Clayton Edsall’s unique drill teaches a horse to hunt for a deep stop and fluid rollback.
Rather than pulling and kicking to get a horse to stop and roll back through a turn, California cow horse trainer Clayton Edsall utilizes a simple drill that uses the fence to sharpen his horses’ movement.
The drill involves loping a large circle in soft dirt that ends with stopping a few feet from the fence. With little to no delay, Edsall then asks the horse to roll back toward the fence and lope a circle in the opposite direction, again stopping near the same location as the first stop. Early on, he approaches the fence at a 45-degree angle. He repeats this pattern multiple times, using the fence to encourage the horse to stop and to keep its weight shifted back when rolling back.
To initiate the stop, Edsall “quits riding” by relaxing through his seat and legs, and he might lightly pick up the reins. However, the fence is the most persuasive factor in convincing horses to put their hocks in the ground.
“I want the first cue to be for me to quit riding,” he says. “If they don’t understand that, then there’s the fence. I just try to keep their body straight but angled to the fence. The more they ignore my cue from when I quit riding, the closer they get to the pressure of the fence. The end goal is for when I quit riding, they come back to me and find that stop.
“If you trust the process, the horses will start to find their balance, relax and be softer with putting their feet in the ground. They’re able to start sliding a little and are in an athletic position. But I’m not concerned with getting a big stop; I’m concerned with them wanting to stop.”
Once the horse is stopped, Edsall asks for a rollback. Ideally, the horse stops with its hocks in the ground, keeps its weight shifted back, and then softly plants a hind leg so it can rotate through a smooth, 180-degree turn. That should all be one fluid motion, but riders shouldn’t rush it. Again, the fence plays a key role.
“It’s easy to try to create the turn,” Edsall says. “If you take ahold of the reins and are dragging them through the turn, it slows down the snap and fluidity that should come from them. You might start their nose a little, but you want them to make the turn.”
Overall, the goal is to show the horse a job and allow it to perform. When the horse is intent on executing a maneuver, Edsall says the movement is much smoother and eye-appealing than if dictated by the rider.
“If you’re pulling on them and doing a lot of stuff with your seat and legs, the horse is not in the mind frame to be successful at all,” he says.
Learn more about this fence drill from Clayton Edsall in the March issue of Western Horseman. Get your copy here.