Ever feel like you might as well put a sign on your horse’s rear end that reads “Caution: This Equine Vehicle Makes Wide Turns!?”
A wide turn means covering extra real estate on the pattern, which results in drastically slower times.
Addressing this issue starts with coming to terms with a simple fact…
The Horse is Not Responding Appropriately to What Has Been Asked
The solution comes in determining WHY?
Two common causes of wide turns are:
#1 – Our horse is not taking responsibility for traveling in the direction we point them indefinitely. Keep in mind that the horse is really not at fault. It’s our responsibility as riders, to ensure our horse understands their responsibilities!
#2 – The horse does not have high level responsiveness to our hands and a solid foundational understanding of leg cues, making correcting their position on the pattern difficult. The truth is that speed changes everything, requiring more from horses in the barrel racing discipline than any other.
In the video below I describe these two points in detail and demonstrate what the level of responsiveness we’re after looks like. Below the video are some helpful how-to’s for developing this kind of responsiveness.
Be forewarned however, you’ll likely need a new sign – one that reads “Caution: Sharp Turns Ahead!”
Follow the steps below to establish feather-light responsiveness to leg cues.
- Properly prepare your horse by teaching them to yield sideways on the ground first using gradually increasing steady or rhythmic pressure. Ask them to yield their front end and hind quarters as well, doing so will make these movements much easier under saddle. The concepts described below will be helpful whether teaching your horse to yield to pressure from the ground or on their back.
- Always start out with very light pressure. Your horse will never respond lighter than the degree of the pressure you first apply.
- Be patient when first teaching a horse to respond to leg pressure, they’ll likely try several guesses at the correct answer before getting it right. Being too picky in the beginning will only discourage your horse, reward the slightest try. Capture any forward movement by positioning your horse in front of a wall or fence, where moving forward is not an option.
- Gradually increase the pressure you apply until you get the correct response. Instead of kicking harder, gradually bring up rhythmic life in your body and leg – think “fanning” instead of kicking.
- If your horse is not responding at all, STOP what you are doing and think of another way to get some kind of result (a light tap with a rein for example). If you keep asking in the same way, with no response (kick, kick, kick, etc.), you are actually teaching your horse to be dull and insensitive – don’t go there! When you start over, remember, to always start with very light pressure.
- Be sure when you get the response you want in the teaching phase to RELEASE instantly. This is a critical part of gaining responsiveness to leg cues AND a critical part of horsemanship in general. The release is the reward your horse seeks out, it’s you saying “YES, that’s right!” The quicker you are able to deliver the reward (release), the quicker he will learn and the better horse trainer you will be!
- Start by asking your horse to respond to leg cues at a standstill. When that is well established, move up to a walk, and then trot, lope and so on. Experiment with moving their body parts around while traveling on a straight line or circle.
- If your horse already has a good understanding of leg cues, and is slow to respond, increase the rate (speed) at which you increase pressure. With advanced horses especially, don’t be afraid to raise the degree of firmness to get results. Most riders are initially too firm and then aren’t firm enough when necessary.
- When it’s time to advance – let’s say your horse responds OK to leg cues, but you want a quicker, snappier responsiveness – at this point, apply a light degree of pressure, and increase it until you get the responsiveness you desire, THEN GO BACK to the lighter amount of pressure you started with, instead of a complete release. Because you’re beyond the teaching phase this offers more refinement and communicates that you “want that level of response from this level of pressure.”