Topic: Reaching

By Linda Scrivner

This month for my column I interviewed various trainers about how to make a horse reach. The industry prefers a horse with a good front end that is breaking and reaching and gliding behind. This has been one of the most difficult articles to write and several trainers declined my interview by saying that it was difficult to explain how to make a horse reach. One trainer simply said, “They’ll reach or they won’t.” I asked trainers first how to make a horse reach and then how they helped their back end. Below is a collection of the most helpful responses I was able to gather.

Sammy Day of Sammy Day Stables in Shelbyville, Tenn.

Sammy Day has ridden many world champions and at least two world grand champions, He’s Puttin’ On The Ritz and Ebony’s Mountain Man. At present, his son Jason Day also trains with him at Desiree’ Farms.

Sammy Day feels that lots of dog walking a horse and timing him makes him loose. (Dog walking is a term meaning that the horse walks slowly with headshake. Timing means that the horse rhythmically shakes and walks in time; timing is usually accomplished by repetition.)

Day also feels that the angle of the shoe makes a big difference. Most of the time if you raise the heel the horse will reach more, he said. Some horses reach more being flatter in the heel. Each horse is an individual. Day noted that it was important not to get the horse too heavy too quick.

He explained that it was very important to make sure a young horse gets reach before you teach him to break higher with his front end. He said that it’s very important that the horse doesn’t land on his heel while teaching him to reach. A lighter package (shoes and pads) makes a horse reach more, according to Day. He also uses rubber on the bottom of the package instead of shoes if a horse needs more reach.

He explained that lead on the bottom should be in the heel to help the horse reach, rather than the middle or the toe, as a general rule. Day stated, “I’ve had the best of luck this way. It’s trial and error on lots of horses. You have to adjust to what works for that horse. They’re all different. What works for one trainer may not work for another. It’s always a combination of things."

Day also uses blinders on some horses, which are placed over the eyes, to help a horse reach. When the horse can’t see the ground, it reaches up and out to feel for the ground. Once they start reaching, he weans them from the blinders. He begins by using blinders with a hole in the center the size of a dime. Then he graduates the horse up to blinders with a quarter sized hole and then to a pair that has holes the size of a half dollar. Progression is made only if the horse continues to reach. Some horses need longer than others.

Day explained that it is very important to tear a horse loose in the shoulder while they are young. This simply means that the colt develops the muscles enabling him to bring his legs up and out. If a colt doesn’t use his shoulders, he will simply bend his knees and fold.

Russ Thompson of Russ Thompson Stables of Chino, Calif.

Russ Thompson has also trained many world champions in both the amateur and open divisions. He directed Gen’s Armed And Dangerous to the world grand championship. Thompson has a little different perspective on teaching a horse to reach.

“First of all, I set his head. This makes him reach farther. It all goes hand in hand," Thompson began. "It’s very important not to overload a horse with shoes in front that are too heavy. This will cause a horse to fold. It's important to keep the weight under the natural foot and not out in front of him."

Thompson said the dynamic balance of the hoof and pastern is very important. The angle of the shoulder blade, the forearm, knee and ankle must all correspond and coincide for the horse to reach and move properly, he said. If these angles don’t coincide, a person needs to correct them before the horse can perform properly. It is important to adjust the shoe to get dynamic shorter angles if need be. If these angles are 45 degrees all the way down, the leg will work at the optical maximum. The shoe needs to be changed to give the proper angulation for optical peak performance, according to Thompson.

“Usually a small rubber package will help keep a horse reaching. Then a half shoe may be added, then a full shoe and the colt should continue to reach. If a colt has a history of not breaking up parentage, then you may want to start him breaking up quicker. If a colt reaches naturally, he will get off the ground quicker than one that you have to teach to reach first. Go to the weak point of a colt’s heritage and work on that first, “ Thompson continued.

“Horses are all the same in many ways, but they are all different. You need to know their heritage. It’s important to figure a horse out. You need to have a theory for every horse,” Thompson said.

He explained that to help a horse’s back end, he usually lowers him in the heel. This helps keep cracks and crevices off the back feet. Thompson uses caulks behind on shoes to keep a horse from slipping behind. If the horse slips, they tend to shorten their back end. It’s important to keep a horse from slipping. The rear end is enhanced when they have solid footing.

Sometimes Thompson uses a narrow shoe to get a horse to grip down tighter. He stated that some pleasure horse people believe that chalks on the shoes might make their horses sore behind. This is probably just because it makes them squarer and they don’t feel as smooth to the rider. The chalks get a horse to push harder behind. It exaggerates their rear end when going slow. They are very important when the footing changes to keep the horse from slipping.

Charlie Green of Charlie Green Stables at Victory Farm in Shelbyville, Tenn.

Charlie Green operates a successful training barn in Shelbyville and has produced many winning show horses.

“To make a horse reach, I shoe him as light as possible, sometimes with full rubber," Green began. "I usually shoe them higher in the heel to make them reach. Riding a horse down an incline with blindfolds will teach him to reach also. A lot depends on the colt, work him correctly and he’ll improve.

“For a square going horse, rollers on the back feet will help his back end. Tying his head down will help. Riding a horse in a straining gear, pushing and pulling to make them use their back end will develop the kind of back end that you want,” Green continued.

Green said driving will also help them develop a good back end. Driving makes them pull off their back end. Adding a tire behind your cart will also make them work harder and develop a better back end, he said. You can also use a heavier shoe behind on a square going horse. A grab on the toe of the shoe makes them pull harder, Green said.

Allan Callaway of Allan Callaway Stables in Shelbyville, Tenn.

Allan Callaway has ridden many world champions and grand champions and runs a successful training facility with his two sons.

“To make a horse reach I shoe him light, rubber versus a shoe," Callaway said. "Weight should be more in the heel than in the toe to make a horse reach. I use rubber or as light a package as possible and put the shoes on at a proper angle to make the horse land correctly.

“As far as back end, if a horse is stepping behind, square the toe or put a slight roll in it. If a horse is square going, a heavier show behind my help. I use a light shoe or aluminum shoe behind if the horse is pacey. I use as little chalk as possible. A shorter toe behind helps a horse because he has less toe to go over.”

Howard Hamilton of Southern Serenity Ranch in Cedar Grove, Tenn.

Howard Hamilton specializes mostly in plantation horses and has ridden many world champions and world grand champions in the flat-shod division.

“There are four things about shoeing that you have to work with on your horse-length, angle, weight and bearing," Hamilton said. "Bearing is how the horse hits the ground. I try to make a horse reach by making him hit on the heel. This makes him snappier up front. I move the shoe forward to accomplish this.

“In addition to the shoeing, the mouth is very useful in making a horse reach. I back a horse off the bit. I tie their heads back often. Feeling the horse is very important. It all works together. I squeeze with my legs and they pop up in front. If a horse is leaning on the bit, he won’t break and reach right. I bump them and send them on up to make them reach. I can’t emphasize enough that nothing beats the talent of that horse.

“The biggest shoe is wrong. Big weight or too much weight will make a horse fold instead of reach. Keep pushing the horse as you ride him. Use your hands, feet, seat and your mind. Concentrate and focus on the feel of the horse. Learn to push him so that he reaches and breaks. I use the mouth and shoeing to get the desired gait. Usually the less foot the smoother the gait. Kicking and bumping a horse achieves the desired gait if done properly."

Winky Groover of Winky Groover Stables of Shelbyville, Tenn.

Winky Groover is another highly successful trainer in Shelbyville, following in the footsteps of his father, Wink Groover.

“There are three ways that I make a horse reach," Groover said. "First I ride fast to make him reach. I also bit one to reach. The higher the head, the more the horse uses his knees. By dropping the horse's head, he uses his shoulder more.”

“As far as shoeing, I lighten the shoe to make a horse reach,” Groover continued. “Full rubber gets more reach. Shoe the horse to reach, but to land on the ground comfortably. Jacking a horse in the heel may or may not work. Some hit so hard on their heels that they can’t reach. You need to keep the foot short and light, and they will reach more. A big long shoe may cause a horse not to reach. Sometimes a horse may reach if you drop their feet a little flatter.

“Most horses that can’t reach can’t go fast. I use light chains and shoes and teach them to go fast. If a horse goes fast and doesn’t lose his back end, he is reaching. I teach a horse to reach without blinders and he’ll stay reaching. If you go fast, a horse will use his shoulders; if they use their shoulders, they’ll reach. I also drop their head to help with reach.”

“To help the back end," he said. "I also go fast. If a horse is short behind, his head is too high. Keep a horse swinging to get back end. The more bit in the mouth, the swingier the horse will be. It’s important to break a horse loose in the shoulder. You need to get reach first. They won’t reach if they have too much foot. Horses have to be born with a back end. Use less foot and more bit to make them have a good back end. More shank on a bit will give your a little swing,“ Groover concluded.

Clay Avent of Lewisburg, Tenn

Clay Avent is one of the prominent farriers in Middle Tennessee. His father was also a farrier. Avent has shod two world grand champions, Masquerading and Pride’s Jubilee Encore. “They both reached.” Avent said after I stated my topic.

“The first thing I would do to make a horse reach is to put full rubber on him, wedge to the max, trim his toe to naturally stand behind the point of the shoulder-therefore everything has to go forward because he can’t fold,” Avent began.

“I would put a horse either on a full shoe or half rubber after he starts reaching. Not reaching is the biggest problem with padded horses. I would use the maximum wedges and still stay in the heel/toe ratio that the government requires. If that doesn’t work, I trim the natural toe until it is behind the point of the shoulder and he’ll reach,” he said.

“As far as helping the back end, if a horse is too square gaited, I cut his hoof low on the inside to widen him behind. I remove the heel on the back foot and I may use a heavier shoe. If the horse is too pacey, I keep him real straight with a short toe and stand him up with a light shoe behind, perhaps a keg shoe. Having a competent trainer to shoe for makes it easy," he said.