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Zeus my 2012 POA/Appaloosa

As we reach the midway point of December, our North Idaho countryside is usually covered in a blanket of snow, but this year it’s not.  November put out a great effort with nearly 6 inches of snow here at the ranch. However, since then it has warmed up and we have no more snow. Don’t get me wrong, it is still beautiful here and wagon rides and Christmas parties have continued at the ranch.

To get away from the weather coverage and get to my point, its been a while since I have ridden my horses.  I can tell this is going to be a long winter as I already have horse withdrawals. You may ask, “Why don’t you just ride in the indoor arena?”  A 70′ by 100′ arena gets pretty small when you start adding things like two of our smaller sleighs and one large motor home. (Insert sad face here) The weather, however, has warmed (48 degrees today) and the footing outside has un-frozen so I can get out on the trails again. Woohoo!

Smokey a four year old I put 17 days
on before winter arrived and
ended my fun.

While I have been sitting inside, listening to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, finding every scrap of info I can on Cowboy Dressage and Western Dressage, and reading dozens of articles on Horse Collaborative, I have been dreaming about riding my project horses Zeus and Smokey.  In the midst of my daydreams, I have compiled several horseback arena exercises.  Most of these are adapted from Pat Wyse’s Basic Handle.

Here are a couple exercises you can do in the often small spaces we have available for riding in the winter time. Whether that space is an indoor arena or an open patch of un-frozen ground, you can continue to make progress in your horse’s training through the cold winter months.

Exercise One: Corner Circles
This exercise can be done at any gait but be sure to introduce it at a walk first, especially if your horse doesn’t know that your leg means anything but go. For a green horse this is a great way to introduce guiding leg pressure in a low stress environment. For a horse farther along in training, this is a great warm up or cool down exercise to get them listening to your legs. You can also use this exercise for introducing the turn on the haunches as it keeps the forward motion needed to perform a haunch turn without falling backward in the spin causing a belly-button turn.

Start at A and ride deep into the corner.

B: Begin a right hand, 5-10 meter circle. Bring your horse’s nose around enough that you can see the corner of his eye. Use your inside leg just behind the girth to ask your horse to move out and away from your leg.  Pay close attention to the timing of your leg ques. When your horse steps away from your leg immediately release the leg pressure. Ask again with your inside leg. If this is your horse’s first introduction to moving off your leg, all your asking for is a little step then release, little step then release.  If your horse moves off your leg nicely you can ask for a more dramatic crossing over step away from your leg.  Remember to ask soft first and increase the pressure until the horse responds, then release. Always start soft and increase pressure as needed. Ride strait down the long side of the arena toward the next corner.

C: Ride deep into the corner again.  Begin a right hand circle. This time, use your outside leg forward, at about your cinch, to ask your horse to step their front end around.  Again, start soft and increase the leg pressure until your horse steps away then release. Ask again. Start soft and release when your horse steps over.  Remember, you can ask for a more drastic step over on the haunches from a more experienced horse. Only ask for a little step from a horse that you are just introducing the leg to. Ride down the short end of the arena toward the next corner.

D: Ride deep into the corner. Begin a right hand circle and complete as in at letter B.

E. As you ride out of the circle at D ride across the diagonal and reverse directions.  Complete this exercise tracking left following directions as above only apposite.

Exercise Two: Straight Lines
We use this exercise on colts that are in their first few days of riding and our most solid saddle horses. For that horse that constantly tries to cut the corners and dive to the middle this is great to get them listening to your aids as well.  Introduce this exercise at a walk but be sure to increase the speed as training progresses. Riding this exercise while rating your horse (speeding up and slowing down) is a great way to create focus in the arena.

B: Create an octagon as you ride around the arena or field.  Focus on a point in front of you and ride a straight line to the point, guiding with your leg and reins. Ride as close to that point as you can (without running into it) then release the guiding pressure turn and readjust to a new point and begin guiding again.  Use your hand and legs in coordination to guide your horse in straight lines.  Your legs are there for a reason. Use them!

A: The same principals apply as you make a pentagon shape with your horse.  This does add a degree of difficulty as your angles will be sharper.  The lines will also be longer so you will have more time to focus on the straight line and really perfect it.

I hope these winter arena exercises add a little variety to your riding and training this winter. Stay tuned for more winter training tips.

If you would like more information about visiting or riding at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch visit www.westernpleasureranch.com or call toll free at (888)863-9066.

For more info about my horseback mentor, Pat Wyse, visit his web site at www.horsewyse.com.

I would love to hear what you do with your horse in the winter. If you would like to share some training exercises to be featured on this blog e-mail them to [email protected]

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