By Nisa Berry, with Abigail Boatwright
The drill I call “Home Base” is one I’ve always done my whole career. I put it together after picking up techniques along the way. It is a drill that stresses body control and positioning the horse. In every step, you’re teaching the horse body control, how to walk a circle around your leg, and how to drive with the inside hind leg. I think this is the most important thing I do with my horses on a daily basis. Every horse at some point needs to do know how to do this maneuver.
You’re teaching the horse softness through their feet and their mouth. This helps when you’re positioning your horse in a run. When you’re running across from your first barrel to your second, and you feel your horse get flat and pull on you—I want to be able to have that softness and ability to be able to position and pick up my horse if he needs to be repositioned or help in the turn. I want him to know how to move that shoulder up and across.
This is an excellent drill to learn feel with your horse. You’ll be able to feel when the horse is doing it correctly or not at a slow and gentle pace.
I do this drill both directions. If I’m doing one part of it to the right, I do everything to the right before I switch to work the horse to the left. I only do it at the walk. You can do it at the trot, but I feel it’s important to remind the horse and you to wait on the process through each transition, and sometimes when you do it at a trot, the horse can feel rushed. Especially with younger horses, it’s important for us as riders and trainers to just stop sometimes, and wait.
My home base is a place for myself as a rider and a trainer to go back and just regroup—to take a deep breath and go back to the basics. So that’s why I don’t like to do it any faster than a walk.
You don’t need any special equipment—just do it in your daily riding gear, or your competition setup. It will vary for each horse.
You can do this drill with horses of any level, at any time. I listen to the horses and let them tell me when they are needing it. I typically do it on a daily basis, but I don’t cram on it or stress about it. I like to do it before I work. If I’m going to be slow working my horse, I will do it after I get done loping them. I’ll do my drill and make sure my horse is staying attentive and soft and supple both ways. If I go out to work and my horse is soft and working right, then I probably won’t do it that day. It just depends on the horse.
I do this exercise at shows too, to make sure my horse is paying attention, sharp and feeling me.
1. Walk a circle. If you’re starting to the left, ask your horse to walk a circle to the left around your left leg as if you are walking around a barrel. With your left leg pressing the horse’s rib cage at the cinch, ask your horse to drive forward into the circle and drive up with its left hock. Keep slight contact with your horse’s face, helping him hold his shape and direction and preparing for the next transition.
2. Pivot into the circle. When you’re ready to transition from the circle to the pivot, it’s important that you stop the forward motion. Quit riding with your body and create a barrier with your hands. Then, shift your weight to the outside—right—seat bone and stirrup, and think of your left leg as an open door away from your horse. So shift your weight to the outside, open your inside leg, and ask the horse to come around the pivot with the inside rein.
3. Return to circling. When you complete the 180-degree pivot, go back into your same circle size going left. You’ll close the inside—left—leg and drive your horse around the circle.
4. Counter arc. Keep that body shape from your circle to the left, and ask your horse to counter arc, maneuvering to the right out of your circle. It’s just like walking the circle, inside out. Keep your left leg at the girth, right leg away from your horse as an open door, and the horse’s nose tipped to the left with the same body shape as a left circle, as you go right. You’ll guide with your hands slightly raised during the counter arc to stand the horse’s shoulder up. And don’t look down at your horse—shift your eyes to the right and look where you want to go.
The counter arc is finished once you have made a complete circle shaped outward.
5. Swap directions. Finally, shift your eyes and body back toward the left, and drive with your inside leg back into the circle. You can then straighten out and swap directions. If you were doing this to the left, repeat the entire exercise going to the right.
Don’t pick at this exercise. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. It’s a fun drill to do, and just focus on letting the horse process through each transition.
Meet Nisa Berry
Nisa Berry has been training horses her whole life. Berry and Erin Zoucha operate Triple B Performance Horses in Stephenville, Texas; and Sutton, Nebraska. Berry won the 2011 slot race at the Barrel Futurities of America, she’s qualified for the American Quarter Horse Association World Show and has earned more than $200,000 in open and futurity competition.