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Performance Horsemanship with Richard Winters
Riding with Straightness
Riding with straightness and focus.

  This month I’d like to address a simple subject; Straightness. Yes, it sounds simple. However, it can be difficult to accomplish. Especially if you have not purposefully taken time to teach your horse the concept of traveling straight.

Consider how you spend your time in the arena. Much of our riding is done on an arc. In other words, we spend a tremendous amount of energy walking, trotting, and loping circles. Please don’t misunderstand me. Traveling in correct and balanced circles is very important. However, learning to travel in a straight line at every gait and speed is equally challenging. You’ll need to put effort into this concept of straightness if you hope to reach higher levels of performance.

The Reiner knows that a horse cannot stop well if he’s not traveling straight. A barrel racer realizes that precious time is wasted when a horse will not travel straight toward a barrel.
Whether it is polo, roping, or jumping, every equine performance discipline demands straightness when traveling on a straight line.
Do as little as possible to keep your horse on track.

Here is a simple exercise to teach straightness. Whether you are riding a green colt or an older horse that needs fine tuning in this area, this exercise will help:

Begin at the far end of the arena and face the direction you want to go. Smoothly ask your horse to pick up a trot. Start looking at a spot on the opposite fence-line. Don’t take your eyes off of it. Ask your horse to travel on a loose rein while on this straight line. When you get to the other end, sit down and say whoa. Don’t pull back on the reins. Let the fence stop your horse. You should be stopped perpendicular to the fence. Now relax and wait in that position for at least 30 seconds. After that short rest, repeat the exercise traveling in the opposite direction. You can continue this exercise numerous times to solidify the concept in your horse’s mind.

Now let’s talk about some of the scenarios you may possibly encounter when you first begin this exercise:

Your horse might travel through the middle of the arena like a drunken sailor. That’s why you’re practicing this exercise. You need to teach your horse what a straight line is. After a few times, your horse will realize that he is traveling from point A to point B. When he arrives at point B he gets to take a break. This simple task will quickly make a lot of sense to your horse.

Keep your hands in front of you with your reins loose and create an imaginary “hallway” for your horse to travel in. If he veers right, you’ll correct that movement with your left rein. If he veers left, you’ll block him with your right rein.

Remember to ride with focus. Look where you want to go. That alone will make a big difference. Your car won’ travel straight if you’re looking at the hood ornament! Look out past your horse’s ears and your horse will begin to travel in the direction you are focused.
Stop and wait at point B

Your horse will probably think it’s time to turn when he gets to the fence. Simply keep his head straight and don’t pull back on the reins . Let the fence stop him. This is a great opportunity for your horse to feel your weight shift and hear the word “whoa” without getting pulled on. If your horse stops at the fence and cocks his rump to the one side or the other, use that same side rein and leg to straighten his body and then relax.

Over time your goal is to see how little it takes to guide your horse. In just a few sessions, most horses will travel to a point with almost no rein guidance at all. As your horse gains confidence and understanding you can perform this exercise at the lope as well.

I’ve been speaking about arena work in this article. However, you can apply these same principles out in the open as well. Pick out a tree, rock, bush, post, or another object and ride with straightness to whatever you designate as “point B.” Don’t forget the 30 second break. It’s more important than you think!

Yes, it’s simple, but it can be difficult. Take the time to teach your horse the importance of straightness and you’ll notice your performance improve.

For more information about Richard Winters Horsemanship please go to wintersranch.com.

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