Horse Skills – Walking, Joging, Loping

Dude Ranch Horse Skills – Walking, Joging, Loping
Our horseback riding program is advertized as a NOT “nose-to-tail” program, but as a skills-based program. This is why so much of your video or interview focused on your teaching skills. You were chosen over other candidates because we believe you will be a strong teacher.

Our goal, our “product” is a safe and delighted guest. We talk about delight elsewhere. Here we talk about safe.

One of your biggest challenges here will be balancing these two. The safest program is riding nose-to-tail – this is also the most boring program.

How do you keep your students learning and growing their skill without undue risk? This outline is the key.

I cannot emphasise too strongly how important this outline is. I suggest that you print it, and cary it in your pocket your first few weeks here.

You must follow this outline, as we must all be consistent in our teaching.
Teaching at Sundance Trail is accomplished in a cycle of 7 steps:

1. Assess the student’s current knowledge (you do not want to teach the student something she already knows, nor do you want to teach him something he is not ready for). Ask the student: “What do you know about…”
2. Plan what you are going to accomplish and when you will stop
3. Teach the skill

      1. Explain what and how using words
      2. Demonstrate two or three times, repeating the words

4. Watch student’s return demonstration
5. Allow time for practice (Give the student time to master the skill – watch.)
6. Evaluate the student’s gain, provide correction & coaching
7. Select next skill and start over again.

Note (1): Do not be afraid to GENTLY confront the “bossy” parent or spouse. You might want to say something like: “When both of us are coaching at the same time, I think there’s too much information for Little Johnny. When I hear you teaching, I will back off, so we don’t confuse him.” Parents will often (but now always) decide to allow you to teach. If the parent chooses to teach their child, get out of their way.

Note(2): When you give a child a directive, NEVER end the directive with “OK?”. (“Please stop poking your brother in the eye with that stick, OK?”) If you are telling the child to do something, you do not need his/her opinion, discussion, permission or agreement. This ranch is not a democracy, it is a herd, and you are in charge. You can be polite and even gentle, but in charge. The child’s safety on horseback depends on their ability to follow your directives quickly. There is no time for explanations or discussion. This must be a habit developed on the ground, and for some children will be an entirely new way to relate to an adult..

Sunday Introduction- Ground skills
When guests arrive on Sunday afternoon (or Wednesday afternoon), the orientation tour should include a visit with horses, and the following items:

1. The “kick-zone”
2. Approaching the horse
1. Direct eye contact is confrontive
2. Running around the corral
3. Yelling & Screaming
4. Bicycles
3. Petting the horse – rub, don’t pound, neck, not face – away from the eyes
4. Walking the horse on lead rope – do NOT get your foot stepped on!
5. Being “in charge”
6. Tying the quick-release hitch

Basic Skills Level #1 – To be practiced on first ride Monday morning.
Mastering the basics is critical. The vast majority of injuries happen while walking.

1. Checking tack
2. Checking cinch
3. Mounting
4. Posture
1. Head
2. Back
3. Arms & Hands
4. Legs/Knees
5. Feet – Toes/Heels
5. Holding the reins & rein length
6. Four ways that we communicate with the horse:
1. Voice – speak loudly enough for the horse to be able to hear you – timid people must speak up!
2. Hands – reins are for communicating with the horse, NOT torturing he horse
3. Feet – gas pedal and for steering
4. Balance – the way you lean also tells the horse what you want
7. Try not to send mixed messages to your horse, pulling back on the reins and kicking the horse tells the horse what?
8. “Walk” or “click” sound
9. Direct rein left & right – HOLD LIKE A TEACUP – DO NOT JERK THE HORSE”S MOUTH
10. “Whoa” with “lean back”
11. Staying alert
12. Being “In Charge”
13. Why we ride in lines (racing/passing/erosion control, etc.)
14. Separating your horse from the group
15. Keeping the horse from eating
16. Leaning forward while climbing up-hill.
17. Leaning back, standing in stirrups climbing downhill, loose reins
18. NOT using the reins for balance
19. Maintaining proper distance between horses
20. Reading horse body language
21. What to do if you loose your reins
22. What to do if your horse begins to run:

1. Bump the horse to a walk and order “Walk”/lean back (“Whoa”/lean back means stop – not slow down). EASY ON MOUTH – LIKE HOLDING A TEACUP – DO NOT JERK THE HORSE”S MOUTH
2. Pull back on the reins and order “Walk” (Order means command, not scream in fear)
3. Pull back hard on the reins and order “Walk”
4. Turn the horse (Grab hold of horn or mane with one hand and pull other rein down and back.) Watch for trees and branches!
5. NEVER NEVER jump off horse! NEVER jump off horse! Never! NEVER!

23. Dismounting

Monday morning ride should look a bit like gymkanna – groups going around in circles, breaking into two groups around a tree, sending individual riders away from the group around a bush, working in the skills course, figure 8’s, Simon says, etc.

It takes less than an hour to cover the perimeter – this ride should take at least 90 minutes.

Basic Skills Level #2 –
May be introduced Monday morning after wrangler sees that group has demonstrated beginning competency in Basic Skills Level #1. More likely to be taught Monday afternoon:

1. Neck Reining right and left – DOES NOT INVOLVE THE HORSE’S MOUTH AT ALL
2. Turning the “runaway” horse
3. “Back”
4. Bumping down from fast walk to slower walk (“Slow Down”)
5. Learning to sit in the saddle:

1. Sitting feel left/right rocking
2. Standing in stirrups feel left/right rocking while holding horn
3. Standing in stirrups with hands on thighs
4. Sevens
5. Feet out of stirrups feel left/right rocking – note: the rider’s back should be “dis-engaged.” When you view the rider from behind, you should see the shoulders straight, and the lower back rocking left/right with the saddle (“loosey-goosey” or “hoola-hoop”)
6. Practice keeping feet out of stirrups for extended periods while riding away from barn, feet back in stirrups when riding back to barn.
7. Introduce the “stick game.”

All riders should be able to demonstrate these skills by the end of Monday afternoon’s ride. Tuesday morning ride should start with review and practice of each of the Level #1 and Level #2 skills listed above, by each rider.

Monday afternoon ride should be no less than 2 hours.

Remember when you enter the national Forest for the first time, you are expected to teach the Minimal Impact Ethic. (This is written in our agreement with the U. S. Forest Service – a contractual obligation.) See Wrangler Trail Stories.
Advanced Beginner – Sitting The Jog – May be introduced as early as Tuesday morning
Do NOT be afraid to tell the student he/she is not yet ready to jog! Students dislike the jog for an number of related reasons:

1. Bouncing in the saddle
2. The sensations of acceleration and speed.

Good balance requires a low center of gravity. “Bouncing” is the result of sitting ON the saddle instead of sitting IN the saddle. The rider’s center of gravity is too high, the rider is too stiff and the rider is often staying on the horse by standing in the stirrups. But the saddle and stirrups are rocking left/right while the rider is trying to stand straight. Bouncing and crashing…. Also, the sensation of acceleration and speed can be frightening. When a person is frightened, she or he stiffens up and stands up, resulting in a very high center of gravity. Our objective is for the student to learn how to both stand and sit the jog. We want the student to

1. relax
2. learn balance,
3. learn how to find and re-find the saddle movement

1. Learning to Relax

Learning to relax is largely a matter of hours in the saddle. At the same time, you should be watching for barriers to the student’s ability to relax – pain, too much information, less than ideal fit with horse’s personality, etc.

Remember, people are here to have fun.

2. Learning to balance

Standing the jog is useful only for very short distances and short periods of time. It is easy to stand the jog, and it also causes multiple stresses on ankles, knees and hips. A wrangler who stands the jog is called a “feedlot cowboy” for this reason.

But standing in the stirrups is a great exercise for learning balance. There are other exercises that we will review as a group.

3. Learning how to find and re-find the saddle movement

Sitting the jog takes practice and skill development. Our primary focus is working on sitting “in the saddle” in the jog.

When walking the saddle rocks left/right with the horse’s shoulder blades.

When jogging, the saddle ALSO rocks left/right with the horse’s shoulder blades. Do NOT focus on the “up-down” motion – focus on the “left-right” motion.


1. Review sitting in the saddle while walking
2. Have walking riders watch their saddlehorns
3. Have walking riders ride with their arms outstretched to the sides
4. Have walking riders walk with their feet out of the stirrups – the is the BEST exercise for learning saddle motion!
1. Review standing the walk
2. Have student stand in their stirrups holding onto saddlehorn for balance – NOT pulling on reins for balance!
3. When ready, student should be able to maintain balance without holding on
4. Practice walking “sevens” always landing on same cheek when returning to the sit.
5. Stand for 7 steps, sit for 7 steps

Controlling the jogging horse:

1. Lean forward just a little
2. Short kissing sound or the word “Trot” (or both) and squeeze with the calves.
3. Steer the horse!
4. If horse moves into a lope, don’t panic, just bump him back down o the trot with hands and the word cue “trot.” (Horses tend to move to the lope when they have new students crashing on their backs – it hurts the horse less.)

NEVER tell the horse to “Whoa”/lean back when trotting! Always tell the horse to “Walk”/lean back and “bump” him down for a smooth transition to the walk. When the horse has shifted to the walk, the student can then tell the horse to “Whoa”/lean back.

Teaching Tips

1. Keep trots short, watch each student carefully.
2. Learn when to coach and when to be quiet.
3. Practice, practice, practice
4. Continue to have students walk with feet out of stirrups.
5. If safe, consider having the student take feet out of stirrups when trotting – this will accelerate learning, but is VERY risky!

A critical issue when teaching the jog is where to teach the trot. The best areas give the instructor the most control:

1. Pathways that are wide enough for only one horse, forcing horses into single file.
2. Pathways that are straight
3. Pathways that are flat or up-hill. NEVER jog down hill.
4. Pathways that are relatively free of rocks and stumps and branches.

There are two approaches to the first time trot, the first approach has the instructor ride out a few hundred yards ahead of the group, and then has each student individually ride to join the instructor. The second approach has the instructor simply start the whole group (in line) trot a short portion of trail.

#1. The one-at-a-time approach. This is best if you have two teachers, one at each end.

1. Teacher rides out ahead, stops, turns around, and acts as the “finishing line” to stop oncoming horses. The second teacher stays in place with the group, acting as “anchor.”
2. After the teacher is in place, the first student is sent to join him/her. The first student should be on a horse that is less “buddy sour,” meaning that this horse is willing to leave the group without major arguments.
3. The student is coached by the two teachers, and stopped by the finishing line teacher. The student then moves behind the teacher, facing back to the starting line.
4. Each student is then sent, one at a time from the “anchor” teacher to the “finishing line” teacher.
5. The last student should be on horse that is less buddy sour, and more willing to wait with the anchor teacher’s horse.
6. When all students have reached the finishing line, the process repeats. The “finishing line” teacher is now the “anchor” teacher and she/he sends students, one at a time, to the “now-finishing line” teacher.
7. Repeat this as many times as desired, coaching and allowing practice.

It is possible for this approach to be used with only one teacher, if there is a proficient rider, who already knows the trot, who can act as anchor. This person MUST be able to hold his/her horse in place as other horses are leaving. It is STRONGLY preferred that two teachers be used.

#2. The group approach involves the teacher simply asking his horse into a jog in a stretch of pathway that assures that horses cannot pass each other. It is MUCH better to start the trot using the one-at-a-time approach above, which gives the teacher the ability to watch each student and control the group:

1. Always stop the group and ask if each person is ready to try the trot.
2. Start walking and when whole group is moving at a walk, move to trot
3. Keep trots to very short distances – 100 feet is sufficient.
4. Stop and ask students how they felt.
5. Repeat at every opportunity.

If not handled correctly, and carefully controlled, this class has the potential to become a stampede:

1. NEVER trot groups in open areas or meadows!
2. Remember that herd instincts and buddy sour horses following their friends – mob psychology
3. Watch for frisky horses wanting to lope
4. Watch for barn sour horses wanting to return home
5. Screaming students (fear or glee) can spook horses into a run
6. Mixed signals (eg. pulling reins and kicking) confuses horse with potentially unpredictable behaviors

Note: “Posting” the jog is an advanced skill, useful for extended distances. It is a shortened variation of “sevens.” Teaching posting is not within our scope.

Advanced Beginner – The lope or canter – Student may be ready on Wednesday

The lope is loved by many students, because it is less work to stay in the saddle (the “up-down” motion of the jog is now a “front-back” or hoola-hoop (Peewee Herman motion).

The lope is disliked by many because of the sensation of speed and loss of control. Many injuries from loping happen because the student panics and jumps off the horse.

Be very sure that the student is ready. If in doubt, do NOT teach this.

The approach is the same as described for the jog, except for the following:

Long “smootch” sound.

We NEVER lope down hill.

Buddy sour horses always follow a horse who is running – it is a protective instinct.

Once loping, many horses LOVE to race, and the transition for lope to gallop can be very quick.

Keep your horse “collected.” That is, keep his head in an upright position, do NOT allow horse to stretch out his head to gallop.

We always move from stop to walk to trot to lope. And back down in steps.

Introducing Proficient Riders to the Gallop

The gallop is exhilarating and DANGEROUS!

Do NOT attempt this without reviewing your evaluation of the student’s skill with the barn boss. Do not hesitate to exclude students who are not ready. Do not hesitate if horses are being difficult (eg. change in weather, mare in heat, injuries, any evidence of illness, etc.).

The primary issue here is control. As the exhilaration increases, the horses become more difficult to control.

Just like humans, horses do not run “all out” for long periods of time – they get tired, then exhausted, then injured.

Check that all feet are in stirrups correctly.

Prepare for – AND PREVENT flying hats!

Always ride last! You need to SEE your riders!

There is only one place that we gallop/race – that is Boy Scout Canyon. Also, that is the ONLY thing we do there, do NOT go to Boy Scout Canyon and expect the horses to walk!

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