This was yet another great day for me! And probably for everyone else in the class as we all managed stay astride our steeds. He started the morning session with a discussion on tack, and showed us how to tie up our McCarty reins, should we ever find ourselves in a position to tie our horses up while they’re still wearing a bit. I had actually asked him to show us that on Day Two, because I have watched him do it on his DVD, but it never quite clicked before. But now I can do it! Go me!
Then we did some more one-rein stops and we worked on moving our horse’s shoulders through the turn. Hips to the left until they’re set sufficiently back over their hocks, and when the most natural thing for them to do is move their shoulders to the right, we pick up a right front foot, and push the left front foot across and in front of the right foot. I mentioned yesterday that when we did this drill on day two, we were sticky going right. So I asked him about the timing. I am to get after him with my left leg, when his left leg is getting ready to come across. So I did it, but my horse lost his form. So I mentioned that to him, and he said, you want the feet, and he needs to learn to hustle, so don’t worry about where his head is. And then I remembered something else I’ve known for a loooong time- when the feet begin to clearly get the signal, the head will come down. In this case, my timing has been way behind, so my horse’s head is coming up because he’s unsure about what I’m asking of him. He watched me do it a couple of times and said that I was getting it, so off we went to keep practicing. It got better. As an aside the past couple of days while riding my pony, he’s gotten a whole lot better at this. Okay, okay, so I’VE gotten my timing down a whole lot better, which in turn has made him better!
Then he taught us how to back circles. Again, this was a drill that I already knew how to do, and practice on my horses, HOWEVER, I learned a LOT about refining it, and making it better. He wanted us to back a quarter circle to one direction and then turn our horses over their hocks and then set them back. Picture this if you will:
To back a circle to the left, you will bend your horse slightly to the right. Remember, our horse’s natural inclination when their head is bent right is for their hips to flow left. So we back a circle to the left by tipping their face/nose to the right. Some people get confused on why we’d tip the horse’s nose in the opposite direction of the circle we’re backing- but that is because their nose is tipped in the direction we intend to go when we start our turn around. We’d go a quarter of a circle to the left, and then as our horse’s front right foot is leaving the ground, we’ll pick it up and set it out, push the left one across and in front of the right one, and then back our horse straight a couple steps. At that point we could go right into backing a circle to the right, by tipping the horse’s face/nose to the left. The process is then repeated like shampoo- wash, rinse, and repeat as necessary. I like to repeat this. A lot!
I think the hardest thing for most people (and their horses) in this drill, is that the horses that aren’t as educated, have trouble shifting their weight back over their hocks, and staying put in the turn and their riders, in turn, have trouble feeling when their horse’s weight is sufficiently back and then can’t keep them over their hocks in the turn around. Something else that is hard to grasp is that you don’t kick your horse to back them up. You may tip your shoulders back, but you want them to back up off the soft feel. That goes along with carrying that soft feel through their body, to their feet. Another difficult portion to grasp for people is that you release after every step your horse takes in the back-up. Release, pick-up, release, pick-up. The better your timing, the better the back up. While it’s true, that our horses move away from pressure the best horseman actually teach their horses that the reward is in the release, not the pressure itself. Release at the right time every time, and you’ll have success with whatever you’re teaching, right, wrong or indifferent.
After we practiced that for a while, he had us a do a set. I love, love, love this drill, and wish I would have thought of it myself. I’ve done something similar with my lesson kids for years (thanks to my Cowboy), but this is better even than what I have been doing! I believe it really helps you develop good timing, and understanding of foot cadence. A set works like this:
Walk forward 10 steps. On the tenth step your horse stops, and then you back up 10 steps. Then you go forward 9 steps. On the ninth step you stop and back up nine steps. And then 8 and then 7, etc. until you’re at zero steps. I would say that the purpose is to be able to count steps, get your horse ready to stop, but even more than that, it’s about being able to back your horse straight and not have him wallowing around in the back up. Backing up straight is an important thing to be able to do. I think it helps you develop your horse and the rider’s skills, further.
Since I’m sure y’all are wondering what part of this drill is similar to the one I’ve used, it’s the forward step part of the aforementioned drill. I like to have the kids take 6-10 forward steps on their horses and on the last step (whether it’s 6 or 10) pick up the last foot the horse sets down, and set it back. Eventually I get my students to be able to set their horses up so they can take a step forward with either a left or right foot, and I can say, set your horse up to take the first step with their right front foot and they are able to do it.
After we completed our set, class ended, but not before he gave us a homework assignment. He wanted us all to do the backing a circle and turn around out of it drill. I love homework! Okay. Well only when it involves my four-footed equine friends. Needless to say, I eagerly anticipated the end of the ranch-roping class so I could go saddle my pretty, chestnut horse and get to it. Last summer I worked so hard on getting some speed control in my backup. I never got exactly what I wanted but can I just tell you that I had my horse nearly running backwards half the length of the arena? And it wasn’t a backup that in which he was scared of me- he was really in time with my body! I could count his steps, left, right, left right, and by a simple flick of my wrist could set either front foot out, back or in. We were doing full circles and pretty turn arounds, and I could have him go slow, or speed up. I was so happy, I cried tears of joy! My horse was just melting into my body and I into his. It was like music. And that is what we’re after, becoming dance partners with one another!
I’ll post the pictures of Buck on his finished Bridle horse, Ark, in a while. Sorry this got so long again. I’m might get y’all all bogged down with details. But I found them important.
Good Friday, everyone!