Athletic Circles: Build Your Hackamore Horse’s Skills by Al Dunning
Athletic Circles – By now, you have introduced your horse to the hackamore, and he’s learned about both lateral and vertical flexion, as well as the basics of neck-rein¬ing. He’s familiar with the big release that provides a well-earned reward and moment of rest for his efforts. Equally important, your horse grasps the connection between his face and his feet, how a change in the hackamore rein directly affects his carriage and movement, a core basic for him to progress to advanced maneuvers.
When your horse circles and turns back comfortably on the fence, it’s time to perform the same maneuver in the open. You can always go back to the fence, if necessary, to reinforce the desired response.
Now you build on the basic skills already established to advance your horse to the next level of performance. With the circling exercises and other drills presented here, your horse becomes supple and responsive as he masters the turnaround, the rundown and the stop.
This circling exercise can be built only on the face-to-foot core connection established earlier and focuses your hackamore horse’s energy into further developing his athleticism. The goal and purpose of the athletic-circle drill is to introduce dynamic movement while your horse’s body is within the ideal frame. Here’s how to develop such athletic movement while circling your horse.
Work in both directions until your horse can double back athletically and with confidence between the circles. Have enough patience between rollbacks to calmly jog multiple circles so there is no anticipation of the rollback when your horse nears the wall. Should your horse try to do a rollback on his own, calmly stop the motion and bring him back to the original circle. You might have to jog many times around the circle before again rolling him back in the other direction. Even if that means doubling your horse far fewer times than you had in mind, it is imperative to teach him to wait for your guidance so he does not learn to outthink you.
Once your horse performs the drill solidly in close proximity to the fence, move to circle him in the open. Without the use of the wall for a brake, the exercise must be modified slightly; in this case, you simply quit riding just prior to asking your horse for the turn.
With your horse at a jog, ride a 15-foot circle close to the arena wall or fence. Let your horse settle into the circle until an even cadence and symmetry in your circle has been established. If you are in correct form on the circle, ideally your horse should come into the fence at a 45-degree angle, travel alongside it for only one stride, and then again make a 45-degree angle as he moves away from the fence. Allowing your horse to flatten-out and follow the arena wall or fence line degrades the shape of your circle and compromises this drill in its entirety.
To quit riding, relax in your saddle and sit in the stop position that you would assume when saying “whoa.” However, in this exercise no verbal command is given. As your horse gathers himself in response to your body position, take the rein as before and double him back over his hocks to go in the new direction. Again, be careful to come out of the turn and travel in the previous circle’s tracks.
Since the wall is not there to help you complete the turn, make sure to use enough leg pressure so that your horse turns over his hind foot with his entire body in ideal form as it comes through the maneuver. When you double back to the right, your left leg should create a barrier blocking your horse’s ribcage and hip, to keep them from swinging to the left as you make the right turn. When you double to the left, use your right leg to keep your horse’s body in alignment.
Should you experience a little trouble with this circle drill while riding away from the fence, fall back on the foundation work your horse already can perform well. Trying to power through the problem with brute force can be a regrettable and potentially devas¬tating mistake. Instead, re-establish the core principle of the face-to-foot connection by stopping and backing a step or two before doubling your horse. By doing so, you can realign your horse’s body to balance his car¬riage between his nose and pivot foot.
A properly balanced horse can work in a circle again and again and in the same tracks without traveling off the arc of the circle or diving to the inside of it. When your horse consistently jogs a circle to the right, for example, and you near the 45-degree position, reach down your left, wall-side rein to make contact with the hackamore, and direct your horse’s nose into the wall. In this 45-degree setup, your horse is inclined to roll over his hocks to follow the rein, his hind legs driving well underneath him for balance and impulsion.
Especially when a horse is in the hacka¬more, it always is wise to slow down things when a problem arises; reassert your author¬ity and nullify any challenge. By reverting to a drill that allows you to regain control, you prove to your horse that he cannot cheat or get away from the hackamore.
Use small bumps on the direct rein keep your horse’s nose soft through the turn and on course as he again sets out on a well-shaped circle, but now traveling in the other direction, to the left. If this maneuver is executed accurately, your horse comes out of the rollback to follow the same tracks of the previous circle and without any deviation
Al Dunning is credited with 32 world-championship and reserve-championship titles. The knowledge and passion he shares in his clinics, videos, and lessons have molded not only average students, but also some of today’s most successful professional horse trainers. Dunning’s ability to reach people comes from his love of horses and out of respect to the mentors in his own life. For more information go to www.AlDunning.com
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 7
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