From Pleasure to Western Riding

by Dana Hokana | March 22nd, 2012 1:47 PM | No Comments

Q. Dana, my older pleasure show mare is still going strong and I was wanting to try her more in all around events; particularly Western Riding. She has a tendency to get hot and worried and as I’ve started her on flying lead changes. It’s become something of a problem. She also changes up front first and will be a stride or two late behind. What sort of exercises can I use to fix this and how do I keep her from getting too upset while doing them?

Also I know you have some training DVDs. Which ones would you recommend with respect to this?


A. What you are describing is a very common problem as you introduce new events, especially one with a high level of difficulty like Western Riding.  Many horses will get a little hot or worried as they are learning lead changes.  I recommend that you do not get mad at her as she makes mistakes, and do your western riding training in shorter sessions.  Do changes for 20 or 30 minutes, then go back to something more relaxing.  If she gets really stressed about it, just slow it all down and remember to make most of her workout times less stressful and even enjoyable.  Also as you are asking for the lead changes, evaluate her responsiveness to your leg, as it sounds like she is getting worried about your leg cue.  She may also not be moving over off of your leg as well as you need her to, since she is changing late behind.  Also when you ask her to change make sure you have enough forward motion.  That will make it easier for her to make the changes.  As you develop more control of her hind quarters, the changes will become easier for her and she should stop changing front first.

A great exercise to help this problem, and make her more supple and willing with her hindquarters, is to ride her with two hands and walk or trot a straight line.  Look at a point ahead of you to help ensure that you are staying straight.  Draw one leg slightly back and ask her to move her hips over off of the leg while you are traveling in a straight line and do your best to keep her shoulders straight on the track.  After she gives and moves over, take your leg off of her and continue straight.  Your goal will be that she freely and willingly moves her hips over off of your leg and maintains a consistent forward motion and does not drop her shoulders or try to cut in or drift over.  She should be able to bend through the spine and isolate her hind quarters from her front end and continue fluidly moving forward.  If this is difficult, or she is stiff in some part of her body, you will be able to feel that she has a hard time with it.  She may get angry or frustrated, ringing her tail or just side-pass rather than keep her shoulders straight and just move her hips over.  She may also get very catchy in her rhythm.  I like to reward or release as soon as they try even a little bit and gradually they will improve.  Reverse your cues and ask her to move over off of the other leg and evaluate her on each side of her body.  On almost every horse that I ride I find that it is much easier for them to move one way than the other.  I will do this at the walk and the jog.  You will find that gradually she becomes more supple through her whole body.  This will even improve her jog, her lope, and her self carriage.

As far as a DVD for you, I would recommend Maximizing 1-3.  It covers a lot of body control exercises and helps you to learn to teach your horses collection and generally get your horses better broke.  Also watch for my new DVD to be released titled, “Life Beyond Western Pleasure” with Al Dunning.  I think it will be very useful to you!

Good luck to you and your horse!


About the Author

Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.

Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.

Now is your chance to have your questions answered by Dana! Just submit your question using the comment section below or the email link, and she will respond to select questions in future posts.

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