The clockwork exercise you’ll encounter here will take the previous training steps to the next level as you teach your horse to move his shoulder in any direction you cue him to move. It might help to think of this maneuver as “shoulder reining” rather than “neck reining.” You’ll still use the neck as the point where you eventually deliver the rein cue, but the horse’s neck can bend while the horse keeps moving straight ahead. But, if you move the shoulder, the horse absolutely changes direction.
Shoulder control exercises also let you practice speed control, lead changes, diagonal movement, side passes, turns on the haunches (pivoting around a hind leg), reining-type spins, and backing while your horse builds muscle, balance, responsiveness-and you have a blast in the process!
When you ask your horse to do something new, you want to put him in a position that makes it physically easy for him to do what you ask. You can see how this works by asking a friend to help you with a short demonstration.
Have your friend stand facing you. Ask him or her to look to one side, as if looking over a shoulder and be relaxed and responsive. If you gently press your finger on your friend’s nose or chin, he or she will move that shoulder over. In this exercise, you’ll ask your horse to do the same thing. Rather than having your horse’s shoulder come toward you, which seemed natural in your first exercise, now it will move away.
No doubt you noticed that as your horse brings Spot #2 and Spot #4 (from the previous article) together, he shifts his balance to his opposite shoulder, making it easy for him to move in that direction. He does this naturally, which makes it easy to teach it as a response to a cue.
There’s a reason you went out into the pasture to really look at your horse in this issue’s first exercise. Watching the way he moves in the relaxed environment of the paddock helps inform the way we’ll work with him on the ground and in the saddle. You’re going to use the following sequence of steps as your horse walks forward:
1. Ask for the nose.
2. Adjust the head elevation.
3. Bring the two spots together.
4. Keep your horse walking briskly forward.
5. Pick up the rein and ask for the shoulder to move over.
6. Release the rein.
7. Pick up the rein again and ask the tail to move over. Always finish your exercise by moving the tail.
In this next step, you’re going to teach your horse to move his shoulder away from you in a very precise manner.
Visualize. You’ll begin this exercise on the ground, but imagine yourself to be sitting in the saddle as if you and your horse are the center on the face of a clock. Your goal is to move your horse in different directions to try to hit the numbers on the clock exactly.
To begin, 12 o’clock is straight ahead. You’re going to practice having your horse step precisely on 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock, and so on. You don’t need to take many steps toward each number at first because this is physically hard for your horse to do until his body loosens up and his muscles develop. Doing too much too soon is an easy trap to fall into, though, because it’s such a cool move!
Rather than asking your horse to step on 1 o’clock 15 times in a row, be careful to just do 1 to 2 steps on 1 o’clock. Release the rein and go back to your circle. Make the challenge be to get your horse to different time numbers and back to being straight again in the fewest number of steps.
Now practice getting to all of the numbers, switching sides of the clock frequently since this is such hard physical work. Changing sides also helps confirm to him that he did something right. The more you switch sides, the lighter and more responsive your horse becomes.
The sequence is:
• 1 o’clock, then 11 o’clock
• 2 o’clock, then 10 o’clock
• 3 o’clock, then 9 o’clock
• 4 o’clock, then 8 o’clock
• 5 o’clock, then 7 o’clock
• 6 o’clock is straight back
• 12 o’clock is straight forward.
Getting started. 1 o’clock and 11 o’clock mark the beginning of learning the movement. It may take quite a few repetitions until you’re confident about what you’re asking and your horse really understands how he should respond. You’re definitely guiding him with his shoulders and working on greater control. He’s also doing a diagonal motion to the right and doing a reverse arc circle.
When he steps on 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock, he’s doing more definite diagonals. You’re essentially walking him on his left and right leads as his left foot steps in front of his right foot at 2 o’clock and his right foot steps in front of his left foot at 10 o’clock. These become perfect preparations for picking up true leads at the lope or canter. You’ve slowed his forward motion even more without stiffening up his front end. He’s now moving in a smaller reverse arc circle with more softness and giving in the shoulder.
At 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, the front of your horse is doing a full sidepass. He has stopped all forward motion, but hasn’t stiffened.
At 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock, he’s starting to pivot on his hindquarters. He’s making an even smaller reverse arc circle and you have much more shoulder control. He not only stops all forward motion, but is starting to reverse.
Moving to 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock is more of an angle and more of an effort.
At 6 o’clock, he’s backing up beautifully.
At 12 o’clock, he’s going forward lightly, under control and in good balance.
Every time you stepped on the clock’s numbers and got the spot to move in that direction, you slowed your horse’s forward motion. He softened and lowered his neck and softened the muscles at the base of his neck as well. He softened his shoulders. He learned to break at the poll. He has begun to raise his front end by shifting his weight onto his hindquarters. This activity strengthens all those muscles and puts him in better balance.
You’re now about two hours into training and are working with a much different, more responsive and much happier horse. In fact, he’s almost perfect!