Contributed By: Valerie Mellema
Last month we talked about developing topline and various exercise options for our horses. This month I employed the expertise of local barrel race trainer Julie Bailey. Julie has been training horses for a variety of disciplines from racehorses to world champion barrel racers and nearly everything in between. Julie's suggestion was to "bit him up" and exercise him side reins in the round pen.
Bitting Up/Using Side Reins
Mistic is 17 years old and is definitely well-broke, but he needs a bit of a tune up and still needs to build up his topline more. He doesn't have well defined muscle along his back and above his hips, which is part of the reason why we're having chiropractic issues. He really needs to build that muscle up and start using his back properly. Working him in the side reins encourages him to take contact with the bit, lower his head and use his back for balance.
The problem that many horses develop, and ex-racehorses in particular, is that they develop muscle along the bottom of their necks. Hence, it's much easier for them to go around with their heads up like a giraffe while moving on the forehand than it is for them to put their heads down and use their back and drive from their hind end.
Bitting up Mistic is a refresher course for him and using side reins allows me to ensure that the give and take of pressure is more precise than I can be while in the saddle. There are a few rules to follow as well as well as a few pieces of equipment.
· Saddle with Girth or Surcingle
· Side reins with elastic or rubber (to allow the give and take)
· Round pen or lunge line
· Lunge whip
The head and neck must be placed in a natural pose when the side reins are attached to the bit. There must be equal pressure on each rein to ensure straightness.
The reins must be attached so that when the horse is in the proper position, the pressure is released. When your horse moves above the pressure, the reins will tighten and when he moves on the bit (while using his back), the reins will release the pressure. Because horses learn to find that release of pressure, the horse will find that comfort zone and begin to work properly only the bit. Make sure the horse cannot get tangled or hurt in the equipment.
You can do this work on lunge line or round pen. I prefer to do it in the round pen. As the trainer, it is my job to keep him moving at a consistent pace and encourage him to drive from his hind end. If the horse balks, continue driving him forward and allow him to find the comfort zone.
Topline takes time to build, so we work in the side reins for about ten minutes prior to each ride. You can also work for longer periods of time at all three gaits. However, the best gait for building topline is a nice working trot at both directions. When you begin riding your horse after working in the side reins, you should notice a difference in how he carries himself after a few sessions. He won't be perfect all of the time, but continue to drive from your seat and into your hands to keep the forward momentum and encourage the horse to collect and work back to front rather than dragging around on the forehand. In the video, you'll see our second session with the side reins. I'll be updating more about our progress on my Facebook page at Gray Horse Publishing & Marketing.
Trainer, Olympian and author of How Good Riders Get Great Denny Emerson says it best, "A horse would not be a weight lifter by choice. He would be a grass eater by choice." If you're not following Denny on Facebook, you should. While his focus is on eventing, his wit and knowledge applies to us all.
Valerie Mellema is the Founder of Gray Horse Publishing & Marketing. If you have questions for her, you can leave them in the comment section below. We encourage you to follow her blog and check our her e-books at www.grayhorsepublishing.com.