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Lateral Work & Yielding to Pressure, by Monty Bruce

Bruce photoLateral 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 him 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 him 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 he responds correctly, drop your hands, take your leg off and get out of his way.
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 him 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 him blocks his 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 him. If I am asking for him 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 his shoulder and move it in that direction (right). I hold his head and neck straight into the fence and I push with my left leg, asking him to move off it. Now, as with any new information we introduce to the horse, he doesn’t know what we want for sure. This is when I need to give him all the time he needs and be patient with him. I keep him set up in this position of a 90-degree angle to the fence and keep asking him for a step by pushing or bumping him 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 him and sooner or later, even if it’s by accident, he will take a step in the direction I want him to (right). When he takes that first step, I immediately take my leg off him and drop the reins (relieving all contact with his mouth), sit still, and pat him so it becomes clear to him that he did something right. I let him 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 he 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 him 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 he is moving his feet, you can teach him 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 him 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 he has it today doesn’t mean he will have it next week if we don’t keep asking and refining him.
Good luck and God bless.

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