Even if our mothers never understood, we all know why our Barbies lay in a sad pile, rigid limbs snarled together, forgotten in the corner of our room. Their blank blue eyes stared out from dirt smudged faces, doomed to an eternity of bad hair days.
We know why the only attention our Barbies ever got was from a curious G.I. Joe, puppeteered by our creepy younger brother.
It's because Barbie didn't bend. She refused to ride our trusty Breyers. So poor Barbie got kicked to the curb. Mattel could have cornered the mini horsaii market if only Barbie knew how to open her hip bones and bend her knees. I guess Ol' Joe would have been pretty happy too. Oh well, here's to lost opportunity.
Blues n' Jazz has been patiently waiting for some shoulder input from me for about a thousand years. So I'll leave off on unbendable Barbie and move on to unbendable horses.
I'm big on shoulders. My cowhorses need to stay upright through their maneuvers, at the same time remaining loose and ready to change direction at a moment's notice. If my horse is heavy on the front end or doesn't follow her nose with her shoulders we aren't going to get the job done.
As you guys know, I have to develop self carriage in my horse as soon as possible. This creates a different way of going and direction than say, the dressage guys, because I don't support the shoulders with my rein or leg unless I'm correcting her. I want my horse to try to avoid (not by being afraid!) me bringing in a supportive rein.
Blues N Jazz talks about her horse taking her shoulder out of the circle and over bending her neck into the circle. It could be vice versa, but it doesn't really matter, because I'll cover both issues.
This problem starts when a horse doesn't follow her nose with her feet. Instinctively we pull harder in the direction we want the horse to go. With a young horse, who hasn't developed a lot of feel for your legs, this gets even bigger.
What happens when we pull harder is the nose flops to our knee and the horse realizes she doesn't have to go the direction we're pulling. Oops.
This is why I don't do two fairly standard western exercises.
The first is flexing the nose from side to side, bending the head and neck to my knee, without getting movement from the feet. My concept in flexibility comes from the relation between my horse and my hands, my legs and her body, creating motion. Not a floppy neck.
I teach my horses to follow my hand with their feet. When I take my hand to the right I want my horse to move to the right.
So with a baby I take her nose to the right and wait. When she takes a step toward my hand I release. Nothing else gets a release.
She has to turn her nose to the right with my hand and step with her right (inside foot) before I release. This gets my youngsters following their nose with the correct shoulder.
The second western standard that I skip is the one rein stop. I don't want to teach my horse to hang on my hand, sink her weight onto the front and stop. It goes against my concept of moving with my hand.
When my horse knows to follow my hand with her nose, then steps with the inside foot toward my rein hand, I am well on my way to instilling the desire to line up under me. In order to get a release from my pull she needs to get herself straight. This helps her understand she needs to keep her shoulders lined up.
So keeping my goals in mind, here's a few exercises to encourage a rotten ducking, diving mess.
If I am loping a circle I want my horse to just circle. I don't want to hold her up, fix her with my legs, remind her where to go, nothing. (Same for trotting or walking)
In order to get my horse to want the same thing I have to make my interference unwelcome.
Bear in mind a horse can run a perfect circle whenever they want. In the wild they travel in circles. In play they run beautiful circles. So in my mind, if I effectively stay out of their way, they should be able to run those perfect circles all day without my help. Know what? They can.
I'm going to start my circle by standing in the middle of the pen. I'll walk straight ahead two or three steps, then lope depart straight toward the fence. I'm going to get my lead first before I start to shape my circle. I don't want my horse to ever lean into her lead.
I'll start to shape my circle by looking in the direction I want to go, adding pressure with my outside leg first, then guiding with my reins. My weight stays balanced in the middle, with about five more pounds of pressure in my outside pocket than my inside. My inside leg is relaxed and slightly off my horse.
With a snaffle bitter my left and right hand are even. My horse is evenly spaced between my reins, with guiding pressure from my inside rein.
With a horse in a bridle I don't let my hand go past my horses inside ear. If she needs more than that my legs come into play.
Now we're circling, nice and pretty, right? Well, only if she's not floating out or diving in.
It's extremely important for me to keep looking in the direction we need to be going. I look about ten feet in front of my horse's desired path.
If my horse wants to dive in, no matter what, I wait until she really commits to her dive. I want her to clearly understand why I'm correcting her. Then I'll do one of two things.
If she's still learning and we have to clear up a misunderstanding then I will wait until she dives in, take hold and drive her across the middle of the circle. While I'm intersecting the circle I'll drive her forward and straight. My hands are rigid and even, my legs are demanding she straighten out and go forward. My outside hand pulls back toward my hip to straighten her. When we hit the other side of the circle I sharply put her back on it and then relax all my cues, sit back and wait for her to do it again.
What you're doing here is taking control of her direction, straightening her up, sending her forward and giving her the opportunity to find and maintain her circle.
If she's past baby, but still learning, I'll wait until she dives, stop and spin (this doesn't need to be a pretty spin, just hoist her around) her two or three times to the inside of her circle, put her back on the circle and try again on a relaxed rein.
This is what I do with the kidlets. I may have to do this a hundred gazillion times, but I don't care. I stop for the day after she carries herself for one full circle each way.
When I have an older, seasoned butthead I'm a little more aggressive.
I let him fall in and pull him into a spin to the outside of my circle. I don't warn him, say whoa, nothing, just haul his hiney around several times. Then I boot him back on his lead and send him out again. When he calms down (he'll be mad) relax your cues and offer to let him lope his circle like a nice boy.
Sometimes I spin him around to the outside several times, then boot him across the circle, then let him pick up the circle on the other side before I relax. Depends on how cranky he's making me.
If my horse floats out of the circle, with her head flopped in, I immediately make my hands rigid, pull my outside rein to my outside hip bone and direct her across the circle. I will kick her hip out (using my inside leg) and then drive her forward pretty hard with both legs until she's straight between my reins and legs again. I'll let her back on the circle and relax.
I work large circles when I have these issues, the smaller the circle the easier it is to get out of alignment.
If my horse isn't straight between my hands and legs by the time I hit my circle again I'll keep going, increasing my drive until she's straight. Then I turn around with energy and hustle her back to my circle path, intersect my circle again and pick up the other side.
1.The only place my horse gets relaxed hands and seat is when she is travelling around our circle.
2. I'm going to stay relaxed and let my horse be two or three strides into her error before I grab hold and start to hustle her.
3.When I decide to hustle, that's where we'll go until she's in the correct place doing the right thing. Period.
4. There isn't an almost. Don't cheat and help with your reins and legs, that's where all this leany junk started. Be clear.