Essential 6 Moving Off Your Leg Troubleshooting

Essential 6 Moving Off Your Leg Troubleshooting

Common problems in getting your horse to move off your leg, and how to fix them.

• Unevenness which means one end is getting ahead of the other along the fence or diagonally across the arena.

Moderate your cues for the end that moves too fast.

It’s usually the front end getting ahead, so hold the rein on that side closer to your horse’s neck in a more neutral position to slow it down and use your leg more aggressively to catch the rear end up.

In the picture above, the horse is pretty even. If he wasn’t, my left hand would move closer to his neck to slow his front end down while I caught his hind end up with my right leg.

• Raising his head/bracing his neck.

To get him to soften, bump with both legs in neutral position for a moment while holding with both reins, to drive him up into the bridle.

If need be, bump the bit lightly on one side and then the other while you drive with your legs and go straight ahead for several steps to break up his resistance.

Then resume going diagonally.

• Cranking his head off to the side (away from the direction you’re going). See in the picture above.

This is usually us compensating for the fact that our horse isn’t moving off our legs enough, so we crank their heads in an attempt to try to get them moving laterally.

Instead, try to straighten your horses head out and use your off leg more vigorously to make him move off it.

A dressage whip can be very helpful in this instance.

Lateral movement done correctly is an excellent way to get your horse responsive to your cues, more supple through his body and softer in his mouth, so do lots of it! It’s a foundation block for lots of things you’ll want to do later like opening gates, maneuvering around obstacles on the trail, and it’s challenging because it requires being able to control both ends simultaneously. That’s why I consider it essential.

The Circling Turn Part 2

The Circling Turn Part 2

By popular demand, I’ve burrowed down into the archives to get you 2 really good runs to clear up any confusion about that darned “circling turn”.

The first video shows a very difficult cow. It’s numb and pushy and doesn’t want to be on the fence. Matt open field turns both ends at a very high rate of speed and then switches sides (which is now the correct way to do it if you have executed an open field turn) before circling. That run was marked 76 and 77s. It is very evident where the second turn ended and the circling began and he exhibited perfect control of the cow as well as his horse.

The second video doesn’t have the same high degree of difficulty. The first turn is very good, however the second turn blurs into the first set of circles. Where does the turn stop and the circles begin? If he had switched sides before circling that would have been evident, as well as shown a higher degree of difficulty and exhibited how broke his horse was.

That was not a 2 point penalty then, but it is now.

Check it out and see if it’s more clear now. A picture’s worth a thousand words!

Circling Turns in a Fence Run

Circling Turns in a Fence Run

Finally, there’s clarity on the circling turn! The NRCHA 2020 rulebook now has a 2- point penalty for a horse that “fails to change sides after a circling turn, prior to the first circle”

What is a circling turn? When the horse is in the open field (20’ off the wall) and turns the cow, it is called an “open field turn”. It is very hard to execute well, because there’s no fence to help keep your horse on his butt and help keep the cow contained. If your horse gets on it’s hocks and stays close to the cow, it can be a big credit, because it’s very difficult to do, but it can be hard to differentiate between an open field and a circling turn.

An open field turn becomes a “circling turn” when the horse doesn’t use his hocks and continues right into circling it after making an open field turn. It looks more like the horse is actually circling his cow while he’s turning it. It is not a difficult maneuver to do, but it’s hard to judge. Where does the turn stop and the circle begin? They blend into each other like a run on sentence. Both maneuvers have to be judged separately, so it’s important to know when one stops and the other begins.

It’s best never to make the judge have to decide something like that. The solution is to switch sides before circling. That’s hard to do and it shows the judge where your turn stopped and the circle began. It also demonstrates a lot of control at that high rate of speed.

You might say that’s a lot of fuss about nothing, but circling turns can get the audience really excited. Those runs are fast and action packed, and many a good judge has gotten tricked into marking a circling turn run higher than it should be. Lots of spreads come on a run with a circling turn (a spread is when there’s a large spread between scores. For instance, one judge marks a 69 and another a 73, on the same run).

The solution to that is making it a 2 point penalty to make a circling turn and not change sides before circling the cow. Now, if all the judges don’t penalize the circling turn, that run will be reviewed. The judge(s) who didn’t call that penalty, have the opportunity to adjust their score.

Now, the score becomes very fair and very accurate. It takes all the guess work out and the judge knows exactly how to record it, and how much to credit or debit the run. It helps the riders and the audience know why a fast, exciting run doesn’t always score as high as they thought it should. It also adds a degree of difficulty that helps separate horses that have a fast, hard run with an open field or circling turn and exhibit exemplary skill in handling switching sides first versus a run with a circling turn that spills into their circles.

Essential 6 Moving Off Your Leg While Mounted

Essential 6 Moving Off Your Leg While Mounted

In the last article we worked on teaching our horse to move away from pressure while he was tied at the hitch or wash rack, and while leading from the ground. 

Now, let’s mount up and see if we’ve laid a good enough foundation.

Opening a gate. Now mount up and see if you can move both his front end and his hind end in order to open a gate. Ask a friend to move the gate manually, so you have both hands free to use your reins to influence your horse’s body. 

Line your horse up parallel to the gate. Have your friend push it open a bit toward you as you ask your horse to step sideways with his front end, away from the gate, by carrying both your hands away from the gate while using the foot nearest the gate at the cinch to encourage his shoulders over.

After he takes one step with his front end, apply pressure with your gate-side heel in the same spot as you did with the sweat scraper to move his hind end over a step, too. If he resists, bump with that heel behind neutral position until he takes the step. Go back and forth in this way, moving his front end, then his back end as your friend opens the gate a little at a time. Try to stay parallel to it and move with it until it’s open. Then sit there next to it and make that the good spot.

Be sure to work in both directions, so your horse is side-stepping both ways. Then try to do it without someone moving the gate for you. Then, reverse all the cues to teach your horse how to close the gate. Take as long as you need to master this step before you move on to work at the fenceline.

At the fenceline. Still mounted, position your horse so he’s facing into, and perpendicular to, a safe fence (nothing he can catch his front feet in or get his head over). Ask him to move first his front end one step to the side, and then his hind end, then his front again, and so on, so that he’s moving sideways down the fence.

To ask the front end to move, bring both your reins over in the desired direction while bumping with your “opposite” foot at the cinch. (That is, if you’re asking for a step to the right, carry your reins to the right while bumping with your left leg just in front of neutral position.)

After he’s taken one sideways step with his front end, use the same leg to ask his hind end to move, only this time bumping a few inches behind neutral position.

Throughout, adjust your reins as necessary to keep your horse’s neck straight and roughly perpendicular to the fence. When he can do it moving freely, front end and then back, try to move his whole body at the same time. Get this down well before moving to the next exercise.

Diagonally across the arena. Starting in one corner of your arena, ask your horse to walk forward and sideways diagonally across to the opposite corner, moving first his front end, and then his hind end, then the front again, and so on. Let’s say you’re in a right-hand corner, and will move him diagonally to the far left-hand corner.

Squeeze with both legs in neutral position to send him forward, then to move his front end to the left, bring both reins toward the left and bump with your right leg at the cinch.

Then keep forward motion going with a squeeze from both legs, and to move his hind end over, bump with your right leg a few inches behind neutral position.

Then repeat the sequence, working your way diagonally across the arena. For every step forward, you’ll move one step sideways. As your horse comes to understand better what you’re asking, work toward getting him to move both ends at the same time in a true leg-yield. You’ll be carrying your hands to the left, and using your right leg in neutral position– just behind the cinch.

Reverse all cues and work in the opposite direction. Be sure to provide equal practice going each way.

When your horse is responding consistently well at the walk, try it at the trot, and eventually the lope.

Essential 6 Moving Off Your Leg On the Ground

Essential 6 Moving Off Your Leg On the Ground

Getting your horse to move off your leg (or move laterally) is key to getting control of his whole body. Lateral control of the hind end and shoulders helps you in simple things, like opening and closing gates or backing in a straight line. It also makes possible more advanced maneuvers, like changing leads and spinning.

Horses naturally move into pressure, so young or green horses must be educated to move away from it, instead.

Ultimately, lateral control will enable you to “leg-yield” your horse diagonally across the arena at a lope–resistance-free, body straight, front legs crossing over each other. It will also help you execute a perfect sidepass, such as moving sideways down the length of a log, as in a trail class, and will help you with a beautiful spin.

For now, however, we’ll be satisfied with any movement sideways in response to leg pressure; the more refined lateral control will come later. In these exercises, you’ll ask your horse to move his rear end over as you stand next to him (at the hitching rack and then as you hold his bridle reins) and while you’re mounted (maneuvering him next to a gate to open it, sideways along the fenceline, and finally diagonally across the arena).

The goal. Your horse will maintain a soft face (that is, no bracing against the bit) as he (1) willingly moves his rear end a few steps sideways in response to pressure, and then (2) willingly moves his front end (shoulders) a few steps sideways in response to pressure. You’ll work toward getting both ends to move together, for a whole-body move to the side.

In the movement at the gate and along the fenceline, and in the more advanced maneuver diagonally across the arena (leg-yield), he’ll move first his front end and then his hind end separately at first. Ultimately, he’ll move both ends simultaneously in the leg-yield.

Here’s how: at the hitching rack. Practice this one whenever you’re grooming your horse. (NOTE: If there’s any chance your horse will pull back, untie him before conducting this lesson.) Stand at your horse’s side, and use a sweat scraper, hoof pick, or other hard object to create pressure (that is, mild discomfort) right where your heel presses on your horse’s ribs when you’re mounted. Your aim is to have him respond to the least amount of pressure possible, so start softly yet insistently. Don’t start with a jab.

The instant he takes one sideways step with a hind foot, stop and praise him, then ask for another step. If he resists, increase the pressure gradually in a push-and-release movement until he takes at least one step, always looking to get response from the least amount of pressure, and praising him the instant he responds. If need be, you can also pull his face towards you slightly as you ask him to move his hindquarters over.

Now go to his other side and ask him to step in the opposite direction, using the same cues. Repeat frequently from both sides until he responds willingly to mild pressure.

In hand. With your horse wearing a saddle and bridle, stand next to him, holding the bridle reins in your left hand and using the sweat scraper, hoof pick, or your thumb to create pressure, again just behind the cinch where your heel would normally be. By now, your horse should respond with a sideways step even as you use the bridle reins to keep his head straight. Strive to get him to move just his hind end over. We’re “disengaging” the hind end. You’ll want to be sure he’s good at this, as it’s the underlying secret to the emergency stop.

Switch hands and repeat from the other side.