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    Pattern Exercises…Part 1

    By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - June 21st, 2012 - More with Les

    23rd in a series
    After helping readers with communication and rewarding, Les gives us some steering drills to reinforce our progress.

    If you’re not happy with your horse’s steering at this point, here are some patterns you can incorporate into your ride to give you both more practice. If I were standing there watching you, I could tell you what you needed to work on, but since your’re out on your own, these exercises will help to uncover problems so you can fix them.

    Before you get started
    If you’re doing any of these exercises, and something doesn’t feel right, especially as the exercises become more complicated, never hesitate to abort the exercise to fix the problem. Take circling the cones, for example. If the horse just isn’t turning well, take him to another spot in the arena and work on turning for a while, and then come back to the cones. You never want to make completing the exercise more important than having every part of it be perfect. This becomes even more critical when you start working on your actual reining maneuvers.

    You will hear this again and again, but in my opinion, the approach is the MOST important part of any maneuver. If your approach is not working (be if for a lead change, a stop or circling a cone), your maneuver is not going to work, and to get after the horse while he’s doing a maneuver or exercise usually makes the horse resent the exercise. So if it doesn’t look like it’s going to go smoothly, stop and go back to the basics until they are working well again.

    If you’re asking your horse to do a prolonged turn, as in guiding him into a circle, make sure you keep some life in your hands and your legs. It might feel like you’re traveling in an octagon instead of a circle, but at this point, that’s okay. At this point in the game, if your hands don’t have some life and action, your horse will feel the cue for a second or two and then just tune it out or even start leaning against your rein.

    Eventually your horse will respond to light steady rein pressure and “find” his own circles once you put him into the correct frame, but you’re not there yet. To help him out always be ready to repeat the cue, and don’t get frustrated that your horse isn’t “getting it” immediately.

    You also want to be really conscious that your horse is looking in the direction that he is going and is keeping his shoulders up, that is bending his spine around the corner rather than leaning into it Think of his spine as a train, where every vertebrae is a car, not like a bicycle or motorcycle that have little bend in them. If you feel him leaning into the corners, you will probably find that his nose has drifted to the outside of the circle, so what do you do? Ask him to bend again with your inside rein and use your inside leg up at the front cinch to get the correct frame, and get his shoulders straight up again. Once we get further along we will be concentrating mainly on circles like you would do in a reining pattern, but while you and your horse are learning these new skills these pattern exercises can really help you along.

    Cloverleaf
    A great pattern for teaching turning and straightness is the cloverleaf. It consists of always turning cutting across to the opposite fence when you come to the midpoint on a rail. When you’re doing the pattern at the jog it doesn’t really matter which way you turn, but at the lope keep all your turns in the same direction (at least at this point in your training). This makes it a great way to work on your steering at the lope without worrying about lead changes.

    Consistency Tip
    Once you start to teach the horse that he’s supposed to wait for YOU to tell him where to go, you need to be really consistent about it. When you get to the fence, make sure that you remember to tell him when to turn. If you gave no cue, he’d be correct to run right into the fence. Try it and see what happens.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: More with Les is a regular California Horsetrader column. Les Vogt has won more than 15 World Championships, including two wins at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. Although Les still rides and occasionally shows, his focus is giving clinics around the world and developing products for the performance horseman. To learn more about Les and to see his clinic schedule, visit: www.lesvogt.com

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