Training & Services

Connecting The Steering – Shoulder Control 2

By Ann Kirk

How did you do with last lesson?  Teaching the shoulder connection is a little hard to explain on paper but when you get the feel of it, it is great!  It produces a lightness as it elevates the withers.  The focus needs to be on softening the nose to the point of the shoulder before giving the release.  If you did that, this next part will be easy as your horse is probably already doing it without you even being aware of it.  That’s the beauty of this method!

    The next piece is connecting the foot/shoulder to the rein.  Now that you have the horse giving softly to the inside while walking on the circle and you have him breaking at the poll as he gives his nose to the shoulder point, it is time to ask for the shoulder to step off on the diagonal.  This is done pretty much the same as last month’s lesson only you will be focusing on the front foot stepping away from you as you continue to expect the give with the nose.

    You will start in the circle.  Ask the horse to give towards you, then mini-release.  When he is set up correctly, take the slack out and direct his nose to the shoulder point like last issue’s lesson, while watching the opposite front foot.  The horse should step off at a 45 degree angle crossing the inside front foot in front of the off side foot.  Ask for 1-2 steps, stop moving towards him but keep him walking on the circle.  Ask the horse to give, disengage his hip and stop.  Praise him and switch sides.

    The ideal is a 45 degree angle but anything between straight forward and a side pass is a starting point. Eventually you will be able to ask for any variation of degrees and any number of steps but you must start somewhere.  Be sure the horse steps diagonally though.  Some horses get so soft in the neck (rubber necked) that they will either give to the side or to the shoulder point but continue going forward.  You can slow their forward momentum by doing a partial disengage to slow the shoulder down.  Also, move the nose more towards the center of the chest and it will step the shoulder over.

    It is important to do the circle-give-mini release, shoulder move-mini release, then back to the circle-give-mini release, disengage hip to stop.  You must think of it as teaching a child to read.  To read, the child must first learn the individual letters before he can be successful at reading.  If I teach each exercise as if it were an individual letter, it will be easier for my horse to learn combinations for more difficult work later.  It will also be simpler to troubleshoot problems because I can recognize the “letter” that he doesn’t seem to understand.  So, think of the circle exercise as 1 letter and the shoulder exercises as another.  Keep them separated in your mind and it eliminates a lot of frustration.  You can always just back up to the previous exercise when things get tough.

    The last major piece of the bridle work from the ground is backing.  It should be simple to teach if the other “letters” are going well.  It is done after disengaging the hip, preferably while the feet are not quite stopped.  It is easier to move the feet in the direction you want them to go if they are already moving.  If the horse comes to a complete stop and then you ask it to back up, it can lock up at which time you will need to disengage the hip to get the feet to move again before directing them backwards.  The rule here is “first get the feet to move, then get them to move consistently, then take them in the direction you want them to go”.

    Put your horse on the circle and take it through the whole sequence.  When you disengage the hip to stop, as soon as the hip steps over, mini release, then take the slack out as you step in next to his head and direct your hand towards the chest.  Your shoulder should keep his neck straight as you apply pressure backwards until he takes a step, then release.  Switch sides and repeat the sequence, eventually building to several steps back with a give at the end.  If he locks up and won’t move his feet, just continue the pressure back along his side to disengage his hip and try again until he takes that first step.  Then praise, praise, praise!

    Once he learns to back well, don’t back him every time or he will develop the habit of backing every time you disengage his hip and it can create a problem later so mix it up and only ask occasionally so you know he is listening to you.

     Well, that’s the whole dance.  We will review a little next time and then start getting in the saddle so the riding can begin.  If you have any questions, you are welcome to write.  Until next time, stay safe……..Ann

For more information on Ann Kirk and her Sensible Horsemanship Program, write to  These lessons are available on the Sensible Horsemanship DVDs.  Ann is also available for private lessons.

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