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Lateral Work & Body Control

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Lateral work is important for our performance horse training.  It is essential for being able to change leads on our horses.  It’s a must for training and asking our horses to do a spin.  It’s necessary for putting our horses in the correct position for cutting and taking them down the fence.  Having a horse side pass is very important for trail or pleasure riding a horse as well.  Riding in rough terrain or among trees, we want to move the horse’s feet in a position or a place to avoid danger to the horse or ourselves.  It is also important to be able to open or close a gate and for many other maneuvers that a pleasure or trail class requires.  Basically, every maneuver we’re asking our horses to do requires lateral work and body control.  This all begins with teaching our horses the basics of coming off our leg and yielding to pressure for a side pass.

First, we will review the basic training principles to get them fresh in our mind. In the form of cues, you apply pressure to the horse, asking her to do something specific. When you get the results you want, instantly release the pressure as a reward.  Being consistent with your cues and timing is very important in keeping things clear for the horse to understand and keep her trying for you.  It is important to keep the horse responsive. You always need to keep this in mind with all of your riding and training. Stay out of the horse with your hands and legs until you are asking for something. When she responds correctly, drop your hands, take your leg off and get out of her.

Now, we will move on and introduce some body control using your legs and asking the horse to side pass. When asking a young horse or any horse to learn something new, I  believe it is my job to try and make it as easy as I can for her to understand.  So in this exercise, I will ride my horse straight into a wall or fence and stop him. Having a barrier in front of her blocks her forward motion and is one less thing for either of us to worry about at this point. Remember, training is a step-by-step building process and I want to break everything down into small steps to make it as simple and easy as possible.  I want to start by side passing toward the barn or the out gate of the pen. We know that there is a natural gravitational pull to that direction, so it sets them up for success.  I have my horse facing into the fence. The first thing I want to do is take my leg off the side I want to go, clearing the way for her. If I am asking for her to move right, I will take my right leg off and I really exaggerate taking my leg off to make it clear to my horse. We want to make sure we do not lean our body the direction we want to go. If anything, I like to slightly shift my weight to the opposite direction (left) taking the weight off the inside (right) shoulder. This will make it easy for the horse to pick up her shoulder and move it in that direction (right).  I hold her head and neck straight into the fence and I push with my left leg, asking her to move off it.  Now, as with any new information we introduce to the horse, she doesn’t know what we want for sure. This is when I need to give her all the time she needs and be patient with her. I keep her set up in this position of a 90-degree angle to the fence and keep asking her for a step by pushing or bumping her with my leg. The horse may want to back up, move to the left against my leg, everything but what I’m asking, but I hold steady and keep asking her and sooner or later, even if it’s by accident, she will take a step in the direction I want her to (right).  When she takes that first step, I immediately take my leg off her and drop the reins (relieving all contact with her mouth), sit still, and pat her so it becomes clear to her that she did something right. I let her sit a minute to think about this before asking again. I ask again in the same way a couple more times and give instant relief of pressure the instant she takes one step in the right direction. Even though it is one step, it is a starting point and I can build on that.

Next, I pull the horse off the wall, ride quietly around a couple of circles, and give her a break and time to think. Then I go back to the fence and ask again. I like to concentrate on the same direction for the entire training session to keep it clear and easy. If the horse refuses to move, I step up the pressure by bumping harder until I get a response. Always remember, if a horse is not trying or moving its feet, you can’t train. As long as she is moving her feet, you can teach her and direct motion the way you want. If there is no try and movement, you can’t train.  I spend a lot of time on this exercise, getting one step, then two or three in a row, and getting her more relaxed and moving fluidly as I go. As I progress, I add more degrees of difficulty as the horse learns and can handle it. Getting the horse off your leg is very important. You will use this in nearly every maneuver throughout the training process. After the horse is pretty consistent with one side, then I switch and work on the other side for a couple of training sessions. Then bring both sides together in a training session. Remember repetition is how you get the horse solid and consistent. Just because she has it today doesn’t mean she will have it next week if we don’t keep asking and refining her.

Lateral control can help you control a horse from spooking or flighty behavior as well.  In our next article, we will discuss how to handle the problem or spooky horse. Until then, good luck and God bless.

This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 9-10

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