Ask Our Expert - Ron Emmons

Ron EmmonsCalifornia reined cow horse trainer Ron Emmons prepares horses for major events such as the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Snaffle Bit Futurity and World’s Greatest Horseman. Emmons and Olena Oak won the World’s Greatest event in 2012, and successfully defended their title in 2013. The professional horseman grew up on his family ranch in California, and today resides in Ione with his wife, LaDona.

Ron EmmonsThis Month's ExpertRon Emmons

California reined cow horse trainer Ron Emmons prepares horses for major events such as the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Snaffle Bit Futurity and World’s Greatest Horseman. Emmons and Olena Oak won the World’s Greatest event in 2012, and successfully defended their title in 2013. The professional horseman grew up on his family ranch in California, and today resides in Ione with his wife, LaDona. For more information on Ron Emmons and his training, visit lends his expertise to the April issue’s Essential Gear, where he talks about his favorite training bit. Read the article on page 38.

Q: I have an 8-year-old Quarter Horse that is a rough ride. Her trot is horrendous! It is enough to bounce me out of the saddle, and her canter is killing me. She is not cross-firing. What could be the cause of such a rough stride? What can I do to change that?

Doris, Idaho

A: The cause of the rough stride may be that the horse is just not a good mover. There are some ways to help this. What I would do is to start extending the horse’s stride. At a walk to the left, I would hold her nose to the left and push her right hip out so that she is reaching farther with her hind feet. It is almost like a turn on the forehand, but while moving. What the horse is doing is reaching out and crossing her legs, so she is stretching her hips to the right to loosen them up. Do that at a walk in both directions. Then, come back at the trot and do the same thing. What this does is make the outside hind foot hold the ground longer, and by spreading the leg it makes the horse reach farther. This must be done slow at first and then moved up so the horse learns to reach with her hind legs and widen her stride. If you can get your horse to hold the ground with her hind legs, then it will slow down her stride and make it more of a rocking motion instead of a bouncing motion.

At the lope, the horse could be four-beating and not driving from behind. If I were working to the left, I would curve her nose to the left, into the circle, and push with the outside foot to make the horse’s inside hind leg reach farther. When the inside leg reaches up underneath your stirrup it creates a longer stride, and by holding your horse’s nose to the inside it softens her spine. This makes the horse think about reaching with her legs. Nose to the inside, hip to the inside. It is almost the same maneuver as the trot done but done at the lope, but just to the inside.

If you do this slow and start at a walk, it will get your horse soft in the face and able to control her hips and shoulders. It can take as little as a week to show some improvement if your horse is able to give her body and you ride her every day. But, it takes an older horse longer because that horse has learned to go forward with a flat back and rigid spine, so you are re-teaching that horse. It is always better to go back to the basics and slow down if you have a problem. Spread the hind legs outward at the trot and drive them underneath the horse at the lope. You have to get the horse soft first.

Q: I have a mare that was working well when I practiced and showed in the trail, especially sidepassing logs. Lately, I have been trying to gain more lateral movement at the walk and trot so I can start doing lead changes, but she is becoming less responsive when I ask her to move off my left leg. I even put her nose to a fence so she would have to move to the right, but she reared instead of sidepassing. What could be the cause—she is not vetting as sore—and how do I keep myself safe but correct this?

Jessica, Texas

A: First, you have to stop the rearing. The only way to do that is break the ribcage loose and flex the spine. What happens when a horse rears up is that the spine gets rigid and there is no flexibility. So, the only way to break that loose is to softly pull the nose to one side and add your leg, pushing the other way with your leg so that the horse’s body [bends] right under where you are sitting. Do that in both directions, laterally. The nose has to come toward the foot you are using to flex in the back.

So, pull the nose to the left and use your left leg to push the horse to the right. This loosens the spine like a Gumby instead of how the horse is, like a board. Pull the nose and push the rib. If you get the ribs soft and the horse moving off your foot, then the face will soften. We have to start with the rearing problem because you have to get the horse to loosen up. As long as you have the horse broke loose in the spine you can maneuver her.

Now, we need to break the hips loose. You break the spine loose to get the lateral movement, then go back and try to move the hips and shoulders. You may have to use the same technique as the first question, pushing the hind legs apart and then drawing them under you. To loosen the hips, pull the nose the direction you want to go and then drive the hip in the same direction. You want the horse to crab-crawl across the ground.

To loosen the inside shoulder, use a direct rein to pull the horse in the direction you want to go while walking. So, right rein, right shoulder and vice versa. Encourage the horse to walk into a circle, cross the front legs and loosen the shoulders. When the horse is starting into the circle, bring the outside rein to the neck and add indirect rein pressure. The outside rein will help bring the outside shoulder across, but continue moving forward and crossing over at the same time. Keep alternating between direct and indirect reins to loosen the shoulders.

I think this question and the one above are because the horses are not loosened up and are not moving their body parts. The same theory will work for both the first question and this horse.

Q: How and when would you introduce a green-broke horse to cows? My 12-year-old Paint seems good at it and I want to expose her to as many things as possible. But, what is the safest manner to introduce her? With me riding or put her in a pen with them?

Sarah, Pennsylvania

A: I start horses on cattle as 2-year-olds. The easiest way—even with an older horse—is to bring an older, slower cow into a round corral or small pen. Get the horse to follow the cow slowly and controlled. I hold the horse in a position where I am driving the cow and the horse can “connect” with the cow. That is a big deal, getting the horse to connect with the cow. Most horses, no matter the breed, want to chase a cow. You want to get the horse to follow, or “chase,” the cow very slowly. A slow cow is perfect to use. Then, get the horse into a position to control the cow.

Position and connection are very important. You want to push the cow around, but stop the horse when the cow stops and turn when the cow turns. On a green horse, you can’t school or reprimand it much until it connects with the cow. With your mare, make sure you do this at a safe distance so that if the cow jumps or spooks it doesn’t scare your horse and loose the connection. My biggest advice is to take your time and be correct. As the horse’s interest and talent increases, then add speed.

You could benefit from buying some videos that show the proper position for a horse to control a cow and show how to start a horse on a cow. Get online or watch some tapes so you know the proper position before you start. Stay a safe distance when you mirror the cow’s movements. But, if you start with a slow cow and work slowly and are in control of the horse, it is safe to start horseback.

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If you'd like to submit a question, please email Assistant Editor Kate Bradley at by March 25.  Please include your full name, city and state in your inquiry.  Depending on the volume of questions received, some questions may not be answered. Western Horseman retains the right to edit submissions for clarity.