Question: What is the biggest key to keeping a head horse leaving flat and fluid?
— TJ Jones, Weatherford, Texas
Answer: The biggest thing that gets overlooked is the work that goes into the box before you ever chase cattle out of it. The horse needs to know how to move fluidly in the box before you ever try to work on them during a run, because when you try to teach that with cattle, the intensity is always too high and the horse never learns as well. But, if he has all those buttons put in him before that time comes, it’s second nature. He still understands what you’re asking him even though there’s pressure.
Before I ever run after cattle, I want to teach my horse to sit in the corner. If you can’t sit in the corner and hold him still in the corner, then you never can expect him to leave flat. I’m starting one right now, and it’s taken two to three days without roping anything out of the box for him to be comfortable moving up and back. Today, I put cattle in the chute and worked on holding him without him wanting to squat. I want him to be comfortable with me holding pressure on the bridle reins. Until he is, he’ll never leave off the bridle reins.
[READ MORE: Adding Intensity with Trevor Brazile]
What I mean by comfortable with me holding on pressure on the bridle reins is that I don’t want my horses trying to wad one way or another, or let their shoulders fall out of line. I want them to just be able to take the pressure of the reins and keep their shoulders and hips standing up, and just really waiting for that cue. It takes repetition without their being cattle in there. I will hold them and, as I release, I’ll ask them to go. Pretty soon, they learn that release means go. That’s the biggest thing—people don’t do enough preparation in the box before they start roping cattle. People just start roping and wait until a problem rears its ugly head before they actually start to work on things.
[READ MORE: Horse Care with Trevor Brazile]
For a horse to leave flat, he’s taking the bit down with him when he leaves. As I release, he goes. It’s a real clear signal that that’s a forward motion. A lot of people set their horses in the corner on a loose rein, and they kind of catch them in mid-air. They have to kick, and it tends to cause the horse to elevate. If a horse is in the corner and letting you hold pressure on the reins, and is comfortable with that pressure, as you release, you can walk him out. You can judge how fast he leaves by how much you release at once. If I put the reins straight down to slack, he should be going full speed. If I just release a little, he should be able to walk straight out of the corner. In reining or cutting or the cow horse, they want to keep a horse really backed off the bridle, but to have a great rope horse, there’s a fine line to where you have one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake at all times. Without fail, you’ll have to back your horse off the bridle a little bit because they can get pushy, but that’s just because it’s such a fine line to have one that’s unafraid to get into the bit but won’t push through it.
Trevor wants to answer your questions about roping & horsemanship. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to have your questions featured in a future issue of The Team Roping Journal.