I had my first reining lesson with Joey and Todd Martin on 4/27/2012. I was with him for about 3 hours. It was overwhelming. There was so much information coming at me, I was mentally dizzy. In fact, I didn't sleep the night after the lesson just trying to process it all. But I have spent the days since the lesson trying to physically perform the lessons learned, and develop muscle memory.
These are a few of the tips and problems we encountered during the lesson.
Question #1: Joey doesn't seem to know how to canter slowly. He just wants to tear around the arena.
Answer: Let him. Encourage it. He lacks confidence. He hasn't been allowed to run on a loose rein. He needs to just run and run and get it out of his system, to know that he can really run and will be OK with you on his back, and that he isn't running off anywhere.
Solution: So I let him run. RUN FORREST RUN! The past 3 days, I have just absolutely opened him up. I've been driving him hard and letting him run and run and run. Guess what? He doesn't seem so keen on running anymore. Ha! I guess now he knows what it feels like, and he is realizing it's a lot of work, and he's over it. And I think the reason he lacked confidence was because I lacked confidence. He's a young horse, and I wasn't sure what he was going to do or if I was going to DIE. He must have been feeling the same thing! Well, we both survived and we are not so afraid of it anymore, so we are slowing down and developing confidence in one another.
Question/Problem #2: He doesn't canter a good circle.
Answer: Practice, Teach him the circle. Mark off a BIG circle, maybe 100 foot circle, and just do it. But if he cuts off the circle or goes wide, bring him immediately across the circle and make him do the part he did poorly again until he gets it right.
Solution: So I did the circles. And by day 3, he is much improved. And we are doing the circles full speed, mind you, until he starts slowing down. When he swings wide, if he doesn't immediately correct with my legs, then I bring him across the circle like a semi-circle, and start over again in the same lead. And we don't stop cantering when we cut across either. I don't know exactly how it works, but it does. Todd said that when they swing wide, it's because they want to go that way, out the arena or towards something that caught their eye, so by making them leave that every time they try to go that way, you are teaching them to focus on the circle of pay the price by working more. Something like that anyway.
Problem #3: How do I warm up the horse? Todd watched me flex and do my warm up routine and he wasn't impressed.
Answer: Really ask him to do something when warming up. Get his hindquarters and shoulders free and moving.
Solution: These reiners are really into spurs. They don't break the skin or anything, but they are spurring and asking the horses to do things constantly, I noticed. So while I've been content to warm Joey up with a little flexing, I need to be asking for more. An inch of hind end yield is not enough. It needs to be more and more. The first contact with the spur asks the horse a question. The subsequent spurs touches are telling him to figure it out, whether it be to yield shoulders or hind quarters, and only release when he's answered well. And it's not really a hold with the spurs, it's more of asking over and over but louder each time. Until eventually, he gets that he really should find the answer quickly or more spurring is coming. All this while maintaining a brisk walk or slow trot for forward impulsion, and with neck flexed. And while keeping your seat and making sure your spur is touching him in the right place: up by shoulders for shoulder yield, ribcage for bending around your leg, more back for hindquarter yield. And consistently done. Whew!
This has been one of the hardest things for me to do, because it really asks a lot of a rider. But he is moving more freely and is getting softer in the face.
Problem #4: How to get Joey flexed at the poll and softer in the face. I have been having more success with the bosal in getting him flexed at the poll and giving with his face, but the bosal really limits how you can direct them versus a bit.
Answer: Todd suggested that he likes the snaffle, but that he think Joey is old enough to go to a leverage bit. Not for more hurt on him, but to more clearly get him soft in the face. Todd's horses will literally give their face so much their chin touches to their chest. And while you wouldn't keep them there forever, it does make it easier to then let up and just keep them flexed at the poll. I have been struggling just getting Joey's face vertical. And I really don't think the snaffle is the best bit for this lesson either. Even on my other horses, the snaffle will get their heads up in the air. Put a leverage bit in with a mild port, and they keep their chin tucked without any bit pressure other than just the weight of the bit. It seems to be a more clear signal to them.
Solution: I have several leverage bits, but I will likely use one I have with a mild-moderate port for tongue relief, Myler brand, 6-7 inch shanks, with breaks in two places across the bar to make it easy to control one side versus the other, secured with a leather chin curb rather than chain curb. I haven't tried it yet, but it's on my list. Especially as I seem stuck with the snaffle and Joey. I know he can give me more of his face than he is doing, but I think the nutcracker effect of the snaffle is confusing him. That's what it feels like anyway.
That's enough for now. There are probably 4 more major points, but I'll leave that for another post.