Western Pleasure: Does Your Horse Anticipate?

Question: My senior Western pleasure horse has started trying to come to the center of the ring once the second-direction lope is called for. Since he never tries this at home, I’m stumped on how to teach him not to do it at shows. Any ideas?
Marcella Wilson
Ocala, Fla.

Steve Heckaman claims first place aboard Quarter Horse Red Hot Impulse. | ? Jeff Kirkbride

Answer: It’s really not surprising that your horse has learned this form of cheating in the ring. By the time a horse has been shown as a junior entry and gets into the senior division, he’s show-smart. He’s learned the routine of a Western pleasure class and may begin to anticipate what comes next after any part of the routine. Your horse has figured out that soon after loping in the second direction of a class, he gets to come to the center and rest. He’s just trying to hurry up the process.

Because your horse associates his behavior with being in the show pen, you’ll need to correct him there. Take him to several shows for schooling purposes only, taking care that your corrections don’t disrupt anyone else’s ride. When you start the second-direction lope, watch for the first sign that your horse wants to turn in: As you lope to the right, he’ll drop his right shoulder and lean in before he actually turns. That’s the moment to correct him. Using your rein hand as abruptly as you need to, move him back over to the rail, then release him. Repeat the correction again if he starts to drift again. You also may find it helpful to apply light, intermittent right-leg pressure at the girth to reinforce the idea that he’s to stay ofn the rail. When the announcer calls the class to the center, don’t head straight to the lineup. Stop and turn your horse toward the rail, hesitating afor a few seconds before you go to the center.

Learn more at www.steveheckaman.com.

This article first appeared in the March 1997 issue of Horse & Rider.