Con­fi­dent Rider

Try our ‘Crazy Cones’ for con­fi­dence, guid­abil­ity.

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

With horses, safety is para­mount. A key part of be­ing a con­fi­dent, ef­fec­tive rider is know­ing your horse guides will­ingly on com­mand. If he does, you’ve es­tab­lished one of the foun­da­tions for both horse-and-rider safety and ef­fec­tive horse­man­ship.

My Crazy Cones ex­er­cise will boost that guid­abil­ity. By keep­ing your horse lis­ten­ing and guess­ing, it ren­ders him lighter and lighter to your rein cues. As you weave him in and around the cones, the lat­eral bend­ing cre­ates sup­ple­ness. The back-and-forth mo­tion loosens his jaw, neck, shoul­ders, and ribs as you drive him for­ward.

Your com­mands in this ex­er­cise must be clear and timely. You must use your brain to de­cide where and when to switch back and forth, your hands to di­rect your horse’s head and neck, and your legs to push him for­ward. All this im­proves your horse­man­ship.

Ul­ti­mately, this sim­ple, repet­i­tive ex­er­cise helps you and your horse be­gin to func­tion like a welloiled ma­chine.

Set­ting Up

You’ll need eight to 10 plas­tic train­ing cones and a safe area with good foot­ing in which to set them up.

Dis­trib­ute the cones so they’re roughly 10 feet apart—that is, enough room to be able to bend your horse around and through them at a walk and a trot. Just scat­ter them in a ran­dom pat­tern— the dis­tances don’t have to be ex­act.

You’ll be rid­ing two-handed, so out­fit your horse in a snaf­fle (or the bit he re­sponds to best).

Ride the Cones

Be­gin at a walk. Squeeze with your legs to cre­ate a for­ward pace. Hold the reins with both hands, po­si­tion­ing them low and wide. Choose a path

through the cones that re­quires re­peated turn­ing and cir­cling back, mak­ing sure to go roughly equally to the right and the left.

As you turn to, say, the left around a cone, guide your horse’s nose with di­rect pres­sure on the left rein as you bring the right (in­di­rect) rein against his neck to re­in­force the left­ward move­ment.

At the same time, press with your in­side (left) leg to keep his butt mov­ing and to help him arc around the cone.

Re­verse all cues when you bend/turn him to the right. Use both legs as needed through­out to main­tain for­ward en­ergy.

When you’ve both be­come pro­fi­cient at the walk (take as much time as you need), progress to a brisk trot. This will up the dif­fi­culty, forc­ing you to think fast to plot your course through the cones. You’ll also need to be es­pe­cially clear and pre­cise in your cue­ing as you ride this way and that in an ever-chang­ing pat­tern (this is what keeps your horse guess­ing and at­ten­tive to your cues).

The length of time you spend per­form­ing this ex­er­cise de­pends on how fast your horse de­cides to re­spond with­out re­sis­tance to what you ask of him. The first time it might take him 10 min­utes; as you and he progress, it could take as lit­tle as five min­utes or less for him to be­come soft and will­ing.

The more of­ten you ride this ex­er­cise, the more con­fi­dent you’ll be­come in your horse’s will­ing­ness to be guided on com­mand.


This ex­er­cise makes a great warm-up rou­tine even if your horse is al­ready pro­fi­cient at be­ing guided. It can also serve as an in­tro­duc­tion or re­fresher for neck rein­ing; as your horse pro­gresses, you can move from us­ing two hands to one and guide him just as ef­fec­tively.

Also, be­cause it moves your horse’s feet in all direc­tions, Crazy Cones can serve as an ex­cel­lent way to work the “fresh” out of him with­out a fight.

Fi­nally, be­cause it re­quires a lot of lat­eral flex­ion, Crazy Cones also sets the stage for the ver­ti­cal flex­ion re­quired by col­lected work.

Be­gin this ex­er­cise at a brisk walk, rid­ing your horse in and around the cones in a vary­ing pat­tern, with fre­quent changes of di­rec­tion.

Nancy Cahill, Madis­onville, Texas, is an AQHA Pro­fes­sional Horse­woman with more than 47 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence guid­ing youth and am­a­teur rid­ers to wins in all-around com­pe­ti­tion ( nan­cyc­

TOP LEFT: Pick up an en­er­getic trot and plan your ap­proach into the cones. TOP RIGHT: Strive to main­tain a steady stride and a con­sis­tent frame as you nav­i­gate the cones. BOT­TOM LEFT: The fre­quent bend­ing re­quired by this ex­er­cise will loosen your horse’s jaw, neck, shoul­ders, and ribs.

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