Finally I am on the last post of The Foundation series. I tried not to write a novel but well, if you haven't noticed this is something I'm very passionate about and sometimes I can have a hard time condensing things. As I'm putting the first months riding on a two year old and starting my four year old on barrels, this topic hits home in a big way. Let's finish things up by talking about Shoulder Control.
I think barrel racing goes through fads just like everything in life. I used to hear all about picking up that shoulder when coming to a barrel and now I've heard more about tipping in that hip more than the other way around. I believe both are equally important although it's easier to control the shoulder if you have a good grasp of the hip.
The reverse arc is something that used to be pounded into my head when I was listening to other barrel racers when trouble shooting. I actually don't use it that much when working my horses on barrels but it's very vital in helping a horse learn to pick up and move away from that pressure while keeping their shoulder lifted and here's the key, while in forward motion. If I have a horse coming into the barrel too close and too flat, I want to be able bump (pulse on the reins slightly) with the inside rein straight to my hip and have them essentially do a similar move as a reverse arc to give them enough room to turn the barrel but also get their body in the right position. Sue Smith has an excellent exercise using tires and the reverse arc that she described in a Barrel Horse News article in March 2012. In addition to that drill, I also will put three cones or even barrels in a small version of a barrel pattern with about 15 feet between each cone or barrel. I like to take them through and make sorta like a barrel pattern but instead of one right and two lefts, make it all rights or all lefts. I like being about to keep a horse framed like you'd normally want a horse to turn but I also want to have them be able to do it all in a reverse arc easily and fluidly. As with anything, it takes time to get them to understand the job you ask of them but I strive to be able to do this basically with one hand and never I repeat never move my hand across the center of the horses neck.
We always hear about how we need to "lift" a horse's shoulders but one thing I think people really over look is a horse pulling or reaching with their shoulders. We love to see those horses run up in there to a barrel and drop their butt come around it, but what do you think keeps that forward motion? The shoulders play a vital part in that style to work properly and efficiently. When I turn a barrel or even if I'm just trotting in a circle, I want to be able to feel that inside shoulder reaching forward and out, pulling itself forward. There is a fine line between reaching and a dropping shoulder though.
If you remember from the last post I broke down Direction into two stages. Well I've added another stage - stage 3. Stage 3 is all about putting the first two stages together while finishing a turn. I still look for that eye to be soft and brown, I still will have them collected and drive them between my hands, but here's where I add the next challenge. Basically I will be riding my horse like Stage 2 of Direction. However, I will drop my outside rein slightly, shift my weight in my hip to the outside while opening my hip to the inside signaling my horse to turn sharper, almost like that second to last stride of finishing a barrel. I want to feel that inside front leg reaching out and pulling. I'll keep my horse in a smaller and smaller circle until I feel that shoulder the way that I want. Once I do, I release and have them come back into a bigger circle. Sometimes I will just ask them and it takes them a stride, other times it takes a couple strides before I feel that action I want while other times it takes several progressive smaller and smaller circles to achieve the right feel. Make sure once you feel it, you instantly reward them by letting them move out into a bigger circle. You must keep forward motion and not let your horse do a roll back kind of move in order to get the reward - all four feet must be moving forward.
This exercise is not something that I do often because I don't want them anticipating it and getting into a habit of dropping their shoulder. Proper position of their body as we talked about in stage 2 applies and is vital to keeping your horse correct and getting the most out of this exercise.
After my last post, I had a lot of requests for a video on Direction and the Jaw exercise. Here's a video I did for those visual learners on all three stages of Direction and the Jaw exercise. I hope you enjoy!
Well there you have it! I truly believe if your horse can do all the things that I outlined in The Foundation series that not only will you be able to fix problems as they arise but that you'll avoid problems because you've prepared your horse for the job that you're asking them to do. You'll notice that I didn't have a section on stopping. Although stopping correctly is very important, I don't focus on having my horses stop as a Reiner. What I do want, which I talked about when I was writing on Speed Control, is for the horse to respond to my body whether my body is saying walk, trot, or stop, I want that horse to respond accordingly.
I hope that you've enjoyed this series as much as I have writing it! I'm not claiming to be the best horse trainer or even close, but I do hope that everyone who has stuck with me and read these posts will be able to take at least one thing home to add to their tool box. I have loved hearing everyone's feedback. Please feel free to hit me up if you have any questions!
Thank you again everyone for reading my Foundation series!