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
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
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.