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Moving the hips: Going next level

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - March 20th, 2014 - More with Les

63rd in a series
This issue, Les guides us into the detail of controlling the horse’s hip.

Having control of the horse’s hip is critical for accurate lope departures and lead changes, in addition to helping you maintain proper alignment. If you see a horse missing leads, or dropping a lead in back (when a horse changes leads with his front legs but not his back), it’s a pretty good indication that the horse needs more work on hip control.

You should have established basic hip control a while back when you did exercise number four on the fence. This session’s exercises will require much more control but shouldn’t be overly difficult if your foundation is strong. If at any time you don’t feel like you’re getting the movement you need from the horse’s hip, go back to the fence to reinforce your point. And remember, make sure the horse is soft in the poll as you ask for any of these movements.

Moving the hip without the fence
After you’re able to isolate and move your horse’s hip on the fence, keeping his body straight and his neck soft, go ahead and try it without the fence. From a standstill, take a little contact with the reins – just enough to tell him not to move forward, and then apply the leg cue. If he starts to step forward, bring him back, and then resume the light “contact” with your reins (remember to keep life in them, not a death grip) as you continue to apply the leg/hip cue. It’s critical that you keep him straight, or even have his shoulders slightly out from the direction you’re moving the hip, so you’re sure you’re only getting hip movement, not shoulder movement. As soon as he takes a step or two, let him stop and tell him he did good.

As you practice this exercise, continue to ask for more steps and a quicker response to lighter cues.

“Isn’t this just a turn on the forehand?” It’s a question I get asked a lot – and they can be the same, but the focus is different. When I ask for exercise number four for hip control, I want to see a big move from the hip. I don’t want the front end to move, is, it’s the back legs I want to see engaged and stepping across. When riders think about a turn on the forehand what do they think about? The forehand. They’re not so concerned with what the back end is doing, just that it’s moving and the front legs are not. And I am never thinking about the front end, just that the back end is going where it’s supposed to. I hope that clears it up.

Hip out circles
For this exercise, walk your horse in a small circle, about 20 feet in diameter. Now as you walk around, keep his nose to the inside with a light rein, as you push his hip out. Your goal is to get him to start stepping across with his back legs so that he’s making a bigger circle with his hind legs than with his front.

As you do this exercise, concentrate on keeping the horse as straight as possible so the movement is coming from the horse’s hip and not his shoulder. When you’re doing this correctly, you’ll really be able to feel your horse step across with his back legs.

As you both become conditioned to these specific cues, you will be able to get more consistent results every time you apply them. Once you’ve gained this kind of control of the horse’s body, make sure you reinforce these controls every day.

Using #4 to Help Improve Your Spins
I like to use exercise number four a lot to help keep my horses from even thinking about stepping out with a back leg in the turnarounds. I’ll do a lot of hip-to-eye exercises prior to turnarounds so my horse is really tuned into moving his hip into the turn if I put some outside leg on him. When I say hip-to-eye exercises I mean really making the horse bend around an lead with his hip, it makes them walk like a crab sideways, as I really make them reach up with that hip and curl their bodies. You may even want to create a sequenced approach out of it – by pushing the hip towards the eye a few steps, then turning (your lateral posture will be roughly the same for both exercises), then repeat the hip-to-eye, then turn again. It just adds to your level of control for keeping the back end stationary while the front end turns.

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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