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Cheryl and Mack
Riding is good for the soul!

My life has changed dramatically since my last training article. My focus has changed from competition and traveling with Sharon to caring for my mother. I am sure many of you are at that same point in your life albeit children, career or the challenges of today's economic climate, in a word grounded.

I must admit I was somewhat distraught initially at the realization of the new path my life was taking. However, I had reference points of friends who had encountered real life issues and losses and quickly adopted the mantras, "it is what it is" and "do what can I do instead of what can't I do."

So... I ride because I can! I ride because it is good for the soul!

I can tell you, your horse won't care as long as when you ride, you are relaxed, fair and present. If you are having a particularly challenging day, lower your expectations and degree of difficulty for the horse like riding bareback in tennis shoes and being a little girl again. It's amazing what a ride under the moonlight and quiet can do!

Riding is also beneficial in that you can "be ready" when an opportunity presents itself. In order to compete safely, your horse has to be conditioned, lateral and longitudinally supple and adjustable. All of these things can be improved in subtle ways, even when just out for a conditioning lap, if you pay attention to what your horse feels like and consistently address what you feel. It's amazing what you can get done in 15 to 30 minute rides. If you don't have time to saddle, ride bareback, provided you are safe in doing so. It's amazing what you can get done in 15 to 30 minute rides. If you don't have time to saddle, ride bareback, provided you are safe in doing so.

Here is what Mack and I have been doing to ride just for the sake of riding and to be ready if an an opportunity presents itself to compete.

Training Pyramid
Tracking Mack's progress!

Mack's spring and summer consisted of a three mile stroll around a 40 acre pasture and 20 to 50 minutes in the arena.

The strolls provided conditioning, mental health and a warm up for what I wanted to accomplish in the arena in whatever time I had available.

I used the Classical Training Pyramid to track and evaluate Mack's progress.


Mack's Summer Report Card:

  • Rhythm: Mack has achieved moving freely forward to the lightest aid from my seat and legs. There is not much more to be done except to maintain the responsiveness by being consistent. A light touch of the calf and a push with the seat means to move forward.
  • Suppleness: This is a large component of his work. He understands leg yields. It's harder for him to move off the right leg. We use the shoulder-in exercise for varying distances.
  • Contact: Mack is consistent at a walk and trot. He is inconsistent at times during trot/canter transitions. His work includes frequent transitions and exercises to supple him from nose to tail.
  • Impulsion: His work includes exercises to continue to increase his ability to bend the hock and bring the leg further under the body, which will increase the push from the hind leg.
  • Straightness: Mack is improving greatly in terms of transitioning to different gaits by paying attention to my seat and legs.
  • Collection: Mack is able to achieve self carriage for short intervals. His work includes rewarding his efforts by allowing long walks on a loose rein after a good effort on his part.

Like so many barrel horses, Mack's Achilles heel is longitudinal stiffness. To help him, we focused time on riding in large circles, frequently changing gait. Walk to trot, trot to walk, trot to canter, canter to walk, transitions within the gait, collected trot to extended trot, canter to extended canter and back to regular canter. If he pulled or got heavy, he was transitioned.

When he felt good on the circle, I added straight lines. If he lost his balance and got heavy, he was asked to transition and then ride again in a circle.

We've been working on Mack's adjustability. Here a description of one of his summer exercises.

Mack's Summer Exercise:

  • You'll be riding in a large circle, 60 ft., with cones marking North, South, East and West. The cones are used to give a visual clue to identify a transition point.
  • Walk to stop and then trot to stop.
  • As each cone is approached, start the sequence of cues for the stop. Apply seat, leg and rein as needed to stop. The goal is to achieve the stop by just the use of the seat.
  • The visual cue of the cone for the horse helps him get ready for the stop and allows you to achieve your goal. The horse is able to transfer the information requested for the change at the cone.
  • Once you achieve the stop using the seat only, vary the exercise to go from trot to canter transitions at each cone, and then extended trot to collected trot.

When Mack started, most of the transitions had to backed up by the application of the reins. He was heavy on the front end and pulled.

Ultimately, Mack was able to go from extended canter to collected canter to trot to extended canter to canter to walk and to stop by only using the seat and leg aid. Basically, he was willing to transition to whatever gait I asked at a specific point by paying attention to my seat and legs.

This is the foundation of achieving the adjustability that I believe is needed in a barrel horse, more commonly referred to as rate.

Mack and I have been having a great time. I make up things for him to do that will help with his balance, relaxation and adjustability, and I look forward to each ride.