With a break in barrel races and rodeos, sponsored rider Renae Cowley created a few horsemanship videos to help you further the connection with your equine counterpart! From body control drills and trail obstacles to tricks and liberty work, Renae's exercises can be fun and educational for any horse and rider. Read on for tips from this phenomenal horsewoman!
Bored out of your mind during quarantine? Join my riding challenge! These challenges are all general horsemanship so everyone can participate, regardless of experience or riding discipline. Most challenges can be done from home - in your barn, stall, pasture, heck, even your backyard!
Riding Challenge #1: Tricks
Tap the rope against the front of your horse’s cannon bone - lightly. Do so with rhythm until your horse picks up his leg. As you work at this, ask them to keep their leg held off the ground by continuing to tap the rope against their leg when they try to put it down. Gently grab the front of their pastern and slowly pull the lead rope back and downward. You will want to stand parallel to their flank so you don't get stepped on if they lose their balance. When your horse relaxes into the bow you will feel them hold their own weight on that bent leg and put slack in the lead rope. As they do this, release their leg and praise them. Try to reward the horse while crouched down so you can encourage them to stay in this pose until you cue them to stand.
Riding Challenge #2: Fun with Four Logs
Using ANYTHING you have lying around your place, you can set up different obstacles. I had some unused fence posts, so I set up some trail class maneuvers. First, try trotting over the logs. You will want the logs to be an equal distance apart. The goal is to have your horse step over them in rhythm without hitting any. Keep your eyes up and looking far past the logs. If you look down at them, your horse is more likely to hit them.
Next, try backing an "L". Big horses, like Elvis, can make this more challenging. You want to keep the horse moving backwards if you can, verses pivoting on their front feet. You can also work on pivots inside a square. These don't necessarily need to be spins, but you do want to avoid your horse hitting any of the logs. Be sure to pivot each direction.
Lastly, finish with ground tying. To do this dismount, drop your reins, walk all the way around your horse on the outside of the logs, then remount. If you've never practiced ground tying with your horse before, make sure they are confident with "whoa" from the ground and start slowly. You can practice being just a step or two away from them and work up to more over time.
Riding Challenge #3: Full Body Control
I do this on ALL my horses, regardless of discipline. I use it as a checklist to make sure I have their attention and each body part can be moved independent of one another. I start with flexing them side to side, looking for them to give at the poll and drop their outside ear. If you are doing this for the first time, they may not be able to completely touch your stirrup but keep working at it. Next I work on their forequarters. I walk them around in a tight circle with their outside front foot stepping in front of the other and corkscrew down into a smaller circle until it is almost a spin. If the horse takes a step behind, I just push them forward and start again in a slightly larger circle.
Hindquarters are so often overlooked. To work on this body part, I move my boot as far back on their ribs as I can without being in their flank and add pressure while blocking their shoulders from moving with my reins. At first just look for one step with their hip around their forequarters, then two steps, then three, and so on until they can spin their hindquarters all the way around their forequarters. Lastly, try two-tracking. This is something my english friends are amazing at, so fellow western riders, take a quick lesson from other disciplines to improve your horsemanship. You want to trot your horse diagonally across the arena with their body parallel to the long sides of the arena. You are looking for your horse to cross over evenly with their front and back feet while maintaining forward momentum. Easy peasy, right? I'm kidding, it is super hard. The best way I have found is to practice controlling your horse's ribs.
Riding Challenge #4: Liberty
Liberty work is something I have played around with since I was a little kid who dreamed of being a trick rider. I love that liberty work is a direct reflection of the connection you have with your horse. When you are first starting out, hold the very tip of the lead rope giving your horse room to decide on their own that they want to follow you. I also suggest starting AWAY from grass (darn Elvis!) Remember to make it fun and interesting for your horse. Be creative!
I have had a blast putting these challenges together for you. Now I would love to see you take these and put your own spin on them. Good luck, stay safe, and for the love of all that is good in this world, please wash your hands!