I have a 5 year old haflinger/standardbred that I compete in barrel racing with. He has a lot of get-up-and-go and is very heavy on his front end. I am looking to get him to use his hindquarters and collect more, maybe pick up his shoulders and start holding himself up instead of him pulling down on the bit. I'm currently riding him in a egg bit snaffle or rope halter. What are some exercises or approaches I can do to help?
When training your barrel horse to collect and shift his weight to his hind quarters there are several exercises you can practice with your horse. Backing up is one of my favorite lessons for my barrel horse. Done correctly, this lesson will teach your horse to shift his weight back on his haunches and pull himself back with his hind legs, as opposed to pushing himself back with stiff front legs. The key to a great back up is simply this, horses learn by RELEASE! When beginning your backing lesson, start from the walk (most horses are less resistant if you begin at the walk rather than from a stand still), sit deep in your saddle, lift your reins to cue a stop and then hold him until you get a step back. The moment you feel your horse shift his weight back and energetically take a step back, RELEASE. Begin by asking for one step, then two, then five, and so on. Be patient and remember to work your horse before beginning your stop and back lesson, that way the rest he gets for backing correctly will be a great reward and he will progress faster in his learning.
Loping is another great exercise. When done correctly, loping shifts 75% of your horses weight to his hind end. Make sure you are sitting back in your saddle and that your weight is not over his withers.
Once your horse is loping well, and understands to rate himself when you sit deep in your saddle (as if you were about to ask for a "whoa") you can add rollbacks to your training plan. Lope your horse along the rail on the correct lead, sit deep as if asking for "whoa" and turn him into the rail, this will shift his weight to his rear, take off in the other direction and lope a little ways and do it again.
These exercises will help your horse with both his collection and his physical fitness. Remember to start slowly and allow him to build his muscles as you progress. Asking too much physically from a performance horse can burn him out, keep it fun for him as well as yourself.
Thank You and Happy Trails!