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

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

Continuing in a Series
This time, we continue discussing the topic of Exercise No. 4: Hip Control relating to “backing.” 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 goal of backing
Your goal when you back is not to have to pull back hard on the horse’s mouth to get him to move backward, but to be able to use just enough contact with the bit to tell him not to go forward–kind of like shifting him into reverse–and then using your legs, like the gas, to move backward.

Yes, you might have to tug a little to get him started, but your goal is to take it from an active rein cue to an active leg cue as soon as possible.

Your end goal is to be able to “put him in reverse” with a light pick up of the reins, and then go to your legs to add the impulsion that sends him back.

Your end goal is to be able to “put him in reverse” with a light pick up of the reins, and then go to your legs to add the impulsion that sends him back.

Timing is important
The timing of your command and correction, if it’s needed is really important as well. You can’t say “whoa,” and correct at the same time. You have to say “whoa,” wait for him to try, and then correct him if he doesn’t stop. In order for the horse to learn, you have to give him a chance to do it right. When he does give you an effort, make sure he knows it was the right one.

He just made his first move toward a great sliding stop! Nothing you see in a reining class is done overnight; it’s done through years of consistent training, but the hardest part can be the consistency.

To achieve that, you’ll want to start by picking up the reins and lightly asking the horse to come back. If he doesn’t, you’ll want to bring your hands back a little stronger and alternately squeeze with your hands if you need to so you’re not giving him pressure he can just lean against–especially if he should start to lift his head.

Bump a little with your legs
In addition, you should bump a little with your legs so you’re revving the engine and only giving him one way to release the pressure. As soon as he takes a backward step, release and praise him. Continue with this approach, starting with a light hand but always using your leg too.

Then add a little more pressure with your hands until he starts to come back. Be patient. You don’t need to get this in a day, and you do want to encourage your horse to stay relaxed. Stay at it, and he’ll get the hang of it. As you progress, you’ll start getting more steps, and you won’t have to be nearly as assertive to get him going.

Next time, we’ll start discussing Exercise No. 5: How This Fits into the Program.

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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