With Buck Brannaman
This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.27
I learned this exercise by watching people get taken advantage of by horses. This is the exact opposite of what horses typically train you to do; they gradually advance toward you all the time and you end up back pedaling to avoid getting stepped on. So your horse ends up taking you closer to his buddy or the gate, wherever it is that he wants to go. So what we are doing here is reversing the roles so that all the forward steps are coming from you.
Once you feel as though you have a pretty good handle on the basic driving your horse past you and changing directions by moving your horse’s hind and front quarters on a circle, the next piece you need to add is what I like to call the half-circle exercise.
Simply put, you will start your horse around you in a circle, then walk forward in a straight line, working your horse back and forth in front of you. You will continue to advance at a steady pace. You might need to walk slower than I might to start until you get your timing sorted out and your horse gets the idea of the exercise. This exercise puts emphasis on your horse’s front quarters. His hind will step over, but not quite as cleanly as they will when you are working on a full circle.
The half-circle exercise builds directly on how I had you starting your groundwork by first clearing out the front quarters to initiate your circle (EH #26). This is that same maneuver repeated over and over while you are advancing. By moving across the pen, you are giving yourself the angle that you need for the front quarters to repeatedly sweep across.
This will put quite a bit of pressure on your horses, because you are crowding them quite a bit to accomplish this exercise. With some horses, especially young ones, it can bring up some fear, but this is where I want to find out about that concern, before I get on. In addition to focusing on the front quarters, this exercise also teaches your horse a little leg yield. He has to move a little bit sideways as you advance to respect your space as he moves around you.
I will often do this exercise with my flag; in fact, I prefer to, because then my horse can get used to the flag at the same time. Granted, you have to be a little handier because you are switching directions so quickly. But once you feel more confident with your halter rope, you might challenge yourself to use the flag.
If you find your horse is going too far past you, getting behind you, it might be because you are not switching your hands on your rope early enough to change directions. Remember, your horse should be operating on a half-circle direclty in front of you.
Once you get this half-circle exercise working for you, your horse running over you will be a thing of the past. I’m not saying that learning this exercise will be easy. It will challenge your timing and coordination, but it is essential. It is something you really have to have working on the ground.
Remember, all these exercises we do on the ground are connected to what we do with our horses, and how they operate when we get on their back. All that is changing is the position from which you lead the dance.
1. Starting from my circle, I will walk a straight line and work my horse back and forth in front of me.
2. I switch hands early so that I can bring my horse's front quarters across before he goes too far.
3. I keep walking at a steady pace. Now he continues his half-circle around me.
4. Here I've switched hands early, and am getting ready to bring his front quarters across.
5. I use my rope to help drive his front quarters. Here he's getting ready to move his front quarters to his left.
6. Now he's come through and is starting his half-circle back the other direction.
7. I'll switch hands, knowing that I want to bring his front quarters through before he goes too far.
8. He'll have to make a big move here to move his hindquarters out of the way, then bring his front quarters.
9. The hind steps over, making room for the front quarters to come through.
10. My right hand drives by swinging the rope; my feet are still moving forward in my line.
11. His front quarters step through. Notice the distance he stays from me has stayed consistent.
12. Now he'll travel in a half-circle around me. I'm still focused straight ahead on my line.
13. I get ready to switch my hands on the rope before he goes too far past me.
14. His hindquarters didn't prepare as well this time, making it a little more difficult to bring the front.
15. But he makes it just fine. I'm still walking forward as he travels around me in a half-circle.
16. I've switched my hands. I'll get his hindquarters first, then ask for the front.
17. My right hand will drive the front across. My feet are still in motion.
18. He's maintaining his distance even as I ask for the front to come through.
19. Now I've reached the end of the arena. I could send him in a full circle and start back the other way.
his is the same thing I might do with my horse when I get on to ride. I can ride my half-circle exercise. Roll the hindquarters, bring the front, roll the hindquarters, bring the front. I can work my way down the pen just as I did on the ground. I'll just lead him through the dance from up here. When I teach these exercises, I break them up, the full circle, the half-circle. But actually when I'm working my horse, I'm doing both at the same time as needed. I might work a full circle, get the hind-quarters shaped up, then do a few half-circles, then come back to the full circle. I'll just adjust to what my horse needs.