How To Crack a Whip

Have a hankering to whip-break your horse? Here are a few tips from professional cowboy, Sam Morrison for desensitizing your mount properly.

By Jenn Webster



1) Start this process from the ground. It works best with a halter and lead shank, but as you can see in these pictures I am demonstrating the technique with a horse that has approximately three days of experience with a whip already. It can be done with or without a saddle. I start by gently swinging my whip one of two swings at first over the horse’s withers, without any sound. I continue repeating this process until the horse is calm and standing still and tolerating the touch of the whip laying over him. As the horse becomes better with it, I swing the whip over the wither three to four times.

If at any point the horse decides to leave, that’s okay. He may have to move his feet to help him become more accepting of the whip. Holding tight to my inside rein or lead rope, I simply allow the horse to move in circles around me and I start swinging the whip in a gradual motion in front of the horse’s front feet. I never touch his front legs with it, nor do I try and scare him with the whip. I simply want to use it to discourage any more forward motion. Then I can go back to swinging it over the withers. In the meantime, it gives him some experience with the sensation of a rope (or a whip) near his lower legs.


2) Once the horse is quiet with the whip going over his withers three or four times in a row, I progress to constant swinging. I will finally add one crack of sound in and let the horse process what just happened. In doing so, however, I must ensure that I start out with a soft “pop” as opposed to a full-on crack of the whip and that the sound is always directed away from the horse’s face or ears.


3) When the horse can consistently handle step #2, it’s time to work the whip down the horse’s body. Standing on the same side as I began, I gently begin throwing my whip over the horse’s back, just the same as I did at the wither. Once he can handle that, I advance to his hind end- gently throwing my whip around his hind legs and so on. I will do this repeatably in each spot and get the horse desensitized to the whip being tangled on, or around each part of the body until he is no longer afraid of it. If at any point the horse shows that he is uncomfortable, it’s best to keep going at it but retract back to a point on the body where the horse is comfortable with the whip being laid over. For instance, many times the wither is a great point at which to revert back. My advice is not to progress forward to the next point on the horse’s body until he is consistently relaxed with the last phase.


4) After the horse can accept the whip being gently laid over each part of his body, it’s time to move forward and begin introducing the sound of the whip to the horse. Up until this point, I’ve only begun to acquaint the horse to soft “pops,” but as we all know the sound of a whip is much more piercing. Once soft pops are tolerated, I can begin making my whip sound much louder. I’ll start with one loud crack and then two loud cracks in a row, taking note to ensure my horse is comfortable with everything before I progress further. Once I’ve gotten all of these aspects really solid on the ground, even if it’s my horse’s first day with the whip, I could get on his back and slowly start swinging and cracking my whip around. By the next day, I would start on the ground again, before progressing to the horse’s back. The key is to work on everything at least three days in a row- three days ensures you get the information locked into your horse. After that, you should be able to work on cracking your whip loudly right off the at without any problem if you have properly worked to build confidence in your horse when introducing the whip into his training regime. Any shorter than three days, however, may not be enough to properly ingrain whip-brokenness into your horse.


Sam Morrison has years of experience in feedlot situations, using a whip to ease the task of moving cattle. He has studied the art of whip-ology from Australian master whip maker, William Gough. Gough, now residing in Saskatchewan, has 41 accumulating years of whip handling and was the Australian Whip Cracking Champion for five consecutive years.

Smart Showmanship

NRHA Professional Jordan Larson gives insight and tips on how to prepare your horse for the “big day” and how to show smart.

By Deanna Beckley

Larson believes the key to success in the show pen is preparedness in your home arena.

Larson believes the key to success in the show pen is preparedness in your home arena.

Becoming a good showman is an art that takes time, practice experience and feel, with a dose of confidence and a little “natural talent”. When you watch someone have a good run, it looks effortless and smooth – the movements flow into one another for a seamless performance.

That’s exactly how it looks when reining horse trainer Jordan Larson rides into the pen. Larson has worked and shown his way to many championships, and has earned the title of NRHA Millon Dollar Rider – the youngest among his peers. He has become known as one of the industry’s greatest showman – showing his horses to the best of their show ability and sometimes even beyond.

Home Preparation

Good showmanship and having good runs starts long before you ever enter the pen. The quality of preparation at home will be a factor in how well your horse shows. Larson practices each maneuver how he expects his horse to perform in the pen so they are comfortable with the pressure of the show pen.

“Practice the maneuvers like you expect them to show, but not every day,” explains Larson. “I do a lot of work at plus half speed in order to build their confidence and keep them relaxed. It is much easier to as a horse for a little more everyday then it is to have to back off if they become scared. Focus on the correctness of the maneuver and mental confidence before adding speed.”

“I try to realistically know my limits. I teach a horse how I want it to show by going to small shows and not asking him for his life every time. I make a game plan for each horse and how it need to be prepared.”

No matter what arena you are competing in, showing horses take a great deal of concentration and preparedness.

“I think about showing everyday while I am riding,” says Larson. “By the time a show rolls around, it should be second nature for all of the preparation that took place at home.”

Show Time

The level of competition today makes the reining discipline very challenging. Riders are expected to do things very quickly and crisp, while maintaining absolute control.

Larson builds up to showing by first visualizing each part of the pattern he is about to run. “Know your weaknesses and strengths and try to never take anything for granted,” explains Larson. “A great leaded horse doesn’t always change leads. It is your job to make sure your horse is in the correct position to be successful.”

Patterns that flow freely are those that are ridden every step of the way – not just from movement to movement. It’s all in the details.

“I have an idea of what position I need my horse to be in for each part of the pattern. I am more concerned with the little things like lead departures, approaches to stops, waiting to rollback, starting the turn-arounds, steering and setting up my horse for lead changes. If your horse is broke, the big maneuvers will take care of themselves. Take each maneuver and make it the best it can be for each horse.”

When it comes to showing, Larson puts emphasis on being in a positive mind frame. “Try not to react to a maneuver while showing, instead prepare for the next one. You will lose focus if you are thinking about what you just did, good or bad. Let the judges judge you; your job is to show your horse in the most effective manner possible.

“Stay relaxed and focused. I am very critical of myself, but I use that to drive me to get better. We have to learn from our mistakes and move forward. I have missed so many finals by half a point, but I let that inspire me to keep learning and use it as an incentive to get better. Trusting your horse is the key to a great run – you must have faith in your horse to be successful. Do you best and trust what you have worked for.”

Jordan Larson’s top 9 tips for showing horses.

1) Know your pattern.

2) It’s the little things that count. For example, a great stop is nothing without a great rundown, rollback or back-up.

3) Understand what the judges are looking for.

4) Don’t overlook pattern placement.

5) Don’t be scared to learn from other trainers.

6) Watch your videos and be optimistically critical of yourself.

7) Preparation is important.

8) Horsemanship. Learn to recognize lameness, sickness, scratches, etcetera.

9) Don’t be afraid of failure.

The Buckaroo Saga


Welcome to our new column on vaquero lore. In the future we’ll examine the impressive and functional gear and trappings of the vaquero and buckaroo, but first, a history lesson. The word “vaquero” conjures all sorts of images in one’s mind. But who were these skilled ropers and handlers of livestock?

By the 1760’s the trail of Spanish Missions on the El Camino Real was being established. That era heralded the booming livestock industry in California. With the establishment of trade based on hides and tallow to be shipped out of California the need arose for round-ups and the large scale tending to herds. The men tasked with this were the vaqueros. Originally, native Indians and the Spanish were of this class but with intermarriage came not only the Anglo influence but also from them, a new desire to learn the ways of the vaquero. The word vaquero was mutated to the English pronunciation of buckaroo, which many consider to be one and the same.

In later years, these cowboys were noted for riding saddles reminiscent of what we call the 3B or Visalia-style stock saddle. This contradicts the belief that the Wade saddle was part of their gear. (The Wade was popularized, although not created, by Ray Hunt at a much later date). Their ropes, fashioned of braided rawhide, were called La Reata, which the Anglos bastardized to the English word, lariat. The vaqueros were adept at swinging a big loop to rope cattle and dallying for leverage on their saddle horns. Even the word dally comes from the Spanish, dar la vuelta, which loosely translates to taking a turn. Horses were ridden using a braided rawhide bosal to establish communication through signal, coupled with a hand-twisted horsehair rein and lead called a mecate, now often called a McCarty.


The training progression was to next take the horse into two-rein, meaning using a thinner under-bridle bosal and a spade bit or half-breed, which resembles a spade without a spoon on the mouthpiece staple. This was a transition stage. The final stage was referred to as straight up in bridle in which the horse was ridden solely in a bridle bit with a set of braided rawhide romal reins. As the bits had mouthpieces that were of great height the key, from the hackamore stage to the straight-up stage, was to use headgear predominantly as signal devices, not for leverage unlike many bits in other systems. The snaffle became an addition to the program for many in later years to speed up the progress of the training, but originally the method was all about time — time to develop finesse and exactness in both rider and horse.

Their gear was handmade by the very men that rode and roped daily. So, it needed to be fashioned of readily available material – rawhide, leather and simple iron for the bits. Today’s master gear makers take many of their cues from the older masters – Ortega, Mardueno, Visalia, Tapia and others. The cheeks pieces on today’s bits still remain very close to the original designs in the form of Santa Barbra, Santa Susanna and Las Cruces, along with other designs


So the next time you see a rider with a flat hat, big loop and rawhide and silver adorning their gear, realize you are not seeing a new trend but homage to an old tradition brought forward to present day.

Clearwater’s Postscripts



2013 was a whirlwind of a season for this year’s Futurity Road trainer Dale Clearwater and the team at Justaboutaranch, based out of Hanley, Saskatchewan. In the beginning of the WHR series, Clearwater aimed to have three promising 3-year-old prospects ready for the snaffle bit competitions in the fall. But in mid season the Clearwater team faced a frightening EHV-1 scare at their ranch, which unfortunately sidelined one of his team members from competing. However despite adversity, two of Clearwater’s horses came out on top of the futurity world this season, ultimately making it for one heck of a year for this cow horse outfit.

“Because of circumstances out of our control we were not able to haul our horses and expose them to different surroundings this summer. This was challenging, as I felt the horses were trained, but had to spend a lot more time at the shows just riding them around, letting them settle and get used to their surroundings. They never did totally settle at the shows and I realized that this is an important step to preparing a show horse. I always knew that it was beneficial, but never realized just how important those early outings are for these young horses.”

For next season, this horseman already sees reasons to adapt new techniques into his training program. After all, the best teachers never stop learning.

“As I have said before, I am a firm believer that you never stop learning and have to be willing to try different things. By doing so, I think we better ourselves and in turn can better train these horses. For my 2-year-olds, I feel like I need to brush up on my reined work more for next year. I want them to be a bit more solid. Faster circles, cleaner turn arounds and harder, more freed up stops. I think I can achieve this by getting them out into bigger pens and letting them learn that they can run somewhere and not be afraid after a certain point.”

From their first showing at the Alberta Snaffle Bit Futurity in July, to the Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association (IRCHA) Futurity in October, these horses progressed immensely. In the end it is evident from the scoreboard results, that Clearwater’s futurity duo truly have the capabilities to dominate the show ring competition.

Photo by Barb Glazer

Photo by Barbara Glazer

Ranaldo Pablo, “Rene: 
At the Alberta Snaffle Bit Futurity, in Claresholm, August 30th to September 1st, Clearwater’s futurity horse Rene, made some unfortunate moves and didn’t finish close to winning any money. However, in September the little powerhouse made a giant steps forward in training. At the Saskatchewan Reined Cow Horse (SRCHA) Futurity, he came in reserve place (under Lydia). But the big score was at the Canadian Supreme in Red Deer, where the bay colt rocked the competition and placed first in the aggregate.

What made the difference for this horse? After Claresholm, Clearwater said he came home and really worked hard on his reined work, practicing lead changes and increasing speed in his circles.

“In the herd work, I tried to liven him up and be more alert on a cow as he can tend to be a bit lazy. After Claresholm, I showed him in the SRCHA Futurity in Saskatoon. He was much better, and continued to mature as a show horse and by Red Deer he was dialed in. I think that extra show under his belt really helped him, just figuring out the game and what I was asking of him.”

Sometimes it isn’t always the horses’ fault. For Rene, Clearwater said he has some plain old bad luck at his first show.

“He lost a cow in the herd work, but I don’t totally blame him. He was trying and the cow just pushed over him. So that alone set us behind. In the reined work, he just felt like he was really unsure about everything, like he was thinking more about being in the pen by himself that he was doing the pattern. For the fence work, he went by a little bit and didn’t feel like he was totally in tune with his cow. He felt a little lost all around.

“By Saskatoon I was able to get him into the pen before the show and I think that really helped as he was much more in tune with what was going on and paid more attention to me. He ended up reserve behind Lydia there. Once Red Deer came along, he was very alert and read his cow so much better for both the herd work and fence work. In the rein work, I had time to school him in the reining pen a couple times and he felt like he was totally with me and trying to please me.”

Looking back, hindsight is always 20/20. In a perfect world, Clearwater said he would have liked to have been able to start Rene a bit earlier.

“I firmly believe that shorter consistent works make these young horses more solid in the long run. Ultimately, you deal with what you are given and after a not so successful show, you can’t dwell on in. You have to regroup and come back that much stronger the next time.”

Clearwater sums it up. “He does not shine in one area where he is going to ring the bell on the score board, but staying consistent in all three areas paid off for him in Red Deer.”

Dale Clearwater

Photo by Barbara Glazer

Chics Money Talks, “Lydia”:

Lydia has proven herself this season, as a little horse that could! By the end of October, this filly had claimed a win in Saskatchewan and two substantial reserve titles; in Claresholm and in Idaho. With a little more experience under her wings, Lydia has gone from being a promising filly, to becoming a fierce contender in the cow horse arena.

“As with Rene, the Saskatoon show and hauling a few times between Claresholm and Red Deer really helped Lydia. She is the one that needed the miles more than any of the other horses this year and she notices everything around her. In Saskatoon, she spent some more time in the arena and I think this helped her big time for Red Deer. She was still very “looky” in Red Deer but not as scared.”

What made it all come together? Clearwater explains that in Claresholm, the young mare was really good in the herd work but very ‘looky’ in the rein work.

“Despite that, we managed to hold a run together, and down the fence she just ran like the wind. In Saskatoon, I just worked at getting her shown and relaxed about being in the show pen. She had a good show, winning the futurity class. Then in Red Deer, she started strong, winning the herd work. She had a few little bobbles in the rein work, as can happen with young horses. This cost me when the scores were handed out. Then in the fence work she tripped going into her second turn because of ground conditions and fell right down in her third turn. There is nothing I hold against her for that. She was trying her guts out. Even after tripping, she still nailed her second turn and was in position for the third turn, there was just nothing there to hold her. We watched the video and you can see her scrambling but there was nothing there to give her footing. We were quite disappointed as I think she would have made money had she not fallen down.”

Looking back, Clearwater said Lydia has really good qualities in her reined work, but he would have liked to have seen more consistency in the whole package.

“Because she is such a looky horse, I felt that she was working each of the elements really good but I couldn’t get the whole run put together. More exposure beforehand would have given her more confidence in her surroundings, allowing her to think more about her job and less about what was happening around her.”

Clearwater felt that her herd work always seemed to shine, as she is so quick footed and alert on a cow.

“I think given time she is going to also be really solid all around. If I can get her reined work tweaked up, she is going to be a tough competitor.”

Dale Clearwater

Photo by Barbara Glazer

Northern Kit Kat, “Felix”: 

It was a bad run this season for this futurity competitor. He contracted the EHV-1 virus during the summer and was unable to compete during his futurity year.

Prior to being infected, Clearwater said Felix was right on track to show this fall as a top futurity horse. However, there is always next season.

“He was started early and was on our consistency program and I think that he will pick up where we left off quite easily as long as his body will allow him to do so. I am hopeful that he will be out next year. He is continuing to get stronger. You can still see a bit of weakness when he is running around the field, but he is much better than where we were sitting July 1st. So as long as he continues to make progress we will begin to prepare him.”

At this point, Clearwater said Felix’s health is good and that the young horse is getting stronger.

“He has put weight back on and his coat is shining like a healthy horse should. I plan to begin to start riding him lightly after returning home from Idaho (Idaho Reined Cow Horse Futurity). This will be more rehabilitative than training though. I feel he will benefit from being asked to place his feet and use his body. We will begin with short rides and hopefully help his muscles strengthen and help his overall coronation. This will give us an even better idea when and if we can start training. I don’t want to ask too much too soon though, as we don’t want him to injure himself. So slow and steady will be his program for a while.”

Buck Brannaman in the Foothills

Buck Brannaman. Photo by Billie-Jean Duff.

Thanks to Billie-Jean Duff for contributing both the photos and text for this post about the recent Buck Brannaman clinic held near High River, Alberta. See more of Billie-Jean’s work at Roughstock Studio. 

With regular frequency, I pop into the local video store to rent a copy of The Horse Whisperer, starring Robert Redford and Scarlett Johansen.The awe inspiring scenery illustrated throughout film, along with beautiful feats of horsemanship moves me to tears every time I curl up to watch it. As many of you know, Buck Brannaman played a significant role in the production of the movie, both behind the scenes, in addition to being Redford’s stunt double. The horse whisperer extraordinaire himself was in southern Alberta recently.

Held at the High River Agriculture Society’s rodeo grounds, located on the outskirts of High River, Buck Brannaman hosted a Horsemanship 1&2 clinic. Two groups of riders, 25 riders in each class over three days took part in the clinic, with Horsemanship 1 receiving instruction during the morning and Horsemanship 2 filling the afternoon time slot. The clinic was sponsored by Denise & Keith Stewart, owners of Key Ranch, located southwest of High River.

The clinic isn’t limited to horses with people problems, though. Spectators of all ages came out in droves, braving the almost blizzard like conditions to claim a piece of real estate in the bleachers, so they could listen to Buck coaching and addressing concerns that riders had with their mounts. Comprised of mostly young horses, riders of both English and western disciplines participated in the school; they all had one thing in common, they were all in attendance to learn to understand and connect with their equine partners.

The group learns from renowned Buck Brannaman. Photo by Billie-Jean Duff.

Having never experienced a live Brannaman clinic before, as the morning progressed, it became quite overwhelmingly clear; he is a master at his craft. He speaks without beating around the bush, phrasing ideas and concepts in a way that even the most novice of horseman can make sense of the information, often filling his wisdom he shares with witty remarks and a no-holds barred sense of humor. When a spectator inquires as to how Buck would handle a one-rein stop on a half-broke colt while riding on a steep slope, Buck’s response was to ponder why anyone would ride a half-broke colt on a steep slope to begin with. With a hearty laugh, he said he calls this “natural selection.”

Buck Brannaman. Photo by Billie-Jean Duff.

Everybody will take home horsemanship knowledge from a Buck Brannaman clinic, it may only be one key piece of wisdom that pertains to a particular project you have in the round pen at home, or it may be a whole new mindset in how you approach that round pen. For me, three elements took root:

  • On Soft Feel…It’s not about how much pressure you put on, it’s how good you are at taking it off. This phrase was used while talking about giving to the bit, or soft feel. You must be able to respond with the subtlest release so that the horse may give you. The release is the reward to the horse.
  • On Backing Circles…With the young horse backing circles, a spectator inquires about the nose being tipped to the outside. Buck explains this is simply because he’s thinking ahead, for when he asks the horse to turn, moving forward out of the circle. It’s the progression to the next step, like looking to the third barrel while coming around second.
  • Learn more sooner, you won’t have to correct more later. Do things correct from the start. Don’t rush the training process. You won’t have to spend time correcting problems in the future.

No matter your level of horsemanship, arm yourself with a thermos of hot coffee, a cushion for the most uncomfortable bleachers, lots of pens or pencils, and plenty of paper to take notes. Don’t try to watch the progress of each participant, hone in on a handful of horses/riders to follow their progress. You will see significant improvements in both horses and their riders by day three. And, do observe Buck – after all, he’s why you’re there, right?

Cowboys and Colts

Shortly after graduating from university, with a Bachelor of Commerce, Gregg Garvie headed to Australia to play professional hockey. He returned home to Alberta after almost a year to continue playing hockey, which he says, “never panned out”. He then had aspirations to become a veterinarian, and went to work at a feedlot alongside a vet there. He says he always sat back and watched the cowboys working, and training their horses, and decided that is what he really wanted to do. From that moment on, Gregg put everything aside to be a trainer and work with horses.

Gregg has a very calming and gentle approach, and seems to have a “horse whisperer” type of demeanor when it comes to training. I have had the opportunity to watch Gregg with several horses, and he is great at what he does. But when talking with him, he certainly does not give himself the credit he deserves. He told me that, when he rides with great trainers, he considers himself a “rank amateur.” I had to laugh, as he was riding around on a pretty broncy colt at the time and getting along just fine.

Gregg has devoted his free time to ride with Sid Cook, whom he considers to be a great mentor for himself. Gregg applies techniques he has learned from Sid Cook, Tom Dorrance, and Ray Hunt into his training program. He states there is so much truth to Tom Dorrance’s words: “Timing, Feel, and Balance”.

Ground work with some flagging to gain control and get the horse moving freely.

The horses that Gregg works with get to do a little bit of everything. It is not strictly arena work. He is not shy about heading out to the field, packing a rope, moving cattle, or jumping at any opportunity that might be good for the horse.

Gregg uses a colt to take a stray yearling back out to pasture.

The most important thing, in his mind, when Gregg works with a horse, is that it is not tight and can cross over with their hind end.

“Pretty much all the time, when they step off the trailer, you know right away. About 90% of the horses I get, or ‘problem horses’ that come to me, it seems that they are not freed up and have no idea how to use themselves properly”.

Gregg achieving the hind end control he likes for a horse.

Gregg trains out of his homeplace near Priddis. You can find him on Facebook at Gregg Garvie Horses.

Into the Bridle – Part 4

Our final installment of this series on long lining from Dan James. You can find Part Three here, and Part One was featured in the May/June issue of Western Horse Review.


Step 7 – Direct Inside Rein Obstacle

Here, you will use the body control that you have taught in order to navigating an obstacle. This will allow you to use body position to control where your horse is travelling in a larger arena.

Set up an obstacle in the arena, be it a barrel, cone or drum. Begin your horse in a smaller circle at the trot, asking him to move out around you. Take him closer to the barrel by driving him towards his shoulder, allowing him to pass between yourself and the obstacle for the first few time. When you are correctly positioned, you will send him around the barrel. Let your horse come between, then repeat sending him around. Here, you will gain a firm understanding and feel of exactly where you need to be to move your horse around the arena.

Step 8 – Two Reins in the Arena

Here, take the opportunity to be patient and regain your feel for handling both your horse and the two long reins. Ask your horse to move into a circle at an easy trot and work on your hand coordination, switching from both hands to one hand and back again. Work on your circling, transitioning from large to small to larger once again. Employ your feel and understanding to judge where your horse is at and how they are progressing through these steps.

If you have been successful to this point, you can confidently send her to the end of your rein, accentuating the transition from large to small. Only when you have a competent feel for this point should you move to the next step.

Change of direction at this step is slightly more involved because of the distance between yourself and your horse and the speed at which he will be travelling. You will need to be conscious of your reins in your hands and your whip carriage. It should stay low and in the right hand. When you need to use it on the offside, simply bring it across and under your long reins, use it, then put it back in position.

Here, ask for a trot and then a lope in a larger then smaller circle then larger again, using the ‘spiraling’ technique, in with the inside rein and out with the outside rein. Finally, ask for a trot and then a halt, rewarding a successful session.

Only after you have successfully accomplished circling, left and right, speed control at a trot and lope and negotiating size of circles will you move to changing direction in the large arena with two reins.

Begin on the offside at the ¾ position at a walk. Keeping a forward walk, switch inside reins and ask for an easy change of direction. Make sure that you have mastered this technique at a walk before you move up to a trot.

When you are moving faster, you will remain at the ¾ position. The steps are all the same, only moving at a faster pace. Ask for the circle and once you arrive at the center, switch directions by changing reins and moving to the offside ¾ position. Ensure that you establish a good forward circle before you ask for the change to avoid difficulty in keeping the forward momentum. Ideally, you want to achieve the confidence to ask for this change of direction both in larger circles as well in tighter circles, obviously more difficult.

Step 9 – Long Reining from Behind

It is imperative here to maintain a good distance (1 to 1 ½ horse lengths) behind your horse. You will need to keep your horse in an active walk and maintain forward momentum so that he stays straight. Extend your arms and lengthen your reins until you approach the corner, where you will gather your reins once again, move slightly to the outside and fall in behind when the corner is completed. Repeat this exercise the other way, ideally completing a figure eight pattern through the arena. Arrive at the center and ask for a stop. Ensure again that you have maintained that good distance back from your horse’s hind end.

The next task is to move to a more involved task, achieving a serpentine-type flow. Make a straight line directly up the arena and begin by travelling straight for five strides. You will then ask for five strides in one direction, then turn back to the line, where you will repeat the five strides, then the turn back to the line. When you have arrived at the end of the arena, circle up and repeat. While you are starting out, there will inevitably be times when you need to check your distance and your rein handling during this exercise as there is a lot going on. Be conscious not to ask too hard for the turn, or the horse will break off the line at too great of an angle. Keep your hands soft, keep your body in position and be conscious of your striding to complete this successfully.

If you have gone through these exercises methodically and consistently, you should have achieved a solid foundation by the end of these steps. Repeat them and work on a soft, relaxed horse in the long reins before you move forward to the next level of Double Dan Horsemanhip’s training techniques.

Into the Bridle – Part 3

A continuation from last week’s introduction into using long reining techniques from Dan James. You can find Part Two here, and Part One was featured in the May/June issue of Western Horse Review.

Step 4 – Speed Control

Here, you will work on understanding body position in relation to your horse and the practices to have the most effective hands in order to control speed. Start out at the ¾ position and ask your horse to move forward into a walk, then a trot in a large circle. Set him up for a lope by stepping behind the eye and driving forward. Adjust your reins accordingly, ensuring there isn’t so much slack that it’s slapping the horse’s hind end, but loose enough that he can move out. Once cantering nicely, ask for a downward transition to a trot, ensuring you maintain the forward momentum so as not to have him stop completely, continuing forward into a walk.

Next, you will employ the foundation you have created so far to ask for a change of direction at a trot. Remember that you can take your time to set up the exercise successfully; it does not need to be a rush. You are working on developing the feel, technique and timing working both reins. Ask for a tighter circle and keep the forward momentum through the center of the round pen by holding the inside rein, switching in the center, then allow the outside rein the slide through your hands smoothly. Repeat this as many times as you need to until the flow is consistent and relaxed.

Step 5 – Body Control

Here, we utilize many of the techniques that we begin with our ground control training. Step behind to the side that you’re asking for flexion and use your whip to cue for the leg yield along the rail, with your horse’s nose tipped to the outside. Engage your outside rein, drive the flexion with your whip and keep forward momentum. When you first ask for this, be satisfied with three or four good steps, then release. If you get stuck, you will start over by asking for their nose to the inside and walking on. Re-establish the forward momentum, then step across and ask again. Again, accept and reward a good effort with a solid pat.

Step 6 – Moving to the Arena

When you move from the round pen to an arena, return to the set-up of one inside rein and outside direct rein. Move your horse out to a large circle, asking for a trot and then a lope. It is beneficial to ask for the lope in a larger circle if this is the first time that you are introducing this to your horse. Ask for a downward transition and gather the rein, hand-over-fist, circling him in closer to you. When you are ready to ask your horse to enlarge the circle again, ask by stepping towards the shoulder and extending your rein. As with all of these steps, make sure to repeat them in both directions.

Editor’s Note: watch for the final Part 4 of this series in an upcoming post of Roundpen. 

Into the Bridle – Part 1

Part two of a discussion with Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship on how to prepare your horse to excel both on the ground and under saddle. Part One was featured in the May/June issue of Western Horse Review.

Long reining exercises develop a versatile, willing mount and a solid sense of feel for body control in the handler.


Last issue we spoke with Dan James, one half of the electric and talented team that makes up Double Dan Horsemanship, to fully understand the theories that the world-renowned performance and training team employ to successfully start their horses on the ground. This issue, we progress to the long-reining techniques that teach drive, impulsion and full body control.

To begin, James explains why long reining is an asset to any training program.

“We use long reining to re-educate problem horses, to start young ones in the bridle, helping horses learn to stand still and teach patience, as well as using it as a tool to teach collection and begin the basics of the lay down.”

Only raise your whip to cue then be sure to lower it once again. You don’t want your horse mistaking the whip for a disciplinary tool as opposed to simply an extension of your arm.

As with any discipline, long reining requires very specific tack in order to execute the tasks properly. Before you begin working on the Double Dan methods, you will need the following:

–  Surcingle (roller)

• Ensure that it is cinched as tight as a saddle would be in order to maintain its position through the exercises.

–  Full mouth or D-ring snaffle

• You want contact in the cheeks of the bit, avoiding loose ring snaffles and the possibility of the bit moving through the horse’s mouth.

–  Long reins

• Attach the outside (offside) rein first, placing the tail of the rope across your horse’s back so that it is in position for you to handle when you move to the inside.

–  Lunge or carriage whip

–  Traffic cones or barrels

When working on a keg yield in the long reins, be sure to stay consistent through your hands and use your whip to ask for the directional cue.

Step 1 – Long Reining Your Partner

Much like the early steps of the ground control exercises, begin your long reining with a partner at the end of your reins so that you can practice your techniques without confusing your equine student. It is just as important to experience long reining from the horse’s point of view as from the human’s point of view. Your human partner should close his eyes and rest his hands in his pockets while holding the reins so that he can truly feel the communication. This will serve to improve any lack of connection and direction from hands to horse’s mouth.

Begin by cueing with your whip for your partner to walk on. Track around behind him, employing your inside (left) rein to ask for a left hand turn. While at this practice stage, remember that you want to achieve consistent contact. When you come through the center of the arena, just as you would with a horse, ask for a change of direction by taking a hold of the lines with a ‘hand over fist’ technique. It is important to remember that you need to maintain a good distance between yourself and your ‘horse’, keeping direct, soft contact and keeping your feet slow.

Ideally, you want your horse collected in the long reins the same way that he would be under saddle; flexed through the poll and driving forward from behind.

Step 2 – Desensitization

It is recommended that you begin these exercises in a round pen, if you have one available. When you position yourself to begin working your real horse, be aware of your positioning, as it is crucial with these techniques. There are 3 driving positions to familiarize yourself with: directly behind, ¾ to the horse and to the center. If you are too far forward, you will block forward momentum and cause the horse to stop.

To accustom your horse to the feel of the reins, go over both sides of his body, allowing the reins to drape and hang over him anywhere that you can allow him to feel it; barrel, back, hind end and feet.

Once you feel your horse is soft and accepting the long reins, begin by taking him ‘inside-out’, by running your rein along the offside, down to his hocks and ask him to follow his nose. It should create a relaxed circle where he ends facing you. Repeat this both directions.

When you have successfully set a solid foundation for long reining, there are many tasks that can be schooled from the ground.

Step 3 – Lateral Flexion (1 Rein)

Next, you will move into your first long lining exercise. You will only have one long rein attached, with one direct rein on the outside. Fasten the long rein to the lower ring on the roller then take it through the cheek of the bit to your hand.

With the rein in your left hand and the whip in your right, ask your horse to move out, allowing rein to feed out as your make the circle larger, keeping your horse at a trot. Here you will be working on gaining control of the size and speed of circle. When you are comfortable that you are gaining feel at the larger circle, starting working him in and away, maintaining a consistent speed. When he is travelling well and you have control over both speed and circle, ask for a stop by stepping back, finding your horse’s eye and stepping towards him. If you have been successful in your application of the ground control techniques from the previous session, he should look for your shoulder.

You can now attach both long reins and begin working on further control at the center position. Ask your horse to move on, feeding out rein until he has moved into a large circle. With contact on both reins, pick up your inside rein, cueing your horse to tighten the circle around you. Maintaining consistent speed, then ask him to track back out to the rail. When he is accepting these maneuvers, you can go ahead and ask for a stop with inside flexion.

Now, you will move to the ¾ position to drive your horse forward and repeat the prior exercises. Once you have achieved the stop, follow your reins up to the horse’s hip, reassuring him and allowing him some praise.

Finally, you will begin driving the horse from directly behind. The reins should be following you between your feet, giving your horse the opportunity to familiarize himself with your new position. From here, you will ask for a change of direction at a walk by bringing him straight across the center of the pen, asking for the flexion with your inside rein until you reach the center. Here, you will use the ‘hand-over-fist’ technique to ask for flexion in the opposite direction, tightening your new inside rein and allowing the outside rein to slide through your hands. It can’t be stressed enough that proper, consistent use of your hands is imperative to the entire long reining technique. As always, when you approach your horse, follow your reins, gathering them as you shorten them to avoid them lying in a tangled heap on the ground.

Editor's Note: watch for Part 3 of this series in an upcoming post of Roundpen.