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By now your horse should be backing fluidly, and it’s time to maneuver him around a little while he’s doing it, and that’s what exercise number five is all about. In exercise number five you will back your horse in a circle, with his spine matching the circumference of the circle. You need to be able to control every part of the horse’s body to make this work, so it’s a great test to see if all the parts are functioning correctly. I probably do it with every horse I ride every day.

If you’re having problems at this when you first start, it probably means you need to spend more time on exercise number four first. Remember: To try to go through these exercises too fast will only catch up to you later when you don’t get the response you want from your horse and you have to return to the basics. Get each exercise down cold before you move on. And any time you encounter a problem with a new exercise, go back to the last one to tune up your skills, and then try again.

There’s a lot to think about when you’re doing this so make sure that you don’t concentrate so hard that you get mechanical with your cues. It may take some practice, but once you have mastered it, you have also mastered the same cues and body position you will need for the counter canter and the lead change—that is, holding the shoulder out of the way while you move the hip.

Lead Changes in Reverse
When you can do exercise five both directions fairly fluidly, try backing in a figure eight, and then move on to a serpentine. Remember to hold the shoulder out and push the hip in. Keep practicing this drill every time you ride. First, if the horse freezes up anywhere it means one of his body parts needs to be loosened up again. Go work on that and then come back to the circle back. Second, the better you get at the sequence of cues you need to back the figure eight—hold the shoulder, move the hip—the easier lead changes will come to you in the future, so you just can’t spend too much time here.

Putting the Five Easy Pieces Together
It’s a great warm-up to be able to go through the Five Easy Pieces in sequence. As you’re going through the exercises you should never have to change the lateral posture of your horse. In fact, your hands should barely move as you go through the whole sequence.

The great part about these exercises is that not only is the horse learning, but you’re learning to be a more effective and subtle rider too. And as you practice, your reactions and cues will start coming so naturally that you don’t even have to think about them. When you can do all five fluidly in sequence, you’ll know you’ve really accomplished something!

As you start to do this exercise, don’t forget to watch your horse’s poll. If you can’t keep it soft and supple while you do exercise number five—ABORT! You need to backtrack to your basics and start again. If you try to do any of the exercises while the horse is resisting, you can actually be harming your program. You need to be training yourself and the horse to keep his poll soft and supple in everything you do.

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