Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Crossfire correction

Hi JR,

I love your blog!

The reason for this email is to ask you a question about my gelding who crossfires badly. When I ask for the lope he starts off cross firing, but after I bring him down to a trot and ask for the lope again from the trot then he picks it up fine. But after a while he will drop the lead behind while he is loping and it just aggravates me. It is only when we ask for the lope from the stop. We have had the vet out to check him out to see if he is having any problems with his back since this is a new problem that we have been having with him. His saddle does fit him properly and that is not an issue either and the vet has found nothing wrong with him.

We have tried everything, bitting up, long lining, asking him to start in small circles and none of that works. He is my western riding horse and my western pleasure horse and this has cost me a few ribbons. All this does is frustrate my trainer and I both.

Do you have any suggestions?




Yes Julie, there are a few things that you can do.

First of all for those of you that do not know what cross firing means, it is when a horse picks up the correct lead in the front and the wrong lead in the rear. It can be the most Gawd awful thing to ride. But it is fixable!

I want to talk about the mechanics of picking up the lead first.

First of all stay out of your horses face when you work on this.

When I am going to ask a horse to lope, I usually like to ask them to lope from the stop, until they learn how to position themselves for the lead. So normally I do a lot of walking and stopping and asking the horse to keep his shoulders straight and I like to leave his head alone. Then when I feel the horse is ready, I will ask him to lope, normally they pick up the correct lead without any help from me. (I know we have gone over this before, but there are a few differences in fixing this problem.) It is important that we remember that the leads start on the outside hind leg. If the outside hind is underneath the horse the next step for the horse to take is to lift his inside shoulder and drive off of his inside hind allowing him to lope.

Horses that crossfire from the departure, usually are just out of position and need to learn to reposition the hind legs. Horse that crossfire while they are loping have usually fallen out behind.

When I have a horse that crossfires, instead of asking him to pick up the lope from the stop, what I will ask him to do, is stop, push his shoulders to the outside of the circle, that will make his outside hind take step back. After, he takes a step back with the outside hind, I will ask him to take one step forward before asking him to lope. By taking that first step forward at the walk, that teaches the horse to put his outside underneath himself before the departure. I could actually just ask the horse to rock back on his hind end, however, I am more interested in having the horse fix the basic mechanics so it becomes a habit. Besides, you are better off taking the few extra steps and a little extra time to fix this.

When he is loping and you feel him start to slow down, when you feel that he is going to drop the lead, just put your inside leg on him and speed him up. A little bit of speed can be corrected later on. What the focus is on at the moment is getting the hind end under them and getting the horse to use it correctly.


CharlesCityCat said...


I enjoy hearing you describe the actual mechanics of why and how. In my area we call it crossed-up, so took me a second.

I haven't had a horse who had this problem with a regular canter, but Spunky was hell on wheels getting him to do clean flying changes without being crossfired going from right to left. We finally got it, but I am sure it was my fault.

joanna said...

What cues do you give for the lead? I'm to lazy to look through all the old posts. I use outside leg back, inside leg at girth, outside rein (I ride english). Am I wrong? It just feels right to me. My mother's horse cues backward from that and it's impossible to a correct lead from the start. I usually have to ask a couple of times before I get it. Then again the woman who was supposed to be training him did a lousy job. A nicely started horse came back screwy.

JohnieRotten said...

Sorry Joanna.

I forgot all about that. What you are doing is correct.

GoLightly said...

I'd wonder a little about his conformation.
If he's built real close behind, anyway and if he's quite straight legged, and all. Sorry.
Hill work can help, trouble is finding hills.

Boredom, too, can be a factor.

Changing up what you do can make them more interested in what you're doing.
Lots of transitions, to build his strength.
Learning how to rock back onto that outside hind, in preparation for the lead.

You aren't "wrong", joanna.
If the horse has been started using different cues, he'll be confused. You'll need to re-school him to correct usage of your cues.

Great descriptions, JR!

joanna said...

Oh good, so I'm not a lousy rider. Before he left he had a nice mouth, looking for the bit. When he came back, it was hard and he tended to overflex, seeming to be afraid of my hand. Poor boy.

joanna said...

Every horse I've ever ridden, from greenies to schoolies, have cued this way. Different farms, different trainers. I just don't get her methods.

You know, your right, GL. It may not be a lameness, per se. Just a weakly muscled hind end and back. Memory jog: I rode a horse that crossfired a lot, even though he was sound. We did a lot of work at the walk and trot, up and down transitions, even trot poles. Mostly getting him to track up as much as possible behind. We didn't canter for a long time. Once he built up those muscles, he could hold himself better at the canter. Self carriage! Sometimes people forget that it's not just the shoulders and hindquarters, but the back, too.

CharlesCityCat said...

Okay, I have to admit I was taught a different way to ask for the canter. I also ride hunters. I was taught to ask for the lead by using a bit of outside leg/heel and a bit of inside rein. Seemed to work real well but I guess the horses were trained that way.

In thinking about it, it really all comes down to asking with the outside leg. Spunky only needed a touch with my outside heel to pick it up, Whinnie and Wizard are the same. Lazy ass Buck practically takes an act of God so I won't go there.

joanna said...

My old mare was so sensitive, all I needed was my outside seat bone and both legs driving her forward. From the stand still. It was fun when in an equitation class I was in, we had to switch horses. The girl who got her had no idea how to ride her. My mare was all seat, little hand or leg.

Cut-N-Jump said...

Joanna, not many classes anymore where people switch horses, but certainly a good test of a riders ability and how well they can assess a horses training level and get any or all that they can from them.

Too many one horse wonders out there anymore. Sure they win a lot on a certain horse. But when that horse is gone, they are totally lost. Sad really as they lose out on the joys horses have to offer. But then they may be the kind who are only in it for the ribbons and the spotlight. Those we can do without.

joanna said...

I know what you mean. There was a guy I knew back in college, we rode on the intercollegiate team together. He had that "something". It's indescribable. Any horse he got on, even the hottest ones, just totaly settled under him. They all went like quiet little hunters. Accepting the bit, doing anything he asked. That's not something you see everyday, and it was a beautiful thing to watch. Oh, and he always won his class.

GoLightly said...

"Too many one horse wonders out there anymore."

The big equitation classes do call for switching horses. As they should. Really separates the wheat from the chaff, as it were.

The CoolesT part of the World ShowJumping Championships is seeing the final four riders riding each others horses.
Remember Shutterfly going "Um, NO, I will not be saddled by that!!"

Fascinating to watch the great ones..

Cut-N-Jump said...

GL- the video series "The Horse in Sport" showed that. Yes, videos. Showing some age there aren't I?

I loved that series. The competition they showed had the big grey stallion, Abdullah. The woman drew him as her ride and won it. Also showed Michael Matz schooling a big chestnut horse on the flat and then over some crossrails. He made a reference to Carl Lewis.

Switching horses in competition? Not going to find that happening much around here. Although it certainly should!

JR- Ann's horse Ellie, is sired by Abdullah.

GoLightly said...

The woman, was Gail Greenough, first woman, first Canadian.
Mr. T., her horse.
What a horse. What a rider.
It was so tragic that she lost him after that.
Oh yeah.
I still have it.
That, I won't lend!

I'm old, ya know:)

GoLightly said...

14th, too.

hls said...

God, can you imagine the look on an insurance company rep's face when you told them 'and in this class everyone switches horses'? I'm sure the rep would literally turn pale white and pass right out. Oh the liability! :-)

But what a great way to see if a) your horse is well-trained and b) if you can really ride. I was also reading about how trail classes have changed so much because of liability issues. I guess they used to be really interesting with extremely hard and scary obstacles, but now they're mostly just ground poles with a mailbox and a gate thrown in for good measure.

Very interesting post, JR. My mare has cantering issues (as do I...haha), so I read it with enthusiasm.