The following article is a partial transcript from Richard’s “Four Part Harmony” video training tip series.
With young horses we talk about hindquarter control. Disengaging those hindquarters and how important that is. You may have been to clinics where the one rein stops, emergency stops, and moving those hindquarters out of the way were emphasized. These are important concepts to understand. But if you are advancing in your horsemanship and are farther along you want to know that you can control your horse’s hindquarters with straightness.
So, in part number 4, I’m going to pick up on my horse with the reins and get her head, neck and shoulders really straight. I’m then going to have my left foot go back, open up my right leg and move her hindquarters around the front end to the right without counter bending my horse. I envision what it would it be like if my horse had hobbles on. She couldn’t move those front feet other than just being able pick to them up, and then set them down. I’m going to move those hind quarters around, keeping my horse’s body as straight as possible and ideally being able to see my horse’s right eye as I step this horse around. This becomes really important when we ask for canter departures or flying lead changes. If we can’t move that hip left or right there’s a pretty good chance that we are going to blow that hind lead.
All of these exercises are not the end game, they are a means to an end. In all reality I just love to slide stop and spin, do flying lead changes and work a cow. That’s what I enjoy doing with my western performance horses. Yet I was never able to get those things done until I had some way to get control over these body parts. One horseman said, “Body control is not the main thing. Body control is everything!” When I go and ride with someone who is better than me and I get some help from them, they are able to move those body parts around. They expect me to be able to do the same. That’s coming to class prepared.
It doesn’t take a half hour to go through these exercises. You can take just a few minutes during your warm-up. I will start by asking my horse for her face and make sure that she feels nice and soft and is responsive. I might even drive her with my legs up into the bridle a little bit while staying on the train track circle. That’s part 1. Then while in that circle I will lift with my left rein and drawl it towards my right shoulder and walk those shoulders around in a counter bend. That’s part number 2. Then I will pick up my right rein along my horse’s neck and move my horse over in a side-pass, getting rib-cage control. How straight can I keep my horse? This is part number 3. Now I’m going to stop my horse’s forward momentum. While keeping the head, neck and shoulders really straight I’ll move part number 4, the hip around. I want to hold that front end as still as I can and keep my horse as straight as possible. I do not want to be able to see my horse’s left eye as I’m moving my horse to the right.
Then I might put it all together. I might shift my weight and see if my horse can back in a backwards circle. Will all those parts come together? This is like the train track circle in reverse. I can still see my horse’s inside eye. I am pushing those hindquarters around the corner, asking my horse to stay soft in her face. Change my body position, change the arc in my horse’s body and back this horse around in the opposite direction. But again, my horse’s body is arced on that train track circle. This backing circle is a good indicator to me how well all the parts are working in harmony and it reveals to me where those sticky or bracy parts may be. This is something that I might check out when I first get on my horse, making sure all the parts are working for me just like an athlete might have a series of exercises they go through to get warmed up before a game or before their competition. If you get control over each one of these areas of your horse’s body, then you will be prepared for higher levels of performance and you can go on to do those things that you have envisioned and always dreamed about.