When I am starting a two year old, I like to teach all the basics that they will need to know for the first ten rides or so from the ground. For example, I want them to know how to disengage their hips with light pressure, flex from side to side with a nose band or snaffle, do one rein stops, follow the direct rein, and stand still for mounting and dismounting. Those are a few of the keys that cannot be missing if I am going to get on and start riding.
The first thirty or so rides after that are going to be on a loose rein, just letting the horse move freely and learn simple commands like stopping off my seat, going forward with leg pressure, following the rein etc.
I feel pretty strongly that these steps cannot be skipped or it will show up later on in their training.
Training a barrel horse is very much the same way. There are certain things that they need to know or you are going to wind up in trouble later on. In my training program, I like to start out with teaching them a lot of bend. Suppleness and bend are a big part of the equation for me.
BUT, suppleness and bend are only PART of the equation. To me, going between suppleness and bend, and straightness are like a big pendulum. You work on one or the other and you go back and fourth from one extreme to the other until you have achieved the ideal feel.
If all you do is work on bend, you will have a horse that feels light in the bridle, bendy, noodley, and dumpy on their front end.
If all you do it work on straightness, you will have a horse that feels light in the front end, snappy, quick footed and heavy in the bridle.
I used to get too much bend out of my horses and it set me back because when things are going rapid on the pattern, its hard to have QUICK control of your horse if when you pick up on the bridle, they simply bend their body versus moving their feet.
I am constantly working to achieve the feel where the bit is connected directly to my horse’s feet. When I pick up on the reins, I want something to happen with their feet, not just their face.
When you have both things working for you, your horse will feel supple, smooth, light in the bridle, quick footed and snappy all at the same time. To me this is what I consider “handy broke”. It means they could go do a job and you can easily maneuver them around and they stay right between you reins. This is the feel I prefer, and I think it is easy for most people to ride after as well.
This past summer I got a horse in training that had been with another trainer for several months. This trainer is great at what he does and highly respected in the reining community. However, I found it really hard to ride behind him.
This horse in particular would bend all over the place to avoid the bridle, but it didn’t mean anything to his feet. From a lope I would ask him to stop and he would tuck his face right to his chest and keep charging forward. I only got to work with this horse for a short period of time, but I had to go right back to the basics of picking up on the rein, waiting for something to happen with his feet, then releasing pressure to reward him.
This is an extreme example, but Things like this happen all the time in the barrel community too. Imagine a horse is about to start their turn around a barrel and the rider starts to put pressure on the inside rein. Instead of the horse staying straighter and using their momentum to follow the rein and bring their whole body around the turn, they simply bend their head and neck toward to barrel and the rest of the body floats out.
In that scenario, the horse loses all the driving power from the hind end and the momentum trickles down to nothing as they leave the turn.
This is where straightness comes into play. A horse can not be bent around in a circle and maintain all their power and momentum. Allowing the horse to move in a more natural way will help them stay underneath themselves and keep forward driving momentum through a turn.
If you are interested in learning some drills to straighten out a bendy horse and re-establish the connection between the bit and their feet, let me know!
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