What the heck is Garrocha?
The Garrocha pole originated in Spain and was used by the Vaquero (cowboys) for moving cattle. The pole itself is around 12 to 13 feet in length. It replaced the traditional method of roping cattle and became a useful tool for fighting wild bulls. The length of the pole gave protection and time for the horse and rider to react to a charging bull.
The garrocha pole also became a handy tool for weeding out wild bulls that would eventually be used for bull fighting. The Vaquero would use the pole to poke the bulls to try to provoke a fight or flight response and ultimately gage which bulls would be suitable for the bullfighting ring.
The degree of skill required when using the pole has become an important skill for development and has evolved into an art form in itself.
I was first introduced to Garrocha while watching Julio Mendoza’s performances in the Theatre Equus at the Pennsylvania Horseworld Expo. The skill and beauty of the movements of Julio and his horse is definitely something not soon forgotten.
Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun, Jun 19, 2012, Julio Mendoza’s dancing horses and la Garrocha
My Experience with the Garrocha Pole
Last fall, my horse Rio and I attended a clinic with Patrick King. Garrocha was on the agenda for the 2nd day. Initially, I had convinced myself that I would skip that part of the agenda because I knew what Garrocha was and thought “there’s no way my horse is going to do that!”. Well, Patrick was having none of that and I was strongly encouraged to participate.
The group started with learning how to handle the poles on the ground with no horses around. As you can imagine, having 10 people carrying around a 12 foot solid wooden pole is not so easy. We quickly learned how to not hurt each other by learning the proper way to carry the pole. We then practiced the pinwheel movement, rotating the pole from top to bottom in a circular motion. In short order, we were soon practicing how to turn and change directions with the pole on the ground while not clonking ourselves (or others) in the head.
Photo Credit: Patrick King Horsemanship
Once we were mostly comfortable with handling the poles without our horses, we introduced them to our horses. We spent quite a bit of time on the ground desensitizing our horse to the pole and its movements. This included touching the horse with the pole, because as you can imagine, once we mount, there will be contact with our horse's neck, face, or rump with that pole. The last thing you need is your horse spooking or bolting from the contact.
Eventually, the entire group was mounted and moving around the arena with our poles in hand. By the end of the day, we all had the skills to pinwheel the pole, move in circles, and change direction. Mind you, this was all at a very slow speed.
And Rio was a champ through it all!
I definitely gained a new found respect for those who can perform with the Garrocha Pole at a canter. It’s HARD!
On a side note...if you ever have the opportunity to participate in one of Patrick's clinics, I highly recommend it!
So Why Would You Do This with Your Gaited Horse?
The Garrocha can be used as a training aid and used to improve your horsemanship and relationship with your horse.
The following information was found on http://www.tnthorsemanship.com
Here are the major items I have discovered which improved my horsemanship while practicing with the
Posture & Focus: Since the pole is always held in your right hand, it requires that you sit up straight in the saddle with shoulders, hips, and legs correctly positioned to influence the horse. It seems remarkable that a simple 13-foot long pole, placed in your right hand or resting on your right shoulder could so easily effect how you sit in the saddle…But it does! In addition, the use of the garrocha directly influences your ability to focus, which of course influences your posture. Looking where you want to go, around or under the pole and then visualizing the maneuver will become second-nature when you add the element of the garrocha to your routine.
Rhythm & Timing: The master horseman of old and current will concur on the importance of ‘rhythm’ as we develop our horses. The ability to ride a perfect circle, with consistent rhythm, is perhaps one of the most difficult exercises to achieve. By placing the point of the garrocha on the ground and riding forward around it in a circle, you quickly recognize if your horse’s shoulders are falling in or if hips are casting out. Then when you add the elements such as a turn on center or canter pirouette under the garracho, you definitely begin to recognize the need for timing, multitasking your aids, rhythm and focus.
Balance & Use of Aids: Intimately related to good posture, the garracho requires you to develop an understanding of your balance and pressure aids, so that you can stay out of the way of the horse and yet influence his positive balance. Again, it is amazing that a simple little pole could assist us in easily understanding the balance and aids needed to accomplish maneuvers such as half-pass or leg-yield, but it will! With the pole in your hand, you will quickly see and feel common mistakes, such as using your seat to ‘push’ the horse sideways. In this case, as your upper body leans away from the pole and you try to ‘push’ the horse into it, the horse will see the decreased angle and recognize that there is no room for his body. By straightening-up, sitting or balancing the direction you want the horse to move sideways, you maintain an open angle with the pole, inviting the horse to move closer.
Confidence & Fun! This may be the biggest benefit. It takes confidence in both horse and rider to work with a 13-foot long pole! Riding around, under, away from, and carrying the pole is not easy and more than a little intimidating at first. However, it is amazing how quickly both horse and rider take to the maneuvers. Add a little Spanish guitar music, and even a simple circle at the walk with the garrocha becomes a dance. (Note: In traditional performance, the art form of using the garrocha is accomplished only at the walk and canter, with reins attached to the belt, and always only the right hand or resting on the right shoulder is the garrocha placed.)