The Daisy Exercise by Sandy Collier
This exercise calls for you to ride a pattern that will approximate the petals of a daisy. Begin at a trot on a straight line. As you approach the far end of the “petal” (away from the center of the daisy), pick up your reins and simultaneously drive with your seat to draw your horse back onto his hind end, asking him to shorten his frame and collect.
Then tip his nose to the turn side and use the leg on the same side, at the cinch or just behind it, to bend him around 180 degrees so that you’re heading back toward the center of the “daisy.” Make sure you straighten your horse with your outside (indirect) rein and leg as you come out of the 180-degree turn, so you can drop him on a straight line through the center. Repeat the sequence each time you get to the far side of a “petal,” always turning in the same direction and always using enough outside rein to straighten your horse’s body for the return trip through the center of the “daisy.”
Each time you go on the straight line through the middle, loosen the reins; each time you come to the far side and prepare to make the 180, use your reins and seat to ask your horse to engage his hocks and hind end; then tip his nose and make the small half-circle turn.
Your end tracks should approximate the petals of a daisy. When you’ve worked in both directions at the trot, try it at the lope, working one lead for a while, then the other.
Once your horse is confirmed in this exercise at the lope, you have a tool to return to if he gets a bit “on the muscle” when you start speeding up during your run¬downs, or if he fails to go straight when you ask him to, or anticipates lead changes.
When the horse:
Over- or under-bridles: When your horse curls his neck and tucks his chin to his chest (over-bridling), use more leg and less hand. And, when he resists flexing at the poll and softening to the reins (under-bridling), use more leg and more hand. If he still refuses to soften, stop him, and work his jaw by sliding the bit softly back and forth in his mouth until he does soften, back him up a few steps, then let him stand for a moment to think about it.
Resists hind-end engagement: If he won’t rock back on his hind end as you’re preparing for a turn, push down on the balls of your feet and curl your seat under a bit. At the same time, raise your hands toward your lower rib cage and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull back slightly on the reins, and bump with your legs. Even with your arms raised, though, be sure to maintain that straight line from the bit through your hands to your elbow; in other words, your hands should not come up on their own, which would break the line from bit to elbow.
Rushes: If your horse gets assertive and wants to go faster, ask for more collection by pushing with your seat and bumping with your legs in neutral position while “holding” with your reins. Then bring him back to the desired speed, guide him through a change of direction, and release the “extra” cues, allowing him to relax. Do this every time he speeds up. Extra collection and turning is hard work, so your horse will begin to associate rushing with working harder, and so be more willing to stay at the speed you choose.
Another approach is just to treat this “motoring on” as no big deal and go back to a circle, letting your horse go fast with his nose tipped to the inside, not arguing with him, until he relaxes and slows down on his own. Most horses eventually decide going fast just means more work, it’s a bit of reverse psychology.
Breaks gait on the slowdown, or falls out of the lead at the lope: These are a result of your horse becoming unbalanced. Correct breaking gait by collecting him up more on the straight line―really drive his hind end up and get him balanced before going around the corner. For falling out of a lead, do the same but with an emphasis on using your outside leg a few inches behind neutral position to drive his rear end to the inside just a bit.
Leans: First, you need to be able to tell when your horse is leaning, and sometimes that’s hard to feel. One good way is to check for a feeling of equal pressure from the saddle to your bottom. If you feel more weight or pressure in your left buttock than in your right, for example, your horse is leaning to the right and you’re compensating. Sometimes riders don’t compensate, and might therefore feel more pressure on their right buttock when their horse is leaning right. The “bottom line,” so to speak, is that your weight should be equally distributed across your bottom!
Another way to tell when your horse is leaning is to check whether your hands are an equal distance from your horse’s neck. If the distance from his neck to your right hand is shorter than that from his neck to your left hand, he’s leaning to the right. Our own bodies often “know” before our minds, that we’re out of balance from the horse’s leaning, and our body parts try to straighten things out.
If you find your horse leaning in, use your reins and legs to move him back under you, then release. For example, if he’s leaning to the right, carry both your hands to the left while applying your right leg vigorously at or just behind the cinch. You’ll probably find that you must reposition your horse numerous times on the straight lines before he begins to “savvy” the concept of staying straight. Your corrections can go from mild to a bit more assertive as the situation requires. At the far end of assertiveness, you may need to overcorrect to make your point.
Sandy Collier’s successful horse show record is reflective of her dedication, talent, and integrity as a horse trainer. She was the first and only woman horse trainer to win the prestigious NRCHA World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity. In 2011, Sandy was inducted into The Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Learn more at SandyCollier.com.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 2