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Last issue, Les started Exercise 3 with highlights on the brace rein and ribcage control. Now we’ll go to work.
Exercise number three is basically sidepassing, but it will have one big difference for most of you. While most novice riders start sidepassing by moving the shoulders and catching up with the hips, I’m not going to let you do it that way. Letting a horse lead with his shoulders creates such a disaster when it comes to lead changes that we simply never let them lead with their shoulders when we use our leg in the middle, or the back, position. We are always using a light brace rein to keep their shoulders out of the way, or at least neutral.
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The Brace Rein
Remember how you used your rein to move the horse’s shoulders? First making light contact for bend, then lifting your hand and moving over to direct the shoulders? Well the brace rein is the same concept, except rather than using it to move the horse’s shoulders, you’re just asking him to keep them out of the movement by just maintaining a slight bend with his neck. Whenever you are using the brace rein, you want to make sure that your other rein is way away from the horse’s neck.
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• To start teaching your horse to let you move his whole body laterally
• To start teaching your horse to let you move his hip
• To learn to do both of these things without letting the shoulder lead the movement
• To improve your back-up or overcome resistance if you’re having problems
• To learn to feel whether your horse is straight from head to tail and learn how to correct him if he is not
• To learn how to back your horse easily and softly
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Once your horse is moving his shoulders on a diagonal line both ways (without much work or effort on your part or his), we’ll add to the level of difficulty by asking him to actually step around in a circle with his shoulder leading—a movement commonly referred to as the reverse arc.
You’ll want to start as you have in the past, however, now you will tighten up the cues even more until you start doing about a 30-foot circle instead of just your diagonal line. At first a quarter circle is fine, then a half, and finally the horse should be able to continue this way as long as you ask him to. One of the great things about this exercise is that as you go around, you are actually teaching the horse to step across with his front legs, just like he will do in the turnaround. Only now, with the reverse arc, you have much more control of his shoulders.
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On our first shoulder exercise, we started in small circles and then moved his shoulder into the opposite direction of your circle, keeping the neck soft with no resistance. Now, let’s go through the sequence of exercise number two, moving the shoulder to the right:
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Our objective in these exercises is to learn to isolate and control your horse’s shoulders. As with all these exercises, the effectiveness of your hand and leg cues will continue to improve and get more subtle, and you will learn to guide your horse and change direction by moving only his shoulders.
Although no maneuver is initiated with a shoulder, there are many where it is critical to keep the shoulder out of the way. By learning to control the shoulder, you are learning how to keep it out of the way too. Specific maneuvers that this apply to are departures and lead changes.
Another common problem that requires shoulder control is when a horse tries to “drop a shoulder” or lean into his circles. We’ll cover this in future lessons, but you’ll need shoulder control to fix it. Shoulder control is also a fundamental part of creating pretty “shoulders up” circles and stops.
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Again, the first place that resistance is going to show up is in your horse’s neck. You’re going to ask him to do something, and rather than softly responding he’s going to stiffen his neck and brace against your hand. You simply have got to train yourself to not let this happen. You have to insist that he be soft in the poll at all times. Why will a horse resist? Because he doesn’t like what you’re doing or he doesn’t like what you want him to do. Where did he get these opinions?
First, he could be bracing because at some point you were too quick or harsh with your hands. You want to always to use light pressure, and then lightly bump if you get resistance, giving the horse slack as soon as he yields.
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Since in last lesson’s exercises we asked you to be conscious of the horse’s nose getting too far out in a turn, this exercise shouldn’t be new to you. But before, you only used the outside rein to correct problems; here I want you to use the outside rein consciously, as you ask the horse to really break at the poll and bring his nose toward his chest from the lateral flexion position.
Begin by walking a circle to the right, with light rein contact and your horse’s frame matching the circumference of the circle, just like you did in the last lesson. Now make contact with your left rein and very gently, with just your fingertips, work your hands back and forth until your horse softens his neck and starts to bring his nose in toward his chest. While you’re moving the reins, you’ll want to gently squeeze with your calves to encourage him to keep moving up over the bit rather than slowing down. As soon as your horse softens to your rein pressure and moves his nose in toward his chest, release your cues and reward him.
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After you’ve been getting vertical flexion on the bend and at the standstill for a while, introduce vertical flexion on a straight line as you walk your horse forward. This is a critical part of your “feel” training, as you’ll be required to instantly adjust your pressure in one or both hands in order to teach your horse to maintain straight head-to-tail alignment while maintaining flexion at the poll.
Start by establishing light rein contact with both hands while you’re riding at the walk in a straight line. Keeping that light feel, gradually squeeze your calves just behind the cinch (or bump if you need to), driving your horse forward into the bit as you softly start to work the bit back and forth with your fingertips, encouraging him to relax his poll and drop his head.
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It’s important not to ask for too much from your horse at once. You don’t have to get the total result from your horse right from the start, but you do want the thought—the gesture—that he is willing to think about giving his nose to the pressure on the rein. When you first ask, your horse could give you a real negative gesture by lifting his neck when he feels the rein—let’s hope not! But a positive gesture would be him thinking, just thinking, about dropping his nose and rounding his neck when he feels you pick up. Always give him a big “atta boy” for positive gestures.