How To Start The Engagement Process

1.      Find a sucker…
2.      …with a six-figure salary
3.      Tell them what they want to hear
4.      Don’t fart or burp at the dinner table, or…
5.   … apply for The Bachelor/The Bachelorette and you’ve narrowed competition down to just 24 other – fill in adjective/s of choice – people (those are damn fine odds!)

I have a point, but I’ll come back to it in another article.  Right now I want to discuss the other kind of engagement, the one that involves horses.  Here is another blogger article called:  Five Ways To Engage Your Horse’s Hind Leg

*We* take exception to a few things about this article; the first being the use of the terminology ‘rocking him back on his hind leg‘.  Ugh!  All day long, every day.

Thank you to jrga for addressing this specifically:

This article contains some basic misconceptions that really shouldn’t be perpetuated.

One is that you can rock a horse back onto its hind legs. Technically that is correct, but generally what you are saying is you will unbalance the horse so much it rears. Engaging the hind leg is not about pulling the horse back onto its rear legs, but asking the rear legs to come forward, up and more importantly, under to the midline. As soon as you ask an overly hand-obsessed human being (and we are made that way, why else walk on two legs) to start doing things like rock a horse back, you will have too much hand and defeat your ultimate purpose.

If you want the rear legs to move, you don’t rock them, you don’t shift weight onto them in any kind of backwards motion, traction on the reins, etc. You get weight on them by getting the horse to step under and put the weight on them.

So yes, proper transitions, proper half halts, can help get a horse under itself. But they aren’t magic and done improperly will leave the horse more strung out. Hill work is great (and some Tevis or Tevis-like picture is a poor illustration of hill work) done properly too; meaning slowly, one step at a time with each hind leg coming under equally to bear weight, no crookedness, crabbing movement up or down the hill. If you have no idea how to straighten a horse on flat ground, you won’t be able to do it on hills either. The hill won’t fix the horse automatically. A horse accepts the challenge of the hill by going to a higher gait, not walking straighter and exercising its rear to develop weight bearing.

The basic movement to engage the hindquarter is to ask the inside foot to step under towards the midline.  You can practice this on a leadline; ask them to walk forward in a nice comfortable loose walk, then using a dressage whip or the end of the lead line if it is long enough, point to the inside hind near the flank, and ask the horse to step slightly more inward.  At first you may have to touch the horse or swing the rope so it makes a big movement so they step away rather hurriedly, which will stop their forward movement in many cases. Just start over, most horses catch on quickly that you just want them to get that hind foot under them. Remember with horses, that a cue like this works best when the horse is off the foot, so time your cue for when the swing forward of the foot is just beginning, the horse can adjust the placement of any foot when it is in the air, can’t do anything about a foot on the ground. If you pay attention, you will notice that the horse’s rib cage will swing more inward out of the way so the stifle can move into the spot where the rib cage was. (See recent video linked by saraannon http://vimeo.com/19772295) That increases the amount of apparent bend the horse can make, so now you are killing two birds with one stone, more engagement of the hind foot, and building in the flexibility and stretch into a bend.

When you start, your horse may have a definite ability to step up and under much better on one side or the other. Congratulations, you now have an actual visual for crookedness, both hind legs cannot step up and under with equal ease to bear weight, which means on one side the horse pushes off with more power, moving the horse more strongly on that side, and voila, drift off the center line or whatever straight line you meant to walk.

Next you practice with this at the walk on the horse’s back. Other than your first step every time you mount a horse, ie, ask for flexion to the inside so that the first vertebra (refer to blog article Optimal Neck Position) unlocks the spine by moving slightly right or left, not pulling the head around, but again, ask the horse to unlock at the poll. Then start asking the inside hind foot on a bend (can be a large circle, down the track, but create an inside bend of large circumference) to come under. Remember the hind foot is coming forward when your hip sinks on that side of the horse (have a practice session or two if you can’t find that cadence in the walk where you feel the hind foot on the ground/off the ground, use a ground person to help if at all possible), which makes sense, once the horse’s foot is off the ground nothing is holding your weight up on that corner of the horse. At that point, you will feel a subtle shift of the rib cage moving away from your leg as it accommodates the swing of the stifle. The stifle is narrower than the belly, for a big step up and under, the ribcage has to get out of the way so the stifle can fold up. Hence the reason your horse should be a back mover (feel the swing of the back as the rib cage shifts) and not a leg mover, leg movers don’t have room to step up and under. You encourage a slightly larger step up and under as you feel your hip sink and the rib cage start to swing by letting your leg move in with the rib cage with a little more weight, to encourage it to move just a little further than in your horse’s normal walk. Your horse, if the sensitive type may take a really big step or even do a transition upwards, don’t pull back or punish, just start over. It did what you asked. On a really dull-sided horse, it may not feel like you got any response at all, if possible, use your surroundings to your benefit, if he tends to like to head for the gate, practice this at first heading for the gate.

Once you get some reaction, experiment, a couple big steps, then remove the aid and allow a normal step, just see what happens to the horse as you change how much under you ask for. Remember, you are bending the horse, and just with an actual circle, we never lean in or look down at the ground, it overweights that leg, inhibiting it from doing what we asked, stay in the middle of the saddle, head up, looking out in the direction of travel. Notice this in not about hands or reins. If your horse can’t walk on a loose rein, you may need to do course corrections, but you are teaching your horse to move off a leg aid, a very subtle one here. You don’t need heel, spur, kicking or generally even a whip for this, you just exaggerate slightly what your horse would do in any event.

Practice both directions. Once your horse starts to understand and step under on the bend, experiment again.  See what you get doing a shallow serpentine.  Can you get your change of bend almost entirely with your legs?  Can you do a circle almost entirely with your legs?  Can you start to do lateral movement off a straight line just with moving the hind feet?

If your horse tenses up in any of this, gets hollow or high-headed, address the tension, get it to create flexion and relax, and start over.

Now you have the proper tool to help you start doing better transitions where you can straighten the horse, walk up and down hills on a straighter horse, and get the benefits of these exercises rather than perpetuating crooked movement through the exercises and missing the benefit.

Adding: This is Buck Brannaman doing the circle exercise, using a flag:

A flag is a strong aid, maybe not something to use if you don’t have help in person to get it right. Note that Brannaman is much more sophisticated than me, or what I just described. He has a ton of experience and skill, and this horse has done this before. He uses the flag to the rear of the horse for impulsion, going forward, note his body position, hand and eyes are at the flank of the horse, asking for the over (note early in the video where he steps into the horse to first get it moving and stepping over (yield away from me), that is another ‘strong’ aid).

But watch those hind feet step up and under and the amount the hip of the horse engages. Occasionally the horse actually crosses over the midline, you don’t need to start there, that is lateral movement beyond what you need to start, because a horse needs some strength to bear that weight without damaging joints. Just start at up and in enough to follow the line of the front hoof on the inside, not cross over.

Brannaman is also able to time aids on the lead rope to encourage softness and rounding up slightly, that is another whole level of skill you will eventually want to get to, but nobody starts there.

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18 thoughts on “How To Start The Engagement Process

  1. Some of you may be wondering why Mercedes chose this piece to put up. We’d been talking necks and OTTBs and then all of the sudden a long boring explanation that is extremely finicky about where to put a horse’s inside hind foot at a walk. What has this got to do with conformation, conformation problems with OTTB or other down hill built horses, and needing to retrain? And the simple answer is, this is the applied science of conformation and biomechanics. We have a down hill horse that we want to move more level. We know all horses have some inherent crookedness. Dressage people have made a mantra of calm, forward straight. We know OTTB only learn to turn one way. And more than once, we mentioned locked down backs. Even in the neck thread, we mentioned collection starts first with the rear, coiling the loins, engaging at the SI joint, and that how the leg performs is directly tied to the engagement at the SI joint.

    The first key to the kingdom is proper flexion, mentioned in the neck thread, one unlocks the spine at the first vertebra. Even with that vertebra unlocked and the horse willingly giving you control, you will encounter every old muscle injury, the horse’s inherent crookedness, and the mental/spiritual aspects of when he get’s scared and loses calm. So you need a second key to the kingdom. That inside hind foot, which since we work a horse both directions, as we want to ride our horses, not race them, is really both back feet.

    Because, no horse is truly calm if he can’t straighten, and no horse gets straight and stays that way who does not habitually step in towards the midline with the hind feet so that the rear feet do not step wide, or the haunch isn’t carried to one side or the other, because horses minds and bodies are immediately and directly attached to their bodies, they have an awareness, part of it being prioreceptors in their spine that are much more effective than humans, they’ll move before the message gets to their brains to be thought about, and because they don’t have quite as much big brain fretting over inconsequentials to keep them out of the here and now. So while the dressage people put it calm, forward, straight, a horse really functions straight, calm and forward at its best.

    I attended a Ray Hunt clinic on a borrowed arab, a big, 15.2 h arab, one of the most beautiful horses I ever had the privilege to ride, that had been green broke at three, ridden maybe 50 times in the intervening five years before he was hauled away from the farm and put in a big covered arena with 25 other horses and a PA system, and a big crowd on the metal bleachers. I had no chance to ride him before we started the clinic. Needless to say the first four hours were one spook, skitter and jump fest as he was asked to do all sorts of exercises he and I were totally unprepared for. Thank goodness, in order to save the other clinic participants, Ray Hunt sent his wife, a lovely and talented horseperson in her own right, over to help. The second day was better, the third day pretty good. On the fourth day, Mr. Hunt decided to answer a question about buddy sour, barn sour, horses, all of which are horses who lack confidence in themselves and their riders, with me and the arab. And my sole job was to get that horse straight and keep him there, from his nose to his eyes, to his ears, to his neck, feet and tail. So I demonstrated how not to try to stop a horse from walking and away, and Mr. Hunt corrected my technique, and I demonstrated how to let the horse fidget in place, and Mr. Hunt corrected my technique. And I demonstrated how to let a horse look around, and again Mr. Hunt corrected my technique. And then I demonstrated how to let a horse let his ear tell you he was thinking about leaving, and again Mr. Hunt corrected my technique. At the end I was sitting on a perfectly squared up horse without asking for foot placement, that was totally straight down its spine, head and neck relaxed and the ears flopped in the ‘Iam totally ok with the world so I’ll just snooze here a while” position. Squared up that horse was totally calm, and yet, squared up, it was perfectly ready to move any foot and take up any direction I asked. We practiced keeping straight through the rest of the session. Near the end, of the day, a huge storm struck that arena, lightning, thunder, high winds, torrential rain, and on that metal roof, and with the vents on the fans clattering, you couldn’t have shouted over the noise with a bullhorn. So everything stopped in the clinic, and four horses stood perfectly still in the center of running, bucking and fidgeting horses, Mr. and Mrs. Hunt’s horses, my borrowed arab and the arab of my friend (whose arab I had borrowed) who had practiced with me on straight that afternoon.

    So what this particular thread offers is one of the physical ways to work on straight. If you watch the video saraannon provided, you will see more about the muscling and realize how it will help you retrain that overly straight hind leg and locked down back of the OTTB to move effectively. If you ever had a horse with stifle issues, you have the piece you need to start strengthening the muscles around the joint and rehabilitate a sticking stifle. If you have a toe dragger, he will start picking up his feet and gently place them down. If nothing else, if you work on this, you won’t die in a huge cloud of dust each time you ride in an arena.

    • I think everyone is scarexd away…I hear crickets! I am however extremely jealous that you worked directly with Ray Hunt. Lucky gal.

      Maybe this seems too complex for people to grasp then M posted the BB video of working the hind leg from the ground and it’s easy to see the crossover. I believe this exercise should always be started from the ground. Before a horse is ridden for any discipline, even trail riding, it should have a basic understanding of how to independently move body parts. “Point” at the shoulder (hip, ribcage) and it should move away. Touch where a leg will be applied to cause the body part to move. Don’t make the mistake of asking for hip and getting shoulder and rewarding the move. Don’t make the mistake of asking for a forward movement (which all of these are) and rewarding a backwards movement. If the front or hind legs are crossing behind, the horse is backing up, in theory and in his mind. He’s avoiding pressure, he’s confused. Get yourself farther behind the horse, stare at his tail if need be and ask again for the hip to move over (hinds to cross, ribcage to move away, keep forward motion). Reward ONE step. Move the shoulders by applying pressure forward (point, flag, finger, whip, sneaker – whatever at the shoulder/wither area) Having control of the body parts is important for collected work, straightness, trail obstacles, hill work – especially downhill. I’ll probably get yelled at but I’m going on record saying that moving the inside hind across the outside hind is also a disengagement if you let it stop there. It teaches control, respect, balance which is necessary in every horse to establish your superiority in controlling it. Being able to move a horse’s legs at will creates a high level of respect from the horse and when they do it quietly and obediently, you have earned trust. This creates a safer horse in any situation.
      Groundwork I can do, probably my forte with horses. Riding with true collection and extension is a work in progress but I’m finding that everything M&J post isn’t theory – it is fact. Biomechanics isn’t negotiable, we can choose to learn from it or ignore it at will. It doesn’t mean we give up who we are and how we ride; it means opening our minds and becoming better. The saddle you ride in has no bearing on this at all so long as it fits and all the leg movements are great for the upper thighs. 

      • I’m waiting to get to another computer so I can view the video, but I think I kind of understand the exercise. Yes a lot of this stuff is just over my head. And I question my ability to do any more than I do now.

        • the good thing about stepping the inside hind in, is that you can ask for a few steps at various points of a long trail ride. You don’t have to do a whole lot more. And that reminds me of another point, once you see the video, this may seem easy. Remember you will be asking for that horse to really use its butt and legs, a little bit of this on the ground, a few minutes both directions, at the start is A LOT OF WORK for the horse. So you don’t need a lot of time once you get the initial movement worked out with your horse. Eventually the horse will get stronger and he’ll develop the habit to move himself this way under saddle. It is a basic building block that will repay you for years with more strength, less effort and more flexibility from your horse.

          • Reiterating: QUALITY over quantity. The ONLY time quantity plays a significant role in horse training is when building stamina. Even then, the quality of the work will greatly reduce the quantity of work required to achieve the level of endurance.

            Case in point: When I was doing CT&E with my Stbd gelding, I never worked him more than 10 miles in a single 24hr period and yet he successfully competed in events of no less than 25 mile in length.

            While other people rode their horses for hours on end, day after day, to prep for an event, my horse often completed his daily work in 30 minutes or less. Significantly less wear and tear on my horse’s mind and body than the others, and in most cases I had the fitter horse.

        • It’s not over your head. The problem you’re having is that it’s so different than anything else you’ve been taught or known in your horse ownership.

          It’s really rather simple. I’ve straight up been telling you what a horse needs to be built like and you’ve been fighting that information from the get go.

          I told you in the OTTB article the order of the horses from which one would most easily transition to a riding discipline and why, to which one would have the hardest time and why. And still you said you’d choose the most poorly conformed individual for riding of the lot, suggesting that some hill and trail work was going to somehow miraculously transform him…after I told you why it wouldn’t.

          Let go of old beliefs and you’ll find it’s much easier to understand what I’m saying. Feel free to ask questions if something doesn’t make sense to you and go out to your barn and do some experimenting.

          My goal is to educate for the benefit of the horse. I’m not trying to make horse ownership convoluted for you, but rather to clarify for you why things are as they are.

          • Oh believe me I do love the education! But I should clarify, I am discussing the issues from the point of view of me, myself. How I have ridden all my life. And the type of horse that makes sense for me to ride. I understand that you are talking about riding and horse conformation in general.

          • Okay then, what is your personal reasoning for making life more difficult for yourself by choosing sub-standard individuals? That’s a serious question and not intended in any offensive way, particularly considering some of the horses I have owned knowing full well they were pieces of crap.

        • What, specifically, is ‘over your head’? What questions are you embarrassed to ask? Put it out there and learn. None of us is heading to the Olympics here and there are others who may have the same questions who are afraid to ask. Is there something you want to see? I’m willing to video any phase of groundwork that would be beneficial to you if Buck’s video is unclear. I’m a groundwork feign.

  2. Excellent point about crossing over to the point of disengagement. That has its place as an emergency brake. But if you do it too much, you kill all the forward in the horse, and get something that can be dangerous, a horse that locks down and then when it finally decides to move, it explodes. That is why Buck Brannaman’s circle exercise is done going forward, that he uses the flag if the horse gets sticky on forward. A lunge trained horse that will move to a walk command will probably take to this exercise pretty easily. If you’ve never asked your horse to move past you and walk around, you’ll be helped because this is also part of following a feel to load on a trailer without being led on, walking through a gate and then turning around to face you, its the start of a lot of manuevers we want to do with a horse. It also tends to calm a horse down, especially if you halt then back the horse a step, leaving his balance and weight on the rear foot. But remember, the best way to use this is to ask the horse to move towards the midline into the path of the front foot of the same side for the majority of your work on this. Asking for more is more about addressing something you see, an uneveness on one side, or trying to teach the horse how to use the backend to allow a turn on a small diameter circle. But actually crossing the path of the other hind foot is not something you will ask for at first or all the time. It will happen, no big deal, quiet your aids a little.

    Eventually, if you want a dressage horse or to have a really smooth trail obstacle course horse or a trail horse you can open and close gates from, you will work on lateral work and you will use that crossover correctly as part of a larger movement.

    And thank you for the endorsement of what Mercedes is trying to accomplish by offering this blog. This is something for all horses and all disciplines, there is no breed or sport snobbery in this. Every horse, every day, benefits if you learn these things.

    • I mount at the barn, ride to the ring, open the gate, close it and latch it every single day I ride. People are forever offering to open the gate for me and are amazed that my horses can do this. It’s something I learned 25 years ago and have been doing it ever since. My trainer did not allow horses to be led to his ring. Horses learn this ‘maneuver’ quite easily once they understand the concept. They will try to do it without direction which is a no-no. The idea is to keep the responses to aids tuned, vary it up by changing direction of opening, walking around the gate then backing around the gate – without ever letting go. You drop it, you start over. You will use forward, backup, move shoulders, move hip to get through. It’s a great exercise.

  3. This was an incredible post, thank you so much! I’ve taught my little four legged fool this exercise on the ground. However I never thought about how well this would carry on into other things. Since teaching this to him I have actually noticed some differences in back muscling and just generally the way he carries himself.

    I love knowledge and learning knew things! Especially when this is basically one of the building blocks of a good soft, supple horse.

  4. A thank-you, a question and then an observation: This was a really interesting post because my coach has taught me to do lateral excersizes (in hand, on the 10 foot leadrope, under saddle) for several years, knowing them as “shoulder-in,” “leg yield,” “spiral circles,” and “haunches in.” Our training progression involves a lot of in-hand work, with a bridle on, walking beside the horse, so you can see where the feet are going. I knew it was really improving how the horse goes, but I didn’t fully understand the connection to straightness as clearly as you’ve put it here. So thank you!

    I do have one question, which is about “disengaging the hindquarters” as an emergency stop. A friend of mine who just bought a young, hot horse was explaining how she was practicing this to use the next time he tried to dash for home: a “one rein stop” or a “loop,” she also calls it. This isn’t something that I’ve learned or felt I needed with Paint Mare, and I’m trying to figure out how or if it works different from just pulling the bolting horse around in a tight circle until it falls out of the gallop, like we did as kids. My interpretation of my friend’s explanation is that maybe you haul the horse onto the forehand and send its haunches around so it gets unbalanced and slows down?

    I’m trying to figure out how this fits into the picture of extensive lateral work. I know that when Paint Mare gets too exuberant in hand (wanting to join her cavorting buddies when we walk past the turnout pen), and I’ve tried to circle her, she is perfectly capable of spinning around me on the lead rope, fast trot, canter and buck, even buck and tiny pop-up rear, all with shoulder-in, stepping under very nicely with her inside leg :). Stopping and backing up fast, or just growling, marching past the excitement, and ignoring her prancing work better than sending her in a circle, which just gets her more revved up.

    So I realize I don’t really understand the specifics of “disengaging the hindquarters” which seems a key term in some disciplines. I suppose if you can engage them you can disengage them, though? But if lateral work is so good for engaging the hindquarters, I’m a bit confused how you could also use it to disenage, or if you would want to?

    Finally, my observation: I was thinking about the original post that spurred your comments here, about “rocking back on the hindquarters,” and how that led to a misinterpretation of what the horse was actually doing and how to make it happen. That kind of misinterpretation happens all over the place in riding, particularly before people had biomechanical information, and even now, if they ignore it :). Case in point: all those paintings of race horses from the 18th and 19th centuries, painted by people who saw more horses in a year than we get to see in a lifetime, and who were clearly racing and hunting afficianados of the highest order. And every time they paint a running horse, it looks like it is about to belly flop over an insanely wide oxer. It wasn’t until stop-action photography at the end of the 19th century that people could “see” the three beat structure of the canter. Though clearly *riders* knew there was a lead before that. Now any moderately-talented 13 year old girl can draw an accurate cantering horse because she can look at the photos in her volume of Ponies of the World.

    Something similar with rocking on the hindquarters. A good canter transition feels like the horse is rocking back. A piaffe looks like it is rocking back. So the logical conclusion becomes: force the horse to rock back while going forward by spurring and pulling on its face. But since what feels like rocking back is actually the hind legs coming forward, the strong half-halt/leg combination is only incidently effective, and causes other problems. I think these misconceptions are everywhere in many riding disciplines, when people base an explanation of what is happening on how it feels or looks, then extrapolate how you get there, without knowing what is really going on with the horse’s body. That’s why we really need to supplement what we see and feel with the best biomechanical information we can get, and to develop a better eye for what we see on the ground or in videos.

    • Addressing the disengagement part: The way to disengage the haunch is to have the horse take a specific and large crossover step with the inside hind, while bringing the inside hand back towards your inside hip and GIVING equally with the outside hand, so that you aren’t pulling the bit harshly in the mouth. That’s your one rein stop. It should be practiced at the walk, trot and canter so that it becomes a rote skill.

      It differs from lateral work which requires forward first. A horse that is running off is not a forward horse. Note that when people begin lateral work with their horses they often lose forward momentum and that’s a result of either the horse not being forward enough to start with (not being in front of the aids), or taking a too big lateral step with it not being deep (under the midline) enough. And that last is your reason why a lateral step works to disengage the haunch. A lateral step without it being under the body disengages.

    • I’m glad this closed a ‘mental loop’ for you, so now you know what you actually want, it won’t be an exercise someone says is good, it is something you want to do for your horse to make him healthier and happier.

      Disengaging the hindquarters is asking the inside hind to step in front of the outside hind to the point where forward movement is no longer a realistic possibility because the horse usually isn’t willing to step on himself, though if you’re jerking at the reins continuously you may unbalance them enough that they do it. It may not stop all movement, but you lose speed, forward, and regain a chance that the horse will calm down.

      There is also a calming effect to teaching this as part of a change of direction, the horse is moving forward on the circle, you ask for the inside hind to cross over, and while maintaining flexion and a soft feel, you get the horse to change direction by an ask on the head, so if the horse is going to your right, it will slow, take two to three steps of crossover in the back with minimal foreward movement much like a turn on the forehand, then when the nose is oriented in the new direction, you ask the horse to step back and stop, then you ask for the horse to restart, move around you, then do the same thing in the opposite direction. There’s a little of that on the tape linked here on the circle exercise, I think there is another groundwork short clip that shows Brannaman do it on a horse. If you train that in, chances are, if you need to stop the horse ask to to cross over a couple times, it will be anticipating the request to back and will slow itself down. Done properly, the horse stays more balance, properly brings weight onto the hindquarter and again, as horses bodies are closely connected to their brains, its a calm down, wait and think a minute movement for them. A tight circle on a talented horse is just running in place, and on poor footing can pose a danger. As the disengagement is meant to significantly retard forward movement in a way the horse understands, it is his choice not to step on himself, it tends to be more calming. But as you say, a horse can do amazing things.

      From my lessons with Mr. Hunt, next time your mare starts to charge around you, you will without violence but with absolute firmness, stop and send her back the other way, then right back to the way you meant to go, but you will make charging ahead, difficult, it immediately brings her into more work as she stops and changes direction, then you offer her a chance to stand. It also tells her that you control her direction and speed. Backing her in that circumstance won’t be as effective. Also, the concept of early, if her breathing changes, her head goes up, she’s already out of your control, start working on changing her focus, drop her head, stand, step over behind, take one step back and stop (one step and stop is practicing stop, teaching her not to anticipate and making her balance correctly in the back, lots of good in one tiny action). Do 20 times before you press on if that is what it takes to get her complete attention. But taking her futher into someplace she already said she cannot go, doesn’t really work out in the long run. You have to keep fixing her every time something exciting happens. What you want to show her is you noticed she was bothered, you listened to her and you helped her calm herself down. Next time as you feel that change, maybe you only have to practice drop your head step over and back once or twice. Eventually just a tiny increase in pressure around the lead rope tells her, I got this, relax, and she’ll trust you on it.

      That said, getting a green horse to do this manuever takes some practice if you aren’t up there with the Buck Brannaman’s of the world. And if it is the one you use all the time as your primary ground lesson, you will kill the forward and the try in a horse.

    • I agree with J with the direction change right away. Step in front of the drive line, turn her and move forward…if she’s too fast, change direction again, immediately, rinse and repeat until she gets her focus back on you then allow her to relax. Add in some hind disengagement, move the shoulders, back a few steps and reinforce your position.
      Two mistakes most people make are handler position and allowing a horse to lead crookedly. When lunging or working circles, except with a completely green horse, if you are moving in an area larger than a hoola hoop, the horse is lunging you. My friend does this on a regular basis and is unaware. When she’s done lunging, her footprints are everywhere. She chases the horse or moves out of his way as he lunges her. Focus on putting the physical work on the horse and fine tune your aids to work within the hoop.
      When leading a horse, there should be zero pounds of pressure on the halter and the horse should be straight and forward with his shoulder at or behind your shoulder. If the rope is tight, the shoulder toward the handler (or in front if tension is released off the lead) and the hip is swung away to the right, the horse is pushing through the aids. The best way to fix this is to stop, allow the horse to pass the handler, tap on the shoulder with a crop/end of rope until the horse backs even with your shoulder, stand there with a loose line, then proceed. If the horse is savvy, he will keep his hip moving and end up perpendicular to the handler. To fix this, push shoulders over to the right from a few steps to a full circle if necessary. Don’t pull at all, push. For a visual of the wrong way to lead, watch a post parade at a horse race. The pony riders are holding the face but the entire body of the horse is going sideways and forward. This is what pull creates. It sounds simple but people really struggle with this as they want to fix the horse by pulling. It certainly carries over into riding where the best horses are pushed, not pulled into everything they do.

  5. Excellent article! Too many people skip the proper groundwork, or don’t understand it. I have been guilty myself. Proper groundwork with a youngster before backing at all sets yourself up for success. Just think – the horse already knows so much of what you will now be doing from the saddle. You think of how much training the Spanish riding school does from the ground – it’s incredible to watch what they can do!

    One of the things I find most difficult about the groundwork is being consistent with your body language and signals. But once you get out and do it, do it, do it, you get better at it.

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