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Question from Mary in Washington: I saw a few wrecks at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno this year, which made me wonder, what are the most important things an amateur should be thinking about when learning to go down the fence?

Les: Going down the fence is not all it seems when you first see it. There’s lot more to it; there are a lot of adjustments that need to be made, and a lot of judgments that need to be made or it can be very dangerous.

As an amateur just starting down the fence, you have to learn to rate. There’s a time limit to the time you approach the cow and the time it takes the cow to get to the wall. How do you not hit the wall when your trainer is telling you not to take your eyes off the wall? You need markers – whether it’s flags, cones, gates – anything that will tell you where you are without having to look up.

The second thing is to realize that control of the cow depends on the departure, when the cow leaves the corner. Are you in a position of control, are you up on the cow so that your horse’s eye is between the hip bone and the tail set of that cow as he leaves the corner, and are you going the same speed as the cow?

An expert will run a horse down the fence 4 to 6 feet from a cow. When you’re learning, I would suggest 10 to 15, even 20 feet out from the cow, that way you are safe. If the cow comes to you, simply pull up. I’ve never crossed a cow because I respect how dangerous that situation can be. My mind is always ready to guard against it.

If you see it might happen, if you can’t wave your horse a slight bit away from the cow to save the day, then pull up! It’s pull up to go down the fence another day. Please respect that it’s very dangerous. If you don’t pull up and bulldoze over that cow, your horse will roll over him, and you might end up at the bottom of the heap. You could get hurt or die. If that ever happens, it’s from lack of control or judgment. If you don’t feel like you don’t have enough control of your horse to pull up under those circumstances, than don’t do it. Just don’t do it. Get another horse.

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