As you learned last week, all of your horse’s power comes from his hindquarters. If you’re able to disengage his hindquarters, you’re essentially telling him that you can stop him any time you want, and take away his power. When his hind legs are crossing, he can’t buck, rear, bolt, etc.
This exercise is also the start of controlling your horse’s hind end, which lays the foundation for more advanced maneuvers, such as sidepassing, lead departures, and lead changes.
Last issue, you worked on disengaging your horse’s hindquarters from the ground. Here, you’ll do the same thing from a standstill in the saddle.
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The goal of this exercise is to have your horse disengage his hindquarters 360 degrees without him fighting or pulling on your hands. You should be able to do this on both sides of his body with a light feel in your hand and leg.
You’ll need: Your regular working saddle, and mecate reins with a spanker or dressage whip. (To order the mecate model shown, click here.)
Before you begin: Tack up your horse, lead him to an enclosed work area with good footing, and mount up.
Step 1. Get into position. Start by asking your horse for a hindquarter yield with your left leg. At the standstill, hold the spanker in your right (outside) hand. Never be caught without your spanker. Even if you think you won’t need it, have it ready just in case.
Step 2. Flex his neck. Slide your left (inside) hand down the rein and pull it to your hip. Follow the seam of your jeans up to your hip, and glue it there.
Step 3. Apply flank pressure. Place your left (inside) leg back and apply pressure to your horse’s flank area. Put your leg back as far as you can — if you have a back cinch, your leg should be pressing behind it.
As you apply pressure, twist your entire body around, and look back at your leg. This will help your horse understand what you’re asking him to do by putting your body in the right position, and it’ll get your leg a little farther back, as well.
Exaggerate to teach, and refine as your horse understands. If you’re having trouble getting your leg back far enough, take your foot out of the stirrup.
Step 4. Reinforce your leg cue. If your horse doesn’t respond to your leg pressure, spank him with the end of the mecate until he takes one correct step—that is, his left (inside) hind leg crosses over and in front of his right (outside) hind leg.
Hold the spanker in your right (outside) hand, so that if your horse ignores your leg, you can swing the spanker across in front of your body, and spank him right behind your left (inside) leg. Make sure you spank behind the leg that’s applying the pressure. Spank gently at first, and then increase the pressure if you need to.
Step 5. Release leg and rein pressure. As soon as your horse takes one or two correct steps, release your left (inside) leg pressure. Then wait for him to stand still and soften by touching his nose to your boot, jeans, stirrup, or fender. As soon as he does both things, immediately release the rein.
Don’t release your leg and the rein at the same time. When your horse takes a good step, release your leg, which is his cue to stop moving. Don’t release the rein until he stops and softens. If his feet are still moving, it doesn’t count.
Step 6. Repeat on the other side. Repeat these steps on the other side of your horse. Remember, new side, new brain. Don’t stay on one side too long. Usually, I’ll do two repetitions on the bad side and one on the good side. If you stay on one side too long, your horse will tend to get frustrated and lock up his feet.
Step 7. Practice every day. Keep repeating these steps on both sides of your horse until he can consistently disengage his hindquarters when you press him with your boot heel. Build on this exercise every day until he can yield his hindquarters 360 degrees around his forequarters off your bare heel.
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.