Question: Trevor, do horses naturally leave the box flat and there’s something we do wrong that causes them not to?
— Chuck Jowett
I talked a lot about getting a horse to leave flat in my November 2019 column, and the key there is comfort in the corner. It’s so important to have your horse in a bit he’s comfortable in, leaving off your hand in the corner. Check that article out at teamropingjournal.com.
But another big part of keeping your horse flat is your horsemanship and your riding ability leaving the box. I’ve talked a lot about asking your horse to stay in your hand and leaving off of your hand, but at the same time, you cannot ask him to balance you across the line and stay flat with you hanging on his face.
The first thing you can do in the corner, and it’s taught a lot, is to get to the front of your saddle when you nod. When you get rocked to the back of the saddle, you usually take your bridle reins with you.
Getting to the front of your saddle on your horse’s first big move, though, doesn’t mean nodding with your body to the front or even the middle of your saddle. If you’re at the front of the saddle before you nod, you’ll be thrown back when your horse takes off, pulling any slack out of your reins and even causing your horse to elevate. You can’t be snatching your horse across the line because you’re off balance and expect him to leave flat—I don’t care who you are. But if you’re sitting deep in your cantle, with your chin down so your core is engaged, you’re more likely to be able to get to the front and ride your horse stride-for-stride out of the box. That will keep you from pulling on his face across the line and allow you to guide him between the bridle reins instead.
A lot of riding out of the box has to do with core strength. I do think that if you’re not in the saddle daily, riding and roping, you need to be doing stuff to keep you stable in the saddle. You might not be a fan of a core workout, but they can really help your riding.
Something else to keep in mind about riding out of the box: holding the horn. I almost always have my right pinky and ring finger on or close to the horn. That helps me to get the most out of my horse across the line. I cock my rope at 20% of the places that I go, when it’s called for. I think I get less out of my horse when I’m cocking it across the line than I do if I keep my shoulders square and really concentrate on scoring and my horse leaving sharp.