Take your riding to the next level! Hone balance, tighten transitions, and begin collection as you develop your Western riding skills. In this equestrian workbook, veteran trainer Cherry Hill presents a series of focused exercises that include clearly stated goals, illustrated directions, arena maps, and appropriate safety concerns. With a pocket-sized trim perfect for easy reference in the saddle, this book is designed to help you improve your riding form and maximize the benefits of your training sessions.
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About the Author
Cherry Hill is an internationally known instructor and horse trainer and has written numerous books, including 101 Arena Exercises for Horse & Rider, Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage, How to Think Like a Horse, What Every Horse Should Know, and Horse Care for Kids. Visit her at www.horsekeeping.com, where you can find information on her books, DVDs, and horsekeeping knowledge.
Read an Excerpt
Always start on a straight line from a square halt.
Keep even weight on both seat bones, but don't sit real deep. Bear some weight on your thighs without leaning forward.
Flex your gluteal muscles and abdominals to tilt your pelvis and bring your seat bones forward.
Straighten your lower back to help your seat bones come forward.
Apply equal pressure with both legs at the cinch.
As the horse arrives at the bit, maintain non-allowing equal direct rein pressure to encourage him to let his impulsion out backwards.
Once the horse has yielded at jaw, poll, and loin, and has begun moving backward, lighten rein aids but maintain contact and continue seat and leg aids.
To discontinue backing, release rein aids but continue seat and leg aids momentarily to drive the horse up to a halt or a forward gait.
The back is a "man-made" diagonal, two-beat gait in reverse. In nature, horses rarely back up for more than a step or two.
When backing promptly, the left hind and right front are lifted distinctly, moved backward, and placed down together. They alternate with the right hind and left front in a precise synchronization. When backing more slowly, the diagonal pairs break on landing, the front landing ahead of its diagonal hind.
The back is best ridden when thought of as a "forward" gait because the horse must first be ridden up into contact as if he were going to walk.
* Riding the back is valuable for suppleness, obedience, and developing strength of back and hindquarters of any horse.
* If your horse "gets stuck" or "freezes," use squeeze and release, vibrations, or light alternating reins to untrack him. Never try to pull a horse backward.
* If a horse backs too slowly or unwillingly, the back becomes a labored, four-beat gait, and often the horse will drag his feet backward rather than lift his legs.
* If a horse backs crookedly, apply the leg on the side to which he is angling his hindquarters. If he is swinging his hindquarters to the right, first be sure you are not causing it with your left leg or left rein. If they are OK, apply your right leg behind the cinch to straighten him.
* Never start the back with the reins.
* Backing can be overdone and cause anticipation, a dangerous rapid rushing backward, or can cause the horse to use backing as an avoidance behavior.
* A horse needs to become gradually accustomed to the concept of backing, and he must be allowed to build up his coordination and strength before he is asked to back for long distances.
A check is a preparatory set of aids that drives and controls the horse. It is a means of momentarily re-balancing the horse, elevating the forehand, increasing hindquarter engagement, evening an erratic rhythm, slowing a pace, and reminding the horse not to lean on the bit or rush. A check is a momentary holding (a non-allowing in contrast to a pulling or taking), immediately followed by a yielding (within one stride or a split second).
How to Apply a Check
Think. Apply seat, leg, and hand aids. Yield. A check is an almost simultaneous application of the following with an emphasis on the seat and legs, and a de-emphasis on the hands:
* Keep upper body straight or slightly back with elevated sternum.
* Maintain deep, still contact of seat bones on saddle from flexed abdominals and a flattened lower back, bringing seat bones forward.
* Keep both lower legs on horse's side at the cinch.
* Use an appropriate intensity with both hands. The following is a list in increasing intensity:
Roll hands inward.
Move arm backward from shoulder.
Lean upper body back.
Lope — Walk — Lope
Lope large circle.
Three strides before rail, do a series of checks.
Lope straight one stride.
Walk, keeping weight on both seat bones and shoulders over hips.
Walk 1–2 strides.
Make a slight bend right.
Use a strong inside leg to outside rein.
Bend to the inside.
Hold outside leg.
Lope right lead in a large circle.
Continue the sequence.
This exercise develops left-right balance in horse and rider.
* You can align your horse's body more correctly with a walk-lope transition than a jog-lope transition.
* It is easier to teach the walk-lope depart after you have been loping.
* At first, the lope-walk transition might require a few steps of jog. Gradually, you and your horse will develop the balance and coordination to go directly from a lope to a walk.
* Don't lean forward on the upward transition. This would hinder the horse by weighting his forehand.
* Your horse must be on the aids and able to lope in balance before you try the walk-lope transition.
* If the horse is getting behind the bit or taking mincing steps before the lope depart, jog actively forward, then check, walk, and lope.
* If your horse throws his head or inverts his neck, he has had improper preparation and balance.
* Using the inside rein too strongly could cause the horse to take the incorrect lead. If already loping, a too-strong inside rein could cause him to break into a jog.
* If your horse breaks into a jog, go back to the walk. Don't push him into a lope from a fast jog.
* Keep your horse up on the outside rein so he won't drop to the inside and become heavy on his leading foreleg. You want him to be light!
Jog — Halt — Back — Walk
When straight, walk.
Walk 1–2 strides.
Jog 4–6 strides.
Jog 4–6 strides.
Halt, making sure horse yields at the jaw and poll during the transition.
Back 2 strides.
The suppleness and position of your horse's jaw, poll, and back at the final halt are key to getting fluid back steps without tenseness or resistance.
The entire exercise is to be ridden along the rail. The arena map is "exploded" sideways to show the components that occur on top of each other.
* Increases engagement of hind legs.
* This exercise is a barometer of how supple the horse is through the jaw, poll, and back.
Take your time. If you are abrupt with the halts or back, your horse will likely lose form.
Change of Lead through Jog
Lope right lead.
Lope the right corner.
Lope the long side.
Lope the right corner.
In the second corner of the short end, lope a 40-foot circle.
As you finish the circle, head across long diagonal.
After loping straight a stride or two, check, sit deep, and jog.
Move your hands forward to allow the horse to extend the jog.
As you jog, change your aids so the horse is ready to work to the left.
Apply aids for lope left lead.
Lope the corner to the left.
Lope straight ahead.
* At first it may take several strides of jog for you to get organized. Eventually, you should lope on the new lead after three steps of jog.
* Take advantage of the impulsion from the previous lope to give you a good, forward lope in the new direction by not jogging too long.
* Allows you to change leads when you change direction on a young horse.
* Allows you to focus on the departs to solidify timing.
Changing leads through a jog is used in some Western horsemanship patterns.
Half turn to the right:
Leave the rail and begin riding a small circle.
At the widest part of the circle, ride a diagonal line back toward track.
Initiate left flexion.
Half turn in reverse:
Leave the rail using mild right bend.
Straighten and ride a diagonal line until you are about 20 feet from the rail.
Initiate bend to left.
Ride a small circle to left.
Provides a more concise and immediate way to change direction than on a diagonal or figure 8.
Many horses slow down their rhythm in a half turn. This usually occurs for one of two reasons. The young horse decreases his tempo because he interprets increased bit pressure as a signal to slow down. He hasn't learned to differentiate the various pressures on the bit. The horse that is lazy or out-of-condition will slow down because it requires more energy to perform a half turn in balance and at the correct tempo than it does to perform one sloppily. Keep your forward driving aids on your horse so he doesn't lose rhythm in the turn.
Turn on the Forehand
Right corner at a walk.
Drift off the track so you are about 10–15 feet from the rail and have room for the turn.
Turn on the forehand 180 degrees with left flexion and hindquarters moving to the right.
– Flex horse's head to the left with a shortened left rein.
– Weight left seat bone.
– Use left leg actively behind the cinch to push the hindquarters to the right.
– Use right leg at the cinch to keep the horse moving in a forward walk rhythm, from rushing sideways to the right, and from backing up.
In a turn on the forehand where the hindquarters move right and the horse is flexed left (as on arena map):
* Footfall pattern is left hind, left front, right hind, right front.
* The pivot point is the left front foot; the left front remains relatively stationary, lifting up and setting down (not swiveling) in place.
* The right front walks a tiny forward half circle around the left front.
* The hind legs walk a half circle around the front legs.
* The left hind crosses over and in front of the right hind.
* Turning on the forehand is an essential suppling, obedience, and positioning (straightening) exercise.
* It teaches the horse to respond to sideways driving and lateral aids.
* Keep this turn very forward. Don't let your horse avoid the aids and back out of the turn.
* At the beginning, let him do a walk around, forward turn on the forehand before you require one absolutely in place.
* If a horse backs up, he will be unable to cross over behind and his pivot point will be lost.
* A too-forward turn can be easily counteracted by increasing pressure on the outside (right) rein.
Straight for one stride.
Perform the two-step for 3–4 strides to the right.
– Left seat bone.
– Left leg behind the cinch and actively pushing sideways each time the left hind lifts and starts a forward/sideways step.
– Right rein guides direction of travel and prevents bulging right shoulder.
– Right leg prevents rushing away from the left leg and keeps the horse moving forward.
– Left rein lightly for slight flexion so horse doesn't overbend to the left.
Ride straight for a few strides.
Two-step and repeat.
After last two-step, change to right bend for the corner.
The Western two-step can also be performed at jog and lope.
* This basic lateral movement is sometimes referred to as the "two-track."
* The line of forward movement is parallel to the arena rail.
* Teaches the horse to move away from leg while moving forward.
* Can be used as a prelude to leg yield, sidepass, and turn on the hindquarters.
* Because of the increased counter flexion, there is an easier chance for the outside shoulder to bulge.
* It is difficult for a horse to move with this much sideways reach and stay in balance, so be on the lookout for overload: irregular rhythm, rushing, head way down, balking.
Walk around the corner and straight up the long side.
Slight position right.
– Weight on right seat bone to hold right hind pivot foot down.
– Lift reins up slightly and back to weight hindquarters and lock pivot foot.
– Left leg at or slightly in front of the cinch to initiate right turn.
– Right leg passive but ready to correct or prevent sideways step of the right hind.
When a horse pivots, he ends up on the same track he started.
Don't let the horse back up during the pivot or he will be forced to pick up his pivot foot. There is a fine line between settling the weight on the hind-quarters and forcing the horse's weight backward past the hindquarters.
Simple Change Serpentine
Lope right lead and follow pattern for five-loop serpentine.
After the first loop, ride straight ahead 20 feet.
Walk one stride.
Lope left lead.
After second loop, ride straight ahead 20 feet.
Walk one stride.
Lope right lead.
Continue until the serpentine pattern is complete.
Variation: Make the simple change through a jog rather than a walk.
Horses can begin to anticipate the downward transition, so vary with other serpentine pattern exercises.
Leave yourself plenty of time and space to straighten in between the old bend (old lead) and new bend (new lead). Maintain the exact serpentine shape. The tendency is to cut across on a diagonal from one loop to another rather than adhere to a very straight line. Be ever vigilant and focus on a post or point across the arena.
Excerpted from "Intermediate Western Exercises"
Copyright © 1998 Cherry Hill.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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