Saturday, September 19, 2009


Today I am going to a reining horse show. A friend and trainer will be showing and I'd like to watch his classes. Reining, for those that don't know, is a western discipline. It is a pattern (multiple possible patterns) meant to showcase the skills a cow horse would have. Minus the cow. Fewer and fewer horses actually spend their lives working cattle but the spins, roll backs, flying changes, and spins of a reining horse mimic some of the maneuvers used in a real life ranch setting. A good reining horse is athletic, responsive, and graceful; completely in tune with its rider. Things that spoil a nice pattern include jerky communication between horse and rider, over anticipation on the part of the horse (leading to mistakes), and a cranky attitude. Though not always faulted, a horse that runs a perfect pattern with pinned ears and swishing tail (signs of irritation and/or ill temper) will lose in a tie with a horse of equal ability that appears willing. A good reining horse should appear, "willfully guided."

Some time ago I read an article about western riding disciplines. They included reining, cutting, and working cow horse. According to this author, good reining horses do not anticipate. They are followers that wait for the rider's cue. In contrast, anticipation in cutting horses can be a good thing. The horse that is able to read the cows body language can anticipate its next movement and gain the upper hand. Horses like this are often described as "cowy" and possess a natural ability and interest in moving cattle.

I do not have working cow horses or even own the traditional stock type horses used for these particular disciplines. Though individual Arabians can excel at cutting and reining they are not the breed best suited for it.

My gelding, Tango, is a perfect example of a horse that anticipates. Because of his carriage and movement, I've often thought he would be a good reining horse. However, he abhors routine and boredom and is a clever pupil that enjoys anticipating rather than waiting for a cue. He has many ideas about training methods and frequently shares his "opinions." This does not make for the best reining horse but it does make for an amusing and creative partnership.

When we are doing rollbacks in the arena it only takes one time and Tango jumps into anticipation mode--I know what she's doing; I'll do it before she even asks. That's how clever I am. He is often arched for a turn before I've asked him for the specific direction. This is the time to switch things up on him, ask for something else, do a complete 360 when he was expecting a 180 or visa versa. It's important to mix things up to keep him guessing and, listening. The key word for this horse.

Another maneuver that shows Tango's tendency to anticipate is the counter canter. Counter canter is when a horse canters on the "wrong" leading leg. When going to the right, for instance, instead of leading with the right front leg, the horse leads with the left. Counter canter is used alot in dressage and is an excellent tool to teach the more advanced horse balance. When I began teaching Tango counter canter he immediately resisted. He was very solid on his canter cues and adamant that he stay in the "correct" lead in either direction. An expressive horse, he got down right cranky with my new request, pinning his ears, shaking his head, and, my favorite, pursing his lips. I could almost hear him saying, You are in error, my dim witted rider. When we canter to the right we use the right lead. I had to go very slowly and accept just a few strides at a time. A horse that automatically picks up correct leads is a beautiful thing, to be sure, but most beautiful is a horse that responds to the riders request, when they request it, no matter what the request is. This is the pinnacle of training and fluid communication.

When a horse anticipates they aren't really listening, even if they appear quiet and obedient. They've jumped ahead on their own agenda. I do love to see an intelligent horse's mind work but the best way to deal with a horse like this is to keep them guessing, cuing them in ways that say, Pay attention, I may ask for something/show you something you don't expect.

All these thoughts about anticipation have been especially meaningful to me as I consider my spiritual life and relationship to God these last 2 or 3 months. Websters defines Anticipate: To look forward to; to take care of or use in advance; to forestall; to be ahead of in doing .

So easy to be on my own agenda but God says, My ways are not your ways and my thoughts now your thoughts. I'm on a bit of counter canter training these days; pretty good for spiritual balance.


Peggy Frezon said...

Cool Catherine. Makes me think of an article I wrote about a seeing eye horse (miniature horse) The owner explained how that horse was able to anticipate. For example, it could anticipate a half-open garage door and judge that its owner was not short enough to pass under without banging her head. Smart horse!

Catherine said...

Usually smart horses anticipate. I actually love to see an intelligent horses mind work, but its important to keep them guessing so they remember who is the leader. A seeing eye horse...very cool. I wonder if there are advantages to horses over dogs? Thinking the house breaking would be an issue--lol.