In this exercise, which corrects your horse when he drops his inside shoulder, leans in, or cuts in on a circle, you bring him to a stop, and then back him right up in a small circle just inside the track he was just on. Back the horse at least one revolution—more if nec-essary—until he is “trying,” and not “arguing.”
This is one of my favorite exercises for two rea¬sons. First, it’s fabulous for gaining control of your horse’s shoulders. Backing-up on a circle is hard, hard work, so it really makes him think twice about dropping that shoulder in the first place.
Second, it makes him suppler and “quiet-minded” in general, so it supports your overall train¬ing goals.
The moment you feel your horse drop his shoulder and cut in on the circle, gently break him down to a stop. As you do, carry both reins toward the outside of the circle, being sure to lift his inside shoulder with the “key in the ignition” twist of the wrist of your inside hand.
Once he’s stopped, put him in reverse and back him up on the same circle you were just on, only much smaller. As you back up:
Tip his nose to the inside of the circle using the “key in the ignition” twist of your inside hand, which will help keep his inside shoulder from dropping.
Pull both his shoulders to the outside and “stand them up straight” by carrying both your hands slightly to the outside.
Keep his hind end to the inside by bumping with your outside leg just behind neutral position.
All this requires serious concentration and coor¬dination on your part and that of your horse. If you find it too difficult in the beginning and his hind¬quarters drift back out or he balks, instead just back up for two steps, move his shoulders out for two steps, then back up straight for two steps. Then move his rear end in for two steps, then back straight for two steps. Gradually, over time, try to make the moves simultaneous—which becomes a circle.
Once you’ve perfected this exercise, it will give you control of the horse’s shoulders that no other exercise can.
Be sure to work in both directions, as need be.
After you’ve caught your horse cutting in and consequently backed him around until he “stands his shoulders up” a few times, you’ll actually feel him begin to consciously make the choice not to fall in when he gets on that far side of the circle away from the barn. You’re teaching him how to make the right (but difficult) choice by making the alternative (back¬ing in a circle) even more difficult. You can also use this to correct your horse when he drops his shoul¬der and “dives” into the new direction after a lead change.
Sandy Collier’s successful horse show record is reflective of her dedication, talent, and integrity as a horse trainer. She was the first and only woman horse trainer to win the prestigious NRCHA World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity. In 2011, Sandy was inducted into The Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Learn more at SandyCollier.com.
This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 8