I can remember the first time I watched a video of Stacy Westfall. It showed her winning the All American Quarter Horse Congress Freestyle Reining competition. She was riding her black mare, Whizards Baby Doll, riding both bridleless and bareback. The communication and teamwork between Stacy and her horse were amazing. I watch the video every now and then and still get teary
In 2018 Equitana came to Melbourne and Stacy Westfall was on the program to deliver a “masterclass”. I got tickets and had the time of my life!
During the class, Stacy demonstrated an exercise using 5 safety cones and the horse and rider worked a clover pattern around these cones. As I mentioned earlier, I am not a horsewoman but I believe the purpose of the exercise was to help the horse to respond to subtle cues ( eg. yielding to leg pressure and responding to the use of the reigns). It also taught the rider to sit correctly in the saddle and to look in the direction of travel as they approached the cone.
This really resonated with me as I began to think about dog agility. One of the things I teach my students is about congruency between your verbal cue, your upper body directional cue and your lower body movement cue. Loss of connection between these three elements can disrupt the flow of information from the handler to the dog which can break the flow of the run.
Often when the lower body becomes disengaged the handler will overcompensate by using more upper body movement or louder verbal cues.
How to perform the clover drill.
- The dog path is depicted by the green line (ie path is where you expect your dog to run)
- The dog’s path will create the 4 leaf clover
- The dog should start on the right of the centre cone
- The handler should start on the left of the centre cone
- The handler should send the dog out around each cone so that the dog travels around each cone in an anti-clockwise direction.
- After travelling around the outside cone the dog must pass around the centre cone as indicated by the green path line.
- Direct the dog around the
centrecone and then direct the dog around the next outside cone.
- The order of performance of the outside cones is as numbered in a clockwise direction.
- The dog will repeat the process for all 4 leaves of the clover.
Handler movement and lower body engagement;
- It is important to keep your lower body moving and connected to your upper body directions (path drawing). The handler needs to move their feet to push into space to shape the nice plump cloverleaf path (see dashed arrow in the image below)
- Keep your lower body engaged and connected to your upper body. Pushing into space should create nice plump clover leaves.
- If the leaves of your clover look like blades of grass then you are most likely just performing the cones rather than shaping the path
- If the edges of the cloverleaf look like they have been nibbled on by a grasshopper, then you are not moving or drawing smoothly.
- Failure to move your lower body will make it difficult to perform the pattern correctly
I regularly use the clover drill exercise with Paws to Consider students at workshops. I encourage all students to routinely perform the drill to encourage habit formation of lower body engagement.
This exercise easily exposes disengagement of the upper body from the lower body.