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Reconciling different training expectations in one horse?

1882 Views 16 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  wild_spot
I've been mulling this over for a long time. Is my habit of having different expectations of my horse in different situations detrimental to my long term goal of turning him into a successful show horse?

I use my current show horse for a lot of things – PC, Trail Riding, Stock work, ASH shows, Campdrafting, as well as numerous small PC shows in many different disciplines. I am a big believer in versatility in horses.

However, I’ve noticed that I expect different levels or response from him to certain cue’s depending on what I happen to be doing. The biggest discrepancies are in Trail Riding Vs. Showing/Campdrafting.

Out on the trail I ride him on a loose rein, and generally let him pick the speed as long as he isn’t being rude or lazy. If he is being lazy I’ll whop him with the end of a rein and he picks himself up again. If I ask for a stop, it is generally more rein that seat/legs as his attention is usually elsewhere – In the bushes or on the horse in front. It is still quite a gentle cue, but it is still more reins than seat. I am also happy with a gradual stop – A sudden stop is not so relaxing out on the trail! I only ask him to move off my legs when doing a gate or avoiding an obstacle – otherwise as long as he is following his nose I’m happy. Generally, as long as he is moving forward and straight I leave him alone. He is naturally very low-headed and calm.

However, when showing – I expect him to respond to just seat cues, just my spur, without much rein aid. I ride him on quite a short rein with a lot of leg to get him to show some energy, impulsion and to pick his head up and shorten himself. The thing is, it takes a good warm-up and often a few reminders to listen to my seat for stops and rate, and to lighten up his front end and not lean on the bit, and to give me good lateral flexion. I also ask for a lot of bend through his body – Especially when campdrafting, he needs to have a bend in his body toward the cow at all times.

In other words, I can’t just hop on and have him light to my seat and leg cues straight away – It’s like I have to remind him of what he has to do.

So what do you guys think? Is allowing him to be pretty lax on the trail detrimental to his lightness and responsiveness in the show ring/Campdraft arena? Is there a way to remedy this without compromising his mental wellbeing? (I.e. not constant schooling?) Do any of you have the same issues/conflicts in your horses/training?
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On the trail I would ride him collected with periods of relaxation mixed in. Don't want them all strung out regardless of where I am riding. I also use the same cues regardless of trail riding or show ring.
^ The thing is, even if I asked for the stop with my seat, I know that out on the trail he wouldn't bury his butt in the ground and it would turn into a fight. For him to respond like that I need his attention 100% on me, but on the trail I don't want that - I like having an independant mind out on the trail as they often see things that we don't.
What you've describe sounds perfectly normal to me. I'd much prefer having a horse that I can take out on the trails and relax with AND show (with maybe some schooling tune-ups to get them more responsive to lighter cues again) than a horse who's all business and go in the show ring but an idiot out on the trails. If you want the best of both (very opposite) worlds in one horse, then you've got to expect that something is going to suffer a little. No horse is a perfect all-around horse, just like no human is a perfect all-around athlete.
You need to decide what your horse's job is. If you want a horse that is light and responsive, you nave to be consistent in expecting that every day. Some horses are capable of learning two, three, four, etc.. distinct jobs and performing them all, but most are just not.
The reason horses are generally cross trained is in their younger years to get them used to a plethora of experiences and to decide what they are best at. As soon as they are really showing talent for something, they should be switched over basically entirely to that discipline and taught the intricacies.
It is like grade school and moving onto uni for people. After a while of doing so many different things, we want to do what we are best at and enjoy the most. This is not to say that people in sciences are completely devoid of a social or language component of education, just like any show horse should be trail ridden. It is just the expectancy for the "fringe" subjects is much lower than that of the main study.
So if you want a show horse, you should expect him to behave like a show horse and when he is trail ridden he will still be a show horse. Or if you want a trail horse then expect him to act like a trail horse at all times.

Good luck!
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^ That's the thing - if he HAD to be one thing, then I would want him to be a happy, sane, safe trail riding packer for a kid. Which he can be. However, I bought him with the intention of re-selling. I am still planning on doing that but a few years down the track, hence, I want to get him as well-performed as I can. Gah, it is just very frustrating.

It makes me wonder - Thos successful show horses out there, how are they managed? Are they expected to be feather light all the time? Or do they get times when they can just ride for the sake of it?
Training a horse for multiple issues is the best way to keep them fresh.

Changing the cues is usually not a good idea. How hard you sit back for a stop tells him how quick to stop. Reins one time and seat the other is not cool.

I usually change the bit for different things. Not so much to add pressure but to let him know that when he is wearing this bit its all business and when he is wearing another its ok to relax a little. But the cues do not change.
I usually change the bit for different things. Not so much to add pressure but to let him know that when he is wearing this bit its all business and when he is wearing another its ok to relax a little. But the cues do not change.

Your horse can't be allowed to be naughty but he does deserve mental down time.
i think it is okay to use different cues when you are doing different things, it sounds like he just needs a tune up on what means what. my horse scout does both english & western & i use different cues to get him to go & stop & turn & he does just fine. 2 different signals can end with the same result, they just have to know what a signal means.
I believe a horse can tell the difference between a pleasure ride and a show ring.
^ The thing is, even if I asked for the stop with my seat, I know that out on the trail he wouldn't bury his butt in the ground and it would turn into a fight. For him to respond like that I need his attention 100% on me, but on the trail I don't want that - I like having an independant mind out on the trail as they often see things that we don't.
What I would do is get the horses attention by picking up the reins or whatever you do to get it and THEN ask for the stop the same way you ask when your showing. Ask with your seat and if it turns into a fight be prepared to win it. Most of the time when our horses don't respond quite as well as we think they should it's because we weren't asking in the best way. I would also let him travel relaxed with periods of collection not the other way around or your liable to get to where the work is with a tired horse.
If I collect him up he will still stop off my seat on the trail - It's just when we are strung out, loose rein that I pick my reins up first.

I had a campdraft yesterday. Had no luck competeing (cracked off in the camp both times, lol) but the work he was giving me in between was really, really good. Soft, collected, light stops, and his turns have improved a mile - He was really snappy and we got a decent slow spin which we had never achieved.

It rests my mind somewhat - He does seem to know when we are getting down to work. We will see how we go at the show today - If he works like he was yesterday it should be great.

I guess I meant this to be a general discussion also - Do you think you can make a top show horse that can also get out and relax on the trail, etc?
I believe that with a reasonably smart horse they can tell the difference between schooling and a trail ride. I also do both with my horses, and to me, a trail ride just isn't fun if you're picking at all the details the whole time. When I bring my horses out for a trail ride, I want it to be their time to just be horses and have fun (in a safe way of course!).

I think that as long as you have set expectations for them that you always follow in each situation, then they will learn the difference and separate the two situations in their mind.
At one point, I had my QH gelding doing 4' jumpers, western pleasure, beginner kids lessons and a solid citizen on the trail. The thing is that he was schooled when he needed it and left to his own devices when he was behaving. If we were on a trail ride and I sat down on him for a whoa or slow and he ignored me, we schooled right there on the trail. Transitions, bending, flexion, circles. I would shut down the fun and make him work. Then when he was working, we would continue to mosey. He learned really quick that "fun" could turn into "work" in a hurry if he abused the privilege. i think it was kevinshorses that said, be prepared to pick a fight and win it. Whether it's in the show ring, on the trail or wherever. Make sure he knows that no matter how much leeway you give him, he still needs to have one ear on you and listen to those little signals. Now if you're on the trail and he's moseying and you have to sit down, pick the reins and collect him in a stride or two to stop. To me, that's acceptable. As long as he's not ignoring your aids. You can't physically expect a horse to go from strung out, wandering aimlessly to a perfect square halt instantaneously. So keep physics in mind and don't be afraid to expect the most out of him. If you give him the opportunity he will do it to the best of his ability, you just have to help him get there.
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Zierra knows the difference in tack, if that's any help, haha. She never ceases to amaze me. When she's tacked up English, she's very forward, on the bit and workable. She rides on a contact, she gives me working trots and canters, and essentially can be molded into a very good English horse. Of course, I've not done a lot of English lately, so she's gone a bit bonkers in English tack, but it doesn't take much schooling to bring her around.

Western, she changes comlpetely. I can do everything on a loose rein, and she falls right back into the easiest, comfiest jog and lope you've ever seen. Her head is down, she's relaxed and easy, and a pleasure to ride on trails.

It's not quite the same thing, but riding her English on trails can be a pain because I simply cannot do the "relaxed" thing - she expects to be ridden fully. It's pretty much like English is her show gear, Western is her "pleasure" gear. This also makes it easier to game on her, because she never gets as "worked up" in Western tack. Show her a jumping course, and she darn near loses her mind sometimes!
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I am also a firm believer in having a versatile horse. I want a horse that I can go on a leisurely trail ride with one day and the next, be running and gunning after some wild cattle, then drag calves the next day, then back to a leisurely ride. Some horses can distinguish when you need them to be super responsive to cues and when you don't and others simply can't. My brother has a gelding that my niece rides. When my brother rides him, he is quick-footed, uber responsive, and will stay with a cow come hell or high water. However, when my niece gets on him, he is mellow bordering on dull, he will respond to whatever she asks of him but it isn't the quick response he has with my brother. He is also perfectly content to just stand there and watch a cow run by him when she's riding.

I don't really have the problem that you do cause I keep my cues the same whether we are riding around town or working cattle. Even when we are relaxing on the trail, I never allow them to be dull to my cues. However, I don't show and I like my horses to have that long flat frame regardless of where we are at or what we are doing so I don't really have to worry about re-teaching them to get on the bit or shortened up.
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I think I made it sound worse than it is on the trails... Lol. The thing is on the trail I let him have as much rein as he wants and just travel. Because he isn't framed up, etc. he physically can't stop how we do when we are working. So when I ask for a stop/slow down I still use my seat but just use my reins (a tiny bit) more than I do when we are working, and I let him just come back through the paces. I don't have a ring or anything to train in, so I do train on the trails. We will ride for a while, then find a flat spot where I will collect him up and work on stops, turns, changes, rate, etc.

I'm always prepared to fight if it's needed - If he ignores my cue, wether on the trail or working, he will know about it :]

I had another show on the weekend - As I go on i'm getting less concerned about it. He was really good out the back (wasn't as good in the ring but that's an issue that is getting better as we go) and was being good and responsive.

Smrobs, he is one of those horses - I can put the greenest of green begginner on him and he will poke around with his head on the ground, slow as a wet week all day! Then I get on him and make him work and he is lighting quick in his turns, stops, etc.
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