In this exclusive online article, Dan Byrd shares his warm-up routine to prepare your mounted-shooting horse for a stage.
Between shooting events, Dan spends a lot of time keeping his horses legged up on the track or trail.
Mounted shooting can be hard on a horse. The intense sport demands tight turns, boomerang-style direction and lead changes, and nothing short of a flight to the finish line. Because of this, mounted shooting horses need a fair share of athleticism, agility and heart. Just like any athlete, your horse needs a complete warm up before shooting a stage not only to stretch his muscles, but also to focus his attention on you and get him in a competitive frame of mind.
Top mounted-shooting horse trainer and competitor Dan Byrd of Cave Creek, Arizona, stresses the importance of a proper warm up.
“Mounted shooting is just as mentally and physically demanding as barrel racing, roping, polo or any other sport,” he says. “You can’t expect your horse to go in the arena and perform if he hasn’t been prepared with a solid warm-up routine.”
About 30 minutes before shooting, Byrd warms up his horse using a variety of horsemanship maneuvers that supple the horse’s body and prepares him for the high-speed challenge ahead.
To keep his horse supple, Dan flexes the horseâ??s neck in each direction using direct-rein pressure. Here heâ??s bending the horseâ??s neck to the left by applying steady left rein pressure until the horse yields. When the horse moves his nose in the direction of the pressure, Dan releases the pressure as a reward. Then he asks for the horse to flex a little more in small increments, until the horse brings his nose to Danâ??s knee.
Dan walks, jogs and lopes several circles, keeping his horseâ??s nose slightly tipped to the center of the circle and his body arced in the shape of the circle. To prevent boring the horse, he varies the size and direction of the circles. He also practice stopping and backing the horse, then changing direction and picking up the correct lead.
While loping his horse, Dan not only pays attention to lateral flexion, but also vertical flexion, or flexing at the poll. The horseman encourages his horse to move in a collected manner by riding two-handed, with contact on the bit. Applying light, equal pressure on the reins draws the horseâ??s nose toward his chest. You want the front of the horseâ??s head to be pointed straight to the ground.
When a horse is collected heâ??s flexed at the poll, which allows him to round his topline so he can bring his hind legs deeply under his body for power from the hindquarters.
Building on the suppling exercises, Dan performs a sequence of lateral movements, flexing the horseâ??s neck one way, while asking him to travel in the opposite direction. Here, heâ??s asking the horse to bend to the left with left rein pressure. At the same time, heâ??s using his seat and legs to drive the horse forward and applying left-leg pressure to move the horse to the right. He reverses the cues to move the horse laterally to the left while bending to the right.
Spins increase a mounted-shooting horseâ??s handle and agility. Note that Dan is sitting back to remove weight from the horseâ??s front end so he can reach across with his front legs. To turn the horse to the left, Dan is using a neck-rein cue and right leg pressure to push the horse through the turn. His left leg is away from the horseâ??s side, opening the door to movement in that direction.
For more information on Byrd and his training program, see “Shoot For Precision” in the September 2008 issue of Western Horseman. You can also learn more at danbyrdhorses.com.