A Break From Horse Showing

In Part 2 of this series, discover six more exercises that will keep your show horse fresh and prepare him for a trail ride.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Keep your show horses fresh this show season by venturing into the trails. Last week, accomplished clinician Marty Marten of Berthoud, Colorado, shared three horseback-riding obstacles that will prepare your show horse for a trail ride. Review the first three obstacles and trail-prep fundamentals in Part 1.

In Part 2, Marty offers six more obstacles that will offer your horse-showing star a break from the show ring.

1. Backing

Before heading for rough country, have complete control of your horse going both forward and backward. Be able to back straight and in a circle. First, start with something simple like backing a half circle around the cavaletti. To back to the right, tip your horse’s nose to the left, move your left leg back to move his hindquarters right and use your right leg at the cinch to swing the front end left.

Ultimately, be able to back uphill. Start on a gentle grade before trying it on a steeper incline. Walk halfway down and back up. If your horse protests, maintain a soft feel and make the right thing easy. Once he moves his feet in an attempt to do what you’re asking, release the pressure. Just make sure the horse is soft in the face before you release.

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This is great for teaching a horse to use his hindquarters and is essential on the trail in tight spots where you must back up on unlevel ground.

2. Ditch

Horses have a tendency to rush up and down hills. By nature, they like to get a running start when packing a load. It’s dangerous to ride with people who let their horses go any speed the horse desires.

A ditch is a good place to work on this. First, stop at the top to let your horse think. Next, get a soft feel (but don’t pull back), so your horse’s hindquarters are under him. If he wants to hurry, stop at the bottom and do a quarter turn to block your horse before heading back up.

Uphill, grab the mane so you don’t balance on his mouth or the cantle. Stand in your stirrups a little, keeping your body vertical to the hill.

3. Tarp

A tarp is helpful in learning to cross water. Make sure the tarp is securely fastened down, so your horse doesn’t get his feet caught. Again, don’t ask the horse to walk the length at first. If he will just put a foot on it or cross the corner, that’s great. It’s important to be satisfied with little improvements. If you only accept all or nothing, your horse will fight it, or it’ll never get done because your horse feels forced. It could take a week - don’t hurry. After crossing it, go back to the old direction. Or, if possible, follow another horse.

Ideally, try to end on a good note. But, it’s better to end on a bad note than a worse note. If you push the issue and fail to reward little tries, it could be detrimental for your horse’s confidence and your safety.

4. Flag

This is an advanced exercise to prepare for surprises. Have someone ride parallel to you and flip a flag at your horse. Accepting this won’t prevent your horse from ever spooking, but it’s one more thing that can help create a broke horse.

Before doing this, move the flag all around your horse when you’re aboard. Waving it under the horse or near his front feet is advanced. Don’t ever start with this step.

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Begin by sitting on the fence with the flag. That way, you are horseback level. Groundwork is good but, eventually, you have to do it at horseback level because that perspective is different for the horse.

5. Slicker

A rain slicker is essential to have on the trail, so it’s important to handle one before heading out. Wave it around to simulate windy conditions. If this bothers your horse, you’ll have trouble - rather than confidence - in bad weather.

6. Tires

Tires offer another great way for teaching a horse where to put his feet. I cut the tires in half.

If your horse wants to go around, point him at the tires and encourage him with your legs. Make success easy. A horse needs to know that he can be successful. Horses are like people that way; they don’t want to be wrong. Ideally, if the horse has confidence in you, he won’t get as upset when he gets stuck or encounters something new on the trail.