Don’t Waste Your Money

Part Two

“Nail your paid warmup”

IMG_3522 Photo Credit: Mark Blakley


Horses learn through repetition, so the more we show them, the more they begin to anticipate maneuvers. To combat this anticipation, try to stay focused on what your horse is thinking and do the opposite. An easy example is counter cantering through the middle. A lot of show horses can become too “hair trigger” about the lead change in the middle to hold them off with the inside leg and only allow them to change when they’re not anticipating the change. Another example would be asking them to slow down in a fast circle in different spots other then the middle. Keep them thinking about you.


When a seasoned show horse has been through a lot of warmups, they often go into schooling mode rather than thinking they’re actually being shown. I’ll set traps for this kind of horse. I might walk to the middle and really call on them in the spins to make them think this class is the real big deal. Then, I may just lope quiet circles. Sometimes, I’ll run a circle at a fast show speed, change in the middle, then break them down to a walk (this works great on horses that become worried about the change or the ones that start to get a surge of adrenaline when changed). For horses that get tight running, I may show stop them the first time I run up and around the pen. This should get them thinking about pulling their trick and not running down the pen strongly and evenly. The next few times I go around the end, I’ll ask them to fence or at least drive them all the way to the end of the arena.


Some show horses become nervous in the middle of the pen and don’t want to settle. This can kill a score by greatly reducing the quality of the first couple maneuvers, not to mention giving the judge a poor impression about the quality of your animal. Horses become this way for obvious reasons – lots of things happen in that spot – they have to stop and spin, they change leads there, they execute speed transitions there, etc. I think, in most cases, it’s a mistake to take a horse that’s nervous and dancey in the middle of the pen to try to make him stand still. He’s not going to. I’ve found that ignoring his nerves and just loping off or walking through the middle a few times works better. I may even bend him in a small circle. Then when I feel him start to decompress, I may ask him to stand a moment while I pet him. Trying to force him to stand is just going to make him more nervous. Also, when you’re done schooling, make sure you step off of him in the middle and loosen your cinch there. Start rewarding the middle as opposed to making it a big deal. Do this at home too.


Many horses begin to anticipate running and stopping. If you’ve been reining for a while, you’ve probably seen horses start to become strong when they turn the corner and prepare for a run down. The key to fixing this problem is helping the horse relax and not feel that surge of adrenaline that comes with blasting off. I think in most cases it’s a mistake to pull the horse into the ground when it starts to skip gears and blast off. More often then not, I may take a big hold and force the horse to lope through the turn. Often, I’ll break the horse down to a jog then lope off again. Sometime, if I feel the horse getting “big” before I ever make the turn, I’ll just keep loping as if I were in a circle. Sometimes, I’ll allow the horse to start to build faster than I want and then I’ll break him down to a walk well before the center marker. I can’t completely protect him from the run that is required of him – I just want to make it where it isn’t a big deal to him.


Almost always in my paid warmups, I will lope off into a large slow circle to start my “pattern”. Regardless of what else I plan to work on, I want my horse to think about loping off slow and relaxed. I may stop after that circle and work on my spins. I may move him up into a faster circle about half way through that first large slow. If I’m working on the speed transitions themselves, I’ll often ask my horse to slow down in different spots in the circle. In this way, I’m trying to get his attention on me. Also, if he does slow down nicely, I’ll usually break him down to a walk before I resume the lope. Rarely will I pull the horse off to a stop if he doesn’t come back to me the way I hoped for. Six words – counter canter, counter canter, counter canter. Depending on what shoulder I’m working on, I may tip my horse’s nose to the inside or outside, but I’ll always spend time on the counter lead to work on the positioning in my circles. I’ll also pay close attention to my lead departures. If my horse blasts out of the middle, I may break him down and reset- pushing his hip over into the direction I’m departing, tipping his head to the inside, making sure his head and neck are lowered and relaxed. I’ll also be sure he lopes off straight and doesn’t lean in one direction or the other. Make sure to start correctly so you don’t have to fix things immediately once you’re loping.


The most common problem in horses running and stopping has to do with anticipating the stop. This can manifest in many ways – The horse may decelerate or spurt on the run down; he may check on the approach; sometimes they are too quick or abrupt when stopping.   All of these issues and more have to do with the steed thinking about the stop and not the run. As you probably have realized, two things have to happen for a good stop – the horse has to be gradually accelerating and he has to be straight. When I school, I will often run straight lines up and around – like one would do in a pattern 6 or 8. I will usually lope a couple of the lines slowly and then the third, I will run down as if I were planning a big stop. If he accelerates faster than I want, I will often just take a hold while still driving with my legs – I want him to continue to build in speed just on my terms. If he leans, I will take him diagonally off in the opposite direction. Make sure you are about 40 feet from the side wall. Don’t make him dependent on the edges of the arena to stay straight. Once effectively running down the pen, I will usually slow right before the wall without stopping. I want my horse to run confidently without thinking he’s always going to have to stop. This is the best way to relax the run and fix many of the aforementioned problems.

Stay tuned for 11-15!


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2 thoughts on “Don’t Waste Your Money
  1. Winona

    Thanks Tom… my gal has a gelding that likes to chump her and blast off in his run downs. We already do drills similar to these drills… it’s good to know that with some tweaking, we might just get him a little more consistent!


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