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Troubleshooting: What to look for

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - September 5th, 2013 - More with Les

50th in a series
Last issue, Les finished up details of turnaround exercises. Now, we’ll look at what we’ve covered, and how to keep our efforts on track.

Losing forward motion
You always want to be riding the back end of the horse up to the front, but the most common mistake new riders make is to pull the horse back instead of pushing him around. This will cause the horse to interfere with his front legs, and then he won’t want to turn anymore. If the horse should start to shift his weight backward rather than moving freely around the turn, you will want to walk him out of the turn right away and then go try again somewhere else.

I’ve said it before, but an important thing to remember is that any time you feel like your horse would have to shift his weight in order to walk forward and out of the turn, it means he’s hanging back too far. You want to get him moving forward in a hurry before he starts to get comfortable there. If he’s hanging back, he’ll never be able to master the proper footwork or comfortably build up any speed. Set him up so he can move freely. If it starts to feel awkward, get out of it and start again.

Losing neck position
If at any time your horse starts to reach for the bit and lifts his head, you’ll need to abort your turnaround attempt, kick him up into that circle and get the neck back. We don’t have to worry about the turn; the turn will happen, but we want him to turn pretty too, and to do that he has to be perfect!

Some horses don’t really expose themselves to a lot of mistakes until you start asking for a lot of new stuff, and then their neck comes undone. So when you find flaws in the neck in any of these exercises, you have to fix them. Go off by yourself and set your trap; as he begins to start the exercise and you feel him start to lift, stop there and have a chat with him about his neck, and then go back and try again.

Losing bend
If your horse feels like he’s getting tangled up, or if you hear too much “scuff, scuff, scuff” from the front legs, you’re not getting enough clearance in front. And that means you’ve lost either your bend or your forward motion. If the bend is right, and he’s stepping forward and around, just keep him at it in a relaxed manner while he learns what to do with his feet. Don’t EVEN worry about speed at this point, just forward motion, soft turning and cadence.

When to add speed
Work on perfection. Every time you ask for more speed, you will reach a point where your horse will start to klutz up or give you some stiffness. In both instances, you’ll want to push him into a flexion right away. If he got stiff in the neck, or his head came up, deal with that. If he just lost his coordination for a moment, let him walk a few steps and then try it again. Don’t shake his confidence by holding him in something that isn’t working. Just go back and try it again, or for that matter just go do something else. You will be able to increase your speed little by little, but don’t try to do it in a day, there are plenty of other things to work on!

When you get it right, there’s nothing wrong with just staying at that level for a while and working on other things. Repetition, done exactly the same each time, gets you a blue ribbon. It might seem like it’s not working some days, but just stay at it. You know it’s going to happen, so don’t get mad, just stay patient! Also, you can only work on so many things at once. If you try for big improvements in every part of your ride, you and your horse are going to get discouraged pretty fast.

The more comfortable your horse gets doing a movement in a perfect frame, the faster he will be able to handle more speed when the time comes. But if anything is wrong or forced here, it will become a real mess when you add speed. You’ll end up starting all over. Right back here!

We’ll come back to turnarounds a few levels up, but for now just work on initiating the move and building your horse’s confidence with the basic steps. After you get a little more hip and ribcage control, you’ll have the tools to take your turns to the next level.

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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