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More with Les: The Five Easy Pieces

Exercises to move and take control of your horse’s different body zones

By LES VOGT / Horsetrader columnist - October 1st, 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 continue discussing the second piece, Exercise No. 2: Shoulder Control.

Exercise No. 2: Shoulder Control
So let’s go through the sequence of Exercise No. 2, moving the shoulder to the right.

  1. Start with a soft bend to the left on light contact.
  2. Now without losing that contact, bring your left hand up, keeping some life in it, and move it across the horse’s neck to the right.
  3. At the same time, move the right hand away from the horse’s neck. You’ll only need it if your horse starts to lift or stiffen his neck.
  4. As you move toward the horse’s neck with your left hand, you’ll want to start bumping him with your left boot top to encourage the shoulders to move over.
  5. If the horse doesn’t start to move over right away, get a little more assertive with your cues until he does. It’s a good idea to do the exercise with me in the video until it becomes really natural. That way there won’t be so much to try to think about when you’re on the horse.
  6. As soon as you feel him take one diagonal step, release your cues and reward him.

The reverse arc exercise will be an integral part of correcting common turn around problems, so the better you get it here, the more effective it will be as a tool in those lessons.

The reverse arc exercise will be an integral part of correcting common turn around problems, so the better you get it here, the more effective it will be as a tool in those lessons.

Additional Shoulder Exercises

  1. At first, you’ll need to be happy with just a step or two steps at a time. As the movement gets more natural for you and your horse, you can ask for more and more steps. Horses seem to pick this up pretty quickly.
  2. Once you’re comfortable starting your shoulder movement from a small circle, try starting it from a straight line. Make sure you are creating and maintain the bend in the neck as you move your hand toward the horse’s withers to move your hand toward the horse’s withers to move the shoulders.
    Another good exercise is to try to keep the horse’s head pointed at something in the distance, while you move right and left by moving the horse’s shoulders. Start at the walk, but move to the trot as you get better. You can also go around your serpentine cones by moving shoulders right and left instead of steering the nose with a direct rein.

  3. Star to think about where you are sending the horse’s shoulders. You can go from walking almost in a straight line with just a little bend to 45 degrees or more. Imaging that you’re riding on the center of a clock headed toward noon. Practice moving your horse toward 1 p.m. and the 2 p.m. by moving his shoulders. Then go the other way and head for 11 a.m., then 10 a.m. Really concentrate on getting control of exactly where your horse’s shoulders go, and make sure you’re keeping the horse’s neck soft and supple the whole time.
  4. Once you’re comfortable at the walk, try moving your horse’s shoulders at the trot and then eventually at the lope. We’ll work on this more at the lope when we talk about circles, but the better you and your horse get at this exercise the easier future ones will come together.

Reverse Arc
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 shoulders 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 a turn around. Only now, with the reverse arc, you have much more control of his shoulders.

The reverse arc exercise will be used again and again throughout this program as you tune up your turnarounds, lead changes and circles. Do it both directions until it’s easy for both you and your horse before you move on. Next time, we’ll continue discussing the Five Easy Pieces by moving on to Exercise No. 3: Moving The Ribcage.

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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