If you ride reining horses or cow horses you know that rollbacks and spins are important exercises to teach. But if you are a trail rider or a dressage rider, you may think there is no reason for you to read this article. However, I believe that these exercises are beneficial in all types of riding. If you are a dressage rider, the spin incorporates many of the aspects of the pirouette. You are just changing the speed and elevation.
I hear many people say that their horse turns too quickly on the trail, or that they have trouble getting him to turn when they want him to. This exercise will give you precise control of your horse’s turns, and therefore help you be safer out on the trails.
Lateral movement exercises are the foundation for these rollbacks and spins, so be sure to review them with your horse before starting to teach this lesson.
To start, ride your horse in a circle, controlling his direction with only the inside rein. Make the circle smaller and smaller as you go. You want to make the circle so small that your horse stops his hind end while his front end keeps moving. When he does, have him take a few steps around with his front end and ask him to walk out of it. It is very important that you always have your horse walk forward out of the turns at this point in the exercise.
Like lateral movement, these are forward motion exercises, and you need to keep your horse thinking forward from the beginning.
Work circles in both directions until you can do a full three hundred sixty degree turn from the front end without the horse’s hind end moving.
At this point, I don’t worry about my horse being on the correct pivot foot. Just get his shoulders moving correctly with the hind end staying basically in one place.
Your body position is very important in this exercise. Don’t lean to the inside of the circle. If you do, all your weight is over your horse’s inside front leg, and that makes it very hard for him to pick it up and move that shoulder over. You need to sit right in the center of your saddle and ride your horse through his inside ear. By that I mean that your focus should be diagonally out over your horse’s inside ear. This will keep you sitting straight while still positioning your seat to cue your horse in the correct direction.
The next step in this exercise is to make a circle guiding your horse with two reins. Ride a big circle, get your horse soft in the bridle, stop him, ask him to step over, and ride off. This is the beginning of your rollback. As you ask your horse to step over, open your inside leg and inside rein, while you guide him with your outside rein. This is a very important piece. Don’t try to pull your horse through the turn with the inside rein. Just open that rein and carry him through the turn with the outside rein. Work this exercise in both directions until your horse is moving through the circle, stopping, and turning over his hindquarters nicely.
Now, you are ready to come off your circle and start teaching the rollback. I like to work this exercise as if I am drawing a star. Ride your horse on a straight line across the star, stop, and roll back over his hindquarters on one of the “points” of the star. Then ride him off on a straight line to the next point of the star, stop, and roll back. You will be rolling back slightly less than a full one hundred eighty degrees. Come out of each rollback faster than you went in. This encourages your horse to power off his hind end throughout the entire rollback. Be careful not to start rushing, though. Get your horse set up correctly with his face soft, stop, give him a moment to collect his thoughts, roll back, and ride off.
Last, come to the center of your star. Ask your horse to turn around his hindquarters. If he walks out of the turn, back him up to the center of the star and ask him to turn again. Repeat this every time he walks off. Here, you are building the three hundred sixty degree turn that will become your spin.
Practice this both directions. If you run in to trouble at any point in this exercise, go back to the last thing that was going well and practice that some more. After you have reinforced your foundation, you can go back to the part that was giving you trouble and it will probably be much easier.
Enjoy your horses, and until next time, may God bless the trails you ride. For more information on Ken McNabb’s programs go to www.kenmcnabb.com.
[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 1, Issue 12.]
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