Use your inside leg to guide your horse into the perfect arc or turn.
With cutting, reining and fence-work courses to complete before their final futurity season exams begin, cow horses face a plateful of challenges. With that competition in mind, Tucker Robinson of Oak View, California, has developed a few simple exercises that he says can relax a horse while improving the arc in its body. He has found that one way to improve performance in all three events is by balancing leg pressure.
The secret to the exercises, he says, is applying pressure via the rider’s inside leg, while the outside leg provides light counter pressure.
“What we do is try to keep from the shoulders to the hips fairly straight,” Robinson explains. “When the horse is straight, he can roll over his hocks and get through the body in a turn. Keeping the body straight with a slight arc allows the body parts to complement each other and the horse can be much more physical.”
Robinson likes to know how all of his horse’s body parts are positioned at any given time, and prioritizes being able to move the parts that are not where they’re supposed to be. For example, if he is loping a horse and the left shoulder is bowed out and its hip is pushed away, Robinson knows he needs to get that horse straight before he can get the proper bend in the body.
The inside leg acts somewhat like a pivot, giving balance to the turn and keeping the horse squared up. It is much the same in the turnarounds and during the cow work down the fence, where those hard, fast turns are implemented.
Beginning with a simple warm-up exercise at a walk and jog, Robinson moves his horse in a circle using both inside and outside leg pressure, pushing the horse’s body around and driving it into the bridle. When the horse is supple from head to tail, he is able to straighten the body and arc it properly for any maneuver.
There is a fine line when balancing pressures on the inside of a horse’s body with those on the outside. Light pressure from the outside can counterbalance the inside leg and keep the horse from overcompensating, drifting too far out.
Using a mare he rode to the NRCHA Hackamore Classic Open and Intermediate championships, Robinson explains his warm up, which is based somewhat on the fact that this mare has problems connected to her right side. Just walking in a circle, he can feel the mare’s ribs and hip getting pushed out of the way via pressure from his inside leg.
After six months of working on the 4-year-old with his inside leg theory, Tucker sees a big improvement. Getting the feel of how much pressure is needed, however, takes some time, he says. Getting the feel isn’t something that happens in one day.
“I can push her hip clear around and pull her nose clear around there is really no resistance, she is very willing and comfortable moving her body,” Robinson explains.
“We’ll trot a circle; I’ll use the inside leg to straighten her up if she is leaning to the inside. I might push her around with my leg close by the back cinch or up nearer the front cinch. I always want the nose pulled inside just a hair.
“As I’m pushing her with my inside leg I’ll use my outside leg to keep her from [swinging] too far out. That is the fine line; that takes a lot of feel gained with experience.
“This mare stays really relaxed, keeps her head down low and is comfortable. She understands what we’re doing and is not dreading her job. All the body parts are out of her way, which can be tough to accomplish.”
As the sorrel turns a slow, relaxed spin, Robinson points out that he is just laying his foot against her ribs on the inside. He is not asking for speed, just letting his mount “float” through the turn while keeping her body aligned and free-moving.
Loping circles with his inside foot nearer the back cinch also made a huge improvement with this particular mare.
“It picked that hip up, moved it out, and my mare got better loping to the right,” Robinson says. “Placing my right leg near the back cinch, in a right circle, picked up her inside hip and moved it out, which really improved her circles.
“It sure helped this mare get a lot of bend in her body and made her more mobile getting around and better on a cow, too. Now, I tried the same thing on another horse and it didn’t work at all. So, it is a trial and error deal that might not work on every individual.”
Robinson uses a wall or fence to implement one exercise he uses, warning riders to be cautious in the beginning to avoid having their fence-side leg injured.
“I stand them up against a rail and I’ll lay an inside leg against the ribs,” says Robinson.
“You might need a little outside leg to keep them from pushing your leg into the fence. Starting them against a rail helps keep them stationary as you bend their heads around while they just stand in one spot. I’ve got slack in the inside rein, and when I take my inside leg off, they’ll roll around the leg and get really soft. I let them walk off a little bit and then do the same thing on the other side.”
The process, Robinson explains, puts the shoulders, ribcage and hips on a straight plain- against the fence-men teaches the horse to bend without dropping a shoulder while completing the turn. The motion is the beginning of a turnaround, the basic turn in the herd work, and mimics the motion used in turning a cow on the wall during a fence run.
When practicing his inside-leg theory in the round pen, Robinson likes using a slower cow, one with a little “wait” in it. He stops his horse with the cow and waits with the horse’s head bent toward the cow, with his cow-side leg applying slight pressure.
“Once I get stopped on the cow, I lay that inside leg on the ribs and that will straighten the horse’s body up if they want to fall into the turn,” says Robinson. “As I did on the fence exercise, I hold the horse there, and when I release the pressure on the inside leg, real easy, they come through that turn relaxed, but straight.
“When the horse does come through the turn, I don’t ‘hee haw’ them out of there; I let them ease through and keep them relaxed. Once they start figuring out the turn, they come through quicker and more on their own.”
Robinson is discovering that having his horses work more off his legs than from the bridle is an asset as he prepares them to be in a hackamore.
“It can be tough to guide one around in a hackamore,” Robinson says. “I can use my legs a lot and push one around during a run without the distraction of pulling on them. It is almost like I could ride without anything on their face because they are guiding off my legs.
“But I don’t think I’ll try that.”
Then you start experimenting with inside-leg pressure, Robinson suggests taking the process slowly, a little at a time, always remembering that less is more. Sometimes it is easy to want something good to happen right now on a horse, and it can be hard to be patient. But Robinson has found that patience pays off.
Tucker Robinson showed cow horses as a youth, winning his first check in the summer of 1994, at the Ventura County Fair show near his home in Oak View, California. He also showed in a limited capacity as a non-pro between 1999 and 2002, while working in the construction trade.
Robinson, whose Equi-Stat record is just shy of $600,000.00, turned professional in 2003. He was an open finalist that year at the Idaho Reined Cow Horse Association Futurity, where he rode Catazan for owner Carol Rose of Gainesville, Texas.
Robinson’s more recent triumphs include the 2014 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Intermediate Open on Mo Style, owned by Lisa Conley, and the 2015 Toyota California Classic aboard Nics Back In Black, owned by Hal and Mylinda Simons.