By Ann Kirk
January, 2023! Happy New Year from my heart to yours. I am looking forward to all the promise this year has to offer and the many adventures my Lord has in store for me. I am excited about reconnecting with past friends and making new ones as we pursue our common passion for horses. So, let’s start this year with a positive outlook and ride it through to the end!
Because of there being a few months between articles, you have had some time to practice the last lesson which is excellent! Teaching your horse to consistently soften his nose in response to the rein is an essential prelude to the shoulder work we will be working on this month. So having the extra time to practice the last lesson will put you ahead, if you practiced.
By now, your horse should disengage his hip easily, move forward when cued with a kiss or some such verbal cue and should walk easily on a circle around you while keeping his nose slightly to the inside. When you remove the slack from the rein, he should release the pressure by “giving” in the direction of the contact while he continues walking on the circle. His nose should not be any farther to the side than 45 degrees when he gives but if it is farther, this next exercise should help correct it. His poll should be from 4 inches above his withers to level with them. If all this is done, this next lesson should be easy to master.
We are now going to add giving vertically with the nose which in turn will add diagonal and lateral shoulder control. By starting with the give and then connecting the feet, we eliminate the problem of the horse moving away with its body while its nose is in the air which can throw it off balance. It’s not just about getting the horse to move diagonally but, more importantly, to tuck its nose and elevate its shoulders while stepping to the side. If we get one without the other, the movement will look stiff and resistant. When done correctly, you see the beautiful collection of a high class performance horse. This is one of my favorite pieces as it gives me such control plus tremendous “eye-appeal” with my horse.
You will be focusing on 3 spots for this lesson; the nose, the point of the shoulder and the opposite front leg. The nose and the leg are obvious but the point of the shoulder maybe not so much. What I am referring to is the bony point where the neck and the chest meet on each side of the horse. You should be able to cup your hand over the end of the bony joint. This is where you will be directing your horse’s nose for this next exercise. Each time he gives to this spot, he will be breaking at the poll and learning to use his neck and shoulders more effectively.
Start by having your horse walk around you on the circle. Remember, you are staying in one spot and just rotating with the horse. Ask him to give his nose, then give a mini-release. When you are ready, take the slack out and direct your hand (and his nose) towards the point of his shoulder. You are wanting him to “give” by moving his nose towards this point. He may try to stop because he feels too bound up. Keep your rein hand directed towards the shoulder point while you softly cue him to continue moving forward. Be patiently persistent as too much pressure will cause him to stop thinking and start panicking. As long as he is trying to figure it out, give him lots of time and add just enough pressure to keep him trying.
At first, you are just looking for the nose to give towards the shoulder point. Don’t expect the move to be a big one. What he does with his feet really doesn’t matter for now. He will probably move off on a diagonal whether he gives or not so you will have to follow him to get the give. As soon as he gives, stop following him and resume turning in place with him walking on the circle around you. Ask for a regular give, do a mini-release, then disengage the hip to a stop. Whew!
This is not a hard lesson if you have the horse soft already and if you are patient but it does seem to be a little hard for people to understand. Be sure to take a short hold on the rein as this gives you better control of the nose. Be patient and wait until the horse is soft and in good form on the circle before directing the nose into the shoulder point. If you become anxious about this move, you will try to hurry and this will cause your horse to stiffen in response. Remember, you are both learning this new dance move.
If your horse is over flexed on the circle when you ask for a regular give, you will want to direct your hand almost as if you were going across the chest in front of him rather than let your hand come too far back along his shoulder towards the girth. If he goes too fast, disengage his hip and immediately direct your hand back towards his shoulder point while cuing forward movement. Release on the slightest give and offer lots of praise before trying again. Always finish each set with a regular give from the circle, a mini-release and the hip.
Next month, we will add the feet to this exercise as well as backing. Until then, stay safe and don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions.
For more information on Ann Kirk and her Sensible Horsemanship Program, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. These lessons are available on the Sensible Horsemanship DVDs. Ann is also available for private lessons or clinics in your area.