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    The Five Easy Pieces: Exercises to take control of your horse’s body zones

    By LES VOGT / Horsetrader columnist - December 17th, 2009 - More with Les

    Continuing in a Series
    This time, we introduce the topic of Exercise No. 5: How this fits into the program. In the next few installments, Les Vogt takes you through exercises of his Five Easy Pieces. When you’ve mastered them, you should be able to put any part of your horse’s body where you want it, without resistance.

    Exercise No. 5: How this fits into the program
    When you can do Exercise No. 5 with ease, you’re going to have achieved control of every part of your horse, and that means you have the tools to both create good maneuvers and to fix faulty ones.

    Also, once you can do maneuver No. 5 in a serpentine pattern, you really have the skills and control you need to do a lead change, you’re just doing it in reverse. There are several other exercises we’ll work on before we’re ready to change leads, but they will all build on and reinforce the skills that you have learned as you’ve mastered these five exercises. Congratulations!

    Exercise No. 5: You will back your horse in a circle, with his spine matching the circumference of the circle. You need to control every part of your horse’s body to make this work, so it's a great test to see if all the parts are functioning correctly.

    Exercise No. 5: You will back your horse in a circle, with his spine matching the circumference of the circle. You need to control every part of your horse’s body to make this work, so it's a great test to see if all the parts are functioning correctly.

    Developing hip control through backing
    By now, your horse should be backing fluidly, and it’s time to maneuver him around a little while he’s doing it, and that’s what Exercise No. 5 is all about. In Exercise No. 5, you will back your horse in a circle, with his spine matching the circumference of the circle. You need to be able to control every part of the horse’s body to make this work, so it’s a great test to see if all the parts are functioning correctly. I probably do it with every horse I ride every day.

    If you’re having problems at this when you first start, it probably means you need to spend more time on Exercise No. 4 first. Remember: To try to get through these exercises too fast will only catch up to you later when you don’t get the response you want from your horse and you have to return to the basics. Get each exercise down cold before you move on. And any time you encounter a problem with a new exercise, go back to the last one to tune up your skills, and then try again.

    There’s a lot to think about when you’re doing this, so make sure that you don’t concentrate so hard that you get mechanical with your cues. It may take some practice, but once you have mastered it, you have also mastered the same cues and body position you will need for counter canter and the lead change—that is, holding the shoulder out of the way while you move the hip.

    Lead changes in reverse
    When you can do Exercise No. 5 both directions fairly fluidly, try backing in a figure eight, and then move on to a serpentine. Remember to hold the shoulder out and push the hip in. Keep practicing this drill every time you ride.

    First, if the horse freezes up anywhere it means one of his body parts needs to be loosened up again. Go work on that and then come back to the circle back. Second, the better you get at the sequence of cues you need to back the figure eight—hold the shoulder, move the hip—the easier the lead changes will come to you in the future, so you just can’t spend too much time here.

    Next time, we’ll finish up this ongoing topic series and discuss: Putting The Five Easy Pieces Together.

    Editor’s Note: More with Les is a regular California Horsetrader column. Les Vogt has won more than 15 World Championships, including two wins at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. Although Les still rides and occasionally shows, his focus is giving clinics around the world and developing products for the performance horseman. To learn more about Les and to see his clinic schedule, visit the Web site: www.lesvogt.com

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