We are excited to introduce this new series for trail competitors. US National Champion Lou Roper will be taking us through the fundamental elements required in a trail pattern starting with the lope over.
Lope overs are found in elementary classes usually with two to four poles. In the advanced classes they may have four plus poles; in a fan shape, spokes of a wheel or even an X. It is very important prior to attempting a lope over to have a good, collected, rhythmical lope. Why? Well it’s necessary to have your horse in balance, with an even tempo so you can negotiate the obstacle with ease. In my experience the lope over is probably the most difficult for people to learn especially if they don’t have a horse that has a good, natural lope. There are horses that aren’t blessed with that great gait so we have to develop a system to get that that back and go ‘soft.’
The lope needs to be practised on both leads. If your horse great on one lead make small circles to and from a straight line. Physically challenge your horse so he builds up the necessary muscles and strength to carry himself and a rider. Keep in mind that if your jog isn’t great your lope is unlikely to be spectacular at first either. In walk and jog overs a horse can enter with either foot so he can make small adjustments but in a lope over there’s only one way in with one Place it in the arena where you don’t have to make sharp turns to approach it, perhaps on the path of your regular lope track. Start any new obstacle in the simplest form first. Once you’ve mastered it and your horse is confident, then you can make it more difficult.
As you’re loping over a single pole, the first few times your horse may leap a little bit. That’s ok, he is just coordinating himself and learning to take the power from his forward motion and pass it over the pole. As the horse performs the lope over, he will need to keep his back relaxed. One of the most common problems is a horse that isn’t relaxed enough to be able to flex his back or coordinate his legs over the pole.
Problems with rushing at the obstacle are also common; sometimes practising poles will alert a rider to what type of lope they have, but if they’re having difficulty loping, attempting a lope over is not going to help! Get the basic training done first, then trail can be a lot more fun for horse and rider If you start to have a problem where your horse rushes or gets confused go back to just the basic lope or take away a pole or two to make it more simple, not only for the horse but for yourself.
When you first start practising your lope overs it’s important to pretend that the pole is not there. Often a rider will interfere with the horse unintentionally because they are looking at the poles. It really makes a difference. After you’ve mastered one pole you can start adding multiple poles. It’s very important that you keep the distance correct. A six foot space is good for the average horse.
It’s normal for a rider to over-ride this obstacle; that means a little too much bridle or hand and/or a little too much leg. You must be aware of your body position and have a soft hand so as not to stifle the horse’s front end with your reins. Give enough encouragement with your leg to keep impulsion but don’t overdrive your horse.
If you’re still not sure if your lope is good enough, you keep knocking the poles or your horse is getting distressed and confused with this trail obstacle, get someone to watch you or film you so you can see or understand what’s happening.
One way to test yourself and your horse’s lope and collection is to move your multiple poles to a spacing of seven feet. If your horse tackles the obstacle better you know you have to improve your basic lope. There are lots of ways to do this but in essence you should try to get your horse to rock back and collect more. Try some short striding exercises where you lengthen the stride for a number of paces and then aim for a few short strides - the shorter the better. Remember to slowly increase the number of short strides in a set distance in your arena - don’t expect too much from your horse at first. He will have to coordinate his feet, understand what you want and build up the muscles and flexibility to do as you ask. Don’t forget to reward your horse with a release in pressure or short pause in training if he makes an effort for you as a good lope takes a lot of power and energy for the horse to perform.
WHAT THE JUDGE WANTS
When you are in the show pen the judge will be looking for an even tempo and a lope that looks relaxed and collected enough to effortlessly negotiate the obstacle. In a trail class a rider that is well positioned will give an overall appearance of a better horse so again get a friend to watch or film you ride so you can analyse your own riding and position.
It is extremely important for the rider to recognise the correct distances on horseback as well as when walking the course. Recognising the distances will help you identify exactly where to cross the obstacle and, after all, trail is all about accuracy!
You’ll see and hear me say this next word a lot, -‘Practise.’ Yes it sounds simple and it is! I’ve won so many titles and competitions because I was prepared to practise and train my horses more than anyone else. Of course you have to practise the correct techniques but when you know what you have to do, do them, over and over again, hundreds – even a thousand times! Practising your basic ground and pole work, your transitions and correction position and aids will always result in you taking home the ribbons. So go on, haul out those trail obstacles and get practising!
Make sure you have a good collected rhythmical lope.
As you approach the poles, pretend they are not there.
If the horse gets confused with multiple poles, its okay to go back to single poles.
Remember your position during the lope, go easy on the hand and leg aids so that the judge sees an effortless ride.
It's difficult when the judges eyes are on your but do try to remain relaxed so your horse doesn't pick up any tension.
I keep saying it, but schooling, repetition of obstacles and practising the correct techniques will result in higher marks in the show pen. Good Luck!
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