Remind your horse to be honest while approaching turns with this drill from Ivy Hurst.
By Ivy Hurst, with Abigail Boatwright
An honest horse doesn’t anticipate your last-minute pull on the outside rein. It knows you’re going to trust it to stay in position. If you’ve got an experienced horse that has started shouldering into turns to the point you need to pick up the outside rein, you need to nip that problem in the bud before it starts affecting your performance.
My main business as a trainer is doing tune-ups on problem horses. This one-rein-stop-and-turn drill is my go-to with a horse leaning into the barrel. I’m teaching the horse to honor the inside rein, so at a high rate of speed when I’m riding and start wiggling the inside rein, I want the nose to shape up, the shoulders to step to the outside and the horse to keep moving forward. When I pick the inside rein up, I want the horse to understand I mean business. That’s what I’m after with this drill.
Stick to your basic bit and headgear, something you have control with. I highly recommend using leg wraps or support boots—this is definitely a drill where you want to wrap legs. If a horse reacts too quickly or is clumsy, it can clip itself.
Generally, I’ll warm my horse up and ask it to do all the usual warm-up maneuvers. Make sure your horse is paying attention to you. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt—go through the pattern at a walk, trot or lope normally without doing a one-rein stop. Next, depending on where the horse is in its training, I’ll use this drill to wake it up.
I teach this drill away from the barrel before I put it into practice on the pattern. It is only fair to make sure the horse understands what you’re going to ask. Do it at a walk and then move up to a trot. For some older, seasoned horses, they may require some fixing with a little bit of speed in order for it to really take effect.
Start at a trot heading toward whichever barrel your horse has been leaning or shouldering. Some horses are going to lean on you 20 or 30 feet before the barrel. Some horses may not lean in until you’re right at the barrel—it’s a trial and error situation. As a rider, you probably already know where your problem area is on the pattern. When you feel the horse lock its shoulder and take it away from you or clamp down on the bit, that’s when you want to begin the drill.
Sit square in your saddle, one hand on your horn and one hand on your inside rein as if you were making a run. The drill is not really a stop, because I don’t really care if the horse comes completely to a halt. Without jerking, pull the horse’s head toward your knee and squeeze with your legs to disengage the hind end and keep the horse moving in a small circle, round and round a few times until the horse gets soft, listens to you and calms down without bracing. I don’t mind if the hindquarters are pinwheeling around. You want to catch the horse off guard to fix the problem, and you are taking movement away from the horse in th moment where it normally takes movement away from you.
Then, come out of the turn at a walk and go around the barrel. You can repeat the exercise several times, until you feel like you have the horse’s respect and that it’s really listening to you. You should be able to ride to that spot on the pattern and wiggle your inside rein, and the horse will pick its shoulder up and carry itself forward. I will quit on that note.
This maneuver will look a bit funky at first, but it really gets the horse’s attention and addresses the problem. It’s very simple and effective. Afterward, ideally, the horse becomes pretty easy to run. Sometimes it’s a one-time tune up. Sometimes it’s something you have to do once a month or once a week, depending on the horse.
This is generally not a drill you want to do with a 3-year-old. It is not a drill for a horse still learning the basics of the pattern. It’s an exercise you can do to fix problems on an older horse.
It’s important to first teach this drill away from the barrel. Once your horse understands what you’re asking, then you can try it on the pattern.
I usually do this drill at home when needed. If I have an extremely problematic horse, I may do it during an exhibition. Some horses are a little more prone to revert back to their bad habits when they come to town, so those may benefit from an exhibition.
This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of BHN.