Friday, March 4, 2011

Why Fencing is Important

The ride started out pretty typical. I hopped aboard Milo, who initially was hollow and anticipating work. This first few moments of being on his back, Milo is very touchy. I tend to just sit there as long as necessary for him to stop gawking at the other horses, pick up his back with just my spur (a motion at this time of the ride he likes to take as direction to move forward) and begin to focus. Once established that I was only asking for lift, no forward, Milo dropped his head and prepared a bit mentally for work.

Walking off, he focused his ears onto the new boarded horse. He likes to cheat me a bit here: back lifted, head down and collected, but my ears are on someone else, and ever so slightly I try and turn my head in that direction. Spur me if you want Mom, but I am technically doing what you want me to do. This has always been a bit frustrating to me because aside from pulling his head a different direction and trying anything to get Milo to focus on me, I dont have any options to reroute his attention.

That is until I remember that one, simple, original exercise by Sarah - funny how this one always seems to be forgotten. Its my butterfly exercise. I usually use it at C becuase not only are trainers and parents at the other end, but theres less mounting blocks, chairs, and other things that actually inhibit me from being able to use the corners and end of the arena there. Plus, with C being the "scary" end, its a great way to test Milo's attention with the distractions that end always provides. After a few minutes of infinity figure eights, Milo was right on track with me body and mind. And the best thing about this exercise is twofold: it is a quiet way to focus my horse's attention on me (no frustration through spur or hand), and it helps loosen up his shoulders, barrel, and hip and enforces more sensitivity to my leg, both inside and outside.

With Milo focused and ready to work, the arena cleared out of lessons and just the new boarder and I remained. I wondered if I should dismount and set up the arcing poles. Deciding against it as she was working mostly in circles in the center putting me on the rail for the most part, I decided instead this emptier arena could be utilized for the lope serpentine exercise - that is if Milo felt mentally able today.

We picked up the trot and Milo moved out nicely, even responding to slighter rein pressures today and listening more to a neck rein versus direct bit pressure. That was a good start. I then wanted to focus some attention back to me. I had been creeping onto my crotch again the last few rides, I needed to focus on staying on my seatbones, sternum to the sky, blowing out my birthday candles, and finally, sitting like a frog on a ball. Finally in good position again, there was a noticable change in my horse (as there always is when i ride correctly). His tempo didnt change, but he was reaching up much farther with his hind legs. Always a good thing, and a great reminder to me the importance of a correct position.

After a few circles, speed transitions at the trot (lengthening and shortening stride) I asked for the lope. A little sloppy at first, but Milo was much quicker to work nicely then before. And by nicely Im referring mostly to the fact that he wasnt trying to resist and tighten his left side so much like he usually wants to. I was able to lightly  hold with my outside rein, and only occassionally bump the inside to keep him straight. Another transition down, then back up to the lope and this time his departure was fabulous. I positioned him down the rail for our lope serpentine, and after the third attempt he was working very well. It would have been a good day I think to have increased the angle off the rail, but with the other boarder working in the center I didnt want to come too close into her space. No matter, just a good reinforcer day for Milo on that exercise.

After a breather and a little trot work again, we loped off into the right lead. Milo after about a stride and a half, instantly dropped his head down, but was lifted and engaged through his back and rear. And I honestly felt that he was lifted at the wither too. It was great, he moved beautifully and willingly.

The boarder left and I had the arena to myself. I worked on our simple lead change briefly, but still was unhappy with our downward transition. It seems my back hinge still only wants to work about 50% of the time. I keep trying to jam myself down and back, pushing myself directly into Milo's shoulders causing him to do the exact same thing. And its so apparent that its coming from me because the other half of the time where I get it correctly, Milo stops exactly as I do. I just have to figure out a way to get total control over that area of my body.

But moving onto the real subject of this post, was my epiphany moment. I wanted to work briefly on our rollbacks and since we were alone there was no arena etiquette rules being broken by frequently changing direction. Milo actually did exceptionally well, stopping, turning (although he tries to stop shoulder movement after about 160 degrees, not 180 as needed)  and loping right off with no trot steps in between. I was rather proud of that being as we rarely get to work on rollbacks. I did realize I will have to be extremely mindful of my hands through the rollback and it made me remember a brief lesson I watched on Inside Reining. The trainer was explaining rollbacks and demonstrated the importance of stop, bring hands forward, then direct into the turn. I was stopping, then going right into the turn. Milo tried to back up (I see this happen a lot when watching reining) and no amount of rein pressure was making him get "back" out of his head. Not until a small moment when I put my hands forward first, then directed the direcion. Aha! Thats when I remembered that trainer I had watched, and here I saw for my very eyes the importance of it, and it worked.

So, working on some rundowns, stops, backs as necessary, and rollbacks, I at one point directed him straight down the center of the arena. As we passed halfway, Milo started dropping his speed, and trying to figure out which way to duck, left or right. Milo was trying to call the shots, but I didnt realize this just yet until I turned him and rode him down the other way. The entire rundown was my horse trying to figure out which way we were going to go once we reached the end. We couldnt lope a straight line down. This is when I caught on and tried to push directly to the fence, letting the fence stop us. The first two times were ugly, Milo ducking out either direction and hollow. But finally I got him to run a bit more cleanly (I dont want to say perfect because it wasnt) towards the fence.

I now opted to work on this from the trot, to trot him directly in a straight line to the fence, no ducking out or speed change. After a few attempts Milo got better, but I decided to move it down to a walk to really get him to stop with his butt down and he is to not stop and try and hang his head over the fence rail. The walk yeilded positive results, and I got a few nice little butt stops in a straight line to the rail, Milo now listening more closely to my direction and realizing we dont always turn when heading towards the end.

This is pinnacle for a reining horse. Any horse really, but in reining, your horse has to do exactly as you say, he cannot call the shots. As the NRHA rulebook reads "To rein a horse is not only to guide him, but also to control his every movement." If Milo is calling the shots and fretting during the entire rundown about which direction we are going to turn, that is certainly not in accordance with the afore mentioned statement.

I now understood why fencing is important. At shows, Boyfriend and I would watch the fencers, pondering why on earth they would run their horses right into the fence onto to stop them mere feet away from the wall. But now I know - to keep there horse's in an honest rundown, no deviating, no fretting the end, just trusting that their rider will direct them to stop or turn when he/she wants. The horse has no reason to be concerned.

So I need to work on this. I need to get my horse tuned into me and running an honest rundown. I also need to remember to bring my hands forward before a turn in the rollback. And I also need to find the key that unhinges my lower back. Lots of homework!


Rising Rainbow said...

I had to laugh at myself. When I read the title of this post I wasn't thinking about reiners specifically, I was thinking about horses so I was thinking about what is used to make fences not running a horse into a fence. LOL

I've always thought that fencing was used for two purposes. The one you stated and then as a barrier to get the horse deeper underneath itself when it stops. I see some trainers really push that barrier sometimes. Makes me nervous.

Anonymous said...

I have always been critical watching the fencers. Mostly I suppose because I didnt understand the purpose, but it would make me nervous to see them skid right up to the fence. Even made Boyfriend uncomfortable. But I see it's purpose, even if not necessary to ride up as close as they do.

Story said...

I've heard that the practice of pushing them deep into the fence (the way MiKael described) is starting to fall out of favor with some trainers. The way one trainer put it, he wants the horse to love the end of the arena, not dread it. He practiced square turns at the ends of the arena, keeping the horse forward all the time. The horse had to wait to see which way to go, and learned to stay forward throughout the exercise rather than anticipating a stop. It was really neat.

I like to walk and jog fence to fence like you were describing, Nina. Dee likes to anticipate the speed shift in her rundowns so I need to work at just making her think straight and calm. Too often she sees the center line as some sort of racetrack!

My biggest issue with rollbacks is that I get hurried and get over active with my hands. I like what you said about making sure there is a release prior to the rollback. That might help me with my rushing problem.

Anonymous said...

Im having a hard time visualizing the square exercise from that trainer you mentioned? Elaboration, please? :) I too would like to try it I certainly dont want Milo to dread the end.

BTW, I want more updates on Miss Dee! Too far and few between!

Story said...

Haha, I know I've had some things I've been wanting to write for days and it just doesn't seem to happen.

The trainer was Clint Haverty I believe. I don't honestly know much about him but it was an episode of The Ride about keeping reiners fresh. I hope I remember this right. He would accelerate to the end of the arena like a normal rundown but instead of stopping or running to the fence, he would collect up and turn 90 degrees and proceed at a slow lope along the short side, continue onto a circle, then turn back down the long side, repeating the exercise, accelerating toward the end. He would only stop when the horse was feeling smooth and relaxed through the exercise. The whole thing was a quiet, continuous, and flowing exercise. At least that's the way I remember it. I knew I would regret deleting that episode! lol

An Image of Grace said...

When I had Grace at Ruffs Ranch years ago we would fence on a regular basis. This was when I had sliders on her. Some of her best stops came from when we were running right at the arena wall.

paint_horse_milo said...

Great Story! I can visualize it now...I could see many benefits from that.

Melissa- Im not sure why I always find it intriguing to hear of your past life in reining. Maybe because when I met you you were doing the WP stuff. Interesting!