We are continuing to work through the reining maneuvers, and how we can improve our show pen experiences by practicing productively. Let's talk about the stop and how we can build and keep the stop. When showing, stops and rollbacks are judged as one maneuver, but we keep them separated when training and schooling our horses. We will separate them to talk about them.
When a horse runs to a stop there is a lot going on that they have to think about - lead, rate, speed, balance; it's a growing list. Practicing long, loping rectangles is an excellent way to work on all of those things with the stop.
Stops are often practiced, incorrectly, over and over while fencing. Fencing our horses is necessary, but what people often only see is fencing. That's not how we teach a horse to stop, and not the only way to practice for a show. We can use the long rectangle exercise to keep tight corners to begin and finish our run downs where we can "rate" our horses - speed them up and slow them down, work on balance, fade, and drift. This exercise can keep horses positioned and balanced through the common places to stop in a pattern, and we can go around the corner and do it again. We can mix it up, counter canter, go both directions in either lead, and at different speeds. It's a great way to set up everything for the stop without the stop.
HOW TO PRACTICE THE RECTANGLE EXERCISE
The second video (above) is a few minutes long, but it's an exercise, and there is a lot going on to talk about. The purpose of this exercise is to work on the stop without having to put the stress of the stop on the horse. It's everything, but... Let's dive in!
First thing to know about this mare is she likes to run. That's why I chose her for the video. She is still learning from this exercise and would provide an opportunity to show some areas that are common for a lot of horses. Her name is Angel, and she is becoming pretty broke.
I always want everything to be perfect, but that can never happen. However, there is a list of things I'm looking for when I start a rundown:
> I want the horse focused on me
> I want the horse relaxed
> I want the horse to run TO the stop
> I want the horse to be aware that I am going to ask them to stop , and not try to stop on their own
> I want them to run at my pace
> I want them to run straight - no leaning, drifting, or anticipating
All of this makes it possible for the most important thing:
> I want the horse to listen for the word "whoa"
The rectangle exercise is perfect for me to work on all of these things. It's important that the horse already knows how to stop. This exercise can enhance the stop, but we teach a horse how to stop using other exercises. The rectangle exercise is designed to replicate the show pen, in a way, but allows us not to have to stop at the end of every run.
So how can you practice this exercise?
>> Having a nice long area to lope is best. It doesn't have to be very wide, although that helps.
>> Start loping - either lead is fine. Eventually, you want to use both leads in both directions, but, first, just lope.
> Start down the arena and keep the show pen in the back of your mind - off the wall, at least 20 feet.
>> Remember where the markers would be. Every trip down the pen you have the chance to lope or run well past where the markers would be at a show.
>> Give yourself a visual target at each end so it will be easier to tell if your horse is drifting off line.
Remember, we want that line straight.
>> Keep some slack in the reins; we want the horse to run on their own. If they make a mistake that's your chance to fix something. Take hold and correct them.
>> Going off line or running too fast is most common. You can draw them in the ground, or like I do in the video, rock that bridle left and right, move their shoulders, soften their neck and chin. When you get the horse correct, again, continue on down the pen.
>> When you get to the end of the pen take a hold of the reins, again, and steer around the corner. You'd be surprised how often people don't steer around a corner. It seems hard to fathom, but it happens all the time.
>> When you take hold you want to try to feel what isn't working right.
1. Which rein do they lean on or maybe its both?
2. Do they speed up, slow down, or ignore you?
3. Do they break gait, twist, drop a shoulder or drift?
4. Do they get nervous about what might be next?
If you feel any of the above, continue the turn into a smaller circle. That circle will shine a light on whatever problem you might be having. If you trot or even walk to fix it, do so. If you can continue to lope that's fine, too.
>> Whenever you have them "back under you" move across the pen and steer around the next corner and repeat.
>> Fix anything you can that will help the next rundown or "approach".
>> Don't leave the smaller circle until the horse is soft, relaxed, and focused.
>> When you "get them right" let the horse out of the circle and start the next approach.
>> Even if the horse is perfectly ready to stop, avoid asking him for a few laps.
The goal is not the stop. The goal is working on the approach and everything else that goes into the stop - not the stop. You want to work both directions and be thorough. Get as much right as you can before you ask for the stop. It will be worth it!