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

By LES VOGT / Horsetrader columnist - November 19th, 2009 - More with Les

Continuing in a Series
This time, we continue discussing the topic of Exercise No. 4: Hip Control. 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.

The hip control is so important
Having control of the horse’s hips will prove to be quite critical for almost all your reining maneuvers. You’ll need it for departures, lead changes and turnarounds particularly. Since many of the body control exercises that we’ll be working on in the next level will require you to have some hip control, you need to get started on it early in the program.

Start by walking along the fence. Pick a point to stop the horse and then make very light contact with your inside (away from the fence) rein while you reach back with your fence-side leg and push or bump your horse’s hip around. You’re creating energy with your leg to push the hip, and your brace rein contact will lightly block him for pushing through with his shoulder.

809813AWith the fence in front of him you don’t have to give your horse any other options than to move his hip. Do this exercise repeatedly (it’s called a turn on the forehand) in both directions. Start by just asking for a step at a time and then increase the number of steps as your horse’s responses get more consistent. Remember to keep life in your reins and leg as you ask for this exercise.

Since you don’t want to do the exercise if it’s not perfect, don’t ask for the hip if you don’t have the nose. You need to insist that the horse maintain a soft poll, with no resistance, as you attempt the exercise.

If you find that he’s continuously trying to move his shoulder over before his hip, go off and work on the previously discussed Exercise No. 2: Shoulder Control, to get him more responsive to your brace rein.

For this exercise, you need to make sure you’re cuing your horse with your leg as far back as you can comfortably reach. When done consistently, this will let him know that you want him to move his hips only.

To check yourself, find a place on the rail right next to a fence post. Now move the horse’s hips back and forth, both ways, with his nose right on that post. When you can do it you’ll know you’ve made real progress.

Point to remember: Also remember on this and most other things you teach your horse. We’ll never be strong enough to make a horse do anything, but we can be smart enough to make him want to do it, and that’s what riding is all about.

Since the shoulder element of Exercises No. 3 & 4 is so critical, I suggest you stay on the fence with your attempts at least until you can do both quite smoothly; we will come back to them in a few lessons and get them perfect off the rail. Staying on the fence just minimizes the horse’s alternatives and lets you pay more attention to where the shoulders are at every step.

Once you are getting three or four good steps in each direction, you are ready to move on, but make sure to include these exercises in your ride every day so that you really have them down by the time we come back to them.

Next time, we’ll continue discussing this same topic, Exercise No. 4: Hip 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 the Web site: www.lesvogt.com

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