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More with Les: The Five Easy Pieces

By LES VOGT / Horsetrader columnist - September 3rd, 2009 - More with Les

Continuing in a Series
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.

This time, we will continue discussing the parts of Exercise No. 1: Lateral Flexion.

Start with the Inside Rein

Another thing you want to be conscious of is that you try to keep your horse’s head about level with his withers or even lower, as he turns it from side to side. You don’t want him to lift; you just want him to turn. If he does start to lift or twist his head, try bumping him just enough with the outside rein to get his nose down as he turns.

Since our goal is for the horse to initiate the correct form on his own, always start your flexions with just the inside rein, and then add the outside one only if he gets out of form.

When you are starting a colt, you show him how to respond to a rein by pulling it out to the side and directing him. As soon as he starts to get it, you’ll want to start keeping your hands closer to your body and to literally pick up the rein to initiate the bend. This will encourage him to keep his chin closer to his body like we want, rather than sticking his nose out to the side.

Lifting up the hand also encourages your horse to keep his shoulders up rather than leaning into the turn, another concept that will become critical further down the line.
Once you feel confident with lateral flexion at the walk, go ahead and try it at the jog and lope so that every time you turn your horse you’re asking for this form; neck curled toward the direction of the turn, head fairly level and shoulders straight up and down.

Once you’re getting the bend easily, ask your horse to continue in a small circle on a very light, direct rein contact. At some point, he will probably want to straighten out his neck, and when he tries, you’ll feel him start to lean against your hand. When he does this, you should start your squeezing movement with your hand and inside leg pressure on his side until you get the soft bend back. Then go back to a light touch with your rein again to maintain the circle.

Lateral flexion at the standstill can be a great exercise to do when you're on your horse and stop to talk to someone. Instead of just sitting there, it keeps your time productive.

Lateral flexion at the standstill can be a great exercise to do when you're on your horse and stop to talk to someone. Instead of just sitting there, it keeps your time productive.

Lateral Flexion at a Stand Still

This exercise is designed to limber and stretch the horse’s neck and shoulders. It may be uncomfortable at first for older or thick-necked horses, but that’s all the more reason you should spend time on it. In the long run, it will really help your horse’s balance and agility.

Start at a standstill. Then with a direct rein, ask your horse to bring his head around to the right. Remember to bring your hand up as you ask for the turn. The further you can get the stretch the better, but build up slowly. Also, at first you’ll want to reward him right away for the correct movement, but as time goes on you’ll want to continue asking him to come a little further and hold the bend for longer times.

Introduce things slowly, however, so that the horse is able to build confidence in you and in himself as he tackles new things. Eventually, you want your horse so limber that you can bring his head all the way to your boot and have him hold it there with feather-light contact on the rein.

This can be a great exercise to do when you’re on your horse and stop to talk to someone—instead of just sitting there, try doing lateral flexions to both sides to keep your time productive.

Next time, we’ll discuss Exercise No. 2: Shoulder Control.

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: www.lesvogt.com

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