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Wrapping up hip control

- May 1st, 2019

This exercise (“Exercise 5”) allows Les to find out if his zones will work together. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t; if they don’t you have to fix it.

Lots of signals in different directions

Aim for no resistance and good energy flow

What else is exercise # 5 good for? Develops muscles, tendons and ligaments for stopping on one side at a time

Making a horse relax

When you have control of all four zones, especially the head and neck, you can use this maneuver to take any tension out of the horse.

How much should you use this? 20–30 times a day is not unreasonable. If you’re getting stuck, identify the problem part and then work on it by itself. Then sneak from that exercise back into #5; the Columbo approach.

Hip Control through Backing

- April 1st, 2019

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 number five is all about. In exercise number five 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 number four first. Remember: To try to go 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.

Circles & Lope Departures I

- March 1st, 2019

Here are some take-aways from Les’s recent columns introducing circles, departures and speed control.

Lope Departures
Collection: Before you can have walk to lope departures, you must be able to collect your horse without resistance. If you find resistance or a stiff spot, fix it before continuing.

Best frame: Straight through the head, neck, shoulders, ribs, and hips.

Acceptable: Head to the inside, shoulder to the outside.

Speed Control

- February 1st, 2019

Foundation Training for the Performance Horse with Les Vogt

What is speed control? It’s when we are moving at any gait and have the capacity to reduce or increase speed at will, with little or no effort on the part of the rider. There are a lot of ways to cue a horse to change speeds, but what we will work with here is the concept of riding with the motion. There are three actual ways to ride a horse’s motion: most people ride with the motion; a racehorse jockey leans forward and rides a half stride ahead of the horse to encourage speed; and lot of our real good riders ride a half stride behind the motion—where their weight and position are actually creating some resistance for the horse’s movement. It would be like if you tied a sack of rocks on one horse and had no rocks on another horse; the horse with the rocks tied on him is going to stop way before the horse without the rocks. Why? Because the rocks go against his motion so he slows down after a period of time.

Lope Departure

Foundation Training for the Performance Horse with Les Vogt - December 28th, 2018

wordpress_column_lesSetting the horse up correctly for crisp, clean lope departures is a critical component for any reining pattern and a necessary prerequisite for lead changes. You should be able to get your horse in position, that is, be able to push his hip toward his eye, so that you will be able to ask him to lope off on the correct lead, although you might be getting a few trotting steps in the meantime.

At some point, you’re going to want to put him in position with your hands, cue him with your leg and NOT let him go anywhere until you feel him reach up and commit to the lope with his hind leg. Once he does, turn him loose and let him go. It’s something you work up to slowly, but there will be a point where it’s time to raise the bar and insist that he lope off from a walk, and eventually from a standstill. All it takes is patience and practice.

Smaller circles

By Les Vogt - November 30th, 2018

wordpress_column_lesBy now your horse should be moving along smoothly at all three gaits in your training arena. So the next thing we’re going to start doing is to ask him to become more responsive and balanced as you guide him around, and to try a few different maneuvers. We’re not really concerned with speed right now, but we do want gaits to be smooth and steady. If your horse is a little “chargey” elsewhere in this manual you’ll find ways to solve that problem.
Also, while we talk about lots of variations of the circle, you’ll want to spend a lot of time working in big circles—the size you would do in a reining pattern. In a reining class you’ll spend more time on your circles than anything else. You want your horse to guide so easily that once you put him on a circle he almost stays there on his own. We’re going to be adding speed to that circle in the future, so you want to spend time now making sure he is really comfortable in them.

Smaller circles

By Les Vogt | Horsetrader columnist - November 2nd, 2018

Last issue, Les taught us the importance of good “shoulders up” posture for proper alignment in a circle. Now we’ll look deeper into circle exercises.

Here is a horse (left) that is dropping his shoulders to the inside. You can correct this by pushing the ribs way out (right).

Here is a horse (left) that is dropping his shoulders to the inside. You can correct this by pushing the ribs way out (right).

As you ask your horse to handle smaller circles, you’ll want to remember the motorboat image we discussed before. Keeping your weight back will encourage your horse to do the same, therefore lightening up his front end for easy maneuvering.

To start this exercise, pick up a trot with the rail of your arena on your right-hand side. In diagonal corners you will want to maneuver the horse into approximately 30-foot diameter circles. To begin, using a very light direct and neck rein, start your circle to the left. If you immediately get a response—great! If not, tell him he should have responded by collecting him with your hands and then bringing his nose a little more firmly to the inside while keeping your outside rein out and away from his neck.

This will set your horse back a little, shifting more of his weight to his hindquarters, at the same time making him move a little more dramatically to the inside with his front end. Within the next couple of strides, repeat the same cue and correction sequence.

At first you’ll be riding what will look more like a square or even an octagon than a circle, but as the horse starts to understand the sequence, he will start to balance himself to respond to the light cues, rather than waiting for you to correct him. Once the horse is responding well at the trot, move on to the lope.

Alignment in Circles

By Les Vogt | Horsetrader columnist - October 4th, 2018


At this stage in the game you want to spend a lot of time teaching your horse to align properly in a circle. It’s great to start at a jog and work on circles approximately 30 feet in diameter. What you’re looking for is for your horse to keep his spine aligned with the circumference of the circle. What you need to watch out for is him starting to lean against your inside rein and leg as he tries to stick his nose to the outside of the circle and lean into the circle with his shoulder, a movement referred to as “dropping a shoulder.” If you can instill a good “shoulders up” posture here, you won’t be haunted by dropped shoulders later on.

Moving the Hips: Fluidity

By Les Vogt - August 8th, 2018

wordpress_column_lesWhen you see the best equine athletes performing, you’ll notice that although they exhibit tremendous power, every movement is fluid and relaxed. There is no tension or stiffness anywhere. If this type of performance is your ultimate goal, the first thing you need to check on is your own riding. When you ride, are you fluid and relaxed, with no tension or stiffness anywhere? Many novice riders get so focused on what they want their horses to do that they forget about themselves. Soon they end up carrying a lot of tension in different parts of their body, shoulders in particular and your horse will respond to your tension. Stiffness in the rider results in movements and cues that are laborious and abrupt instead of smooth and flowing, and the end result will be resistance and stiffness in the horse. This is why many of the exercises in this part of the program we’re looking at in July and August issues are designed to help you develop your cues until they almost happen on their own so you can stay relaxed and responsive in the saddle.

Moving the Hips

Foundation Training for the Performance Horse with Les Vogt

Les Vogt for the Horsetrader - July 1st, 2018

More with LesHaving control of the horse’s hip is critical for accurate lope departures and lead changes, in addition to helping you maintain proper alignment. If you see a horse missing leads or dropping a lead in back (when a horse changes leads with his front legs but not his back), it’s a pretty good indication that the horse needs more work on hip control. You should have established basic hip control a while back when you did exercise number four on the fence. This session’s exercises will require much more control but shouldn’t be overly difficult if your foundation is strong. If at any time you don’t feel like you’re getting the movement you need from the horse’s hip, go back to the fence to reinforce your point. And remember, make sure the horse is soft in the poll as you ask for any of these movements.