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Straightness check: Maintain alignment

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - March 21st, 2013 - More with Les

39th in a series
After getting tips last issue on handling our horse’s attentiveness, Les now gives us some “straightforward” hints.

Start at a walk in a straight line. Make sure your hands are evenly spaced out in front of you and that your legs are relaxed. As you move along, I want you to concentrate on feeling what the horse is doing rather than watching for problems.

If you feel the horse start to bow or lean in either direction, use your hands and legs to get him straight again. If it helps, fix your eyes on something in the distance and make sure he stays moving straight toward it.

You don’t want to hold him straight when you do this; you want to point him straight ahead, then go to neutral with your hands (slack in the reins) and legs (no contact) until he starts to drift a little. Then make corrections until he’s straight and let him go again. Try it at all three gaits. This may sound overly simple, but you’ll be surprised how it will help you learn to feel your horse’s alignment.

It really fine-tunes your senses in a way that you just don’t get when you are actively riding. Once you feel confident, point your horse to something and then close your eyes (at a walk to start), go a few strides, then open your eyes and see where you are. If your horse started to drift when your eyes were closed, keep at it until you can feel him start to veer. You’ll learn a lot!

If you’re really paying attention, you’ll start to feel tension building in one rein or a subtle shift underneath you as he starts to bend or lean. Teaching your horse to move in a really straight line now will pay off in spades when you get to the point where you are doing

Who is Controlling Your Horse?
Ever suddenly find your horse going in a different direction than you had in mind? The head is pointed the right way, but the shoulders have taken a different path, and as a result you have, too? Well, you’ve just discovered one of the wonders of riding – that while we can control the head and neck with our reins, the shoulders control the rest of the body.

Knowing that, be more conscious of when your horse starts moving his shoulders when you haven’t asked him to. If you’re paying attention, you’ll have a moment to correct the infraction before you find yourself off on a course that you didn’t ask for! As soon as you feel the horse start to lean with his shoulders, use your leg to get them back where they’re supposed to be. Don’t even let him take a step! Take responsibility for his body at all times. Tune in so that you feel him start to lean and then correct him right away.

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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