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This is a continuation of a series of Articles. 

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve

Horse Training - Communication 101
Part  Seven
By Beverly Whittington

Optimize your horses training experiences by varying the format and the lesson plan. Although familiarity is a “good thing” with horses, it often leads to loosing their attention! You can work on most of your basic skills in and out of the training enclosure. Once a horse is going well under saddle, there is no reason that the training cannot be accomplished on trails. 

If you have taken the time to instill the “Drop Head” command we talked about in Part Three, you can incorporate it now into some stretching exercises to help improve the elasticity of your horse back and neck.  A horse needs elasticity through the back, neck and shoulders to perform correctly, regardless of the breed or gait. 

First you want the horse attuned to you and relaxed. After mounting, begin to walk the horse on a loose rein. If the horse insists on speeding up, use small tugs on the rein to encourage the horse to stay at a slow, but steady speed. You are looking to have the horse perform the working walk.  After the horse is walking at regular rhythm (like a marching solder) but not at a hurried pace, begin to ask the horse to relax while maintaining the working walk.

You can do this by massaging the horse's neck while your horse is still at the walk. Take the reins in one hand and press the reins down on the withers, the cue to drop their head, then with your other hand begin to massage the horse's neck at about the mid point. Use a firm, steady massage on each side of the neck. Once you can feel the horse begin to relax, take both reins back up in each hand. Cue the horse with the rein cue taught in Lesson 3, to drop his head below his withers. Make certain that your reins are the same length and that your hands are level with one another. You need to ride with your arms relaxed, NO tension in your arm from fingers to shoulder. Hold your hands as low as you can on each side of the horses neck and tightening your fingers a little on the reins begin using a light vibrations ask the horse to lower his head and to “give” with his jaw. Relax the tension in the reins the instant his neck drops or he relaxes his jaw.

Initially praise your horse for ANY degree of compliance. Little by little increase the amount of cooperation that will result in praise. Make sure you allow your hands to move with the horse's stride. You are asking your horse to stretch his neck down and forward. This will stretch and condition the muscles from poll to tail. You want the horse to travel a straight line, if he is not you must correct him. You can incorporate the horse's under saddle Zones to encourage straight travel. If your horse is traveling with his hindquarters to the right, you can bring your right leg BEHIND THE GIRTH, and bump his rear end over to encourage straight travel. Be ready to correct for increase in speed with soft but firm contact on the reins when the horse increases speed.

After several sessions, you should be able to have your horse traveling straight, in a working walk, with his head lower than his withers. Keep asking for the horse to reach lower down, by jiggling the reins alternately with your hands in a LOW position beside the horse's neck. When you have the horse at the full extent of his reach, you should be able to feel a change in the back as the horse walks. His back should become slightly dorsiflexed. As he relaxes and achieves more impulse in the hindquarters you will feel the back raise up into the saddle as he achieves the rounded frame of the fully dorsiflexed back. You will also feel more impulsion in the hind legs. Try to ride with the horse, not against him. Allow your body to become fluid and move with the rhythm of the horse's walk.

True impulsion from the hind, can only be achieved with the horse learning to carry himself in frame, not being forced into frame by the riders hands or some other means. Impulsion originates from the pushing power of the hindquarters. In order to achieve true impulsion the pushing force must travel through a relaxed, elastic, swinging back to achieve a relaxed top line.

Ask the horse to begin some lateral movement, by taking BOTH hands slightly to the right, while simultaneously moving both of your hands to the right and placing the left leg behind the girth and applying pressure and making sure that you have no contact with your right leg. You can think of this as opening a corridor of aids for the horse to move through. 

Your Leg Aid is applying pressure (using the horse's under saddle Zones) to move the horse, away from the pressure, to the right. Your left rein is moving to the right too, applying pressure on the horse's left side of his neck to move him to the right and keep him from TURNING Right. The right rein is backing up that aid and bending the horse SLIGHTLY to the right. Sit up straight but place at least 75% of your weight on your left seat bone.

Reward ANY movement which is forward and to the right. Repeat to the left. Remember to keep the horse's head LOW, his back in the dorsiflexed position.

Now don't get too nervous, but this is the basics of the Half Pass, a Dressage move in which the horse will move to the left or right AND forward at the same time by crossing the legs, one in front of the other. The important thing to understand is that you are asking for only a FEW steps where the horse is moving forward and sideways at the same time.  Since you are incorporating the movement with the dorsiflexed back (because of the lowered head position), you can really work the muscles of the horse's back, shoulders, hindquarters and hocks. As his front legs cross one another at every step the horse will stretch the muscles in his chest and open and close the angle of the shoulder (loosening and stretching them) eventually allowing the shoulders to move freely. This will loosen up your horse's shoulder on the stiff side and supple him. 

Alternate the exercises with the horses head in a more upright position. About where the height where he would naturally carry his head. This should bring his back up to a level position. All of the aids are the same, you just bring your hands back up to the where they are just a bit lower than your waist with one hand on either side of the pommel of your saddle. Once again through a series of light vibrations ask the horse to place his head and to “give” with his jaw. Relax the tension in the reins the instant his neck is in the correct position and he relaxes his jaw. Once again use the aids to ask your horse to begin lateral movement

By performing this exercise with the horse's head position altered to encourage a level and dorsiflexed back, you can develop the muscles that lay on each side of your horse's spine to improve his ability to maintain gait with impulsion and rhythm.

This is a good example how you can work WITH the horse's natural tendency to move away from pressure to develop the athleticism and elasticity in the horse. 


Dorsiflexed will also be referred to as rounded or convex. The gait of fox trot can be from a level back to a slight dorsiflexed back and a collected trot is dorsiflexed in the back.
A level back is one of the running walk.


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