Power Steering, Part 1
Gaining guide in your horse.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Nancy Cahill with Christine Hamilton in The American Quarter Horse Journal | January 17, 2011
To have “guide” in your horse means that you move your hand an inch, and you get a “mile” of movement. When you neck rein an inch left or right, your horse’s nose bends, then his poll, neck, shoulders, ribs and hips all follow in the same path, immediately.
Why do we want guide? No. 1 is the safety of being in complete control of your horse.
No. 2 is because it’s prettier. A horse and rider should look like one motion, not seven motions of hands, legs, body and feet going every which way. A horse and rider should move as one, just as good dancers or ice skaters do. You want people watching to think, “That’s easy; I could do that,” knowing full well that’s not easy at all.
It takes an enormous amount of time to get there. Look at your great trail horses – the older they get, the better they guide, and the better and easier it looks.
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You have to start out asking a mile before you get the inch. You have to really put him where you want him so he learns the cue and what you want. Eventually you will end up moving your hand an inch, and he’ll give you the mile, because he understands your cue, where he’s supposed to go and how fast.
But it takes a lot of time to get there.
The biggest problem is that everyone wants too much too fast. You can’t go straight from kindergarten to an internship in brain surgery, yet people think horses can make that kind of leap in a year. Though some horses are more trainable than others, they still need time to learn.
They also need time to process your cue. If a horse doesn’t respond immediately, I often see riders get instantly frustrated and angry. They start moving their hands too quickly and often in the opposite direction – if they were going to turn left, suddenly they’ll move their hands to the right.
There’s no place for anger when you’re riding a horse. You need to slow down and try to sort out what’s happening.
What to Do
You have to figure out what you have to work with in your horse – in skill level and intelligence and trainability – and you have to be honest with yourself about your own skills. Developing your own feel on a horse takes more than riding once a week.
You have to have patience and be fair to your horse. If you come home from a bad day at work and you want to ride, but your horse doesn’t, I suggest you don’t ride that day. All it takes is one “get-mad” session, and you will back yourself up a month in your training.
Everything you want to know about trail and more! AQHA Clinician Robin Frid walks American Quarter Horse Youth World Cup exhibitors through the ins and outs of a trail course. This clinic is divided into four parts - parts 1 and 2 explain how to prepare for trail and then exhibitors walk the course; Exhibitors bring in their horses and test the course with one-on-one advice about each obstacle in parts 3 and 4.
Remember, if he gets stuck, go back to the basics. It might be time to slow down and go back to something you were doing well together. Short, good rides are better than one long ride any day.
An Island of Cones
This is my favorite exercise to teach guide. Scatter a bunch of cones, 15 or so, in just one area of your arena. It doesn’t matter if they’re standing or how far apart they are – 6, 10 feet, whatever. Literally throw them out there.
Treat them like a little island and make your horse stay within the island. Walk your horse back and forth through them, left, right, circle a cone here, weaving in and out. Do it at a walk first, then move up to the trot as your horse gets better at it; don’t lope it.
When you’re starting out, use two hands: Just lay the outside neck rein and use the inside direct rein to steer him. Wrap his front end around your inside leg. Your outside leg might finish the turn, but it doesn’t initiate the turn. You’re basically walking the horse around your inside leg every time you make a turn.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
• Use a ring snaffle or a bit that’s hinged on the side or broken in the middle, something that will let you use that direct rein to pull him into the turn. If the bit is stiff, it will turn sideways in his mouth, and he’ll fight the bit.
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• Concentrate on sitting in the middle of your horse. Sometimes, when you make too sharp of a turn, you tend to slide off the outside as you use your outside leg. Stay in the middle.
• Keep your hands low and don’t have your reins too long. Drop your hands so you get down toward the level of the horse’s mouth, as close as you can, where you can actually do some good.
• Think of the horse’s head as being 12 o’clock. As you use that inside rein, don’t pull back to 6 o’clock. To turn right, your right hand with that right direct rein should go to 3 o’clock. Left is to 9 o’clock. Pulling back is a huge mistake; that’s not telling him where you really want him to go. It often happens because the rein is too long on that side.
• Know when to quit, how far you can go and how much you can ask. When did he do well enough to stop? When he did better than he did yesterday.
Check back next week for Part 2 of Power Steering!