If you’re lucky enough to ride a really good games horse, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he still needs regular training and fitness work to keep him sharp in events like pole bending or barrels. If you ride a greenie, he needs lots of schooling as well if you want him to be a games superstar in the future.
- Circles, Circles, Circles!
You must be able to lope a circle before you attempt to run poles. If you can’t lope a circle without getting run off with, it’s time to go back to schooling your horse at slower speeds until he calms down and starts listening to your cues. He has to be able to bend his body in order to weave in and out of the poles quickly. Practice circles at the walk and jog before trying the lope. Tip your horse’s nose in to the middle of the circle so you can see his eye. Keep your inside leg next to the cinch to ask for bend and place your outside leg behind the girth to prevent your horse from swinging out his haunches. Include some figure 8s at the walk and jog in every schooling session and do some spiraling in and out at the walk, jog and lope.
- Take It Slow
Set up the poles at least a couple of times a month and ride your horse through them at the walk and jog three or four times and then let him have a break. Going through the poles in slow-mo teaches him the pattern and lets you practice bending him around the poles by using leg pressure—not just pulling on the reins.
- Keep Your Hands Low
If your hands are too far forward, you’ll only have control of your horse’s head and you need to control his whole body while doing poles. Stay over the center of your horse’s balance by sitting up as straight as you can and try to keep your hands right above his withers.
- Stay Straight
Even though we talk about weaving in and out of the poles, you really want to stay as straight as possible through the line. Instead of making big loops around the poles, ride as near to them as possible without knocking them over. Your horse’s body should be slightly bent around your leg—not completely around it like a banana.
- Let ‘er Rip (occasionally!)
While most of your schooling should be done at the walk, trot and lope, you have to gallop your horse occasionally to make sure you can rate him before you head for the gymkhana. Ask him to gallop in a safe place like an arena at first and, if you can stop him, try it in a larger area like a field with good footing. If your horse gets wild don’t just yank his face off. Take your legs off his sides, drop your weight into the saddle and lift the reins.
This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!