DESERT HORSE EQUESTRIAN SERVICES

Read the Intro to the Longeing series


The Pendulum – Rock Back to Move Forward

 

By now you’ve got your horse moving forward without bracing his topline and you’ve mastered the basic “dance” of the bending S-turn exercise. There is one more dance step to learn before we go out on the longe circle. While the S-turns exercise prepares the horse by introducing the basics of impulsion, this next work will help you access the engine to gather up power and guide it straight.

First, stand directly in front of your horse, facing him, with two or three fingers of each hand hooked down through the noseband just in front of the two “T” connections with the cheekpiece. (This exercise assumes it is safe to stand in this position; if your horse is prone to biting or striking, you’ll need to go back and do some more basic ground training before you can perform this work safely.)

Ground both of your feet, breathe into your lower back and keep your knees soft to help you stay balanced so your horse doesn’t feel the need to counterbalance you. Now, leading with your hips, put a little even pressure on both sides of the noseband and ask your horse to rock backward. Send the energy of the push from your hip level toward the horse at an upward angle, imagining it entering his body at the chest and shooting out of the croup. He will probably feel the need to back up a step or two.

Keep practicing until your feel is so subtle that you can sense him rocking his weight from his forehand to load his haunches before any feet move. When you feel the rock, release the pressure and relax, praising your horse for listening closely to your very soft request. Now you can rock him back without his feet moving, or you can move his feet in any size or number of backward steps you care to make.

Before you get to this point, you’ll probably experience all kinds of evasions from your horse. He may toss his head up and down, try to walk forward into you or keep backing after you have released pressure, or even move sideways instead of back. (Make a mental note: are these the same evasion behaviors he uses when you’re mounted?) You’ll need to keep yourself safe, avoiding the tossing head and not letting yourself be plowed over, while maintaining a calm focus. If you get mad and jerk or pull, you’ll put the horse into a braced posture from which he’ll fall heavier on his forehand. You might also try putting a fence or other solid barrier on one side of you and the horse so he can’t move sideways.

Take your time, breathe, keep your feet grounded and be patient with yourself and your horse. This is a new skill and a new kind of connection for most people and horses, and you can’t expect either of you to get it right the first time. And be sure to give your horse time to process the new information, noting how he does this. Sometimes what appears to be evasive behavior is really the horse’s way of processing.

Once you have achieved the rock back, it’s time to refine this even more. Up to now, we didn’t care which front foot the horse moved backward first. But later in our longeing and mounted work, we’re going to want to be able to intentionally unweight each side of the forehand and access each side of the hind (think canter depart here). Time to remember the throatlatch release, using a very minimalist version of that to help us balance the horse for specific movements.

Again, you’ll start facing the horse with both hands on the noseband just where it meets the cheekpieces. With your feet grounded and breathing into your lower back, turn your torso slightly to the left and add a bit of pressure with your right hand, as if you were sending your horse’s left cheek back toward his right hip. You want a small movement of the throatlatch away from pressure while the nose stays more or less on the midline.

You also want your horse to shift his weight onto his right foreleg and unweight the left fore; however, he might instead choose to brace on the left fore. In that case, put a bit of pressure on both hands to rock his weight back into his hindquarters. Once he has shifted onto the right and lightened the left shoulder, ask him to step back one step with his left fore. (You’ll notice here that the diagonal hind leg steps, too.) Will he retain the released throatlatch and light left shoulder so he can do it, or does he brace onto the left fore and move the right instead? (Again, take note of whether this choice to fall on one side of the forehand is an issue when you ride.)

 
   
 
   
 

Practice until you can release the left throatlatch and lighten the left shoulder and send your horse back into his right hind, his left hind and straight back. Then repeat the series on the other side, with the right fore and left hind doing the work.

Now we’re going to add a rock forward to the dance. So, release the left throatlatch and unweight the left shoulder and ask your horse to step back one step with his left fore. Now, put a little bend in your knees, drop you sacrum (or tailbone) toward the ground and step back with one foot, sending your lower back backward and inviting the horse to rock forward and step up with the same foot to fill up the space you just created by rocking your body back.

Expect evasions – tossing or lifting the head, craning the neck way forward, backing up or wiggling to the side. Stay grounded, breathe and be patient. Give your horse the chance to choose to fill the void. If he gets really braced, ask him to rock back again and then repeat your invitation for him to move forward. Be sure to praise him for even the slightest forward movement. He gets points for trying (and so do you.) If you just can’t get him out of his braced posture, go back to the S-turns and be sure he is soft at throatlatch, shoulder and neck and lifting at the ribcage comfortably.

At this point it might be helpful for you to experience the feeling of this exercise in your own body. With your arms hanging down at your sides and your eyes looking ahead, shift your weight to load your right leg and unweight your left. Now, take a half-step straight back with your left foot. Then take a full step forward with your left foot. Keep stepping back and forward, back and forward, until you have a nice rhythm and flow. Take care to center over your right leg, stepping an equal distance behind and in front of your right foot. Adjust your posture so that you can step solidly but softly each direction, not pounding the ground. Once you can do that, make some changes. Notice what happens to the steps when you look down, when you hollow your back, when you drop a shoulder, when you step a bit sideways instead of straight. Do you feel heaviness and imbalance?

Return to the posture that makes you feel most stable and soft, than accentuate the movement of your hips as if the movement of the left foot forward and back originates there. To step forward, drop your tailbone down and tuck your seatbones under a bit; to step back, move your tailbone back and imagine your seatbones can move apart. Do the steps get more uniform? Are you stepping more lightly? Does the movement feel easier? If you’ve followed the cues and you’re breathing and connecting with your body, you should have the sensation that you’re rocking on a ball, staying balanced on the top as it moves forward and backward under you. Hmmm, now what does that remind you of? Oh, yeah – a horse lifting his back and engaging his hindquarters to propel his body forward! Now repeat the entire sequence with your left leg grounded and your right doing the pendulum dance.

You have the feeling of lightness and movement in your body now. That’s what you want your horse to feel. Rock back to load his hindquarter, then push forward from behind to create forward impulsion.

Once you and your horse can do the pendulum exercise while you stand full front, move to the left side of the horse facing forward, hook two or three fingers of your right hand down into the noseband of the halter (the halter has to fit well for you to establish and maintain a connection), and practice the exercise from this leading position. Can you access the rock back/rock forward on a straight line? Can you choose which front foot moves first by adding just a bit of release and lightness to one side and the other?

Remember you’re helping your horse develop a habit of loading his hindquarters before he initiates forward motion, and it’s your job to support him and show his body how to do what you’re asking. That means you may have to change your leading hand to the left hand and put your right to work to remind him to release his throatlatch or lift the base of his neck. Experiment a bit to custom tailor your requests so that he can understand and work with you. It’s your job to set up each exercise so your horse will succeed!  Stacey Kollman

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© 2009 Desert Horse Services/Stacey Kollman




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