Think of your horse’s hindquarters like a car’s gas pedal. The hindquarters are where all his power comes from. Any disrespectful behavior, such as rearing, bucking, or running over you, comes from the power in his hindquarters. So as long as you can control his hindquarters, those disrespectful behaviors won’t happen.
The ability to disengage your horse’s hindquarters—that is, teach him to yield his hindquarters on your cue—is important for control. The goal of this exercise is to be able to disengage your horse’s hindquarters a full 360 degrees with minimal pressure.
You’ll need: A rope halter, a 14-foot lead rope, a Handy Stick with string, and an enclosed work area with good footing. (To order a Handy Stick, click here.)
Before You Begin
Lead your horse to the work area. Remove the string from the Handy Stick, and tie it around the base of his neck. The string will be a guideline for you. When you stand in front of the string, you’re in front of his drive line.
Any energy you create in front of the drive line causes your horse to slow down, stop, or change directions. If you stand behind the string, you’re behind the drive line. Energy created behind the drive line either causes your horse to go forward or to yield his hindquarters.
Stand even with your horse’s shoulder, an arm’s length away, facing his hindquarters. By keeping your body even with his shoulder, you’ll be in a safe position — too far forward to be kicked by a hind leg, and too far to the side to get run over if he jumps forward.
Step 1. Rub him with the Handy Stick. When you approach your horse to do this exercise, always rub him on the hindquarters with the Handy Stick first.
If you don’t start and finish the exercise by rubbing your horse with the stick, he’ll start to anticipate that you’re going to make him move his feet whenever you get back near his hindquarters.
Step 2. Tip his nose. With the hand that’s closest to your horse’s body, hold the lead rope 18 inches from the snap. (Hold the rest of the rope in two big coils in the same hand.) Raise that hand in the air, so that it’s by your horse’s eye.
Pull the lead rope to slightly tip the horse’s nose in your direction. With your other hand, hold the Handy Stick as though you’re shaking someone’s hand.
Holding your hand up by your horse’s head will discourage him from running over the top of you if he gets pushy or disrespectful. It also allows you to bump his head toward his withers if he walks around you or turns his head away from you.
Step 3. Move his feet. Crouch forward slightly and focus on your horse’s hindquarters. This will make your body language active and more assertive, which lets him know that you want him to move his feet.
Raise the Handy Stick, and lightly tap the air above your horse’s hindquarters with rhythm. Count out loud, “One-two-three-four.” If he doesn’t respond, start tapping his hindquarters with the Handy Stick using the same rhythm.
Start gently. If your horse doesn’t respond, gradually increase the pressure with each set of four. Every set of numbers should make him feel more uncomfortable. Do what you have to do to get the job done. Be as gentle as possible, but as firm as necessary.
It doesn’t matter how firm you are with your horse, because as long as you “rub it away” after his feet have moved, he won’t become frightened of the stick or you. So be sure to finish gently by rubbing him to a stop. (See Step 4.)
Step 4. “Rub” him to a stop. As soon as your horse takes one step with his inside hind leg, placing it in front of his outside hind leg, immediately stand up straight, relax your body language, and “rub him to a stop” with the Handy Stick.
Rubbing shows your horse that your body language has changed. It also erases the spank and shows him that he doesn’t have to fear you or the Handy Stick. If you don’t take the time to rub him after making his hindquarters move, he’ll start to anticipate moving every time you step around to his side.
Step 5. Gradually ask for more steps. Once your horse is consistently taking one correct step, ask him for two steps in a row before rubbing him to a stop.
Be persistent, and keep tapping until your horse takes two correct steps in a row. If you reward him for taking an incorrect step by releasing the pressure, he’ll never learn how to correctly perform the exercise.
Once your horse is consistently taking two correct steps, ask him for three steps before rubbing him to a stop.
Don’t get impatient and rush your horse. If you ask him for too many steps in the beginning, you’ll only discourage and frustrate him.
Step 6. Repeat these steps. Repeat Steps 1 through 5 on the other side of your horse, so that you train both sides of his brain. Keep repeating these steps until you can eventually yield your horse’s hindquarters 360 degrees around his forequarters.
Note that your horse doesn’t have to move his hindquarters really fast during this exercise. Slow and correct is better than fast and wrong.
Clinton Anderson grew up in Queensland, Australia, learning to ride as a teenager and training with many of his country’s top horsemen. In 1997, he relocated to the United States to perfect his Downunder Horsemanship program. Under Anderson’s guidance, horses learn to respect and respond to their handlers, developing willing partnerships. To learn more about Downunder Horsemanship, Clinton Anderson Walkabout Tours, and more, visit www.downunderhorsemanship.com.