Well, we’re here. The last day of the clinic. I am always sad on this day because it’s ending. But I’m also always glad because my horse is so much better. And my 40 ride colt made great strides during these 4 days.
I think this is a good time to review what we’ve covered so far, so before we get to it, let’s do just that.
Day One- we covered proper head carriage, the beginning of elevation/collection and a discussion of what physiologically takes place in the horse when collection/elevation occurs. We also covered getting a soft feel while walking out and for me day one was filled with loping across the pen to work on my legs no longer being impotent.
Day Two brought more of the same from day one, though we worked on actually getting some collection/elevation at the walk/trot, did more sets, and more moving out, if you’re me! We also had a discussion on the turn around, which is one of the important things for your horse to know how to do properly. That said, they can’t properly turn around if they’re not first elevated and collected correctly.
Day three we did cow work, sets, backed circles and worked on getting our horses to really flow through their hips which will help us today as we do lead changes, and cow-work in the rodear.
Which brings us to today. I must admit that part of me was really bummed for not having one of my horses that is farther along with me. We had a LOT of beginners at the Belton Clinic, we didn’t get to lope in class at all, save for the last day of cow work, and when we warmed up in the morning. Both The Gump and Sonora “Nora” (and of course my crippled mare, Shuttle) are to a place were we can pick up the lead of my choosing from the standstill, and are soft enough to let me gather them up at the lope, break to a trot and then back to the lope in a different lead (simple lead changes). In fact, last week I put my first two rides on Nora in the hackamore. And like Buck told us at this clinic, for a while we’ll go back and forth- and I can’t tell you how badly I want to do that, so I may break down and do just that. We’ll see- after all my horse doesn’t get into the hackamore because she failed the snaffle. She’s graduated to the hackamore, so we can always go back to the snaffle. Gump needs a lot more riding in the snaffle before he’s ready for the hackamore, seeing as how he’s a reformed run-away match-racing horse he’s still not hardly as soft as any of my other horses; at least not on a consistent basis. As an aside, that doesn’t make me love him less! He’s still my favorite horse to ride across the prairie!
Getting down to business- after a good warm up of doing more flexions, elevations, picking up a soft feel and carrying it up, down and for a stride or two at the walk and trot (and for me loping off a few times- and getting the right lead, at which point I exclaimed rather loudly, “I’ll be &*) @%*&%@! I got the right lead!” which warranted a big laugh from Buck and Shayne Jackson (who is a loyal student of Bucks)!
It was time to work on some leg yields and haunches in. For those of you unfamiliar with a leg yield and haunches in, never fear. The explanation is forthcoming. And it’s what’s essentially needed as the foundation for your lead change (non-horse folks- the lead change is simply the lead foot when the horse is in the canter. Notice your dog run sometime, there will always be one front foot leading the other- when they’re going left- it’s the left front foot; right is just the opposite)
In a leg yield, your horse is bent into the direction you’re riding, holding what we hope is a pretty round shape- and what you’ll do is yield them away from the direction you’re going by still going forward. This maneuver is not to be confused with a counter-bend which is an incorrect maneuver. That requires an explanation all to itself, and as a *recovering barrel racer, I’ll explain that to you in a post someday. A leg yield’s purpose is to keep your horse round and have the ability to move the circle wider if you want. Here’s what you’d do. At the walk (because we all have to walk before we run!) you would pick up a soft feel, properly elevate you horse, take away your outside leg, because we have to give the horse a place to go. In this case we’ll be walking left circle, so we’ll add our left leg, remove the right, and bump, push, or urge your horse’s shoulders to the outside of the circle. You’ll get a bit of movement at first (release), then a step (release) then several steps and at that point you can let your horse come back to the circle and walk out naturally again. And of course we won’t get several steps at once.
As a second part to the lead change, and a good transition from the leg-yield, you’d ask for the haunches in. I find I struggle tremendously with this drill- even on my horses such as Gump and Nora. I got the chance to ask Buck about the fact that my horses slow down when I ask them for this, and he said it has to do with the uncertainty of what I’m asking for, and the fact that it’s new. He said to just ask, and if they slow down, speed them back up when I’m done with the maneuver. They will eventually learn to travel out while I do it. I should add to this though, that timing is everything with this drill. If, in our above example, I’ve leg yielded my horse to the right (or outside of our left circle) and it’s now time to push the hips to the left, or to the inside of the circle, (haunches in) you want to do so as the right hind leg is coming up off the ground, so that your horse can step up under himself and over. Much easier said than done, I assure you. It isn’t rocket science however- it’s simply a changing of the leg you use- from left leg to right leg (moving your left leg out of the way) and your horse is, voila! set up for a lead change to the left.
The proper way to change leads is from back to front, of course. And you want your horse slightly bent to the direction you’re going to go. So if you were loping, say a circle to the right, and you came across the center of the pen, you’d drop to the trot for a stride (theoretically) pick up the left rein, add your right leg, which should tip your horse’s hips enough to left so they can pick up the left lead, and away you go. This is exactly what Buck had us doing- though we used the arena on a diagonal which was super clever! Why I’d never thought of that before, I don’t know! But we’d be going around to the left at the walk or the trot, and he’d have us, at one corner, pick up the left lead, which of course we were rockin’, break to the trot (for a stride was the goal- we didn’t reach it), and come out the other side on the right lead. I was late the first time and had my horse all set up to do it and missed it. Buck and I both groaned about it at precisely the same time! Then we switched directions and did the same thing to the right. Even though my horse wasn’t able to do this, I’ve been able to take what I learned and apply it to both Gump and Nora, and while I’m still not quite able to just trot one stride we’re getting there. Buck said eventually it will be the changing of the legs (ours) that has our horses changing leads. He doesn’t determine when the lead change will happen. He only sets it up so that the horse can be successful. Again, as in the haunches in, timing is everything. You want to ask when the horse’s right front foot is going to hit the ground, so that he can change while his other three legs are suspended. Is anyone else tired now? Just reviewing this makes my head spin.
On to the cow work in the rodear. He broke us off into two groups, and I was fortunate enough to have Shayne be my partner. In rodear work, if you’re having trouble with your horse’s leads, as I was, you always want to be the cow horse. The cow horse stays between the “herd” on the inside and the “cow” on the outside, and as such is set up to get the correct leads in a way that easiest for the horse. I was kind of struggling through my turn arounds to the right, not asking with enough life, because I was trying to make everything be perfect with my horse all at once. Buck finally said to me- “do this like you’re doing the job at home, and it has to get done!”. At which point, I made a sweeping turn to the right, and my horse just hopped into the most beautiful right lead. We all cheered, and my colt really did look good. I love “cow” work like that. As an aside- I took him to do some fall work, just a few days after we got back from the clinic and he rode through the pasture on his first outside trip like he was meant to be a saddle horse. We even picked up the right lead several times. Though I’m still struggling with it in the arena.
With that right lead, we quit and that ended the clinic for me. I always hate when they end, but I am looking forward to taking my colt back next year, so we can see how much we’ve improved.
I hoipe y’all enjoyed this trip as much as much as I enjoyed sharing it. I look forward to more adventures down the road.
*I have not quit running barrels. I am just not the typical barrel racer. I don’t desire to be lumped in with a group of people that for the most part think they practice horsemanship, when what they really practice is sacrificing their horse’s comfort and training (brokeness) for winning. Not every barrel racer does this- there are lots of girls who have horses that can do something besides run barrels- but I know PLENTY who do.