DESERT HORSE EQUESTRIAN SERVICES


GET IN THE SWING
WAGGLE THAT HINDQUARTER to engage the engine

 

By the time you have done the exercises that prepare your horse to longe on a short line, he should be able to walk, trot and canter straight on the circle – that is, his inside hind foot should follow the track traveled by his inside fore so he begins to achieve impulsion. In most cases, you can help your horse travel correctly on a circle by adjusting the size, generally making it larger by sending the horse laterally away from you. The shoulder then travels a wider track and the hind should be able to follow without falling out.

But some horses need extra help to achieve this straightness, even on a relatively large circle. These are probably horses who have learned and practiced bad posture on the longe line or free longing. For them, the tendency to tip their noses toward the outside of the circle and drop the inside shoulder disconnects the hindquarter and puts the inside hind leg on a track outside that traveled by the inside foreleg. Because their hindquarters can’t engage in this position, these horses pull themselves forward instead of pushing. Instead, we want to encourage a posture that conforms to the circle, one that creates a gentle curve of the spine from head to tail and engages the horse from back to front.

To achieve this balanced arc, we have to help the horse supple at the loin and start to swing his back a bit more. I think of it as reminding him he has a waistline, something that will be especially necessary for horses in any discipline that requires them to “sit” – dressage, reining, jumping, working cattle.

Start by warming up with some S-turns and be sure your horse is responsive and releasing at the throatlatch, shoulder and ribcage. Then move to a spot facing across the horse’s left hip and take a firm but gentle grip on the top of the tail with your right hand. (Do this exercise only if it’s safe to handle your horse’s tail and work near his hindlegs. If it’s not, you’ve got some desensitization to do before you try this exercise.) Stand grounded on both feet, breathe into your lower back and rock your horse’s rear end gently right and left of center. Let the movement originate in your hip and flow through your hand instead of bracing your lower body and pulling/pushing with your upper body. Balance and smooth movement are key.

Remember that when you “waggle” the horse’s head from the halter, you see the hind end moving too? The same should happen here – you should see the horse’s head and neck moving side to side. At first, your job is simply to initiate the movement and notice what happens. Is it easier to move one way than the other? Or does the hindquarter seem stiff and stuck on both sides? Does your horse’s tail swing gracefully when you do this, or does he clamp it down tight? (If the latter, try some TTEAM tail work.) Now move to the other side of the horse and initiate the movement from there.

Next, you’ll help your horse make the connection between those body parts we have already freed up and put into motion and the all-important engine. For this, you’ll start on the left side with your right hand on the tail dock, gently rocking it toward you while your left hand rakes the ribcage up and forward. Rake, rock and release. Repeat a few times, remembering to stay grounded on both feet and breathe into your lower back. Watch the flank area; when the horse lifts his ribs and draws his hindquarter sideways, it should look as if he is “folding” a bit at the flank. Repeat on the other side until you and your horse get used to this combination of movements.

Now comes the real fun – adding forward movement. You’ll want your groundwork halter with the lead attached to the right side ring (or crossed over the noseband like we did in the last exercise) and the dressage whip or wand you used in the short line longe work. You’ll hold both the leadrope and the whip (oriented forward) in the loose fist of your right hand. Your left hand will be firmly at the top of the tail dock. Adjust the length of your rope so you can tip the horse’s nose just slightly to the right, releasing the left throatlatch, while your left hand rests on the barrel about 2/3 of the way back.

Using the whip, tap the right shoulder to ask your horse to step forward with the right fore. Working with the rhythm of the horse’s footsteps, rake your right fist up and forward and draw the hindquarters to you with your right hand. You’ll need to time this so you are rocking the hindquarter toward you when the inside hind foot is in the air. What you’re after is for that foot to follow the same track as the inside fore, and ideally to step either into or just beyond the footprint of the inside fore.

At first your horse will likely stop or do a stop-and-go movement. He might even turn around and look at you like he thinks you’ve finally gone round the bend (pun intended!). But he’s already gone along with some unusual hands-on walking exercises, so he’ll likely play along with this one with a little encouragement. Cluck, tap the shoulder, use your voice commands and praise him mightily when goes even a few steps in this strange position. If he just won’t budge, you might enlist a volunteer to lead him forward in a slight bend while you do the rib lifts and rock his rear end. After he figures out it makes his body feel good, he’ll probably start to do his part so you can go solo again.

Once you have the horse moving straight on a gentle arc in one direction, change sides and hands and get the other side of the waistline moving. As always, notice similarities and differences between the sides. You might find that a noticeable restriction on one side gives you insights into issues you have been working on in other contexts, mounted or on the ground. For example, stiffness or unevenness in the loin and hip can show up in crooked halts, cross-cantering and straightness issues in transitions, jump take-offs, sliding stops and more.

Practice the fanny waggle exercise so you can “steer” larger circles or straight lines by tapping the horse on the shoulder. With some work you can also regulate speed by rocking the hindquarters a bit slower or faster. Remember to use firm but gentle pressure and keep your hand at the very top of the tail dock. Don’t pull or tug lower on the tail or you might risk displacing some of the small vertebrae. Keep your feet grounded and breathe so you don’t make your horse’s tail balance you. Remember that you are showing your horse another way to move and giving him a choice, not forcing him.

After a few sessions, you should see some improvement in your horse’s straightness on the circle. That will be helpful for our next exercise, when we liven things up a bit with work over poles. Stacey Kollman

 

© 2010 Desert Horse Services/Stacey Kollman



DESERT HORSE EQUESTRIAN SERVICES
TUCSON, ARIZONA

 

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