The Importance of Knowing How a Horse is Made

Kim Thomas and I  have just finished with the first two schools in the Total Barrel Racing Experience series.  I am always amazed at how many people ride horses that donít have any idea how they are made and how much the way that they are made influences the way they perform.  One of the most important things to understand about a horse is the beats of his travel patterns. 

When he walks, it is important to know that it is a 4 beat gait.  This is important when we are listening to him hit the ground in a soundness exam.  If one of the beats is different from the other three, this will give you a big clue of which leg he may be favoring or sore in.  Walk your horse across cement and listen to his 4 beat gait.  Get to know the rhythm of the way your horse walks. 

When he backs up, he should also have a 4 beat gait.  If he does not, he is probably braced in one area of his body.  When he is supple and backing willing, his rhythm should have a solid 4 beats. 

When the horse trots, he should be in a solid two beat gait.  This is called a diagonal gait in which the front foot and the opposite hind foot take off together and strike the ground simultaneously.  If the horse gets in a jig or unnatural gait, it is not as easy to train his body.  If you understand the count of the gaits (rhythm) you will be able to keep your horse in cadence.  When you are working your horse in a trot, one of the ways he can refuse to bend or become supple is to jump into another gait and lose cadence.  He can also refuse by going down a gait and slowing up while bracing. Horses will get silly and speed up and charge at a barrel when you let them choose their own cadence.  Whether you are walking or trotting, maintain the same rhythm.  It is easier to keep your horse quiet and under control and learning when you understand cadence. 

Another very important thing about understanding the diagonal two beat trot is that you can teach your horse to take his leads much easier when you are posting the proper diagonal with your own body in rhythm with his.  The saying is this:  Rise and fall with the leg on the wall.  In other words, you gently rise with heels down as his outside (wall leg) comes forward. You gently sit back down as that same leg goes back.  When you get in this rhythm with your horse, training and suppling become natural to him and as you post him into a very long trot, it is easy to apply outside pressure as the inside leg is ready to come forward and pop him into the lead you want.   

You must learn to change diagonals and go equally in both directions or you can build one side of your horse stronger than the other side.  Most race tracks go to the left, most horse walkers go to the left and most people have one favorite diagonal.  It is no wonder that our horses are unbalanced in their muscle systems. In the schools, we can find horses that have one shoulder and hip more developed than the other side.  Remember to work both sides of your horse equally.

Another thing I see very commonly is this.  People try to prepare for a barrel by getting the horse to lift the inside shoulder and many times, all that happens is that the horse puts the inside shoulder down and swings the butt out.  Again, if you can understand diagonal bracing, you can change that.  Remember that when you ask the inside shoulder to yield and supple, you will have to support the opposite hip or the horse will simply step to the outside with the opposite hip instead of yielding with the inside shoulder.  Diagonal bracing is something that we teach a horse to do by lifting a shoulder and not supporting the opposite outside hip and driving the horse forward.  When you learn to take away his ability to diagonally brace, then he steps into a yield with hind feet following the front feet. 

The two beat trot in cadence is the best gait to teach many things to your horse about barrel racing.  Letís become students of the horse and get to know and work with him.  It makes horse training so much more fun when we create an atmosphere for learning. 

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Last modified: January 05, 2014