Top Ten Western Riding Tips with Kendra and Blake Weis

February 8th, 2018 12:24 PM | No Comments

by Melinda Davison

6C6A8551 smallerIt’s no wonder Western Riding has increased in popularity over the years.  Not only has the talent level increased but so have the class numbers.  The flowing stride and rhythmic precision of lead changes can captivate onlookers and riders alike.  

Attaining that high level of talent doesn’t come without hard work, training, and practice.  We chatted with AQHA trainer and judge Kendra Weis to get the scoop on some of the training tips she and her son, World Champion trainer Blake Weis, use to see success in the show ring.

Choose the right prospect.

When searching for a western riding prospect, Kendra looks for a horse that has a lot of self-carriage and rhythm, and doesn’t lope “down hill.”  She also likes to see how they handle being pushed out at a lope to the more forward-moving pace of western riding.  

“Some western pleasure horses have grown so accustomed to the slower pace of the rail class, they have a difficult time loping at the pace of a western riding class,” she explains.

Soundness of mind is also extremely important when she and Blake are looking at western riding prospects.  Trainability and willingness to please are crucial characteristics for a successful western riding horse.  

“I also look for good conformation.  If horses are balanced conformationally, then they’ll probably be good movers.  I also look for straightness of leg.  Sometimes, if they toe-in, they’ll ‘paddle’ funny and make their lead changes funny.”

Remember lots of laterals.

The Weis’ training program for western riders involves a lot of lateral exercises.

“We do a lot of lateral movements to help them move off of our legs.  I want to make sure I can move each part of their body separately, before asking them to move them all together,” Kendra says.

Practice an endless line.

A common problem area for seasoned western riding horses is rushing a line or anticipating lead changes.  Kendra’s solution is to practice “endless lines.” She suggests setting up about 15 cones and doing various maneuvers through them, including sidepasses, leg yielding, trotting, and loping, while occasionally throwing in a lead change.  This keeps your horse constantly wondering where the line ends, therefore, preventing him from rushing or anticipating the line.

“If they start to rush or anticipate, we don’t scold them,” explains Kendra.  “We’ll just stop and stand quietly, or we might stop and turn them and go a different way, or just break to a walk.”

Don’t forget about the log.

Kendra says the log is a commonly overlooked element of the western riding pattern that people don’t practice as they should.  A botched log can break an otherwise beautiful pattern.  Make sure you know your horse can can jog and lope over the log at a consistent, even pace.  

“As a judge, I’ve seen a lot of horses get knocked down in scoring because they broke gait over the pole or ticked it.  The log is something that has to be practiced on a regular basis and not just seen in the show ring.”

Train in the ring if you have to, but do so humanely.

According to Kendra, a lot of western riding training takes place in the show ring.  As a judge, schooling in the ring doesn’t bother her, as long as it’s done humanely.  If a rider knows they’re going to train in the pen, she suggests coming in with both hands on the reins, which tells the judge you’re schooling, and then go about your business.

6C6A8607 smallerDon’t lean on me.

Bad habits are easily picked up in the western riding class, and one of the most common ones she sees is dropping the shoulder in the corners of the serpentines.  So much emphasis is put on the straight line of cones and the changes in the center of the serpentine, that many novice riders can become sloppy in the turns.  This can cause the rider to drop their shoulder, which drops the horse’s shoulder as well.  Kendra suggests riders try loping straight to the rail, stopping, doing a 180 degree turn, and loping straight back and not even making a turn.  Another exercise she and Blake do with their horses is to practice the “soft square” instead of corners.  Instead of visualizing it as a corner, Kendra advises her riders to think of it as a soft square which helps keep the shoulders lifted and the horse balanced going into the next lead change.

Watch them measure the pattern.

Watch the show crew set up the pattern and watch them measure the distance between the cones.  Then, you can figure out how many strides your horse will need to take before he hits the center of the cones for the lead change.  If possible, watch a go or two before yours to get a feel for the spacing of the pattern, but don’t rely on that in case you’re the first draw.

“Blake and I have two different methods for counting strides,” she says.  “But the most important thing is that you count the strides.  He counts the strides from lead change to lead change, while I count from the cone to the change spot.  As a judge, you’re watching that rhythm and you can easily tell when a rider misses the spot.”

Missing the spot usually occurs as a result of missing the count, which shuts down the horse’s rhythm. This is a half point deduction.

If you don’t practice at home, don’t show In the class.

While this may come as common sense to many people, western riding is not a class that can be learned at the show for either the horse or rider.  According to Kendra, if you don’t practice western riding at home, don’t show in the class.  

“It’s unbelievable how quickly bad habits are picked up by horses and riders in this class,” she explains.  “You HAVE to do your homework for the class long before you enter the show ring.  You have to school at home.  If you’re having trouble, get some help.  If you’re doing it on your own, call a trainer and see if you can come over for a lesson.”

Know the rulebook.

No matter what breed you show, make sure you study your rulebook.  Know the ins and outs of the rules for the class.  

“You need to know what we’re looking at, as judges.  It’s all about showing to us.  You need to know how to get pluses and where your penalty spots are.  I can’t stress that enough.  I still grab my rulebook from time to time, both when I’m judging and when I’m showing.”

Relax!

It’s easy for riders, particularly novices, to get frazzled in the warm-up pen.  Use this time to go through your practice exercises, not to drill your lead changes.  If you’ve done your homework, your horse knows his changes.  Kendra says it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the warm-up pen and begin rushing your lines.  Take a deep breath, and focus on you and your horse.

About Kendra Weis
Kendra has over 25 years of experience in the horse industry.  She holds judges cards in AQHA, APHA, and NSBA and has judged events such as the AQHA, APHA, and NSBA World Shows, the European Paint Horse Championships, and the All American Quarter Horse Congress.  She specializes in All Around, Amateur, and Youth riders.

About Blake Weis
Blake wrapped up a successful youth career with numerous accolades including a Congress Championship and NSBA World Championship.  In his professional career, he has added numerous AQHA World Championship, Congress Championships, and most recently co-piloted Snap Krackle Pop to the 2015 and 2016 AQHA Superhorse titles. in 2017 Blake won his third consecutive AQHA World Championship in Junior Trail and was also the World Champion in Jr Western Riding.

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