I like to start the day off in a snaffle at the house and even sometimes when I’m rodeoing if I can, doing a lot of circles and serpentines to knock the edge off my horses without putting the miles on them. I can do this to get them soft in the mouth without breaking their spirit. It lets them get really docile, soft and easy to move around, and it knocks some fresh off them. It lets me use my legs and pull them around so, in the run, they’re soft and responsive and not pushing against me. I take 5 to 10 minutes on each horse—they start off the day like they’ve been on the walker for hours. It does the work for me.
1) Introducing Circles
When I first get a new horse in, sometimes they aren’t really broke, and some horses it takes a while to get them to flex into a circle. I try to get them to flex at a standstill first if possible. But I know I can’t get it all done in one day. I can get it done over time, and I stick with a twisted o-ring snaffle to have direct pressure to maintain softness.
2) From the Start
Sometimes I have horses that want to run off as soon as I swing a leg over them, but if I can get on and flex them right away, they just don’t free roll and learn to listen to me. The circles will get better the more I do them. I can’t expect a horse to be perfect at first—but the more I do it, the more they get softened up and the better they do. I have to remind myself to be soft. A horse that hasn’t done it much won’t do it perfectly.
When I do circles, I want to be able to pull the split reins to my hip to the right or left. When the horse gives, I give back, but I want them to continue to move in the way I’m going. I pick up to my hip, give right back, and keep going in that same direction two to three circles. I want to keep my hands low and pull up the seam of my jeans to my hip. When I pull again, I want them to give to the pressure and release on the pressure. Ideally, the opposite hand is relaxed, on the horse’s neck with slack on the rein.
Left rein, left leg, right rein, right leg. If they’re not making a perfect circle, I’ll use outside leg to round the circle. I roll my spur up their side gently and, if I need to do more, I will. If I can lightly roll that leg up their belly, that’s the cue to pick up their shoulder and rib cage and do a nice, rounded circle—like a tight barrel turn.
Start off at a walk, then do a trot and then gradually go from there. I don’t usually do it at a lope—just walk and trot and adjust the speed. If you do it every day, you can just keep cutting a minute off the time you spend working on it. They get docile and mellow pretty quickly in this process. Even on my good horses, if they’re getting fresh, I do circles on them and they come right back down.