Four Part Harmony – Head and Neck, Part One
With Richard Winters
For over 40 years I have been trying to figure out how to train horses. Quite a few years ago I started getting some more help and it really revolutionized what I was doing with horses when I was asking them to step up their game. I’m asking for a little more performance, athleticism, collection, and refinement. All this requires body control. So, I want to take you through a series of four exercises that I continually work on with my horses.
We are going to call this Four-Part Harmony and divide our horse up into four different sections. Our horse’s Head and Neck, their Shoulders, their Rib Cage, and their Hindquarters. Just like four-part harmony when people are singing, if someone doesn’t know their part it’s not going to sound good. You can have three people that sing very well and one person who doesn’t know their part and it isn’t going to sound right. You need to take that one person aside and have them work on their part. Then you can come back together and the whole song can sound great. It’s the same way when I go to do a flying lead change. If it’s not working, I need to figure out what part of my horse’s body is not correct. I need to get that part right and then go back in and execute the maneuver. Or as my example goes, sing that song.
The first thing that I’m thinking about is my horse’s head and neck. If I pick up on the bridle, I need my horse to come in, get softy and say, “Yes sir, what can I do for you?” There needs to be a softness and responsiveness every time I ask. But oftentimes we pick up on the reins and our horse just gives us a busy signal. I am continually working on this feel. Some horsemen call it a soft feel. Someone might say, “Riding a horse up in the bridle.” Other people might say, “On the bit.” Whatever you want to call it is fine with me. I don’t insist that they stay there 100% of the time, but if I pick up, they need to come in and get soft. This is something you will have to work on forever. Because in all reality horses have a tendency to want to get dull. Just like your pocketknife that has a tendency to get dull and doesn’t stay sharp on its own. Your horse will have a tendency to get bracy and stiff through its head and neck and poll. And here is something to consider as you figure out a way to get your horse soft. Let your legs help you. I will push my horse up into the bridle holding with my hands and pushing with my legs.
Let’s define collection. I believe collection is vertical flexion with impulsion. There needs to be that drive from behind. I’m convinced that if you don’t like the way your horse feels throughout their head and neck and poll, you are not going to like anything they do. If they are not yielding and softening through their poll, then everything else is going to fall apart. So, I’m going to continually work on part number one. My horse’s head and neck. And again, think about what your legs can do for you. It’s not just seesawing your hands back and forth. You need to hold with your hands and drive with your legs. Collection is vertical flexion with impulsion.
You don’t have to do it just like I do it and you don’t have to call it what I call it, but you’ve got to do something to get control of these body parts. (Next month we’ll continue Four-Part Harmony with Part Two “Shoulders”.)
Richard Winters, a horseman for more than 35 years, has been living the dream! A world-famous clinician and prizewinning trainer of horses and their riders. Richard’s credentials extend from the rodeo arena and high desert ranches of the West to being a highly sought-after horse trainer and horsemanship clinician. Among his many accolades, Richard won the National Reined Cow Horse Association World Championship and earned the NRCHA Hackamore Circuit Championship title in Pueblo, Colorado. He is a AA rated judge. Winters is a Road to the Horse Colt Starting Champion and returned for six years as their Horseman’s Host. He also won the International Colt Starting Contest in Poland. Winters was a top-five finalist at the Cowboy Dressage World Finals. He is the author of From Rider to Horseman, published by Western Horseman Magazine.
After serving as The Thacher School’s Horse Program Director for two years the Winters are embarking on a new yet very familiar adventure. Richard and Cheryl had been looking at Texas properties for 15 years, and have found their dream property just outside of Weatherfod, Texas. This is now the new home base for Richard Winters Horsemanship.
Richard enjoys traveling and helping horse owners gain the experience needed to take themselves and their equine partners to the next level. “To stretch the envelope and encourage people to do a little more than they would do on their own is very fulfilling.” International travels include Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Mexico, Poland, Scotland, and Sweden. A love for horses, knowledge developed through years of practice and study, as well as a willingness to continue learning are the components that make Richard the “Masterful Communicator” he is today!
You can connect with Richard on Facebook, YouTube, wintersranch.com, and through their bi-monthly newsletter.