1 of this story? Don’t worry, you can catch up on it here!
Step It Up
Once your horse stays square through the circles and over the poles, then you move to taking the poles at a less than 90-degree angle, and you practice steering with large, circular corners.
So, if I’m circling the first pole to the right and I want to go to the second, I practice turning strong to the right over the first pole – where I go over it closer to a 45-degree angle – and then I make another strong turn to the left back over the second pole, and then I just open up and continue circling to the left again over the first two poles.
I make a strong turn, a more aggressive move, to increase the level of difficulty, but then I immediately go back to the circles, the more basic move, to reinforce the horse’s confidence level, and to reinforce the square frame in his body.
I just move through all the poles that way – making one or two strong turns followed by opening up to the large circles again.
What I want as I ask for the stronger turn is for him to maintain his squareness. I don’t want to feel his body lean into the stronger turn, but to stay up in his shoulders and straight, just as we have been doing.
It is repetition and reinforcement, challenging and returning to confidence, holding the horse between my hand and leg to encourage straightness in his body.
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I also start to be aware of his feet. If I’m circling right, the goal is for him to step over with his right front first; circling left, the goal is for the left front to go over first. When he starts leading with the foot closest to the pole, he’s advancing.
Finally, I ask for an even stronger turn over one pole, where the horse is almost parallel to the pole with his body.
The first part of that stage is practicing just the first pole. The first pole is the most important because you always have to enter an obstacle well to get through it well.
I start with circling to the right, and then I approach the first pole at closer to a 20-degree angle, up beside the pole, and ask him to step over the pole leading with his right front foot, and then I continue riding straight ahead for five or six strides before circling around and approaching that first pole again.
Again, you have to hold your horse over the pole and help him stay straight. Once he’s comfortable with the first pole, then I add the second and, eventually, the third. If you need to, go back to circles to reinforce your horse’s confidence.
The trick is getting him to lead with the inside foot, to step over the pole with the foot closest to the pole. To get that, you have to have forward motion, strong, not fast, but forward with impulsion, not a pleasure horse jog.
The hard part for the rider is getting the “feel” of the correct inside foot stepping over the pole. You can’t look down and get it. You have to practice and learn what it feels like. That’s where having a good ground person with you helps, to tell you when the step is correct and you can incorporate that into what you feel as you ride.
When your horse goes over with the incorrect foot, generally, he will use his neck a little bit more and lift his head more than when he goes over with the correct foot.
The most work should be spent in the earlier stages – circles and staying square over one pole. I continue to go through those stages with my broke horses, too. At home, I spend my time practicing those circles and keeping my horse square. Then at the show, it’s nothing to weave through the poles.
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This is my go-to warm-up trail exercise – I always work the circles over these pole before I do any kind of trail poles. I just work the circles and then I might leave it and go do lope-overs or walk-overs.
Remember, the real goal is to keep your horse collected and square through the circles and over the poles. You ride from your leg to your hand, that’s the only way to maintain balance and forward motion. You want your horse to lift his back and shoulders and use his hind end – your hand only helps guide him square.
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