I better get this written now before I forget what I want to say and or, I just flat don’t have time. I got home from the clinic yesterday, and I’m rushing off to Texas tomorrow.
This was my fifth clinic to attend with Buck, and as always, I learned a ton of stuff, and I have a great deal to work on! I rode one horse in H1 and another horse in H2. I’m working really hard toward having my H2 horse in the hackamore soon!
I’ve been sloppy in my riding, in not keeping an athletic position, (heels down, toes up – instead my feet go toes down when I ask for any sort of move from my horse), so I popped my stirrups up a hole to help, and I’ll have to “yell” at myself for a while to break that habit.
I don’t intend to break this down into a day-by-day, play-by-play deal like I have in the past, because 1. you can go back and read about a lot of the progressions and 2. at this point in my riding, at least for me, I feel like it’s less about the day 1, day 2, day 3 etc things, as I’m to a place where I understand what’s going on, the progressions as you will, and more about the whole picture (though I’m far from having it painted). I’ll break this down into the things that stood out the most to me, and then I’ll talk about progressions of the soft feel.
First and foremost, it was reiterated time and time again, that you can’t get your horses too good on the ground. We raise a lot of gentle colts here at the ranch, and often, breeze through the groundwork, because we can – that doesn’t mean we take shortcuts though. Getting your horse to respond to a feather soft touch on the slobber strap (or halter or even better – BOTH) for forward or backward movement is a failsafe way to insure that they’ll be even softer and better once you’re on their back. It occurred to me that one of the reasons Dino is so much softer than the other colts and horses I have been riding is because I spent probably 3 months doing nothing but groundwork with him when I started him. So guess what I’m doing with my other colts/going horses when I get back from Texas?
I know for me, I’m often in such a hurry to do stuff on them, that I don’t get things as good as they can be on the ground. Don’t think I’m climbing on to something that’s not comfortable with me on his back, I’m simply saying, why not take the time to get them as soft as you can get them on the ground before you get on their backs? That’s also not to say they don’t get better on the ground from the soft feel you get while you’re on their backs, but if you’re not handy getting a soft feel on their back, why not just take the time to work on it while you’re on the ground? IT’S ALL RELATED.
Second, getting on from the fence isn’t so much about getting on from the fence as it is about having your horse learn to search for the answer, teaching you to be patient enough with him to allow him to search and him finding peace with you. I admittedly don’t take the time to teach my horses to pick me up from the fence, because well, I have no fences here, other than the round corral for them to pick me up from; and it hadn’t occurred to me that it wasn’t so much about them picking me up from the fence as it is about them finding peace with me and searching for the answer.
Third, in the short serpentine it’s about getting that inside foot to swing. Funny how in a year I forget the little things.
Fourth, if your horse isn’t balanced through proper flexion laterally and his ears aren’t level, you’re not helping him learn to drive from behind. He’s got to learn to tuck that jaw up and under, keep his head on the vertical and his ears level while staying elevated above his withers. And you may not get all of those at once. But you can keep working and releasing when your horse tries. Allow them to search and reward the try. They’ll thank you for it.
Fifth, don’t forget about the four ways to move your horse’s hips. This is very important. I use these, and work on these with all my horses all the time, but they can’t get too good at it!
1. Reins with leg.
2. A soft feel with leg.
3. Legs with no reins.
4. Reins with no legs.
Don’t move on to the next way until you get one way really working good for you. That applies to everything you do with your horse. Always do less than you think it will take, and build from that. It’s how you help your horse become so responsive and light someone might wonder what it was you did to get your horse to do something pretty!
Now, on to the fun part (for me at least). And I’m not saying the above isn’t fun, but here’s where I found the most improvement in my horses last year and again this year.
Let me begin by saying that I’ve heard Buck (and of course Zach – here at home – because let’s not forget that if it were not for him I’d have probably never found my way to Buck) talk about lightness and the horse weighing nothing for many years. I’ve also heard him say you want to get your horse so soft and be able to walk so slow you feel as if you could walk on eggs and not break them. And of course, those of us that have ridden with him have heard him speak about the rectangle for years. That said, until last year, I didn’t realize that a horse that was soft, yet still weighed something on the end of your reins was pushing out of your rectangle. I just assumed (shame on me) that meant that a horse that was going faster than you were riding was pushing out of your rectangle (or if he’s leaning left or right and you’re riding somewhere other than that direction). Ideally a truly broke horse will stay between your legs and reins, and ride no faster or slower than you are. You want your horse to be able to go when you go, slow when you slow and use your legs only for directing the energy your horse is reading from your body. If you pick up a soft feel your horse will shorten some, but you want him to keep going and you want those reins to have NO weight in them.
Last year we worked on the teardrop drill that Buck teaches in his H2 class. Last year was also the first year I’ve been in H2 – as I felt I was finally ready to move on (but don’t think I won’t be continuing to take the H1 class). I was able to pick up a soft feel on my horse, Dino, and hold it, but he still hadn’t turned his feet completely over to me, and was heavy on the reins in that drill. If any of you reading this want an explanation of the teardrop drill, I’m happy to provide that in another post. So please let me know via the comments section.
I left last year’s clinic frustrated, thinking I was never going to have him ready to go into a hackamore, and feeling like I’d done nothing right with my horse. I had completely disregarded the fact that I have been roping and dragging calves on him for a couple years, flagging and starting other colts on him, and was getting done what I needed to get done on the ranch, horseback, staying safe, and that I had a happy horse. When we got back from that clinic, we were full steam ahead into fall work, gathering bulls from the herd, gathering at the neighbors, giving shots, and then gathering again to go to town with the calves. I rode Dino a lot that fall; gathered all our bulls on him, and used him at some of the neighbor’s places when they called. A few weeks after the clinic, I picked up on him, asked him for a soft feel and BOOM! He weighed nothing.
Now don’t think I wasn’t picking up a soft feel and working on a correct turn around, and teetering back after stops and all the other things that make a horse great, while I was doing all the ranch work on him. I was, but when you’re doing a job, you’re less inclined to be as picky toward your horse, and the competitor/perfectionist in me, has started to learn to stop picking at her horse when she’s doing a job and let him be. I help him when I need to, and I may pick up to make sure he reaches back to me when I ask, but I wasn’t specifically working on any one thing. My point being, that my horse got better simply because I was still riding with quality during those few weeks after I returned from the clinic.
Moving on – Because I’m fortunate enough to be able to work a lot of cattle on my horses, they’re generally pretty good about going slow when I ride slow. But this year, as I began to pick up a soft feel on Dino and ask for him to ssslllllooooowwww way down, I felt it. The softness of his feet. I felt like with each step we really could have stepped on eggs and not broken them. He weighed nothing more when I released that soft feel than he did when I gathered that soft feel. Oy. Cool.
That said, if I didn’t have the following things working for me, that soft feel wouldn’t carry through that sllllllloooooowwww walk (and I’ve NO doubt I can get the following things working EVEN better for me than they do!):
1. The horse must be able to travel through the walk/trot/lope transition on a lose rein, and he must be able to go down on a lose rein. And you want him to carry proper lateral flexion if you were working these transitions in a circle, or if you’re working an open serpentine.
2. He’s got to understand the soft feel and you’ve got to be able to hold that at the walk, the trot and the lope. But before you can hold it, he’s got to understand how to give. Like anything you start with your horse, you reward each try. So when he can hold it a few steps at the walk, then you might work on picking up that soft feel at the trot. It may take you two strides or thirty to get him to give, but you release when he tries. That said, if you’ve done your groundwork, and your horse is good laterally, it shouldn’t take as long to get that vertical flexion. When you can get that soft feel at the walk or trot when you ask, every time you ask, with no lag time, then you’d move on to the trot/lope. When he can hold it at each transition you might then work on holding that soft feel for the transition down.
3. Working on the downward transition with the soft feel would be the first way you’d help your horse to understand how to hold that soft feel. Going up with the soft feel is harder for them to understand.
4. When you’ve got your soft feel working for you and they weigh nothing more when you let it go than they did when you pick up, that’s when you might start working on holding that soft feel in a half circle.
There’s progressions in your half circles as well as in the up/down movements of your horses. They’d work like this:
1. A half circle on a lose rein having the horse swing/reach that inside front foot through the turn, and have it weigh nothing. You’ll want the front quarters reaching more than the hind. And you want that horse to learn to shape around your inside leg, remembering that proper leg position would dictate your inside leg is back, outside leg is forward. Also, we want to be aware of proper flexion during any/all of our loose rein work, especially if you’re interested in making a bridle horse. #raiseyourhandifyouwantomakeabridlehorse *hand shoots up*
2. A half circle carrying the soft feel.
3. A half circle at the trot carrying the soft feel.
4. A half circle at the trot, with a leg yield toward the fence (shoulders leading), having the horse carry that soft feel. When you’ve completed the leg yield and are going straight, release that soft feel and either continue trotting, or pick up a soft feel and let the horse go to the walk.
5. A half circle at the trot, with the leg yield toward the fence (shoulders leading), and at the deepest part of that leg yield, when the shoulders are far away from the hips, ask for a canter departure, but your horse MUST BE SOFT and weigh nothing or you’re not going to be very successful. Also, if you ask for the lead departure late (or past that sweet spot), you’re not doing your horse any good either. And I’m pretty sure Buck was talking to me when he said that because I tend to be late!
6. A half circle at the lope, break to the trot for a stride or two, leg yield, pick up the lead again, and then finally you’d not break to the trot at all and voila, you’re changing leads. That is I suppose, assuming you have good timing, which I seem to lack here, because Zach does flying lead changes on Dino just fine and I look like a fat monkey on top of him when I ask. A simple lead change, we do pretty darn good however. Someday I will be able to do a flying lead change and not be in my horse’s way.
That I felt like my horses got softer and softer and softer all weekend is, a good thing. That I have plenty to keep working on when I get done traveling is a great thing! That I was reminded, time and time again for four days, don’t release if your horse is heavy, is what will stick with me the most.
I know for those of you that will read this that were at the clinic with me, I glossed over a lot; and it’s not that those things weren’t important, but these are the things that stuck out most to me in my mind.
Horsemanship is a journey, not a destination.