Rocky, our 2 year old Quarter Horse stallion, is being trained to be a performance horse. A reined cow horse in particular. I can’t just wish it to happen.
It’s my responsibility to properly prepare him to be able to perform.Spins, sliding stops, and flying lead changes all require the simple
prerequisite of “Body Control.” You don’t have to do it my way, but you have to have some way to control and move your horse’s individual body parts.
We’ll call these series of exercises Four Part Harmony. These parts consist of my horse’s head and neck, shoulders, rib cage, and hind quarters.
In a quartet, it’s important that each member knows their specific part. If the song sounds bad, a good director will recognize which part
is incorrect and practice with that individual until they learn their part. The group can then be brought back together and sound
harmonious. It’s the same way with your horse. If they don’t execute a correct flying lead change, you need to figure out which body
part is in need of help. If you can get that body part more maneuverable and shaped up, then you can come back and execute the maneuver correctly. Let’s practice!
Part One: Head and Neck I’ve already addressed the need for softness in your colt’s head and neck
in a previous article. Remember, if they don’t feel good in the face you’re not going to like anything else they do. Here is an additional exercise to help with head and neck control:
When walking in a circle, ask your colt to follow your direct rein and wrap around your inside leg. I call this a train track circle. You want his body
arced in the direction in which you’re going. Rather than just pulling him around, you need to take and give with your inside rein. See if he can keep
stepping in this circle even when the rein is not tight. Watch your rein. Are you able to draw his nose into the circle and have him maintain that position
for a couple steps with float in the rein? You’re asking him to start the circle and then follow the “feel” of your rein and hand rather than you just dragging him around. This circle will be important as we progress to the
Part 2: Shoulders The lack of shoulder control will haunt you in almost every performance maneuver you attempt. Whether
it’s loping a circle, spinning, stopping, or changing leads you have to be able to lift and move your horse’s
shoulders for them to stay balanced and athletic. Start with a train track circle (we’ll go to the left.) You
can see his left eye and he is wrapping around your left leg. Now pick up your right rein and draw it
towards your left shoulder. Move your left leg away and press with your right leg forward, near the cinch. Keep your circle and maintain your forward momentum. Your horse is now in a counter bend. He is
leading with his shoulders and his nose is tipped slightly to the outside of the cinch. Start off with just a few
steps and then let him back into a train track circle. You will probably need to counter balance your horse
with the left rein as well. We begin this at the walk. Down the road Rocky will be comfortable doing this shoulders-over exercise at the trot and lope as well. This is one of the few exercises that I do in a counter
bent position where I actually want to see my horse’s outside eye.
Part 3: Rib Cage What I am referring to in essence is a side pass. Add enough forward momentum and
you can call it a half pass. Side passing denotes straightness. That means no counter bending in this exercise. In kindergarten Rocky learned how to leg yield. He moved off
my leg with his nose tipped away from the direction he was going. Now I’m going to ask him to side pass with straightness. If I can see his outside eye, then it is not correct. You
can start this maneuver while walking forward. Draw your left rein toward your right shoulder (we’ll be side passing to the left.) Open your left leg and press your right leg
directly in the middle of his barrel. Counter balance with your right rein if necessary, but don’t tip his nose to the outside. You want to feel his front and hind legs cross over
simultaneously. If you aren’t getting good grades in a simple leg yield and you don’t have good head and neck control, this is probably going to fall apart. That’s okay. Go back
to the basics and strengthen your foundation. Side passing with straightness is probably the hardest of the exercises to master. Yet rib cage control is essential for performance
horses. Don’t be concerned with forward drift in this maneuver. If he is rocked back, he will not cross over correctly. If you can side pass to the left, can see his left eye, and
have forward momentum, you’re performing a half pass. Your dressage friends will be impressed!
Part 4: Hind Quarters Part four is your horse’s hind end. We often bend our colts and disengage their
hindquarters to help supple them and control their feet. Now I’m going to ask Rocky to yield his hindquarters around while keeping his head, neck, and shoulders straight. Start
at a standstill. Pick up on your reins and ask your horse to get soft in the bridle. Now open your left leg (we’re yielding the hindquarters to the left) and press with your right leg
closer to your back cinch. It’s easy if we let them bend, but you need to keep them straight. This maneuver could correctly be called a turn on the forehand. If you ever
hope to do a flying lead change, you must be able to move the hip over when you ask. When you can move each of these body parts independent of each other, then you have
the foundation to execute high level maneuvers. Next time you ask your horse to perform and it doesn’t feel quite right, analyze what part is not working right. Is he bracey in the
face? Has he dropped his shoulder? Did he miss his hind lead because we couldn’t move his hip over? 90% of your problems will be a result of poor body control in one of these four areas.
Get all the parts working well and it will come together in Four Part Harmony!
Richard Winters News
Surrounded by friends and family, Richard was honored to receive the annual "Equitarian Award" given by Monty & Pat Roberts in Solvang, California.
Richards Acceptance Speech;
As other grade school boys dreamed of being firemen, astronauts, or race car drivers, this years equitarian recipient thought of nothing
other than being a cowboy. Not the most convenient dream considering he lived in town with parents who had no ties whatsoever to the
equine community. During those early years this boy wore out more than a few bicycles peddling seven miles to a stable across town
where he was a self confessed "stable brat." Opportunities to be involved with horses were few and far between but they did come.
Helping clean stalls, learning to drive the single horse feed wagon, and helping to saddle the dude string, little by little desire was
intersecting with experience. Four summers as a teenager wrangling dude horses in the mountains added to this experience.
Then the opportunity to work for the late great bridle horse trainer, Troy Henry, of Clovis, California. This was the young mans first
introduction to higher levels of horsemanship. Troy introduced the idea that horsemanship was only about 10% mechanics and 90%
psychology. It was there that this high school kid had the privilege of riding some true bridle horses. Though he couldn't duplicate it, he
knew there was a feel with horses that could be obtained. A 9 month Farrier program gave the young man skills that financed most of
the obligations a 17 year old boy could accrue. Graduating from High School a year early he was college bound. Not necessarily for the
scholastic opportunities. Rather, Hartnell College, in Salinas California, had one of the most outstanding varsity rodeo program in the
country. Two years of roping calves and riding saddle bronc horses was a lot of fun, however it was self-evident that there wasn't much future in it.
It was in Salinas that he met the girl who would become the cornerstone of his success. This pretty strawberry blond has spent 23 years
raising their children, running their business, and being the #1 supporter of this ongoing adventure. Over the years, shoeing clients
recognized the horse handling skills of this young farrier and training opportunities began to present themselves with more frequency. In
the late 80's and early 90's horsemanship clinics were gaining in popularity. This is where our recipient has shined. A strong
horsemanship foundation balanced with unparalleled people skills has been the perfect mixture for the outstanding clinician he is today.
Never satisfied where he is on the journey, this gentleman continues to hone his skills as an avid competitor with the National Reined
Cow Horse Association with world championship titles to his credit. He is also an A rated Judge and a trainer and coach to world
champion non-pro riders as well. It's been said "Find a vocation you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life!" Richard
Winters is living his boyhood dream and we are pleased to honor him here tonight! Thank you Pat and Monty for honoring Richard with such a prestigious award!
For more information about Richard Winters Horsemanship please go to wintersranch.com.
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