So, Loping is Hard
Sometimes you try to lope a circle but it’s more like kayaking a diamond.
By Blanche Schaefer; November 7, 2017
I never really thought about it too much before. I’d hop on my ‘ol trusty finished mare, lope off one-handed, extend, collect, frame up, rate down, never worry about her cutting me off, dropping a shoulder or floating away. Ah, the good life.
Behind every nicely broke, seasoned horse are the hours spent getting it to that point. And now here I am starting my first colt, and loping is actually super hard.
Winchester did lope around pretty good when his trainer showed him to me and when I tried him. I only loped a few circles to the left, but he did fine for a just-started 2-year-old. But I also vividly remember how he couldn’t even walk a circle to the right. He’d plant his right shoulder, get stiff as a board and kind of shuffle around in one spot.
He had about 30 days when I bought him the beginning of June and was still really, really green. I spent a week in the round pen walking circles and getting him moving forward and freely to the right.
I took Winchester to the arena to see where we were at with trotting and loping. He plunked around like a typical 2-year-old at the trot—not pretty, but he was doing his best and really trying to listen. I figured I’d ask him to lope and see what happened.
LOL that’s when my horse became a kayak. Those soft, perfect circles became stiff, rigid diamonds out of control around the arena. It was like riding a motorcycle going 80 mph around a curve. There was nothing round, soft or controlled about anything. He locked that shoulder, dropped and careened to the inside on a spiraling zig-zag of doom. Nope. Not ready to lope. Not even close.
Having never started a young horse before, I had plenty of self-doubt at this point. Like, holy cow, this is hard. This horse can’t do anything right now, and I am no Kassie Mowry. Am I going to be able to teach him? What if all I do is inadvertently train bad habits into him? Am I in over my head? Should I start looking for someone to send him to for another 30 days? Is his ever-promising future going to dead-end right here in my unqualified hands?
I told myself to calm down and think about this simply. What do you do when things go wrong? Go back to when they were right. So back to the round pen we went. I spent the next 30 days with Winchester doing nothing but walking and trotting. We worked on softness, moving off leg pressure, perfect circles with minimal guidance from my hands, traveling in a straight line, and getting him relaxed on a circle and staying between my hands and legs. If he wasn’t comfortable doing these things at a walk and trot, how could I expect him to be comfortable at a lope?
I spent lots of time studying other riders, reading Barrel Horse News articles and watching TrainingBarrelHorses.com videos on colt starting. Winchester really loves learning and doing things right, so he came on right away once he figured out how to use his body in response to my cues. He actually was very proud of himself, which was super cute. When I asked him to lope the next time, he just picked up and loped off quiet and soft as could be. I felt like I had done some Jolene Montgomery-level magic out there haha. And now, almost 90 days in, I can lope him around one-handed on a loose rein and keep him correct on a circle with my legs.
Like most colts, Winchester does revert back to his stiff kayak ways every once in a while. And that’s okay—I don’t expect him to be perfect. Except now when I correct him, instead of stiffening up and running off, he relaxes, processes what I’m asking and allows me to put him where I want him. I guess we have come a long way from the runaway motorcycle carving diamonds in the arena, and I’m pretty proud of that.
To get to know Winchester's background, check out my first blog post, Whoops, I Bought a 2-Year-Old.
Blanche Schaefer is associate editor of Barrel Horse News. She joined the team in August 2016 after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin with a public relations degree and a business minor. She found herself right at home in Fort Worth, Texas, at the BHN office, combining her love of horses, journalism, rodeo and barrel racing.
A Texas native, Blanche was raised on a ranch in the small town of Vanderpool until she moved to Austin for college. She grew up riding and competing in 4-H and youth rodeos with her two geldings, Amigo and Petey, and then local amateur and open pro rodeos throughout high school and college with her mare and current main mount, Angel Flipper (“Red Molly”). She also rode English for the Texas Equestrian Team in college, competing in equitation through the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and in the hunters on the local show circuit in Austin. She is now focusing on her first futurity prospect, 2015 gelding Dashaway Ta Fame (Firewater Ta Fame x Dashawayawinner x Runaway Winner), the topic of her "What Do We Do Now?" blog series.
Outside of horses, Blanche is an avid college football fan and music aficionado. She can usually be found at the barn, on the road to a barrel race or rodeo, out on the town seeing live Texas music or in the stands at DKR watching Longhorn football.
"What Do We Do Now?" is a blog series written by BHN's associate publisher Savannah Magoteaux, managing editor Kailey Sullins and associate editor Blanche Schaefer, where they discuss the struggles, joys, and rewards of training young barrel prospects as amateurs juggling full-time jobs, all from a real-life perspective. Read more at barrelhorsenews.com under the "Blogs" tab.
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