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Rollbacks and Spins, by Ken McNabb



McNabbIf 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

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 1, Issue 12.]

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