How will I know when my horse is ready to canter barrels? Right now she trots them and canters home after the last barrel. She can pick up the correct canter lead most of the time but doesn't know how to do a flying lead change. I know that it's not likely that she's ready to do it now. But how do I know when she is?
Also should I bend her around the barrels? So far that's what I've been doing because it seems safer. But when I watch the pros it looks like most of them just let their horses lean in towards the turn.
First off, I wouldn't care much about your leads when running home. Your horse is usually ready when you are ready but it just depends. Do you think your horse is ready? I do just let my horse lean into the turn. Make sure not to lean in a lot with them. That will throw the horse off balance. I am not sure I really know what your question is...
It sounds like you might be ready to start some canter drills in your barrel practice. To start, you can canter to barrel #1, break to a trot, and yes bend around it lifting the inside shoulder up (you don't want it to drop, or you will be knocking barrels at speed). Canter out of the barrel on the lead that comes naturally. break to a trot mid way between #1 & #2 to pick up the correct lead for barrel #2. Break into the trot at Barrel #2, bend around the barrel. Canter out of barrel #2 and break into a trot just before barrel #3. Trot around 3, bending, canter home.
Trotting just before and around barrels teaches them to rate naturally, so that when you are running the pattern, they slow their run enough to make the turn.
When you have that exercise down really well, You can canter the whole pattern, breaking to a trot only between 2&3 to change leads. Eventually, your horse will do the lead change naturally.
I have seen two approaches around the barrel depending on the horses' movement style. #1: bend around the barrel, which at speed, looks like leaning around the barrel. In practice you want to bend nicely and evenly around the barrel with a little more pocket going in than coming out. This approach is good for rounder, more supple horses.
#2: run a little past the barrel, roll back, and come out on the other side of the barrel. This method is very fast, but if not done correctly can knock down a lot of barrels (You have to go past far enough that the barrel isn't in the middle of your roll back). A lot of horses like to start anticipating with this and rolling back too early. In practice, it would be important to exaggerate the distance past the barrel. when practicing at slower speeds and not using an actual roll back, you go around the barrel in almost a rectangle, setting them on their hind end at each turn in the rectangle. This method is best for more square, tightly sprung horses who naturally get back on their hind end and easily roll back. They need are really powerful hind. If you don't have a typical, big butted quarter horse or another breed with a very big, strong hip, I would go with method #1.
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