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The Five Easy Pieces: Exercises to take control of your horse’s body zones

By LES VOGT / Horsetrader columnist - October 15th, 2009 - More with Les

Continuing in a Series
This time, we introduce Exercise No. 3: Moving the Ribcage. 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.

Developing ‘Muscle Memory’

As you continue working on body control, your movement should become more and more automatic. When you first learn something, you have to do a lot of thinking about what you are doing and how you need to do it, what to do if it doesn’t work and so forth and so on. But your main goal is to get to the point where you no longer need to think, where your subconscious takes over and your body automatically reacts.

In this picture my horse is doing Exercise No. 3: Moving the Ribcage. Notice how straight she is from head to tail! Make sure your horse does not lead with the shoulders.

In this picture my horse is doing Exercise No. 3: Moving the Ribcage. Notice how straight she is from head to tail! Make sure your horse does not lead with the shoulders.

If you’ve ever studied any one-on-one competitive sports, like karate or fencing, or a partnered activity like pairs figure skating or ballroom dancing, then you know how much time is spent learning the individual moves. You are required to practice them over and over and over again until you don’t think about them anymore; they just happen on their own, as natural reactions.

As you work at putting your horse’s body in different positions, you want to stay at it until giving your cues becomes an automatic response to your thought–I call it developing “muscle memory.” When you think “move shoulders,” the cue should just happen, if you still have to go through the mental checklist: “Rein over and up, inside leg,” you are not ready to move on.

You also want to be able to feel it whenever you are getting resistance from your horse. Alignment is a good place to develop that feel, but as you pay more attention, you’ll find that in everything you do, there is probably one body part that could be a little lighter or a little softer, a little better positioned. Your goal is to identify it and fix it–without thinking about it.

So stay with every exercise until it is “thoughtless.” Visualizing the exercise helps a lot of people. Or do the cues in front of the TV until they are “thoughtless.” Just resist the temptation to move ahead before you’re ready. Unlike karate–where, if you try to spar before you are ready, you’ll get trounced–in riding you may get by for a while, but your end result will never be what it can be if you really stay the course with your program.

How This Fits Into The Program

Total body control is the foundation of all maneuvers both in your reined work and on cattle. Hip control is critical in departures and lead changes, because you need to make sure your horse steps off with the correct hind leg in order to get the correct lead. Also in turnarounds and speed transitions, keeping the hip in place stabilizes the whole maneuver.

Learning to maintain the correct alignment for each maneuver is critical for stopping, turnarounds, and circles in particular but plays a bog part in everything you do.
And not only is backing a separate maneuver but you will see that it’s a key component to your stopping program, and to keep your horse soft and limber.

In the next article, we’ll go further into Exercise No. 3: Moving the Ribcage and add a few more moves for you and your horse.

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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