From a contest on Inside Reining’s Facebook page, I won a collection of their “Training Secrets” DVDs, with information provided from numerous NRHA professionals and trainers. I had watched the first two DVDs, and although interesting, didn’t yield much information from them to apply to myself and Milo. That is, until I watched the third volume. There was one segment from Mike McEntire about loping circles. He described his method for loping circles on young colts. What stood out to me was that he said that he allows the horse to lope on a loose rein, and only guides him back onto the circle if he tracks off of it. Moreover, he doesn’t ride the horse every stride, constantly directing him one the circle path. He instead wants the horse to “hunt the circle” and find the balance in the circle within himself.
I liked that idea. I found after working repeatedly on Milo with the counter cantering, he was starting to anticipate the center of the arena to drift into the new direction, or the counter canter. He wasn’t waiting for me to find that straight between the two and instead would bulge one direction or another. This was something Sarah had reminded me about in both my lesson with Milo and with Wesley, but I was now seeing the importance of it.
I have also heard repeatedly the importance of the horse riding between the reins, and always hear it, but don’t ever seem to grasp the concept entirely. But once again, I heard this expression used multiple times in not only the previous DVDs, but this last one by both Mike McEntire, and also Todd Martin on turnarounds.
So, I combined the information from the segments on the DVD with Milo’s anticipatory nature in the center of the arena. I started “hunting our circles” at the trot. I also kept in mind keeping Milo between the reins. Soon, Milo began to find the balance in the circle on his own, and while not entirely on a loose rein (I was helping him balance off the outside rein, and using my body to indicate direction through my hips) he was now tuned much more into me and my cues, versus what he thought he should be doing. All the while, I tried to keep my hands centered, to aid Milo in staying between the reins. This will need more work, as Milo wasn’t always right there between the two, but the additional focus on it will also increase his neck reining ability and will be instrumental to our one handed riding, which is needed for our reining.
I picked it up to the lope and hunted those circles as well, staying balanced. I discovered that my lighter seat was becoming more second nature – that is, not as physically demanding as initially, although I could still feel my quads working to stay light. With a more stabilized core and a lighter seat, Milo gave me hands down the best lope work we have ever had. He stayed consistently balanced and in rhythm, balancing off the outside rein but with a much lighter contact. I also tested his abilities as Sarah had me do at a previous lesson, by dropping the inside rein and allowing him to stay in self carriage. There were a few moments on the turns where he wanted to drop his shoulder, but with a reminder from the inside rein, he brought them back up. I hunted the circles and eventually Milo stopped trying to keep traveling straight coming out of the corner on the turns (when coming out of the corner to the straight-of-way, he hollows his back and lifts his head in anticipation for going straight onto the rail. I near always have to turn him back to the circle track and it takes a few strides to find that balance again, until we are facing that corner to straight again). But not this last ride. It only took maybe two circles before he totally relaxed and hunted the circles.
Don’t take that as Milo just circling as he pleases. I’m still indicating the turn through my body, but he wasn’t questing it and trying to travel onto the easy straight rail. Picture him just traveling on a circle, as rider indicated, no questions asked.
This might seem uneventful to some, but this has been an issue I have been battling with him for as long as I have had him. What could be the change? Probably a ton of factors: a) my balanced seatbones thanks to the raised stirrup and rider awareness now, b) better lope departure, with a lift from the wither and drive from the rear, allowing Milo to step into the lope balanced, c) lighter seat and active core from me, allowing Milo to come up into the tack, and stay there, and d) a nearly combated tendency to lean forward onto my pelvic bone, dumping myself onto my forehand. Oh and I cannot forgot the all important torso twists that have greatly helped to unlock my hips. This is an “exercise” I still employ when riding at any gait, as needed.
Did those two concepts picked up from the DVD really help? Or is it a combination of months of work and awareness that have helped to develop a better lope? I think that the DVDs just reinforced more ideas that were already there, but put into a new perspective. I can also credit them for being great reminders of issues I have been overlooking.
In short, things are coming along!