By Kalley Krickeberg
If you’re looking for an exercise that will help you develop a better, more athletic seat, reveal the partnership between you and your Paint Horse and develop a better connection with your mount, look no further. A simple cone-and-barrel exercise, when done correctly, checks all of these boxes. It will help create a correct body position in the rider; it’s easy enough that almost anyone can do it, even with limited resources; it’s an exercise that has varying degrees of difficulty to encourage improvement; plus, it keeps the rider’s attention and the horse’s mind engaged. All you need are some tall cones and a few barrels.
I learned how to stay out of a horse’s way while remaining athletic in the saddle very early in life—it was a function of growing up playing polo and starting colts and working cattle on our family ranch. Saying athletic in the saddle is about helping your horse weight his hindquarters through your posture, keeping your shoulders slightly behind your hips with your heels down, maintaining a deep but soft seat, and staying balanced in the center of your horse. I think this gave me a distinct advantage in training horses because I learned about things that were absolute, true to nature and not based on someone’s theory or personal spin on a subject the worse you are as a rider—using your stirrups and the horse’s mouth to balance, leaning one way or the other, bouncing, or being in front of or behind the horse’s motion, for instance—the more you get in a horse’s way and the sooner he wears out, physically and mentally. My goal was to always save my horse longer than everyone else on the polo field or out doing ranch work; I wanted to still have enough horse left to be the “hero” when a lot of effort was needed to make a hard, strategic move or to finish the day’s work. I wanted my horses to come through when everyone else had exhausted their mounts’ strength and stamina. I always tried to find the easiest ways of doing the job at hand, so it wore less on my horses physically. A lot of this came from my observation of others and through simple trial and error.
I like the cone-and-barrel exercise because it’s simple enough that most everyone can do it on any budget. You don’t need a cattle ranch, dressage or reining lessons or an expensive string of polo ponies; all you need is a couple of barrels and cones. I also like this exercise because you can adjust it from very basic to advanced, which will help prepare you for more difficult maneuvers. It’s also an externally focused exercise, so it gets you and your horse’s focus off each other and on a mutual objective.
To keep this exercise progressive, I encourage my students to always have an ultimate goal in mind. Think about what takes place when a reining horse spins he pivots on the inside hind foot at a very high rate of speed or when a dressage horse does a perfect canter pirouette—his inside hind travels in a circle approximately the size of a large dinner plate. So asking a horse to travel around a barrel correctly at a walk, trot and canter is well within his physical capabilities—start these good habits now! Conceptually, the physical dynamics fall somewhere between those of a Spanish garrocha pole maneuver, a barrel-horse turn, a canter pirouette, a reining spin and “turning on the ball” when playing polo—these are all similar physical positions for a horse that require loading the haunches with the inside hind foot traveling the shortest distance.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2018 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.