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Shoulder Control Exercise #2

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - November 1st, 2012 - More with Les

30th in a series
Last issue, Les outlined in detail the art of overcoming resistance. Now we’ll open more doors by learning to control the shoulders.

Up until this point we’ve primarily focused on influencing the horse’s head and neck through lateral and vertical flexion. In this lesson you’re going to move back a zone and learn to control the shoulders. Once you can do that it opens the door for many of the maneuvers that you’ll be working on in the future.

Shoulder Exercises
There are two specific exercises in this section. You will be best served by working on the simple diagonal movement until you can do it easily and smoothly on a fairly loose rein, before you move to the more complicated reverse arc. Whenever you do any shoulder work, however, make sure that the horse is giving his nose to you softly first. If he’s pulling on your inside rein as you do any of these exercises, go back and work on his lateral flexion again. If he isn’t soft and relaxed in the poll, your training won’t be nearly as effective, and your horse will only be learning how to brace against you. So make sure your lateral work is really perfected before you progress to these exercises.

In the video I show how to control the shoulders with the Five Easy Pieces exercise number two. Once you have mastered this you should be able to move your horse’s shoulders any time you want. Although there is no maneuver that is initiated with the shoulders (that is, that the shoulders lead into the maneuver), there are a lot of them where it is critical to keep the shoulders up and out of the way – and if you don’t have shoulder control you won’t be able to do that.

Simple Steps With the Shoulder
In our first exercise you are going to start with your small circle (just like you did previously, in your lateral flexions) and then move his shoulder in the opposite direction of your circle. So from your circle, you’ll pick up your inside rein, and this time you’ll move that hand up and across the horse’s neck and withers until his shoulder starts moving that way too. Remember to keep some life in your hand as you do this. It also is critical that you maintain that initial bend as you start to move the shoulders in the opposite direction. You’ll probably need to bump a little with your inside leg, up in the front-shoulder position to get your horse moving over, and your outside hand will be away from the horse but ready to help if his nose starts to come up.

Keep in mind that while you’re doing this you’ll want to keep the horse’s neck perfectly soft with no resistance. If the head starts to rise, or the neck stiffens up as you are attempting the exercise– abort! Get the neck soft again before you do anything else. If you have to, go back to your lateral and vertical flexion exercises to get your horse’s neck really soft and supple again before you come back to the shoulders. As soon as the horse shakes loose and takes one diagonal step, relax your cues, reward him and give him a few steps in a straight line to soak it in before you pick up your rein and go to move the shoulders again. Always do a few repetitions in the first direction before you attempt to go the other way. That way the horse has a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for before he attempts the other direction.

So let’s go through the sequence of exercise number two, 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 toward the right.
3. At the same time, move the right hand way away from the horse’s neck. You’ll only need it if your horse starts to lift or stiffen his neck.

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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