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Anticipation- In both the horse and rider

As we sat around in blustery WY swapping horse stories the other night I realized there was one common theme. Anticipation. The focus happened to be about team roping, but my thoughts on this subject still apply to ALL riders and their horses.

In this day and age riders are starting to expand their equestrian activities rather than just sticking to one specific discipline. This is great for both the horses and riders and encourages them to raise their level of awareness, their horse's mental availability when presented with different tasks (rather than the same routine,) and it allows them to evaluate and use tools to offer clear communication no matter when and where they are needed.

As I listened to the group I realized I was hearing horror story after horror story about people either having had experienced themself or having had witnessed roping accidents. The most common occurrence had to do with after a rider had caught a steer.
Once the steer has been caught the rider uses their coils in their hand to "dally." A coil is the excess rope that is held in neat and organized circles in their hand. Some of these are released as the rider throws their loop at the desired steer. A dally is when the rider has caught the desired steer they then take their rope and wrap it around the horn of their saddle in order to maintain control over the steer they caught.
In this sort of roping things happen very quickly because the riders are competing for who has the fastest time in catching both the head and the heels of a steer. This can become dangerous if the rider does not keep track of their coils and has caught a three or four hundred pound steer that is showing resistance towards having been roped. After the steer is caught the coils need to be easily and quickly separated from the rest in order to dally. If there is any slack between the steer and rider, if the coils are not neatly held or are accidentally dropped while the rider is trying to dally, a rider can get their fingers and hands literally ripping off from the force of rope tightening/wrapping around their hand as the caught steer is trying to make his get away.

As with anything, the faster things "have to happen" the more pressure and intensity both the rider and horse feels. Here are a few things I see happen all too often:

• Seeing a horse feeling pretty troubled in the box (the area they wait until the steer is released form the shoot and the rider begins chasing it to catch it.) Serious accidents have happened from a horse becoming anticipative about the upcoming run and they can get pretty light on their feet. You'll see this commonly in sports that require quick bursts of speed such as race horses, barrel races, team roping, etc.

• Often the rider is more concerned with their performance and accuracy with throw of thier rope they accidentally end up ignoring areas of horsemanship that need to be addressed BEFORE they head out of the box or to a competition.
A lack of quality horsemanship and awareness seem to be the worst contributors towards how a horse and rider handle ANTICIPATION.

There are many parts of clear communication with a horse that need to be established (not just on the day of the event or competition) so that going into an event the rider and horse feel confident and clear in how they interact with one another.

In this case, if a rider is solely focused on the actual roping of the steer- how are they ever going to GET from the box to the steer with any accuracy, speed and control if they're horse is worried, anxious, insecure, etc. Too many times because of patternized (click link for blog definition) practices (i.e. practicing by riding the horse numerous times out of the box trying to attempt a catch rather than focusing on doing it a few times with a calm, confident and quality ride.)
Instead if the rider took the time to create clear communication through the use of their aids rather than reactively riding (click link for blog definition) or responding after the fact, they can "tell" their horse while the ride or run is happening what they need their horse to do. If a rider winds up being hopeful (see blog definition) that their horse will do what he's supposed to do they have no clue as to what and how their horse will respond as they come out of the box.
Because the horse gets used to not being told by his rider, he winds up taking over and starts getting anticipative because it does not make him feel good to come out of that box "on his own." Just as with people, they like to know what the "plan" is.
The next element in this particular discipline is the steer itself. The rider and horse have no idea what the steer is going to do as he comes out of the shoot. So they have to be ready for whatever may need to get done in order to rope the steer. If the horse has only previously been taught that "he's on his own" then he will tend to anticipate (many times causing a time fault for leaving the box early, also known as "breaking the barrier.")
Once a horse reaches a certain degree of stress they typically reach an "unreasonable" state. This is where the horse takes over and the rider winds up "going for the ride." Again this is another undesirable and potentionally dangerous situation. Once he takes over, especially in an event like team roping, if you need your horse to quickly turn, slow or speed up, you have less of a chance that you horse is going to perform as you need him to when "you've got to get the job done." This lack of responsiveness, mental availability from your horse and unclear communication is the largest contributor to an accident waiting to happen that my have been preventable by taking the time to address the quality of horsemanship with your horse ahead of time.
So whether you are a roper or a Dressage rider, a trail rider or a barrel racer, the next time you head out to ride start to assess if you horse may have a degree of anticipation in him. If so, start to break down into little steps how and what you ask of him and then how he responds. He'll tell you if your communication is clear, and he'll certainly show you if it's not.
It's more "work" to be a safe rider, but in the long run it decreases the level of stress you carry with you as you step into the saddle and in turn the more relaxed and confident you are, so will your horse be.

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