Troubleshooting the Counter Arc Circle – Reining  Essential #3

Troubleshooting the Counter Arc Circle – Reining Essential #3

In this article on reining, I’ll be addressing troubleshooting problems with Reining Essential 3, the counter arc circle and how to deal with them.


Troubleshooting the counter arc circle: Your horse’s response will be affected by his natural asymmetry (his stiff and hollow sides), as well as by whatever magnets are drawing his attention at any moment. As when riding a regular circle, use the key-in-ignition movement to correct a collapsing circle with your inside leg at the cinch, and your outside leg at or behind the neutral position, as need be to adjust the position of his hindquarters.

Be sure to keep your counter arc circle symmetric and round. If it becomes like a cigar in shape, know that your horse has a strong magnet probably on the part of the cigar that’s furthest from the barn/gate drawing him back to it. And, when you’re closest to the barn/gate, it’s probably hard to move him smoothly on the circle, away from the barn. The challenge is to smooth and round the circle out.

The parts of your horse that aren’t working correctly are his shoulders and his hip. The hip is usually worse and isn’t moving off your outside leg. So, when you go from circular to cigar, slow it all down and make his hip move off your leg in an exaggerated side-pass to over-correct. Then, move back onto your circle track. You’ll know you are losing control if you find you’re cranking his head too much to the outside. It’s our natural reaction to counteract them not moving off our leg, so just a little bend of his head and neck to the outside, accompanied by an aggressive outside leg.

Be patient and keep working on symmetrical circles and counter arc circles, and you’ll be surprised at how much control you’ll gain over all of your horse’s body whole body and mind!

5 Boxing Ways to Improve Your Score

5 Boxing Ways to Improve Your Score

There are only 5 credit boxes for the Limited Cow class. They are all connected to each other. By that, I mean, that if you are crediting one box, you’re probably gaining credit in at least one other box. And likewise, if you are losing credit in 1, you’re probably in the negative in at least one other. Let me explain, by starting with what makes a really good run.

When a rider walks confidently into the arena, nods for the cow, steps right up to challenge it, and crisply moves right and left with the cow, many good things are happening! When I’m judging that class, and see a run start like that, the thoughts going through my head in those first 15 seconds are….”this is probably going to be a good run”. My “thermometer” is going up. I’m thinking that the rider is starting to show courage, utilizing their time (time worked), getting to the right spot (position and control). So already, I’m wanting to be in the positive (71 range) in at least 3 credit areas.

My next thoughts are, can they maintain these credits? Will they put more pressure on the cow, and be able to control it? If they do, the score for position and control, courage and maybe even time worked can all go up together. If the cow is challenging, then degree of difficulty goes up too. That’s how to mark above a 72.

Now, if the degree of difficulty is there (the cow is challenging), position and control are very good, the rider keeps the pressure on (courage and time worked go up) and looks good doing it (ie smooth, athletic, riders hands are quiet), then we’re getting into the 73 and above range.

When the buzzer sounds, my next question is how good was that? Exactly how difficult was the cow? What really stood out that I can give a full plus to? Usually if there’s one thing that was very good, there are other things that were too.

This is what a skillful exhibitor learns, and can use to start to increase their score.

Conversely, if the rider hangs back, doesn’t move crisply left and right, they will not only go down in courage, but probably also time worked, and position and control. If a horse isn’t moving with the intention of holding the cow (because the rider isn’t insisting on it), eye appeal will suffer too. All of the categories are headed down, and suddenly a 68- run is what’s happening.

As you gain experience showing, try to “connect the boxes”. If you’re controlling the cow by getting to it’s head and keeping it in the middle 2/3rd’s of the arena, and if your horse moves fluidly, because you’re using your feet more than your hands, and you’re advancing and keeping enough pressure on the cow to show your horse off, and you can maintain that level of performance throughout your time, you’re probably going to be at least a 72. The degree of difficulty of the cow is something you can’t control, so to have a really good run, that element has to be there too. But, my point is, and the good news is, that a lot of this is within your control! So, get with your trainer so you can work towards increasing your score in each area, because they can all go up together!!

Counter Arc Circle

Counter Arc Circle

I’m going to continue with what I consider to be reining essentials. In this article, I’ll cover #3 – Walking a counter arc circle.

For this exercise, your horse will move in a circle, but with his nose tipped to the outside. His front legs, meanwhile, will be crossing over each other and making a slightly larger circle than his hind legs—sort of like side-passing in a circle (see below). It’s challenging but definitely worth the time and effort to master, as it will help you start to gain control of your horse’s shoulders and ribs. This, in turn, will give you the ammunition you’ll need later, to correct a spin when your horse’s shoulders quit driving. 

This exercise also refines your control over your horse’s head, neck, and shoulders, plus increases your overall awareness of how your rein and leg cues influence your horse’s body. Your circle should be perfectly round, except instead of the hind feet following directly in the tracks of the front, the front feet will be on a slightly larger circle than the hind. Because it involves lateral as well as forward movement, your horse’s front legs should be slightly, but evenly crossing over each other.

Your horse should also stay soft in your hand, his shoulders driving with cadence.

I’ll describe a counter-arc circle to the left (to do one to the right, simply reverse all cues). Walk your horse forward, using both your legs in neutral position to move him in an energetic rhythm. Apply light pressure to your right rein to tip your horse’s nose to the outside (so that you can just see the corner of his right eye). At the same time, open your left rein slightly away from your horse’s neck, to indicate leftward movement, and apply clear pressure with your right leg in neutral position or between your cinches. Remember—you want his hindquarters to be on a slightly smaller circle than his forehand.
    
If your horse doesn’t respond, use your cues more actively. Once he begins to respond, continue to cue him rhythmically to encourage him to move smoothly and with cadence around the circle. Keep a feeling contact with the right rein to keep his jaw soft and his nose tipped to the outside.
     
TIP: This is a challenging exercise. Before you attempt to ride it, try it on foot, without your horse. Draw a 20-foot-diameter circle in the dirt, then move yourself laterally around it, tipping your head to the outside and imagining that your legs are your horse’s front legs as they step laterally over each other. Think and feel how you’ll need to influence your horse’s body with your hands and legs to accomplish the same circle mounted. 
    
When you do attempt it mounted, give your horse (and yourself) time to figure it out. Be patient and pay close attention to how your cues influence your horse, and you’ll find your “feel” in the saddle increasing dramatically.

Circling the Cow

Circling the Cow

In previous articles, I shared boxing tips, leaving the corner well, rating and turning on the fence. All that’s left now is to “circle up”.

There are some strategies for circling like all the other phases of the fence work. Let’s say you’re going down the left wall, away from the out gate, and you’re ready to circle. You can get right behind the cow, tight on the wall, so it’ll see wide open arena, and come off the wall for you.

If it does that, and turns sharply back on you (as in 170*) so it’s heading to the out gate, your best option and shortest path, is to double back and “pick the cows head up” and circle to the left first (counterclockwise). If it came of the fence at 90*, straight out towards the center of the arena, you could go either way first. If it only came 30* off, so it was still travelling away from the out gate, you’d want to get between the cow and the fence and circle right (clockwise) first, so you didn’t circle it right back into the fence.

If it doesn’t peel off the fence when you’re right behind it, jump in front of it again, turn it quick and using the ideas from above, choose the best way to circle first.

Always go at least 370* around, in position of control, before changing sides. If you go less that 360*, it will be hard to credit that set of circles, and you might have to come back and circle that way again. What I mean by that is, if you go 340*, switch sides and circle the other way, and you don’t hear the judge’s whistle, go back and do the first way again. The judge didn’t feel that you satisfied the requirement for the first set of circles. More judges these days, will just deduct a bit for that first set. They figure you chose to do that, so that’s what they’ll mark.

When circling, try to get your horse’s nose all the way up to the cow’s ear. Lot’s of horses know the drill, and they want to lean on the cow at the hip or rib, because it’s easier than getting all the way up where they belong. It’s very easy to knock one down, when trying to force the cow at its hip or rib, and that’s expensive (-3).

When you do switch sides, always be sure your cow is heading out towards the center of the arena, so you won’t lose it to the fence (-1). And then, come right up beside it, all the way to the cow’s ear and circle it the new way, until you hear the whistle. It might be hard to hear with all the screaming and clapping that’s sure to be going on as you finish up!!

Pull up, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back! You’ve just finished one of the most exhilarating things you can do horseback.

Below is a photo of my “fence mentor” Lyn Anderson in perfect circling position!

Troubleshooting Walking A Perfect Circle

Troubleshooting Walking A Perfect Circle

In my last reining article, I talked about Essential #2 Walking the Perfect Circle. Here are 3 common problems in walking a circle, and how to fix them:

    • Falling in toward a magnet. You’re on the side of the circle that’s farthest from the barn, and your horse speeds up and cuts in on the circle, because he’s attracted by the barn (magnet). Fix by picking up the shoulder that’s falling in, using the key-in-ignition movement I described earlier in “dealing with the stiff side.”

At the same time, pull your outside rein away from the magnet and use your inside leg at the cinch to push his shoulders outward onto the circle. Then over-correct, by making your horse move farther out on the far side of the circle, while still maintaining his body on the same arc of the circle. If possible, get all 4 of his feet to the outside of the circle you’re on. Over-corrections work because they eventually enable the two of you to “meet” in the middle—like a pendulum. (See photo above for hand position)

    • Bowing out toward a magnet. You’re on the side of the circle closest to the barn (magnet) just exactly the opposite side of the above problem. Your horse pulls or drifts toward the barn, bulging the circle out in that direction. Fix by drawing your outside rein back in the direction of your belly button, and against your horse’s neck, to stop the outward drift of his shoulder, and applying your outside leg in neutral position to correct the outward bulge of his barrel. Over-correct by making him cut across the circle. Make a sharp 90* pivot and go straight through the middle of the circle. Rejoin the circle at exactly the opposite side, farthest from the barn.

    • Losing impulsion and focus (“wandering”). Drive vigorously with both legs in neutral position and cluck to keep him “motivated” and moving with energy.