10 Tips/Ranch Rid­ing

Here are 10 hints for prac­tic­ing over logs and poles to help you per­form bet­ter in ranch rid­ing and ranch trail classes.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents - By Ryan Kail, With Lau­ren Stan­ley Pho­tos by Charles Brooks

Poles (like those seen in tra­di­tional trail classes) and logs (more like nat­u­ral downed trees) are present in al­most all ranch rid­ing and ranch trail pat­terns. Judges can place them at a va­ri­ety of heights and dis­tances, which means

your horse must be ver­sa­tile and well-prac­ticed to ex­e­cute the ob­sta­cles cor­rectly.

Here, I’ll of­fer 10 tips for prac­tic­ing these ob­sta­cles at home. Tra­di­tional trail poles are fine for these ex­er­cises, but I sug­gest work­ing over larger logs, too, so you’re pre­pared to ex­e­cute them. I’ll re­fer to the ob­sta­cles as logs for the pur­pose of this ar­ti­cle, since it fo­cuses on the ranch pat­terns. Prac­tice go­ing over logs on a weekly, if not daily, ba­sis. The more time you spend prac­tic­ing the ob­sta­cle, the more com­fort­able and ca­pa­ble you’ll feel when you see them drawn into your pat­tern. When per­form­ing these ob­sta­cles, think back to the pur­pose of the class: Would this horse be suit­able for the ranch if he en­coun­tered this ob­sta­cle?

Tip #1: Start Slow

Be­gin work­ing at a walk, adding more logs as your horse be­comes ac­cus­tomed to step­ping over them.

Your horse might be afraid of the logs, so be sure to give your­self enough time to get him ac­cus­tomed to the ob­sta­cle. Walk and then jog in cir­cles near the logs, let­ting your horse re­al­ize they’re not as scary as he might be­lieve.

Once your horse feels com­fort­able with the logs, be­gin walk­ing over just one log in a straight line. Build to two logs once your horse con­fi­dently cov­ers one, and then add more at the walk as ap­pro­pri­ate.

Tip #2: Work at Mul­ti­ple Dis­tances

Dis­tance be­tween the logs is very im­por­tant in the first stages of train­ing. Walk-over logs are set at an av­er­age of two feet apart; how­ever, show man­agers can set var­i­ous spa­ces be­tween the walk-over logs, so you’ll need to prac­tice at home for var­i­ous dis­tances and so you can ad­just your horse’s stride at the show. Prac­tice rid­ing to place your horse’s feet in the mid­dle of the space be­tween the logs to pre­vent him from tick­ing or hit­ting a log. Hit­ting logs in­curs a mi­nus ma­neu­ver score, with the amount de­pend­ing on the sever­ity of the “hit” on the log (i.e., tick­ing a log ver­sus kick­ing it for­ward to col­lide with the other logs).

Tip #3: Keep Him Round

Use your legs and hands to round your horse’s back as you ap­proach the logs. This shape gives him the nec­es­sary im­pul­sion to get over the logs with­out hit­ting any.

You can im­prove your con­trol of your horse’s stride by us­ing your legs and hands to pick up his back as he ap­proaches the logs. Wrap your legs around your horse to lift his back, and lift your hand to steady his face un­til you feel him raise his back into your seat and soften in your hand. By round­ing his back up, your horse will have a more up-and-down mo­tion, which helps his legs go over the logs

in­stead of plow­ing straight through them. Work on hav­ing your horse lengthen his stride to ac­com­mo­date a larger walk space, and prac­tice a tighter stride for a smaller space.

Tip #4: Ride All the Way Through

Be­gin pre­par­ing for the ob­sta­cle a few strides be­fore you reach it, and con­tinue rid­ing over the ob­sta­cle a few strides af­ter. Sit­ting down or re­lax­ing be­fore you’ve com­pleted the ob­sta­cle will in­crease your horse’s chances of hit­ting the log. Al­ways be sure your horse’s fi­nal foot has ex­ited the ob­sta­cle be­fore you move onto the next ma­neu­ver in the pat­tern.

Tip #5: Nix Rush­ing

If you find your horse rushes through the logs in­stead of think­ing about them, stop in the mid­dle of the ob­sta­cle and wait un­til you feel him re­lax. Take as much time in the mid­dle of the logs as your horse needs. If your horse rushes up to the logs in his ap­proach, stop and back him up be­fore go­ing over the ob­sta­cle. Make sure your back-up isn’t too ag­gres­sive; you don’t want him to be­come ner­vous when you ap­proach logs. Lift your rein hand slightly be­fore the logs to let him know that you’re about to go over them. Your horse should give to your hand and look at the logs.

Tip # 6: En­hance Ex­pres­sion

Ex­pres­sion over the logs is im­por­tant. Your horse shouldn’t ap­pear numb to them as he just clods over the ob­sta­cle. Let him slightly lower his neck while go­ing over the logs to show that he’s a will­ing mount and is in­ter­ested in where he’s putting his feet. If you were on a ranch, you’d want your horse to look be­fore he stepped over a fallen tree and into a gofer hole, for ex­am­ple. You can sit for­ward as you guide your horse over the logs or main­tain your reg­u­lar work­ing po­si­tion. Use the po­si­tion that you feel most com­fort­able in and gets your horse over the logs cleanly. →

Tip #7: Get a Great Trot

Prac­tice a for­ward, lofty, two-beat trot—at a stan­dard stride and ex­tended—so you’re pre­pared for what­ever the pat­tern re­quires.

Strive for a solid, two-beat trot that drives from be­hind be­fore you at­tempt the trot-over logs. Trot logs are usu­ally set three feet apart, but they can be spaced dif­fer­ently at each show, so you must have con­trol of your horse’s trot. Pick up your horse’s back (see Tip #3) while trot­ting in a cir­cle to achieve a lofty gait to get over the logs smoothly. Prac­tice this at dif­fer­ent trot­ting speeds so you can ad­just your horse’s strides to get cor­rect leg tim­ing and main­tain his cor­rect body po­si­tion.

Some pat­terns may call for an ex­tended trot over a log. Be care­ful to never al­low your horse to break gait into a lope due to the in­creased for­ward mo­tion. This takes prac­tice at home to know how far you can push the trot be­fore your horse breaks into a lope. You may sit, post, or stand in your sad­dle when go­ing over a log at the ex­tended trot.

Tip # 8: Stay Cen­tered

Ap­proach the ob­sta­cle as close to cen­ter as pos­si­ble, and take a straight path to cross all of the logs.

Trot logs both straight on and as part of the arc of a cir­cle, al­ways ap­proach­ing the ob­sta­cle at the mid­dle of the first log. Stay­ing cen­tered through the ob­sta­cle should mean that each log is equidis­tant, which will make it eas­ier for your horse to stay bal­anced and place his feet care­fully and con­fi­dently.

Tip # 9: Prac­tice the Lope-Over

Guid­ing your horse over a log at the lope is one of the most dif­fi­cult ma­neu­vers with this ob­sta­cle; how­ever, once mas­tered and per­formed cor­rectly, it can be one of the most beau­ti­ful and credit-earn­ing ma­neu­vers. Lope logs are typ­i­cally set six feet apart, but can vary de­pend­ing on the show.

A lope-over re­quires a three-beat lope with im­pul­sion from be­hind and your horse’s back lifted and round. Es­tab­lish this gait and body po­si­tion away from the logs, and then work over

the ob­sta­cle. Be­gin with one log, and then add more as you and your horse gain con­fi­dence.

The place your horse’s first foot­fall land be­fore the first log is im­por­tant at this gait. If your horse’s foot lands too close to the log or too far from it, your horse runs the risk of split­ting the log (hav­ing the log go in be­tween the horse’s front or back strides), switch­ing leads, or break­ing gait over the log. Try to gauge the cor­rect foot place­ment when you’re six to 12 feet away from the log. If you feel that your horse won’t land in the cor­rect spot to make it over the log cleanly, then shorten or lengthen your lope stride to ac­com­mo­date a proper dis­tance. You can also stop and back your horse be­fore he reaches the log, to help teach him how to rate his stride at the lope (see Tip #5). With prac­tice and your man­ual “rat­ing” (length­en­ing and short­en­ing of his stride), he’ll be­gin to see the dis­tance him­self and help you find it when ap­proach­ing the log.

Tip #10: In­crease the Dif­fi­culty

The lope is prob­a­bly the most chal­leng­ing gait to travel over logs, but with prac­tice you’ll mas­ter it for a cred­itearn­ing ma­neu­ver.

Once your horse gets com­fort­able, chal­lenge him by adding more lope- over logs. Space the logs ap­prox­i­mately six feet apart, and only add one ad­di­tional log at a time so that you know your horse is ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing the ob­sta­cle. Keep an even stride over all of the logs to per­form the ma­neu­ver cleanly and to look as ef­fort­less as pos­si­ble.

Tip #1 Tip #3

Tip #7

Tip #8

Ryan Kail, Scotts­dale, Ari­zona, is a life­long horse­man. He started Kail Quar­ter Horses in 2008, where he and wife An­drea train horses for the ranch and all-around classes. He holds judges’ cards with AQHA and NRHA.

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