WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #170
Got a problem with your horse? Let a leading Western trainer help
you. To submit a question, send an e-mail to:
Please include your name and contact information, and be as
detailed as possible when describing your problem so our experts
can offer you the most helpful advice.
Crowding on the Trail; Ask for Speed; Crossfiring Young Horse
Linda Parelli discusses why a horse crowds others on the trail
and how to stop it. Add speed to your young horse's barrel
pattern with tips from Martha Josey. Jackie Krshka explains why a
horse might slip out of lead behind.
PRODUCED BY JENNIFER PAULSON AND CHELSEA E. TOY
How can I train my mare to keep a proper distance from the horse
in front of her while on trail rides? She constantly tries to
keep her nose close to the rear of the horse in front of her. The
trails we navigate are often narrow, with trees on either side,
making it difficult to move laterally. Are there exercises I can
do in the riding arena that can help with this issue?
R. WEEKS, SOUTH CAROLINA
Anytime you address an issue with your horse, it's important to
consider the horse's point of view and her natural instincts. Two
situations can cause a horse to crowd up on other horses during a
trail ride: 1) The horse is afraid and wants to push to the
middle of the herd, which is something all prey animals do when
they feel threatened; they know that those on the outside of the
herd are more vulnerable to predators; or 2) The horse is a fast
Rather than hold the horse back, which can make things worse
because it leads to more fear, tension, and jigging, ask an
experienced rider in front of you for help. As your horse crowds
the one in front, ask the other rider to wave a stick or small
rope back and forth in front of your horse as the two horses
continue walking. The helper can also stop and back up on the
trail to help your horse stop tailgating. All the while, you must
keep your horse straight-don't pull back on the reins or allow
her to turn. Simply allow your horse to go backward, away from
the horse in front. It won't take many repetitions before your
horse will keep a healthy distance from the one in front. At
home, you can simulate the situation in the arena with friends,
riding in line, one behind the other. If your horse crowds the
horse in front, have the other rider do as instructed previously.
Also, practice stopping, backing, and helping your horse learn
the routine, which will reduce her anxiety on the trail, because
the activities will be familiar to her. You also might try a
couple of relaxation exercises before going out on the trail,
such as riding small circles and turning back and forth
(180-degree turns) on a loose rein. These activities can help
your horse achieve a calmer frame of mind and be a better partner
As with everything, preparation is the key. Don't wait until you
have a problem on the trail; teach your horse proper behavior and
technique at home first.
LINDA PARELLI, Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Linda and her husband,
Pat, present Parelli Natural Horse Training clinics and events
around the globe. The educational courses cater to horses and
riders of all skill levels and all disciplines. Learn more at
I have a 4-year-old barrel horse that I've been patterning for
six months. I think she's ready to add more speed, but I don't
want to lose control. How do I maintain control while asking her
to really run? CHRIS BOATWRIGHT, COLORADO
If your horse really is ready to add speed, she needs these
skills in place: She flexes properly, maintains her correct
leads, gives her nose when you add pressure, rates (meaning she
collects up and slows down to prepare herself for the turn), and
doesn't make mistakes.
Your goal when adding speed is to "practice perfect." When you
start adding speed, you don't want to let your mare know it's
okay to hit a barrel or run by one in practice. If you never
allow that to happen, you'll never have to fix those problems
during a run. Should your mare try to make mistakes, you'll need
to go back to your slow work and basics to regain control. The
most common problems that can arise are a lack of rate and a lack
of flexion, and I'll give you exercises for both.
It's best not to use your competition bit for the exercises. Use
something lighter, such as an O-ring snaffle, and pair it with a
running martingale or draw reins. The bit will help keep your
horse lighter in her mouth, and the draw reins and martingale
will help with flexion. Before you put on a martingale or draw
reins, though, be sure your horse is used to them and that you
know how to use them properly. If need be, ask an experienced
trainer for help. Also, don't try to correct your horse on the
pattern-you don't need to overwork the pattern-you can do these
exercises in an open area, in a pasture, or even out on the
In the first exercise, you'll practice making perfect circles,
first at the walk, then the trot, and finally the lope. Ideally,
the back feet should step into the tracks left by the front feet.
This exercise will keep your mare bending and flexing her
ribcage, and also will encourage her to use her hind end and be
light on her front end. Use inside-rein pressure to ask your
horse to give her nose to the inside while keeping her inside
shoulder up. You will know if your horse's shoulder is up if she
isn't leaning into the turn or circle. If needed, you can use
your leg against her ribcage to encourage more flexion. Put
pressure with your outside leg along the horse's side to keep her
balanced and not swinging out of the circle or turn.
When you advance to the lope, make sure your horse is in the
correct lead at all times, with her nose just slightly to the
inside and her inside shoulder lifted. Just as at the walk and
trot, your goal is to make your circles perfect, with the hind
feet falling in the tracks of the front feet. Keep your weight
evenly balanced on your horse's back, not leaning in or out. Take
up on the inside rein, just so you can see a little bit of the
inside corner of your horse's eye, and use a little pressure from
the inside leg. Do just the opposite if your horse's circle is
tracking to the outside.
This second exercise is great to teach or reinforce rate. If your
mare tries to run past a barrel, you'll likely need to go back to
the basics of teaching rate. The goal of this exercise is to get
your mare listening to your body cues, so that when you add
speed, she's still listening to what your body is asking her to
Teach rate by walking in a straight line. Put your feet in front
of you, sit deep in your saddle, take the slack out of your
reins, and say whoa, then back your horse a couple of steps.
Reinforce this at a walk, trot, and lope. Keep working on it
until she's not pushing against the bit, but listening to you and
working off of her back end and is light on her front end. Only
when your horse does this perfectly at all speeds should you go
back to the barrels. When you go back to the barrel pattern, as
you approach your pocket area, use the same cue to achieve rate.
When your horse is responsive, flexing, and rating, you're ready
to ask for more speed. At any speed, remember that if you run
into problems, always goes back to where your horse was
practicing perfect-take it slow and add more repetitions to help
your horse build more confidence before adding more speed.
You want barrel racing to be fun for your mare. Doing the same
exercises every day makes it very boring for your horse, so don't
always work your mare in the arena on the barrel pattern; you can
teach bending and flexing around trees, tires, or just about
anything. Keep it fun for both you and your horse.
MARTHA JOSEY, Karnack, Texas. Martha, an NBHA, WPRA, and AQHA
world champion, began her legendary career in 1964 aboard the
great gelding Cebe Reed. She's been teaching clinics for more
than 40 years with her husband, R.E. Josey, from their Josey
Ranch in Karnack, Texas. Visit barrelracers.com to learn more
about her program and clinics.
The following reader-submitted question appeared in the June 1999
issue of Horse&Rider, in the Horseman's Handbook department.
My 3-year-old Quarter Horse won't keep his back lead at the lope.
I've been longeing him and ground-driving him for several months
in side reins and a mild snaffle, and riding him for the last
month or so. At the lope, he starts out on the correct lead, but
within three or four strides he switches behind (cross-canters)
without even breaking to the trot. This horse is very athletic
and gives no sign of being sore. What should I do?
JUDY BAUER, WISCONSIN
Your horse's problem isn't unusual for a young horse starting
training. In my experience, three scenarios produce
crosscantering or crossfiring.
* Rapid growth: The horse is a fast grower, and his coordination
hasn't caught up with his size. I compare a horse like this to a
6-foot eighth-grader: He's big, but gangly and clumsy. When this
is the case, the horse usually works out of the problem as he
matures, develops better balance, and learns how to handle his
* Lack of athletic ability: He's not a good mover; he's not
balanced; and he has trouble keeping a cadenced, rhythmic stride.
Although training can help, this horse probably won't improve
much as he matures, and he may always be limited in what he can
do. Lead changes, for example, will be difficult for him.
* Pain: The horse is sore. I've found that hock problems, in
particular, produce crossfiring. For that reason, a horse that
starts to crossfire should be checked by a veterinarian before
his training continues.
If, as you say, your horse is athletic and sound, he'll probably
grow out of the problem in time. You can't hurry that process, so
don't push his training. Be especially careful not to do too much
work on a longe line or in a round pen. Circles, especially tight
circles, put added stress on immature bones and joints that can
lead to soundness problems down the road.
When you do longe him, make sure the circle is a good 60 feet in
diameter, which will minimize joint stress.
While your horse is in his "awkward stage," don't ask for more
lope strides than he can do correctly. For instance, if he can
only lope for three strides before swapping leads behind, bring
him down to a trot after the third stride, before he swaps.
Frequent downward transitions will also cause him to shift his
weight onto his hindquarters, which will help solve the swap
As your horse develops strength and condition, gradually increase
the number of correct strides. And always use your leg and rein
aids to slightly arc his body in the direction of the correct
lead. Light pressure from your outside leg (your left leg when
loping on the right lead), about 4 inches behind the cinch, will
help prevent him from swinging his hindquarters out, thus will
help to hold t him on the proper lead.
JACKIE KRSHKA, Yukon, Oklahoma. Jackie has trained numerous
youth, amateur, and open - world champions in all-around events.
She's also an AQHA judge and showed 1982 AQHA Superhorse Sweet