All your horse’s power comes from his hindquarters. You need to be able to disengage his hindquarters, because if he were to rear, buck, or bolt, he’d be using his hindquarters against you.
However, if you can get him to disengage his hindquarters by crossing his hind feet, it’s like pushing the clutch in on a car — you’ll take away that power.
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Also, by preparing your horse on the ground first, it’ll be relatively easy for you to teach him the same exercise under saddle. This exercise will simulate exactly what you’ll ask your horse to do under saddle.
The goal of this exercise is to be able to bend your horse’s head and disengage his hindquarters 360 degrees when you apply very light pressure to his flank area with your thumb. He shouldn’t pull against the rein while he’s moving his feet.
You’ll need: Mecate reins with spanker (to order the model shown, click here); and a level work space with good footing.
Before you begin: Tack up your horse in a bridle and saddle, rather than a halter, so he’ll better relate this exercise to riding.
Step 1. Get into position. Stand on your horse’s left side, next to his rib cage so that your belly button is facing his body. Give him plenty of room to flex his head around to his girth area. If you stand too far forward up by his shoulder, he won’t be able to do the exercise correctly.
Step 2. Pick up the left rein. Pick up the left rein in your left hand, and hold the mecate rein with spanker in your right hand.
Step 3. Bend his neck. Bend your horse’s neck by pulling the left rein to his flank. Then gently apply pressure with your left thumb to his flank.
Here’s why: There are three buttons on a horse’s side — the front, middle, and back. The front, near the girth, moves his shoulders. The middle moves his rib cage, and the back, near the flank, moves the hindquarters.
Your thumb represents your leg pressure when you ask your horse to yield his hindquarters under saddle. If you ride with a back cinch, your thumb should be pressing behind where it would lie.
Exaggerate to teach, and refine as your horse understands.
If you’re unsure about where to place your thumb, take the stirrup and swing it back toward your horse’s flank as far as it’ll go; that’s the exact place you should press. The farther back you press, the easier it’ll be for him to understand that he should move his hindquarters.
Step 4. Tap his hip. If your horse doesn’t yield his hindquarters when you press gently with your thumb, use the end of the spanker to tap his hip. The key to teaching him to be soft and responsive is to ask with steady pressure, then tell with driving pressure.
Step 5. Rub him to a stop. As soon as your horse takes one correct step (his inside hind leg crosses over and in front of his outside hind leg), remove your thumb, and rub him to a stop with your right hand. Rub in the same place you were pressing.
Rubbing your horse is his cue to stop. Your body language should change from active (applying pressure) to passive (rubbing). I call this Touch and Rub. Touch your horse to ask him to yield his hindquarters, then rub him to a stop as soon as he responds.
Step 6. Flex his head. At the same time, bring your left hand up to the saddle’s seat, and glue it there to flex your horse’s neck.
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.