Even the most seasoned, well-trained horses can develop bad habits. After running patterns year after year, they begin anticipating various reining maneuvers and try to avoid others. Charging in large, fast circles, dropping a shoulder in lead changes and leaning during the rundown to a sliding stop are some common problems veteran show horses develop.
Dell Hendricks says many riders try to prevent them from happening. But he advises letting the horse make a mistake and then correcting it. “If you prevent him from making a mistake, he’s never going to know when he’s wrong,” Hendricks explained. He said that many of the problems that veteran show horses typically develop can be fixed at home, while a few others must be addressed in the show arena. Here are a few of his tips. More will follow.
Charging in the large, fast circles
“The horse is again anticipating the pattern,” Hendricks said. “They lope off nice, start to speed up and then run off a little. “Let them make that mistake. If they speed up, take a hold of them and slow them down [below the speed] you want them to go, even if it’s to a walk. You might have to pull them into the ground to get them thinking on you and not the pattern.
“Any time the horse’s mind goes to the pattern and not on you, they’re going to get ahead. It may take several times of slowing them down and then turning them loose. Again, the worst thing you can do is pick up [the reins] and hold them, trying to make them stay in a tight little box. Put them in that box, but then turn them loose and let them make that mistake.”
Leaning during the circles
While loping along a circle, horses sometimes begin leaning to the inside and cutting across the arena. Many times this is because they are thinking about going to the middle of the arena to make their lead change, and then they head for the other side of the show ring.
“The horse will drop his shoulders and want to dive in,” Hendricks said. “If they duck in, I just tell them to keep going forward. That horse will find a balance point. It’s not comfortable for them to be leaning that shoulder down and loping a small circle. If you tell them to speed up a little bit, usually they go ahead and balance their shoulders up and allow you to put them where you want them.”
Hendricks added that sometimes this problem is caused by the rider. “I’ve found that to be caused by the rider holding the [horse’s] shoulder up all the time,” he said. “Again, it’s putting them in a box, but not letting them do it on their own.”
Dropping into the lead change
As they approach the middle of the arena, some horses begin to drop the shoulder, expecting a change in leads. Hendricks says this is the symptom of a guiding problem, not a lead-change problem.
“They get patterned, where they go across the middle and anticipate the lead change,” he said. “They drop their shoulder when you ask for the lead change. Then they can’t engage their hip to get the hind lead, so you get the front lead but not the hind.
“A lot of people will get frustrated, thinking they have a lead-change problem. But they have a guiding problem.” Hendricks explained that the confusion stems from the horse focusing on changing leads and direction, rather than staying on the circle until cued otherwise. To keep it focused on the circle at hand, he steers the horse to the center of the circle whenever it begins to veer off and head toward the opposite side of the arena. So rather than trying to hold the horse along the outer rim of the circle, in the practice pen he will cut across to the center and ride more of a star pattern.
“Again, I’m allowing them to make that mistake,” Hendricks said. “They have to leave the circle before they’re going to learn anything.
“When I come to the middle [of the arena], if they lean out I steer them back toward the center of the circle. Then I turn them loose and let them find [the center], then steer them back [onto the circle]. I almost do stars around the arena, just to keep focusing the horse’s mind on the center of that circle.”
Stay tuned for Part 3