Ask Our Expert - Russell Dilday
This Month's Expert Russell Dilday
Russell Dilday was raised in the San Joaquin Valley and worked on ranches throughout Arizona, California, Nevada and Australia. Before transitioning to training full time, he cowboyed and trained colts under Greg Ward. The Wynnewood, Oklahoma, trainer was named World’s Greatest Horseman in 2008, 2009 and 2011, making him the only trainer to have earned the title three times. Carrying him to the titles was Topsails Rien Maker, the first cow horse to become a Breyer horse model. Dilday also won the 2008 National Reined Cow Horse Association Bridle Spectacular, in addition to being a finalist at many other major NRCHA events.
Q: Can you give me some ideas on how to transition a horse from the snaffle to a shank bit? What are the best bits to go to after a snaffle? Do you recommend starting with a leather curb strap instead of a curb chain?
Shelley, West Virginia
A: If you want to move your horse from a snaffle bit to a shank bit, a little Billy Allen with a medium shank is a nice bit to move to, whether you have a leather curb or a chain curb. Regardless of the curb, what is most important is how you handle your bit.
When you take ahold of it, make sure he gets soft on it every time. The added leverage with the shank snaffle will make your horse seem lighter. You have to make sure that he is remaining light when you release the bridle. If you release the bridle and he returns to a position that you did not want, you didn't teach him to get soft. Instead, you just held him where you wanted while he was holding against you the whole time. When you release, you want him to remain where you asked him to be. You want him to want to be there, not just be there because the leverage of the shanks allows you to force him there.
A constant tug-of-war with a horse is what [cow horse trainer and NRCHA Hall of Fame member] Ronnie Richards calls the slingshot. You do not want your horse to slingshot out of position when you release the bridle. If he does it means he was leaning on the bit and you the whole time. You have to remember to stay light and keep your horse light. Don't let the shanks of that bit trick you into thinking your horse is soft, when all that really happened is you got a little more leverage. Always make sure he is staying soft.
Q: My 6-year-old Quarter Horse is notorious for dropping his right shoulder. No matter if we are riding a straight line or doing circle work, he drops it and “falls” to the right. How can I keep him straight?
A: Courtney, just go ahead and let that horse lean to the right. When he does drop his shoulder, take hold of him but don't pull his head to the left. Leave his head straight or still looking to the right and knock his shoulders to the left. You can do this by asking for a half turn, quarter turn, or all the way around. Then put him down [by releasing the reins] and walk, trot, or lope off again. If he still leans, pick him up and correct him again. Continue doing that until when you put him down he does not lean to the right.
I would bet money that while he is leaning, you are always holding him up. You must turn him loose, and when he falls over to one side, knock him back just hard enough to get him off your leg or rein, whichever you are using. You want him knowing that every time he leans to the right, you're going to make him lean to the left, and pretty soon he will quit leaning over there.
What you're doing now by trying to hold him up is teaching him to live with the pressure that you’re putting on him, whether it’s with your foot or your reins.
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