Saturday, December 27, 2008

Back to Business

I enjoyed taking a break for Christmas... and I hope everyone else did too. But now lets get back to the task at hand!

Now that you that you have life in your horse's feet and it is moving around you at an energetic walk, you should work on disengaging (or yielding) the horse's hind quarters. These terms refer to the inside hind foot stepping up underneath the horse and crossing over the other hind foot. I use "disengage" to refer to the horse taking one or two cross-over steps and stopping; and "yielding" to refer to the horse taking a number of cross over steps before stopping or being released to move forward on the circle again.

Start with your horse moving around you at a walk. Shorten up on the lead rope and tip your horse's nose towards you as you step towards the horse's tail. If you take one step your horse should cross-over and stop facing you (disengagement). If you continue to step towards your horse's tail it should continue to cross-over until you stop walking (yielding). When yielding a horse's hind quarters pay attention to what the front feet are doing. The front feet should not pivot, they should not cross over to the outside of the circle, and they should not move in toward you. The correct movement of the front feet is to take much smaller steps continuing to move forward in a circle. Picture a fat doughnut with a small hole in the center. The center circle is the track on which the front feet move, and the outside edge of the doughnut is the track on which the hind feet move.

Take yielding the hindquarters seriously and practice it diligently. It is important for safety and control of the horse and also for refinement. As you learn to refine the movement it will build softness, flexibility, and coordination in your horse.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Getting Started

Let's start at the very beginning, for that's a good place to start:
Start by getting your horse to move around you on a circle at the end of the leadrope. Begin by facing your horse. If you want your horse to track left have the tail of your leadrope in your right hand and your left hand positioned 5 or 6 feet from the halter. Point to the left with your left hand. Your goal is to have your horse move off in the direction of the point. If that happens, great! Drop your hand down to release the pressure. If not, continue to point, start twirling the tail of your rope, and advance (walk) towards your horse until it moves to the left and forward on a circle. Some horses might require you to hit them with the end of the leadrope to get their feet moving. Aim for the shoulder. This is termed "firming up". Don't be afraid to do it when necessary, just be sure to always offer them a "good deal" first (pointing). If you always offer your horse the point, it won't be long until he recognizes and understands the cue. Be sure to work both directions. Remember the point signals the direction, there is still slack in the leadrope. Think "Drive, not Drag" drive the horse with the tail of the rope, don't try to drag it around the circle with the leadrope.

Once the horse is circling, be working to acheive a lively energetic walk. Many horses will be dull and simply plod along without giving you any effort. A couple walk/trot transitions will help liven these horses up. Do what it takes to get these horses trotting, but don't have them trot very long- go back to the walk. Other horses will keep trotting around instead of walking. Don't let these horses trot more than 1/2 a circle. Keep changing directions with them until they relax and walk.

It is important that you walk forward on a small circle while your horse moves around you in a larger one. Make sure you're not walking backward trying to maintain space between you and the horse. This will cause you to move more than the horse- then the horse is groundworking you! If your horse is crowding you, use the tail of your rope to drive him off your space.

Also notice how your horse is bent when he is traveling on the circle. You want your horses nose slightly tipped toward you. But many horses travel counter bent- looking to the outside. If this is the case bump the horse's nose towards you while you drive the shoulder out. Give the horse some slack (release of pressure) when it is shaped up correctly.

Practice counting the rhythm of your horse's walk and learn to recognize the cadence of his feet: left hind, left front, right hind, right front. This is an important skill that you will build on forever- as long as your forever involves horses, and we sure hope it does!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Before We Begin...

Good horsemanship is about understanding horses and how to communicate with them. It goes beyond different types tack. That having been said however, certain types of equipment are easier to use and more effective than others. I like to use rope halters because they are narrower in diameter than web halters. This discourages the horse from leaning against pressure and makes the handlers cues much clearer. My favorite are those made by Double Diamond. They don't stretch, and I've found the proportions to be such that they fit the most variety of horses. When fitting a rope halter you must be careful that the cheekpiece of the halter is long enough. The noseband should sit well below the horse's cheekbone but above the soft part of the nostrils.

I have my leadrope tied directly to the halter- not connected by a clasp. A clasp will swing and bounce causing "signals" that don't actually mean anything. Thus causing the horse to ignore rather than pay attention to everything they feel coming from the leadrope.

I prefer leadropes 12 feet long and made from treeline ropes. 12 feet is long enough to get the horse moving out and around you, but short enough that you don't have a lot of excess rope to get tangled up in. One exception is smaller kids working with ponies. I will usually make 10 foot lead ropes for them. Treeline rope has a nice weight and feel. It allows the handler to send signals down the rope without having to make direct contact with the horse's face all the time.

If you're local to the Corvallis area, I know that Wilco in Tangent sells both the Double Diamond leadropes and the Buck Brannaman series treeline leadropes. They are also available on