18 Issue 3 · 2013
It's Saturday morning and you and your horse are taking a lesson.
You've been asked to lope circles on your left lead. Your instructor yells out,
"He's dropping his shoulder to the inside. Pick up that inside shoulder!" What
in the world does that mean? I might drop my keys or my cell phone but how
do I know if my horse drops his shoulder?
Your instructor is referring to your horse's posture. Your horse is loping
the circle and not traveling in a balanced and athletic frame. He's being lazy
with his front end and leaning his shoulder into the turn. Now he's out of
balance and leading with a shoulder instead of his nose. When you attempt
to pull your horse back upright with your outside rein, his nose tips to the
outside of the circle. This probably causes him to drop his shoulder even far-
ther. These horses often lose the correct lead behind because as the inside
shoulder falls into the turn, the hip tends to drift away from the circle. Now
the horse falls out of lead behind. This is called cross cantering or crossfire-
ing. This is only one negative effect of a dropped shoulder.
Good posture and athleti-
cism in our horse demands that
we have good shoulder control.
Without a coach or leader, most
athletes become careless, sloppy,
and lazy. Our horse is no different.
It's our job to teach, then insist,
that our horse travels balanced
and in a good frame.
To establish good posture
and maintain shoulder control
your horse must first yield to leg
pressure. Without that basic un-
derstanding you will not have the
tools to fix your horse when he be-
comes unbalanced. We'll assume
your horse adequately leg yields
left and right.
Often times a horse will
drop their shoulder in response to
somewhere they'd rather be. In an
arena, he feels balanced as you
lope by the gate. As you approach
the opposite side of the circle
(away from the gate) they begin
to drop a shoulder to the inside
(towards the gate.) It's as if there
was a magnet pulling the horse to
the gate. In your horse's mind, he
thinks that getting back to the gate
means getting out of work.
Here's how you can change his thinking:
At the moment you feel him drop his shoulder and lean into the circle,
pick up your inside rein and use your inside leg to push your horse to the
outside of the circle. Slow down to the walk during this transition. Now stop
and rest. You're beginning to show your horse that the outside edge of the
circle, farthest from the gate, is a comfortable place to be. You're also picking
up the inside shoulder as you leg yield to the outside of the circle. Repeating
this exercise a few times often will go a long way in balancing your horse
correctly throughout the entire circle.
Another drill is called the "shoulders over exercise." This really estab-
lishes shoulder control and will allow you to correct posture problems when
they occur. You can start by walking your horse in a small circle. Use your
inside rein and inside leg to create an arcing circle. Think of it as a train on a
track. Your horse's head is the engine and the tail is the caboose. Now pick
up your outside rein and use your outside leg and/or spur, right behind the
front cinch. This puts your horse in a
counter-bend. His nose will be tipped to
the outside, and you should be able to
feel the outside leg step over the inside
leg. It is very important to make sure
your horse does not lose his forward
In this maneuver you're picking
up the horse's shoulders and establish-
ing shoulder control. When this exer-
cise is understood, you can use it when
you feel your horse drop his shoulder
to the inside of a turn. Lifting with your
inside rein and using your inside leg, di-
rectly behind the cinch, will remind the
horse to pick up his shoulder and travel
in a correct frame.
A lack of shoulder control will
haunt you in almost every performance
maneuver you attempt. Practice these
exercises to keep those shoulders
ichard Winters credentials include World Championship titles in the
National Reined Cow Horse Association along with being an AA
rated judge. He was the European International Colt Starting Champion,
in Poland, the Super Cow Horse Championship, in California. Richard
was named Champion of the 2009 Road to the Horse - Colt Starting
Competition and won the West Coast Equine Experience $10,000 Colt
Much of Richard's work has been accomplished through the
Horsemanship Clinics and Expo's he conducts around the country. You
can see Richard Winters Horsemanship weekly on Dish Network's HRTV
Richard and his wife Cheryl reside in Ojai, California, at the historic
Thacher School where Richard serves as Artist-in-Residence.
My horse is arcing his body to the inside in a "train track circle."
My horse is counter bent to the
outside of the circle in the
"shoulders over" exercise.
with Richard Winters