Today's winning Western pleasure horse must carry himself in a highly collected manner. Extreme collection enable him to move in a relaxed yet balanced way, with that sweepy, slow-legged look so prized in the pleasure pen. If you focus exclusively on "going slow," however, the result will be the trapped-up, lethargic, artificial look that we've seen too much of in years past. These days, we want to see a freer-moving, happier horse going down the rail, fluid and relaxed.
How to achieve that? A favorite technique of mine is lateral work, which increases a horse's suppleness, encourages him to lift his back, and helps develop the core muscles he needs to maintain collection. Lateral work is like calisthenics for your horse. It helps you get his belly and hind end as supple as his face. In other words, just as he's soft and responsive though his head and neck when you pick up the reins, he becomes soft and responsive--lifting his back and/or moving his hind end--when you put your leg on him.
With a pivot on the forehand, you can teach your horse the beginnings of collection working from a standstill, where it's easier for him to "get it." That's why I start this type of work with my colts after just 30 rides. My goal on a young horse is to get one good, collected step from the hind end the first time I ask. Then I start over, and try to get two lateral steps. Then three. I do these "calisthenics" for 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of each ride, depending on how far along the horse is with them.
One caveat: There's been a controversy about pleasure horse "loping sideways" in order to stay slow and exaggerate the forward step of the inside hind leg. This is not our purpose here in moving the hind end laterally. This work is the equivalent of what a ballet dancer does before performing--bending and stretching more than will be required, to increase suppleness and, over time, to build strength.
In the photo gallery that follows, first my assistant Brock Reinesbach shows you how to initiate a forehand pivot from the ground. In the photos that follow, I show you how to achieve it when mounted (your horse should wear a snaffle bit for the mounted work.