Challenge Foundation With Lindee McNaughton



Photos by Brittany McVicar Photography & Kate Jones Photography

When we are working our horses we like to break everything down and separate manoeuvres, we also like to have an order in which we work on the manoeuvres each day and put them into groups;

1. Circles, Lead Departure/Lead Changes, Speed Control 2. Stops and Backups 3. Spins and Rollbacks

I work on circles every day; some days I may only work on stops and backups and then put them away, other days I may do a little of everything or I may work on my spins, it depends where each horse is up too in their program.


I always start with a warmup that consists of a lot of transitions. I want my horse to be able to increase and decrease in speed on a loose rein, so I work on this every day! They need to be able to move off the shift in my weight in the saddle and work off my feel. I don’t want to feel like I have to hold my horse and rely on my reins to control their speed. Also in my warmup, I take note of the things I feel that I will need to work on e.g. where they are a little bracey, how they feel mentally, which side they are leaning on and I generally make an evaluation as to what we will work on that day.

Having them in a learning frame of mind is always my most important element. The mental side for my horse is what I put ahead of everything… all the manoeuvres mean nothing to me if he doesn’t trust or want to work for me. Therefore to me, the warmup is a big part of getting him to where we can start learning, I can’t do that if he is constantly looking to be somewhere else.  


Circles are a major part of the foundation to a lot of manoeuvres I want to teach my horse. If my horse doesn’t guide willingly and balanced in a circle he will have trouble with his spins, stops, backups and lead changes/departures. If I lope a straight line on a loose rein with my hand fixed in the middle of my horse’s neck I like to feel he will not pull or lean on one side. This is the same in a circle, I want him to be willingly guided between my reins and not lean in or out, this is alignment.

A horse’s body works a little like a swivel. When the front end is stuck out or leans to one direction the hind end will stick out in equal amounts in the other directions. (PUT DIAGRAM) When this happens I work on trying to align it back up so his spine is smack on the line or circle I am riding. When he is on my line I am very quiet so I create a quiet spot, with no pressure... I want my horse to hunt being in the middle of my reins and legs e.g. if my horse is leaning on my left rein I will turn and look to my right a little and pick him up and take him right until he comes off my left rein, when he does I release; I repeat this every time he leans on a rein I turn and take him the other direction till he finds the centre of me reins then release him. I work my horses in a lot of lines…. hexagons, squares, serpentines, wagon wheels, while making sure they stay in between my reins and legs and I release and get quiet whenever they are.  


Before I start working on my stops I work on my backup. I start by first shifting my weight a little and then I will draw on my reins (not pull) and I will hold until my horse takes one step then I release; I repeat this until I can move each foot individually and release on every step. In doing so I am working on my timing with their feet, if I don’t have timing with their feet I will have trouble directing them. To me their feet are what I am trying to move in the direction and speed that I want, therefore I am very particular about being in time with my horse’s feet!

Next, I start working on a stop at a walk. I have a rule… I never pull on a horse to stop, I pull on them for not stopping! While walking I pay attention to my horse’s feet, when the left foot is on the ground I will sit on my pockets and ask for a stop; I will catch the right foot with my reins as it is leaving or in the air to stop it from going forward, I will then hold it till it steps back and release when that right foot steps back. I repeat this till I can catch that right foot in the air and get it to step backwards with no resistance, then repeat on the left foot. Once I have this exercise solid at a walk I then progress to a trot. I want my horse to understand that when I sit on my pockets they are to get stopped. I spend a lot of time doing transitions up and down. I want it that good that I don’t rely on my reins to get them stopped, my reins are just the result of them not stopping. I need my horses to stop and hold the weight on their hind end to be able to lighten the front end up to turn around.


During spins and rollbacks, it is really important to know what your horse’s feet are doing. I like to know when my horse’s foot is leaving the ground as that is when I can direct and place it. The most important thing to remember is never rush a turn or spin, get the footwork correct first then speed comes later.

One of my main exercises to develop the spin is to place a cone on the ground, I want to be able to walk my horse evenly around that cone to where that cone is always in behind the calf of my leg when I look down at it, this means I have to keep forward momentum with little bend. I also try to be in time with my horses inside front foot e.g. if I am walking a circle around the cone to the left I work on when the left front foot leaves the ground is when I pick up my rein to direct his front end around the cone and I may also use my outside leg at the same time to help push that foot around the cone. When that inside foot lands on the ground I have to release the pressure from both my rein and leg a little but be ready to time up with it again as it is leaving the ground. This takes some practise but you will see the results if you can really get the timing and feel for a horses feet.

The same applies when I start working on a turnaround or rollback. I start by drawing my horse back and if turning to the left I will time up with when that left foot is out in front and that is when I will open and take my left rein to direct the horses left foot as it leaves the ground, bump a little with my outside foot and get my horse to step back up under my left foot, when it does I release.             

Turn Around Exercise

Walk a six or seven foot circle to the left, turn around one or two times, then walk off (A). Walk another six or seven foot circle to the right, turn around one or two times, then walk off (B). Repeat all over.

The Reward

Rollback Exercise

A. Walk in a straight line B. Pull the horses nose to the right, turn around and walk off in a straight line again. C and D. Perform right rollback. E. Perform a left rollback and walk in a straight line. F and G. Perform left rollbacks here as well. Maneuver all over the slide track repeating the procedure.


Warmup no different to any other day, break your manoeuvres down and go back to basics. Get your horse listening to you, his mind settled and relaxed. Keep the manoeuvres slow and correct! Don’t blow your horses mind and fatigue his body out of air before you go into show… get him smooth and willingly guided! The warmup and practise pen is not for show, use it to build your horses confidence.

I like to slow myself down, and slow my breathing down this helps me get quieter in my seat, hands and legs. I breathe in for a count of say 8 slowly then I make sure I count my breath out for 8… I consciously make my movements slow down. I look at the arena that I will be doing my pattern in and I visualise where I am going to ride my circles, where I will stop and where I will spin, so I have it in my head. I work on blocking a lot of things out so it is just me and my horse, no different than any other day.

Part of showing is knowing your horse’s strengths and showing them; if my horse is an awesome stopper then that is my focus, I don’t focus on the things that they may not do as well. I build more confidence in them by building on the things they understand and do well and pretty soon those things they struggle with get less and less... this applies to show day. Don’t overshow your horse. Words that stand out in the rule book for me are “smooth” and “willingly guided”, so think and breathe that. Train yourself to think positive! I like to pick three positive ideas or words I want to think about, I will even write it on my hand… it could be “look up and look for the centre line”, “shoulders back over hip”,  “Relax and enjoy”… think of anything and get good a practising these thought patterns!

Don’t change how you ride your horse to suit the judges or change it through watching others! Stay true to how you ride every other day for your horse's sake… no point being me all week then get to a show and start riding or showing like someone else. If you want to change things go home and practise there.

At the end of the day I remind myself to enjoy the process, that far out ways winning shows, they are just someone’s opinion on the day. I always know where my horse is and where he and I started and where I want to grow to… the relationship I have with my horses far out ways anything! 





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