Video: Improve Suppleness through Dialogue with Your Horse

Improve suppleness by developing a dialogue with your horse to let him know what you want.
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Improve suppleness by developing a dialogue with your horse to let him know what you want.

To make your horse more rideable--and therefore more enjoyable to ride--you need to develop a dialog with him, explaining what your expectations are. At the basic level, these expectations include a horse who:

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  • responds easily and freely in a calm manner to a light leg aid to move him forward,
  • answers an elastic application of the rein aid by seeking contact and accepting the half-halt to regulate his speed and balance, and
  • flexes and bends while moving sideways away from your leg to develop lateral suppleness.

This sounds simple, but a horse is on his forehand by nature and will always look to the outside and fall on his inside shoulder through a turn unless his rider requires him to do otherwise. This is just as natural to a horse as it is for a human to walk upright instead of on all fours.

The good news is that you can train your horse to forego these natural tendencies and meet your expectations. To help you do this, I'll give you three exercises to improve his ability to move sideways: flexing his head left or right, turning on the forehand and leg-yielding with his head to the wall. These exercises introduce lateral work to your horse very simply, which is what you need to do with all horses. He will benefit from them because they will encourage him to:

  • stretch toward your hand, seeking and accepting the contact more readily.
  • round his back, making him easier to sit on,
  • develop the muscles on his topline from poll to tail that he will use at a later date for more difficult exercises and
  • accept your driving aids and half-halting aids, letting them pass through his entire body, without blocking their effect by shortening his neck or dropping his back.

The result is a more supple horse who moves forward in a relaxed and balanced way. He also will have the building blocks to move on to more difficult lateral work such as shoulder-in and half-pass.

Watch as I demonstrate how to flex a horse's jaw, both on the ground and from the saddle.

To read more about Nancy's exercises for increasing suppleness, see "Great Expectations" in the August 2009 issue of Practical Horseman.