Monday, April 12, 2010

Where to Start: where to begin with your new Standardbred, Part II

Okay, way back in March, I said I was going to post Part II of the burning question: Where to start with your new Standardbred.

My apologies to those of you who were waiting for a post a lot sooner than the one you are getting today. But, at last, here I am.

To recap Part I, my advice on where to start with your new Standardbred is two-fold:

#1) Get educated. Ground work is a fundamental part of traning your Standardbred (or any horse). If you don't know how to properly work a horse in a round pen or on a longe line, educate yourself on the ins and outs by either working with a reputable trainer, by watching DVDs (I had several recommendations in my last post), or by doing both!

#2) Get yourself in shape. I'm a stickler on this one, folks. If you want your horse to work hard for you and give you his all, you should at least be willing to do the same by being healthy, fit, and weight appropriate. 'Nuff said there.

As for today, I'd like to talk about the basics of working in the round pen or on the longe line. Specicially, we're going to deal with correctly position ing your body relavtive to the horse.

A Common Mistake A few months ago, I got a call from Alyssa, who said that every time they worked on the longe line, the mare stopped and just would not go consistently in a circle.

I hear this a lot. And, as they say in the airlines, it's totally pilot error. In other words, it's not the horse's fault, but rather a problem created by the human on the ground.

The reason Alyssa's mare was stopping and refusing to go around in a circle was due to the fact that Alyssa was standing in front of the drive line. By poisiton her body in front of the horse's drive line, she was telling the mare to stop and turn in.

Drive line defined Simply put, the drive line is an imaginary line that extends from the horse to you and allows you to "push" your horse forward in a circle.
Imagine yourself in the round pen. Now imagine an upside-down triangle, with the tip touching you in the center of the ring. If you think back to your days in geometry class, you'll remember there are a variety of triangles. The one you seek for the purposes of longe line or round pen work is a right triange. In other words, one corner of the triange is at 90 degrees.
If you look at the diagram to the left, that little circle in the center is YOU. See how the drive line extends toward the horse's shoulder, yet you are positioned more toward the haunches?
This position allows you to "drive" the horse forward. Thus the magical phrase, the drive line.
When you step in front of your horse's shoulders, you are telling her to change her speed and possibly even her direction. A bit of coaching over the phone helped me determine that Alyssa was standing too far forward, at an angle closer to her mare's shoulder than to her haaunches. That is why Alyssa's horse kept stopping short. The way Alyssa positioned her body told her mare to do exactly that--stop.
This is a critical key to successful longing or round pen work. It is also one of the most common mistales. among people new to longing or round pen work.
Working on the ground will help give your new Standardbred discipline, and also encourage the trust between you. As explained at length in previous posts, this is where you Standardbred will develop confidence, learn to react to your vocal commands, and learn to use his body in a new way. It is the first step in his new life as a riding horse and wonderful companion, so it's critical that you make sure you are doing it right.

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