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More on Vertical Flexion

30th in a series

Les Vogt for the California Horsetrader - January 7th, 2016 - More with Les, Training

More with LesLast issue, Les covered the “nuts and bolts” of vertical flexion. Now, let’s take an overview.

It’s important not to ask for too much from your horse at once. You don’t have to get the total result from your horse right from the start, but you do want the thought—the gesture—that he is willing to think about giving his nose to the pressure on the rein. When you first ask, your horse could give you a real negative gesture by lifting his neck when he feels the rein—let’s hope not! But a positive gesture would be him thinking, just thinking, about dropping his nose and rounding his neck when he feels you pick up. Always give him a big “atta boy” for positive gestures.

How can you make it easier for him to learn this lesson? Timing. To me, timing means release. If someone says a person has really good timing, it could mean they rode well, and their timing in terms of when to pick up a horse was good; but most important is the timing of release, because that’s the horse’s reward. You might still be kind of awkward with your riding, but if you create even an accidental thought or movement, make sure you take credit for it and reward your horse.

When the “Thought” Doesn’t Come Right Away
So what if you’re working your hands and your legs, but you’re still not getting him to drop off the bridle like you want—or worse yet, he’s lifting his head and resisting you. First you want to examine your own approach and make sure that you’re not asking for too much at once. If you feel that you’re giving him every chance, then you’ll need to stay subtle but get a little more assertive with your hands and legs. Assertive means that you are going to assert a little more authority with your cues while staying really aware of what he’s doing, so that you can reward him right away for positive gestures. So you’ll want to work your hands a little faster and your legs a little harder until you get that gesture from him that says he’s ready and willing to let you control his body. Once he does that, reward him and go on to something else for a while.

If even that doesn’t seem to get you what you want, you’re probably going to need to stair-step backward. If you fight too aggressively for any part of your training, you are making a “big deal” about it, and believe me, your horse will make it a “big deal” when you come back to it by anticipating and bracing for a fight. Always stay casual with your riding. Think your way through problems— don’t try to bully your way through! You never want to let ego or temper get into your riding; if you do you’ll pay.

If you can’t get softness with both reins, go back and get it 50 percent right by working on one side at a time again. If he really flexes to the right softly, and really flexes to the left softly, he should understand the concept when you pick up both reins while pushing with your leg.

Keep it Fun for Your Horse—Don’t Get Greedy
How much do you want to get in one day? If you get success, that is, a positive gesture three or four times on the first day, that’s great! If your timing was good and the horse was rewarded for his effort, he’ll start to get the hang of it and build some confidence. If you overdo it, you may end up leaving a bad association in his brain, making it a “big deal,” and you’ll get even more resistance tomorrow. Always ride for tomorrow! As his reactions to the bridle get more consistent, you can ask him to stay flexed for more and more of your ride.

And remember too, keep bumping with your legs as you’re working your hands. I try to always use my legs first, before I even pick up on the reins. The horse will associate the two and start to drop his head and round his back when he feels me bump him with my boot top. If you have one that will do this, and you’re showing, if he should ever start to lift his head and get strung out, you can just use your legs to round him up again— without having to take the slack out of your reins.

The Ultimate Goal
The day will come when you start to pick up your reins and your horse drops his nose and rounds up before you even touch the bit. And I hope you’re paying attention when it happens because it should send a chill down your spine! That reaction on his part means that he’s focused on you and trying to please—that you’re becoming a team and working together. It’s like dancing with a great dance partner. Your horse will almost start to feel like he’s reading your thoughts because he’s learning to respond to your slightest movement. It’s a thrill. And it means you’re on the way to even bigger thrills as you move on to the next elements of your riding program.

Even if you choose not to keep your horse flexed all the time, you should always feel like you could—that you’ll always get a soft response to your reins. That’s really your goal. How much flexion you ride with all the time is really a matter of personal preference and even varies from horse to horse, but you always want him to round his neck and back when he feels you pick up on the bridle.

More with Les is a regular California Horsetrader column. Les Vogt has won more than 15 World Championships, including two wins at the NRCHA Snaffl e 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. You can also read previous More with Les columns at: news.horsetrader.com.

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