DEAR DANA: I have a 9-year old Quarter Horse-Arab Cross. He’s a very “forward-thinker,” especially at the lope where he tends to drop his inside shoulder and fall in. I’ve always tried to correct this by bringing my inside hand over and up and trying to get him to pick up his shoulder — but I am ALWAYS having to do this. How do I get him to hold himself?
Josh Raver, Temecula
That is a very good question, and probably one of the most common issues I see. One important concept that you need to understand is that when a horse is loping, their body needs to be on a slight arc. To be exact, their outside hind foot needs to fall in between the two front feet and ideally you need to see the back corner of the inside eye. This isn’t anything a man has thought up – it’s simply how horses are made. Even loose in a pasture or in the wild, they perform the lope on a slight arc.
For example, on a right lead they are in a bend to the right. So which came first, the chicken of the egg? In other words, do you put the horse on the arc by picking up the shoulder and moving it to the outside of the circle? Or, do you maintain the arc by moving the hip to the inside of the circle and tipping the nose to the inside?
To answer that question correctly you need to identify which body part of your horse is out of position. It may be just his shoulder or hip… or it could be his whole body. It’s important to see big picture of the problem, so that you can address the whole horse and not just the shoulders.
When the shoulder falls to the inside, it throws the hips to the outside. Likewise, if the hips fall to the outside, the horse’s body weight falls to his shoulder, causing the shoulder to drop to the inside. I recommend that first you diagnose your horse to the best of your ability, then work on the whole horse staying on that arc. When the hips are to the inside, the inside hind, lead leg takes the bigger step to help keep the shoulders up and out of the way. When your horse drops his shoulders to the inside, the hind step shortens and he falls out of balance. The hindquarters are the drivetrain of the horse, so most of the horse’s power comes from behind. Even if your problem starts with the shoulder falling in first, once you strengthen and position the hindquarters, your horse’s problems usually resolve themselves.
Another key component is that your horse is truly following his nose. When a horse’s body is not following his nose, his energy flow may be leaning and drifting out one way or another. If you are loping a circle to the right, make sure your horses face is pointed in the direction that you want to go. Also keep in mind that when you continually pick up that shoulder, your horse is learning to lean on you and he’s not really carrying himself.
I recommend you vary your routine. Ride squares or rectangles. If your horse drops his shoulder, stop and roll him back the opposite way, or head off on a counter canter. Often I will stop and diagnose which body part leaned or got off track, then I will fix that part.
I also do a lot of exercises isolating certain body parts to gain more control of them. For example, if I’m loping a circle to the right and I feel that he is leaning his hips and rib cage on my left leg, I may stop and push his hip around his front end at the walk or jog off of my left leg. This exercise not only increases responsiveness to my leg, it strengthens and supples my horse through his hindquarters. I work all the main parts of my horse’s body. The more you do this, the more balanced he will become — and the easier his job will be to perform!
Also, as you said, he is a “forward-thinker,” and these exercises will help that problem, too. He has had his own way, and now you are asking him to pay attention to you. If he wants to be forward, just stop him firmly (but don’t scare him), back him, roll back and try again. Make him think and wait on you.
I hope this helps!
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