Trainer and coach Brianna Wallis explains two skill-building exercises to do in the pasture.
Arena exercises are necessary to develop both a rider and horse, but Brianna Wallis likes to get her students out in the pasture to advance their education.
In this year’s issue of Young Western Horseman, included in the July 2017 issue of Western Horseman, Wallis offers three simple drills she uses for her young students at her Grandview, Texas, training facility. She also likes to take her students and horses out in the pasture, where she has set up a couple of obstacles to challenge them.
“I don’t think we have anything on the ranch that is strictly a rope horse or strictly a barrel horse,” Wallis says. “All of our horses can do the all-around ranch horse events.”
Two of her favorite pasture exercises involve simple obstacles: a bridge and a set of ground poles.
Wallis has two raised bridges in a pasture; one is about 4 inches tall and the other is about 6 inches off the ground. Both are about 3 feet wide and 6 feet long. She places ground poles or cedar posts in front of them to help the horses learn to pick up their feet.
“Whether they’re directly parallel to the bridge or at an angle, they make the horses pick their way through,” she says.
While the horse learns to watch where its feet are going, the rider learns to look ahead, she adds.
“What I don’t want is, as a rider is going through it, for her to lean over the horse’s shoulder and look down,” Wallis explains. “I want the rider to be responsible for getting to the obstacle, and then the horse is responsible for getting over it. What I’ve found is if you develop the bad habit early on of looking down over an obstacle, your horse will not pick up its feet as much. It will nick or hit the obstacle, or even move it, and in our [ranch horse] competition that’s between a half-point and a two-point penalty.”
She varies the position of the poles to encourage the horse to pay attention, she adds.
“Sometimes I’ll stagger them—for example, one pole is on a left diagonal and another is on a right diagonal. I also vary it with a cinder block on one end to raise the pole a little bit. You want to give your horse a challenge,” Wallis says.
For another exercise, the trainer places four to six ground poles end to end in a straight line. Her goal is to have her students walk, trot and eventually lope in a serpentine over the poles.
“When I first start out the poles will be touching, and then I’ll move them apart,” Walls explains. “I want them to start out walking a serpentine over the poles, so if there are four poles, they’re going to make two left turns and two right turns.”
As the students advance, she moves the poles apart several feet to give them enough room to trot.
“This exercise teaches guiding and reminds them to look up where their next obstacle is, and how to [turn] and even corner,” Walls says. “They need to approach perpendicular to the poles. If you take them at an angle, you’ll miss the next pole.”
After her students accomplish their goals at the walk and trot, she moves the poles even farther apart—with about 6 feet in between—to give them room to lope through the pattern and change leads before approaching the next pole in the series.
“After they get good with the serpentine, I also like to do two-tracking over the poles at the jog and trot,” Wallis adds. “The poles aren’t moved, but your line is definitely affected by where you want to go across diagonally. It teaches your horse that it can go over the poles at a different angle and to pick its way through it.”
Wallis has a simple idea to remind riders where to place their hands on the reins.
“I like to put either a piece of tape or, if it’s a cotton rein, a different color on the middle of the rein,” she says. “Then maybe six inches from there [on each side], where their hands would go, another piece of tape or a different color so they’ll know where to put their hands while they’re turning and where to put them while they’re going straight, and also when the horse is walking or resting.”
About Our Expert
Brianna Wallis has worked in the performance horse industry since graduating from Oklahoma State University with a business management degree. She is an avid competitor in Stock Horse of Texas, and rode SCC Royal Gentleman to the 2016 year-end championship in the junior horse division. She and her husband, Matt, a roper, operate Triple Bar W Training and Rehabilitation Center in Grandview, Texas, where she trains and gives lessons.