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Shoulder control: Departures and lead changes

34th in a series

Les Vogt for the Horsetrader - March 3rd, 2016 - More with Les, Training

More With Les graphicAfter focusing on the head and neck with lateral and vertical flexion, Les takes us now into control of the shoulders.

Our objective in these exercises is to learn to isolate and control your horse’s shoulders. As with all these exercises, the effectiveness of your hand and leg cues will continue to improve and get more subtle, and you will learn to guide your horse and change direction by moving only his shoulders.

Although no maneuver is initiated with a shoulder, there are many where it is critical to keep the shoulder out of the way. By learning to control the shoulder, you are learning how to keep it out of the way too. Specific maneuvers that this apply to are departures and lead changes.

Another common problem that requires shoulder control is when a horse tries to “drop a shoulder” or lean into his circles. We’ll cover this in future lessons, but you’ll need shoulder control to fix it. Shoulder control is also a fundamental part of creating pretty “shoulders up” circles and stops.

The reverse arc exercise will be an integral part of correcting common turnaround problems, so the better you get it here, the more effective it will be as a tool in those lessons.

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.

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.

Stay tuned for next issue, as we will go through the sequence of exercise number two, moving the shoulder to the right.

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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