Academy Horse Curriculum

How Your Horse Will Be Trained

Your horse will be trained at one of the best equine facilities in the country by Clinton’s clinicians, and directly supervised by Clinton and Professional Clinician Shana Terry. By the end of Level 1, your horse will be able to complete all of the Fundamentals exercises (roundpenning, groundwork and riding) to the best of his ability. The Fundamentals is the first step Clinton takes in training all horses, no matter what discipline they’ll eventually go into. Your horse will be ridden in the arena, on the trail, with other horses and over a challenging obstacle course, and learn to load calmly in the trailer and stand patiently while tied.

Fundamentals Groundwork

  • 1. Roundpenning

    Goal: 
    To teach the horse to move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right in the direction you point. You’ll teach him to “catch” you, rather than you having to catch him, by teaching him that the center of the pen – with you – is the most comfortable place to be.

    Why:
    These roundpenning exercises will give you control of your horse’s feet in the roundpen, which is the safest area for you and your horse to initially build a relationship. By working in the roundpen first, you can establish the fundamentals of respect without being connected to the horse. Because you’re not connected, the horse is able to get further away from you, which makes these initial training sessions much safer for you.

    Anytime you’re connected to a horse by a lead rope, you have to be relatively close to him, so if he tries to do something disrespectful like kicking, biting or running over you, the chances of you getting hurt are much higher. After a few sessions in the roundpen, the horse will already have a higher level of respect for you so when you do put the halter and lead rope on him, he’ll be in a better frame of mind to pay attention and learn.

    Roundpenning is the first place I start, regardless of the horse I’m working with. I start here whether it’s a wild mustang, a colt, or an older problem horse. These exercises will also greatly improve the attitude of a horse that doesn’t want to be caught, and it’s a great way to get a lazy horse’s feet moving forward without letting him drag you around.

    You can learn a lot about a horse before even putting a halter on him by doing these roundpenning exercises. You’ll find out how athletic he is, how lazy or energetic he is, and how willing he is to move forward and follow your suggestions.

  • 2. Desensitizing to the Lead Rope

    Goal:
    To be able to throw the lead rope over and around any part of the horse’s body and have the horse stand still and relax.

    Why:
    This exercise begins the process of making sure the horse does not fear you or your tools. If the horse is scared of you or your tools, he will always focus on the fear and not on the lesson you’re trying to teach him.

  • 3. Desensitizing to the Stick and String

    Goal:
    To be able to move the Handy Stick and string all over and around the horse’s body and have him stand still and relax.

    Why:
    Now that the horse accepts the lead rope being thrown all around his body, you’re ready to desensitize him to the Handy Stick and string. Remember, horses hate objects. Your horse classifies anything that doesn’t live inside his stall or pasture as an object. It’s no longer an object if it’s inside your horse’s stall or pasture because he has become familiar with it. Horses especially hate objects that move and make a noise. So your job as a horse trainer is to desensitize him to as many objects that move and make a noise as you can. Since the stick and string move and make a noise, they’re excellent tools to use to desensitize him.

    • Stage One – Flogging the Horse with Kindness
    • Stage Two – Spanking the Ground
    • Stage Three – Spanking the Ground in Front of the Horse
  • 4. Yield the Hindquarters Stage One

    Goal:
    To be able to disengage the horse’s hindquarters 360-degrees with minimal pressure. His inside hind foot should cross over his outside hind foot and he should keep his front feet relatively still.

    Why: 
    Think of the horse’s hindquarters like the gas pedal of a car. The hindquarters are where all the horse’s power comes from, and any disrespectful behavior, such as rearing, bucking, bolting or running over you, comes from that power in the hindquarters. So as long as you can control the hindquarters, those disrespectful behaviors won’t happen. Stage One teaches the horse the concept of moving his hindquarters away from pressure.

  • 5. Yield the Hindquarters Stage Two

    Goal:
    When you look toward the horse’s hindquarters with active body language, the horse should completely disengage his hindquarters and face you with two eyes.

    Why:
    Think of Yield the Hindquarters Stage Two as a military salute. You want the horse to yield his hindquarters with a snappy, “Yes, Sir!” type of attitude. You want to get him so good at this exercise that all you have to do is look at his hindquarters to get two eyes. You’ll find as you progress through the Method that most of the exercises revolve around yielding the hindquarters. So if the horse doesn’t do this exercise really well, you will run into trouble as you try to advance.

  • 6. Backing Up

    Method 1: Tap the Air

    Goal:
    When you tap the air in front of the horse, he should respond by backing away with respect and energy.

    Why: 
    This method teaches the horse the concept of backing away from pressure in front of him. We do this one first because it allows you to be farther away from the horse when you first begin to teach him to back up. Some horses will be very resistant in the beginning and might try to rear up, strike out or run forward, so this first method will allow you to keep a safe distance and still be able to apply pressure.

    Method 2: Wiggle, Wave, Walk and Whack

    Goal: 
    To wiggle the rope, wave the Handy Stick and have the horse stay out of your personal hula hoop space and back away with a respectful attitude.

    Why:
    Up until this point, we’ve taught the horse to stay outside our hula hoop space from a standstill. This method teaches the horse that any time you want to you can pick up and move your hula hoop space, and he’s still responsible for staying out of it. Even when you walk, your hula hoop goes with you.

    Method 3: Marching

    Goal: 
    The horse reads your body language and moves backwards out of your space when you walk toward him in a marching fashion.

    Why: 
    This method really gets the horse to elevate his shoulders and pick up his feet. It’s a great exercise for horses that have a lazy backup.

    Method 4: Steady Pressure

    Goal: 
    To get the horse to back up by applying steady pressure with just two fingers on the lead rope.

    Why: 
    The first three methods have used driving pressure to back the horse up. However, there will be times when you won’t have room to get out in front of the horse and drive him backwards. For example, if you need to back him out of a horse trailer, he’ll need to understand how to back up off of just steady pressure from the halter. Also, by getting the horse really light with steady pressure on the ground, he’ll back up much better under saddle when you pick up on the reins.

  • 7. Yield the Forequarters

    Goal:
    To have the horse pivot on his hindquarters and move his front end away from you 360-degrees with the lightest amount of pressure.

    Why:
    If you can control a horse’s forequarters by moving them away from you, it means that he is being respectful. A lot of horses, especially those that are really pushy and disrespectful, use their head, neck and shoulders to push you around and move you out of their way. If you don’t teach your horse how to yield his forequarters, he will get very pushy and disrespectful.

    One way you can control the horse’s mind is by controlling his direction. The horse’s head and neck are basically his steering wheel. The better control you can get of his steering wheel, the more responsive he will be. Horses seem to have an entirely different perspective of you when they know you have the power to drive their front end around 360-degrees. They know that if you are able to do that, they no longer have the power to push you around with their head, neck and shoulders.

  • 8. Lunging for Respect Stage One

    Goal:
    To be able to send the horse out onto the circle by just pointing and have him trot energetically around you without pulling on the lead rope. Then when you look toward his hindquarters, the horse should yield and face you with two eyes.

    Why:
    Notice that it’s called Lunging for Respect. It’s not called Lunging to Get the Buck Out of the Horse or Lunging to Tire Him Out. It’s called Lunging for Respect. You earn a horse’s respect by moving his feet forward, backwards, left and right and always rewarding the slightest try. So the more you can get his feet to move and change directions, the more respectful the horse will get, and the more he’ll use the thinking side of his brain, which will make him safer and more trainable. This exercise really focuses on using your body language to send the horse away from you and then getting him to face you with two eyes again. It teaches the horse to yield his hindquarters from a distance, so it’s important that he already has the foundation of Yielding the Hindquarters Stage One and Stage Two.

  • 9. Flexing the Head and Neck

    Steady Pressure

    Goal: 
    You should be able to get the horse to flex to both sides by picking up on the lead rope with only two fingers. The horse’s nose should be able to touch his belly in the same place the girth would normally be.

    Why:
    Whenever you can teach a horse something from the ground first, it will make your job under saddle much safer and less frustrating for both you and the horse. A horse can never be too soft or too supple. If your horse can’t flex and be soft and supple on the ground, he’s not going to flex and be light under saddle either. Lateral flexion will be the foundation of your One Rein Stops when you ride. This exercise is also important to teach your horse to respect the halter pressure in general so that he doesn’t pull and lean on it during other groundwork exercises.

    Bumping on the Halter

    Why: 
    There are two stages to every exercise. First, there’s the Teaching Stage, where we’re very patient and give the horse the benefit of the doubt. For example, when we first teach the horse to flex, we pick up on the lead rope, wait for him to find the answer, then release. Once the horse understands the concept and knows what he’s supposed to do, then it becomes the “Do It Now” stage, where we give the horse a chance to be good and if he doesn’t put a lot of effort into it, isn’t paying attention, or doesn’t try, he’s going to feel very uncomfortable until he gives the right answer. At this stage, we focus on making the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. With consistency and repetition, the horse will learn to respond immediately with the right answer as soon as you ask with the lightest amount of pressure.

    It’s good to teach all horses how to respond to an increased amount of pressure. Most horses’ first reaction to an increased amount of pressure (such as bumping on the halter) is to throw their head in the air and become defensive. The horse needs to realize that when you apply more pressure, the answer should be to soften and yield quicker. This will help him to use the thinking side of his brain in various situations. For example, if you take your horse somewhere such as a trail ride or a horse show, you’re probably excited; your adrenaline is up and your mind is thinking of a hundred things at once. Because of this, you may pull or kick the horse a little harder than you mean to. If he’s only accustomed to you applying a very light amount of pressure, he’s probably going to react badly. But if you have taught him how to respond to driving pressure, he’ll know what to do.

    Poke and Flex

    Why: 
    I have several different flexing exercises, two of which we’ve already covered: Flexing Stage One: Steady Pressure and Flexing Stage Two: Bumping on the Halter. Flexing Stage Two works on eighty percent of horses, but for older, stiffer horses, this third technique will really get the horse light and responsive to the halter. Some horses are especially dull to the halter pressure, where you could bump on them all day long and they’ll just continue to lean against it. So by moving the driving pressure to their belly, they aren’t able to lean against it as much. Remember something, horses don’t have hard mouths, they have hard, stiff bodies. All the resistance you feel in the horse’s head or mouth is coming from his body. If you get the body soft and supple, the head and mouth will feel light. That’s why in this exercise, you’ll use driving pressure on the horse’s ribcage to teach him to bend. It’s still the same concept as using driving pressure with the halter: Ask with steady pressure, then tell with driving pressure. The only difference is where the driving pressure is applied.

    Flexing from the Opposite Side

     Why: 
    Once a horse can flex really well, he’ll have a tendency to cheat. He’ll cheat in the fact that rather than softening to the halter pressure, he’ll just watch your hand and when he sees you reaching for the rope, he’ll automatically flex to his belly. This is a nice problem to have, because it means that the horse is thinking about being soft and trying hard. At this point, I will start to flex him from the opposite side, meaning that I will stand on the horse’s right side, but flex him to the left. By doing this, the horse is unable to see my hand coming, and it will test him to make sure he is softening to the halter pressure and not just watching my hand.

  • 10. Sending Exercise

    Goal: 
    To be able to send the horse through tight, narrow spaces (without moving your feet) at both a walk and trot and have the horse yield and face you, and then go back in the other direction.

    Why: 
    Horses are claustrophobic by nature and when made to go through tight, narrow spaces, they naturally want to use the reactive side of their brain. This exercise will be a handy tool in helping your horse overcome his fears of tight, narrow spaces as well as spooky objects and is especially useful in trailer loading. It’s a great exercise for horses that want to pull back and fight against the halter, because it teaches them to come off the pressure behind their ears.

  • 11. Circle Driving

    Goal: 
    To have the horse trot around beside you in a circle, staying exactly 4 feet away while remaining relaxed, maintaining an arc in his body and keeping slack in the lead rope both in the circle and during changes of direction.

    Why: 
    This is a pretty low-key exercise that you can do for quite a while without making you or your horse too tired. At the same time, it gets a lot accomplished by working on several different things at once. This exercise teaches the horse to be soft on the halter and bend his ribs around you in a circle. It’s especially good for horses that are stiff in circles because it encourages them to yield and bend their ribs. A horse that will bend his ribs is a horse that will soften his head and neck easily. Circle Driving teaches horses that are reactive and nervous to relax. It also teaches pushy horses that are always running into you, to stay out of your personal space by reinforcing your personal hula hoop. Like the Sending Exercise, it will further improve your hindquarter control as well as the horse’s ability to come forward off of halter pressure. Because of the many benefits of this exercise and the fact that it’s pretty low-key, it’s great to use as a warm-up for your horse. It’s one exercise that I do with even my well-broke horses on a consistent basis; it’s a constant reminder to them to stay attentive and soft on the halter.

  • 12. Lunging for Respect Stage Two

    Goal: 
    To be able to send the horse out of your personal hula hoop space onto a circle and have him trot energetically around you without pulling on the lead rope. Then when you step in front of the drive line, the horse should stop, pivot on his hindquarters, roll back 180-degrees and go off in the opposite direction.

    Why: 
    A horse’s respect is earned by moving his feet forwards, backwards, left and right, and always rewarding the slightest try. The more you can get his feet to move and change directions, the more respectful he will get and the more he’ll use the thinking side of his brain, which will make him safer and more trainable. In Lunging for Respect Stage One, you got control of the horse’s hindquarters — his gas pedal. In Stage Two, you’re still going to ask the horse to work off his hindquarters, (in order to pivot on his back legs and roll back 180-degrees, he’ll have to collect himself and sit back on his hind end) but you’ll also be insisting that he move his front end away from you. You’ll work more on getting control of the head, neck and shoulders, which make up the horse’s steering wheel. By practicing both of these exercises, you should end up with very good control of the horse’s entire body.

  • 13. Leading Beside

    Goal: 
    To have the horse move beside you and act as your shadow, mimicking every move you make. If you walk, he walks. If you turn left, he turns left. You want the horse to follow alongside you as you walk, trot, and turn to the inside and outside without taking the slack out of the lead rope.

    Why: 
    This leading exercise will help improve the horse’s ground manners. Horses don’t magically know how to lead; it’s important to spend time to teach them. When most horses lead up beside people, they’re pushy and disrespectful. This exercise will teach the horse to respect your space, pay close attention and take direction from you rather than pushing you around. This exercise is especially good for lazy horses that you have to drag everywhere. It will teach them that as soon as they feel the halter pressure behind their ears, they should immediately come forward off it rather than pull and lean against it.

  • 14. Fundamental Desensitizing

    Slap and Walk

    Goal: 
    To have the horse stand still and relax as you walk 360-degrees around him while slapping the Handy Stick and string on the ground with high energy.

    Why: 
    It’s great for desensitizing the horse’s blind spots: directly in front of his nose and directly behind his tail. These are vulnerable areas so the horse will have a tendency to be more reactive toward objects and noises that occur here. This desensitizing exercise will help to make the horse quieter and calmer. If you can slap the ground with high energy as you walk 360-degrees around him, there aren’t too many things that are going to spook him. This is also a great exercise to see which areas around his body need more desensitizing.

    Helicopter Exercise

    Goal: 
    To be able to swing the stick and string up and over the horse’s body with high energy so that it makes a loud noise while the horse stands completely still and relaxed.

    Why: 
    Many horses will accept an object as long as it’s at their eye level or below. When an object gets above their eye level, especially if it moves and makes a noise, most horses will start to get nervous. This is a survival instinct so that in the wild they aren’t caught off guard by a mountain lion jumping on their back from above. This exercise is especially important to get good before you ride the horse for the first time because you’ll eventually be sitting up there so you need the horse to be comfortable with noise and movement above him.

    Head Shy Exercises

    Goal: 
    To be able to wave your hands, arms and various objects all around the horse’s face while he remains standing still and relaxed.

    Why:
    A horse’s head is one of the most sensitive areas on his body by nature. A horse is naturally protective around his head because every part of it is necessary for his survival. In the wild, if his ears got injured, he wouldn’t be able to hear predators. If something would happen to his eyes or nose, he wouldn’t be able to see or smell predators approaching. If his mouth got injured, he wouldn’t be able to eat. For these reasons, horses hate objects around their face, especially when those objects come at them quickly. Some horses will be more defensive than others, but this is something I do to all my horses, regardless of whether I consider them to be “head shy.”

 FUNDAMENTALS Riding

  • 1. Flexing at the Standstill

    Goal: 
    To be able to slide your hand down the rein and with the lightest amount of pressure, ask the horse to bend his head and neck around to the side and have his nose touch your boot, jeans, stirrup or the fender of the saddle. The horse should be so soft and supple that you can get him to bend and soften by only sliding your thumb and index finger down the rein.

    Why:
    Horses don’t have hard mouths, they have hard stiff bodies. The softer you can get the horse through the five body parts (head and neck, poll, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters) the softer he will feel in your hands, and the more responsive he will be overall. The first thing I work on is getting the horse soft and supple through his head and neck by teaching him to flex from side to side. If you don’t get a horse soft and supple laterally, when you pick up on the reins he’s just going to lean against the pressure and fight you. Remember, lateral flexion is the key to vertical flexion. The softer the horse is from side to side, the easier it will be to get him to tuck his nose in vertically and collect.

  • 2. One Rein Stops

    Goal:
    To be able to slide your hand down one rein and flex the horse’s head so that he stops moving his feet and softens at all three gaits with no resistance.

    Why: 
    Why use one rein instead of two to control a horse? When you pull straight back on two reins, you have no leverage to get the horse to stop, especially in an emergency situation when he’s using the reactive side of his brain. It’s very easy for the horse to lift his head and neck up and run through the rein pressure, no matter how hard the rider is pulling. By pulling on one rein, a rider can make the horse soften laterally and disengage his hindquarters. Any time a horse disengages his hindquarters, his gas pedal and balance are immediately taken away from him. Without a gas pedal, he can’t go anywhere, and without balance, he can’t rear or buck. The One Rein Stop is your emergency handbrake. Any time you feel unsafe or out of control, you want to be able to slide your hand down the rein, bend the horse’s head and have him stop immediately. If you practice One Rein Stops in a controlled environment first, such as an arena, it will ensure that you have a way to stop your horse in an uncontrolled environment such as a trail ride or horse show. Horses don’t like being scared, so when you’re in control and give them leadership, you’ll be amazed at how fast they’ll start to relax in any situation. Remember, in an emergency situation: one rein for softness and control and two reins to get killed.

    The most common complaints I hear people make about their horses are, “My horse won’t stop,” and “My horse won’t go.” This exercise will fix both of those problems by establishing a good gas pedal and a good brake. It will teach your horse to go the speed you want off of just light leg pressure and it will teach him to rate your seat and stop as soon as you drop your weight down deep in the saddle. When a horse rates your seat, it means you don’t need to pull on the reins to stop him; he slows down or stops just off of your body language in the saddle.

  • 3. Cruising Lesson

    Goal: 
    To be able to trot and canter on a loose rein and have the horse maintain that gait and speed by himself – not any faster, and not any slower.

    Why: 
    In this exercise, you’re establishing a cruise control button on the horse. When riding, there are certain responsibilities for the horse and certain responsibilities for the rider. The Cruising Lesson teaches the horse to take responsibility for his own feet; he should maintain the speed you set him at on a loose rein without trying to speed up or slow down. It teaches the rider to ride with a secure seat. A secure seat means you do not need to hang onto the reins or grip with your lower legs for balance. A secure seat is a very important ingredient for becoming a great horseman. It also teaches the rider not to touch the reins unless the horse actually makes a mistake. Too many people try to micromanage the horse’s feet. He’ll never learn to be responsible if you are always babysitting him.

  • 4. Follow the Fence

    Goal: 
    To have the horse trot and canter around the outside of the arena along the fence on a loose rein without help from the rider. The horse should maintain his gait and direction by himself.

    Why: 
    This exercise is the foundation of teaching the horse to steer and follow his nose. Until now, you’ve been strictly working on the gas pedal and the brake. You had to get these first two elements working reasonably well before adding a third element, which is steering. The first step in steering the horse is teaching him to follow his nose in a straight line. If he can’t do a straight line, he’ll never be able to do a circle. In the beginning, we’ll use the fence as a reference point for the horse to show him what to do. When he gets good at doing a straight line along the fence, then we’ll start doing straight lines off the fence.

  • 5. Diagonals

    Goal: 
    To be able to trot and canter the horse straight across the diagonals of the arena without the horse leaning left or right with minimal help from the rider.

    Why: 
    Once the horse understands how to take responsibility for his gait and direction by following the fence, he is ready to do the same thing off the fence. Without the guidance of the fence, most horses find it hard to follow their nose in a straight line. If the horse can’t go in a straight line, he won’t be able to do a very round circle and it will be difficult to guide him in any sort of pattern. This exercise will teach him that wherever you point his nose, he should go straight there without drifting left or right. It also teaches the horse to follow your focus, so that wherever you look, he learns to ride to.

  • 6. Touch and Rub Exercise (on the ground)

    Goal: 
    To be able to bend the horse’s head and disengage his hindquarters 360-degrees when you apply very light pressure to his flank area with your thumb. The horse should not pull against the rein while he is moving his feet.

    Why: 
    The hindquarters are where all the horse’s power comes from. It’s very important to be able to disengage the horse’s hindquarters any time you want, because when a horse rears, bucks or bolts, he’s using his hindquarters against you. But if you can get him to disengage by crossing his hind feet, it’s like pushing the clutch in on a car—you’ll take away that power. Also, by preparing the horse on the ground first, when you go to teach him the same exercise under saddle it will be relatively easy for him to do and understand. We’ve already taught the horse to yield his hindquarters away from driving pressure in the groundwork series. Now we need to be able to yield his hindquarters away from steady pressure when we ride. Instead of teaching this from the saddle to begin with, we’ll use this exercise to teach it from the ground first. It will simulate exactly what we’ll ask the horse to do under saddle. Remember, groundwork enables the horse to understand the riding lesson so much better.

  • 7. Yield the Hindquarters from a Standstill

    Goal: 
    To be able to flex the horse, press with your leg back by his flank, and have the horse disengage his hindquarters 360-degrees without fighting or pulling on your hands. You should be able to do this on both sides of the horse’s body with a light feel in your hand and leg.

    Why: 
    It’s not just a suppling exercise, but a control exercise as well. If you can get the horse’s hind feet to cross, that’s the opposite of him having his feet spaced apart, ready to drive away. Remember, all of the horse’s power comes from his hindquarters. By being able to disengage his hindquarters, you are essentially telling him that you can stop him any time you want, and take away his power—a horse can’t buck, rear, bolt, etc., if his hind legs are crossing. Think of it like pushing in the clutch on a car. When you push in the clutch, you shut the power down. This exercise is also the start of controlling the horse’s hind end which lays the foundation for more advanced maneuvers like sidepassing, lead departures, lead changes, etc.

  • 8. Yield to a Stop

    Goal: 
    To be able to ride the horse forward at the walk, trot or canter on a loose rein, slide your hand down one rein and flex the horse’s head, press with your leg back by the horse’s flank, and have the horse drop down to a walk and disengage his hindquarters 360-degrees while staying soft in your hand.

    Why: 
    The hindquarters are where all the horse’s power comes from – it’s like the engine of a car. When a horse’s hind feet are apart, he is balanced. He has full power and is ready to use his hindquarters to buck, rear, kick or bolt. When a horse’s hind feet are crossed, he is unbalanced, meaning he doesn’t have the power to do any of those things. It’s a lot like pushing in the clutch on a car. The car can still keep moving, but it will eventually come to a stop and it definitely can’t gain any speed. So by teaching the horse this exercise, you are teaching him that you can shut his power down any time you choose to. In the previous exercise, you taught the horse to yield his hindquarters from a standstill. Now you’ll ask him to yield his hindquarters from a walk, trot and canter. The faster a horse’s feet go, the more resistance you’ll encounter.

  • 9. Bending at the Walk

    Goal: 
    To get the horse to walk a small circle while bending around your inside leg and softening to your inside rein, maintaining the bend by himself. The horse should be very soft and supple through his whole body from his nose to his tail.

    Why: 
    This exercise will teach the horse to bend and soften through his entire body. When you can get a horse to bend and soften laterally around your inside leg, it will create a lot more softness in everything else you do. When most horses do a circle, they have a tendency to drop their shoulder and ribcage to the inside. When a horse’s shoulder and ribs lean to the center, his head goes to the outside of the circle. You can pull the horse’s face all you want, but it’s hard for him to bend when his shoulder and ribcage are leaning to the inside. Remember, horses don’t have hard mouths, they have stiff bodies. If you get the horse’s body soft and responsive to your leg, he will automatically become softer in his mouth.

    This is the first time we’ll be asking the horse to soften laterally as he’s moving forward. This is where you’ll find out how well you’ve done your homework up to this point. If the horse doesn’t have a good gas pedal and doesn’t respectfully move forward off your leg, he’ll have a difficult time learning this exercise.

  • 10. Bending Transitions

    Goal: 
    To trot or canter the horse on a loose rein, then with the lightest amount of pressure with your rein and inside leg, bend him down to a bending circle at the walk. The horse should be very soft and supple through his whole body from his nose to his tail and offer no resistance during the transition.

    Why: 
    After the horse understands Bending at the Walk, I like to start doing a lot of Bending Transitions because it adds impulsion. If you do too much suppling without any impulsion, the horse will tend to get sticky feet and not want to go forward. So by moving his feet forward and then bending him around, it helps to balance impulsion and suppleness in the horse.

  • 11. Vertical Flexion at the Standstill

    Goal: 
    To be able to soften the horse to the bit vertically at a standstill. Any time you pick up on the reins with the lightest degree of pressure, the horse should immediately soften at the poll, tuck his nose in and create slack in the reins.

    Why: 
    It is very important to get the horse to tuck his nose in and collect. If you can’t get the horse to do this, you’ll be very limited in what you can teach him to do under saddle. True collection is when you drive the back of the horse to the front of the horse. The horse rounds his back, his hindquarters come underneath him, and he collects. The first step in doing this is to teach the horse to give to the bit, period. Always start out at the standstill, and then progress through the gaits as the horse understands. The ultimate goal is collection, but right now it is just a soft feel.

  • 12. Draw to a Stop

    Goal:
    To move the horse forward on a loose rein at any gait, then pick up on the reins with the lightest degree of pressure causing the horse to immediately come to a complete stop and soften vertically to the bit.

    Why: 
    Before asking the horse to soften vertically and collect while moving forward, he first has to understand that when you pick up on two reins it means soften and give, not resist and push through the bit. Most horses’ first reaction when you pick up on two reins is to pull against the bit and run through it. This exercise will get the horse thinking about stopping and softening rather than speeding up and resisting when you pick up on the reins. If you skip this exercise, you can still teach a horse to vertically soften, but it will be more of a fight in the beginning because the horse won’t understand the concept as well. Teaching this exercise allows you to break the concept of vertical flexion down into steps, which will make it easier for the horse to understand.

  • 13. Yield the Hindquarters and Back Up

    Goal: 
    To have the horse soften his head and neck laterally, yield his hindquarters 360-degrees, and then back up. The horse should move backwards energetically with no resistance in your hands.

    Why: 
    This exercise is the foundation to teaching the horse how to back up. The concept is the same as when we taught the horse to back up off of steady pressure on the ground in Backing Up Method 4. Instead of trying to pull the horse backwards from a standstill, which usually ends up in a tug-o-war, you’ll yield the hindquarters first and then redirect that energy backwards. It’s important to start this exercise shortly after you teach your horse Vertical Flexion at the Standstill and Draw to a Stop. Most horses will be pushy when you first start picking up on two reins, so by teaching him to back up you will discourage him from trying to push forward on the bit.

Intermediate Groundwork

  • 1. Changing Sides

    Goal:
    Without having to move your feet, you should be able to get the horse to change sides, crossing over with his outside front foot, off the lightest amount of steady pressure possible.

    Why:
    Horses establish dominance by being able to move each other’s feet. The most dominant horse in a herd can make all the other horses move their feet forwards, backwards, left and right. Horses use that same principle when they are around us. Anytime you can move your horse’s feet forwards, backwards, left and right, you are establishing yourself as the leader and commanding his respect. Anytime the horse moves your feet, in his mind, he’s establishing himself as the leader. Remember, whoever moves first loses. Every single time you walk around your horse to change sides you’re actually signaling to him that you are submissive to him. Instead, you should be able to change sides without having to move your feet. This might seem like a simple concept, but believe me, your horse notices every single change. Every single time you can get your horse to move his feet, you’re gaining a little bit more respect.

  • 2. Run Up and Rub

    Goal:
    To be able to run up to the horse from any angle and have him stand still and relax.

    Why:
    Horses are naturally frightened of being approached quickly because they’re prey animals. When you run up to your horse or approach him in a quick manner, you’re acting very much like a predator. This exercise will teach the horse to respect you, but not be frightened of you. Instead of sneaking around the horse and worrying about him overreacting, you’re going to be very obvious, and if he wants to have a heart attack, you’ll let him. Unlike us, horses don’t have hula hoop spaces. You can walk up and rub their bodies anywhere, anytime, and they shouldn’t be frightened or defensive. You can enter their space anytime you want, but they can’t enter yours unless you invite them to.

  • 3. Desensitizing to Plastic Bags

    Goal:
    To be able to rub, wave and flap a plastic bag all over and around the horse’s body with high energy while he stands still and relaxes.

    Why:
    Horses are naturally afraid of objects that move and make a noise, which the plastic bag does both of. Desensitizing the horse to the plastic bag will increase his tolerance of strange objects and acceptance of your tools. Many horses are afraid of plastic bags, but by using a step-by-step approach, you can teach your horse to use the thinking side of his brain, rather than just reacting with panic. The more objects that you can desensitize your horse to, the quieter he’ll get and the faster he will learn to use the thinking side of his brain when he gets scared. This exercise is really good for jumpy, nervous and spooky horses. When you can desensitize them to the sound and feel of a plastic bag flapping against their bodies, they start to get much quieter in general. Plastic bags are one of the spookiest things you can introduce to your horse, so if he can accept them well, most other objects will be relatively easy.

  • 4. Slap and Tap

    Goal:
    To be able to slap and tap all over the horse’s body with your hands while he stands still and relaxes.

    Why:
    This exercise is a great de-spooking tool and will take away the horse’s defensiveness about being touched. A lot of horses tense up and flinch when they are touched in certain areas, especially around their head, neck, belly and flank areas. Horses are the most sensitive around these areas because they are the most vulnerable there. When you can touch your horse anywhere on his body without him flinching or jumping, it makes daily activities such as grooming and saddling go more smoothly because the horse isn’t worried about being touched all over his body. Not only does the exercise get the horse used to touch, but it also will desensitize him to sound. When you slap and tap the horse with the palms of your hands, it will make a noise that a lot of horses get reactive and frightened about, but it’s important for you to desensitize your horse to as many objects and sounds as you possibly can. It’s also a beneficial exercise to teach before you ride your horse. You shouldn’t have to worry about his reaction when you pat him behind the saddle or up on his neck; he should just stand still and relax. Remember, you don’t want the horse to fear you or your tools.

  • 5. Changing Eyes

    Goal: To have the horse walk or trot around you in a circle, staying soft on the halter with an arc in his body; his head and neck should be tipped to the inside of the circle with his ribcage bent around you and his hindquarters stepping up underneath himself. Then the horse should follow the feel of the lead rope to yield his hindquarters, bring his front end through and go off in the other direction.

    Why: This exercise will help to increase the horse’s overall respect and will reinforce your personal hula hoop space. It also encourages the horse to soften his entire body, from his nose all the way to his tail. It will teach him to follow a feel of the halter and connect his head to his hindquarters so that the halter pressure causes him to yield his hindquarters and stay soft at the same time. This exercise will prepare the horse for yielding his hindquarters under saddle. By teaching him to yield his hindquarters off the feel of the halter on the ground, he will have a better concept of it when you pull the rein to your hip, apply pressure with your leg near his flank and yield his hindquarters under saddle.

  • 6. Touch and Rub
    1. Nose
      Goal:
      To be able to back the horse away using the lightest amount of steady pressure applied to his nose.Why:
      Up to this point, you’ve taught the horse how to yield from driving pressure in front of him and steady pressure from the halter and lead rope. Now, you’re going to teach him how to back away from a steady pressure on his nose.
    2. Poll
      Goal:
      To be able to lower the horse’s head to the ground by applying the lightest amount of steady pressure to his poll.Why:
      If you teach the horse this exercise, you’ll be able to lower his head and neck anytime you go to bridle him, put his halter on or off, clip him, etc. It will also teach him to yield to pressure on his poll, which will be especially beneficial for horses that pull back.
    3. Forequarters
      Goal:
      To be able to yield the horse’s front end away from you so that he crosses over with his front feet and pivots on his hind end off of just a light touch from your fingertips.Why:
      You want to get control of the front end because that’s what horses love to push against you with. If you can yield your horse’s forequarters 360 degrees, you’ll generally get a lot of respect from him.
  • 7. Outback Exercise

    Goal:
    To be able to back the horse away from you in a perfectly straight line without ever having to move your feet. He should respectfully back away from you when you wiggle your finger at him, with the belly of the rope never leaving the ground. Then you should be able to draw him back up to you by gently combing the lead rope through your hand.

    Why:
    The better you can get a horse to back up, the more responsive he will be in everything else that you ask him to do. A respectful horse backs up with energy anytime you want. If you don’t back your horse up, he will get pushier and more disrespectful. If you can back your horse up without moving your feet, you’re establishing even more respect and control. Not only does this exercise teach the horse to back away from you off the lightest amount of pressure possible, it also teaches him to come forward anytime he feels the slightest pressure behind his ears. A lot of horses want to brace up and pull back when they feel pressure behind their ears. This exercise will improve the horse’s drive (moving away from you) as well as his draw (coming to you).

  • 8. C-Pattern

    Goal:
    To be able to walk in a straight line while sending the horse from one side of you to the other with energy, yielding his hindquarters on either side with only a look. The horse should stay out of your personal space and be responsive enough to do the exercise while keeping slack in the lead rope the whole time.

    Why:
    You’ve already established your personal hula hoop space and taught the horse to stay out of it unless you invite him in. Now, you’re going to teach the horse that not only do you have a personal hula hoop space, but that space also moves with you. The C-Pattern gets the horse moving left and right while respecting your space, and also teaches him to stay out of your space while you’re walking forward. That makes him constantly gauge how close he is to you. This is just another exercise to get the horse to move his feet without making him go around in the same boring circle. It really helps him unlock his feet and go somewhere. It’s a good exercise to get the fresh off the horse because it keeps him constantly changing directions and moving his feet. The more variety you can include in your horse’s training, the happier and more interested he’ll be in his work.

  • 9. Throw to a Stop

    Goal:
    To be able to lunge the horse in a circle around you, then throw the end of the lead rope over his topline and have him immediately relax and come to a stop, staying parallel on the circle.

    Why:
    In previous exercises, you have desensitized the horse while he’s been standing still. In this exercise, you’re going to desensitize him while his feet are moving. Anytime a horse’s feet are moving, especially when they are moving fast, he’ll be more likely to use the reactive side of his brain. This exercise will teach the horse that when his feet are moving and he gets scared, instead of running faster to escape his fear, he should do the opposite and stop moving his feet and relax.

  • 10. Sidepassing on the Fence

    Goal:
    To be able to sidepass the horse down a fence line using your body language and energy from the Handy Stick.

    Why:
    A lot of pushy and disrespectful horses will use their bodies to lean into you and push you around. Sidepassing teaches the horse to move his ribcage away from you. This exercise will build on the respect you’ve already established with the horse and will teach him to move his whole body away from you when you ask. This exercise will also benefit you when you want to teach the horse to sidepass under saddle because he will already understand the concept on the ground.

  • 11. Leading Behind

    Goal:
    To have the horse follow behind you while mimicking your actions including: walking, running, turning, stopping and backing up with no tension on the lead rope.

    Why:
    A lot of people think that leading is dragging the horse from point A to point B. I want leading to be almost an art form. A horse that leads well is like your shadow – he never moves any faster or slower, but goes the exact speed you go. This exercise is good for both pushy horses that constantly want to be running over the top of you and lazy horses that drag behind you. It will teach pushy horses to respect your space and lazy horses to come forward off of light halter pressure.

  • 12. Turn and Go

    Goal:
    To be able to wrap the lead rope around the horse’s body, gently apply pressure to the lead rope and have him follow the feel to turn 360 degrees and depart onto the circle with energy.

    Why:
    This exercise teaches the horse to follow the feel of pressure behind his poll, and soften to it rather than pull back and fight it. It’s especially good for horses that pull back when tied because instead of feeling trapped and claustrophobic when they feel the pressure behind their ears, they’ll learn to soften and come forward off of it.

  • 13. Circle Driving Transitions

    Goal:
    To Circle Drive the horse so that he stays at the edge of your hula hoop space while you control his speed. You should be able to slow him down by applying a light amount of rhythmic pressure in front of him or speed him up just by pointing.

    Why:
    Circle Driving Transitions are necessary to teach the horse before you start Line Driving. It’s really the same concept as Line Driving, except you’re keeping the horse on a circle. If the horse doesn’t understand how to correctly respond to pressure in front of his nose, he will have a tendency to constantly run past you on a straight line during Line Driving.
    This exercise starts with desensitizing the horse in motion so that he doesn’t get worried about the Handy Stick when you start using it to control his speed. It’s important to make sure that the horse is not afraid of you or your tools. The Handy Stick is going to play a very important part in controlling the horse’s feet, and if he’s scared or nervous about it, the exercise won’t work. By desensitizing him to the stick, he’ll have a chance to get used to it being all around his body while his feet are moving.

  • 14. Line Driving

    Goal:
    To be able to drive the horse in a straight line up beside you while controlling his speed and keeping him on the outside of your hula hoop space.

    Why:
    When being led, a lot of horses like to be pushy and have no respect for your personal space. This exercise will teach the horse to stay a stick’s length away from you and respect your space, but at the same time stay up beside you without being fearful. It will also teach him to respond to pressure in front of his nose by slowing down so that you can easily control his speed on a straight line.

  • 15. Circle Driving Transitions on the Long Line

    Goal:
    To be able to Circle Drive the horse on the 23-foot long line at the trot and canter, change directions fluidly and control his speed without taking the slack out of the rope.

    Why:
    Doing the exercise on the long line will put your horse’s respect and attention to the test. The more distance there is between you and the horse, the bigger tendency he will have to be lazy, ignore you and pull against you because he will think you can’t reach him. Working with the horse on the long line will prepare you for taking him offline and doing liberty work.

  • 16. Bridle Bending

    Goal:
    To be able to get the horse to walk forward and bend his whole body around you in a small circle, yield his hindquarters, move his shoulders across and back up while remaining soft on the bit.

    Why:
    The more you can get the horse to soften to the bridle on the ground, the lighter and more responsive he’ll be under saddle. Anytime you can teach a horse something on the ground before getting on him, it will be to your advantage. With this exercise you will be simulating the under saddle exercises of Bending at the Walk, Yield the Hindquarters, Shoulder In/Shoulder Out and Backing Up. It’s a great way to teach the horse how to soften to the bit and move his body parts.

INTERMEDIATE Riding

  • 1. Vertical Flexion at the Walk

    Goal:
    To be able to soften the horse to the bit vertically at a walk. Anytime you pick up on the reins with the lightest degree of pressure and add leg pressure, the horse should immediately soften his face, tuck his nose in and create slack in the reins without trying to speed up.

    Why:
    After you’ve taught your horse to give to the bit and soften at the standstill and to Draw to a Stop from the walk, trot and canter, the next step is to teach him how to soften vertically at the walk. Whenever you increase speed the horse’s resistance to pressure doubles, so don’t be surprised if he feels stiff when you first ask him to collect at the walk. The soft feel you obtain in this exercise and others will eventually turn into collection. But right now, it is just a soft feel. The slower you start, the easier it is for your horse to understand what you’re asking of him.

  • 2. Cloverleaf Exercise

    Goal:
    To be able to guide the horse around the arena in a cloverleaf pattern with no resistance at the trot and canter. The horse should follow his nose around the corners and on the straight lines without leaning one way or the other or anticipating the turn.

    Why:
    This exercise combines teaching the horse to do smooth, rounded corners and straight lines. It will help the horse develop more of a steering wheel so that you can guide him wherever you want him to go while he maintains the gait you ask for. It’s also a good exercise for the rider because you have to look and focus on where you want to go, rather than looking down at the horse. If the horse wiggles all over the place, you’ll be able to straighten him out and get him to follow his nose.

  • 3. Yield and Bend

    Goal:
    To be able to move the horse off on a loose rein at the walk, trot or canter, transition him down to a walk by yielding his hindquarters 360 degrees, then drift into a small circle so that he bends around your inside leg, staying soft on your rein and leg pressure the whole time.

    Why:  
    This exercise works on the same concepts as Yielding the Hindquarters and Bending at the Walk, but will develop a higher level of softness in the horse’s hindquarters and ribcage and will really get him listening to your leg because it requires him to negotiate the difference between the two exercises. It will also encourage the horse to get his hip pushed up deeper underneath him while bending in a circle, which will be the foundation of collection. If you’ve done your homework with the exercises from the Fundamentals Series, the horse should already understand both parts of this exercise; now you’re just putting them together.

  • 4. Post ‘N Circle

    Goal:
    To be able to pick out an object, ride straight to it, and ride a smooth, even circle right in front of it or around it with no resistance from the horse.

    Why:
    This exercise will teach your horse to ride in a straight line without anticipating whether to go left or right. It’s also a great exercise for riders to get better at focusing on where they want their horse to go. Circling him in front of the object will improve steering, softness and yielding from your leg. This is especially good for hot and nervous horses that want to go fast because as soon as they get to where they’re going, they have to do a little bit more work, which discourages them from wanting to hurry and speed up on straight lines.

  • 5. Yield the Hindquarters on the Fence

    Goal:
    To be able to walk down the fence and yield the horse’s hindquarters 90 degrees so that he faces the fence. The horse should be soft and light in your hands and responsive to your leg as you do this.

    Why:
    This exercise is in preparation to teach the horse how to sidepass. Eventually, you’ll ask the horse to yield his hindquarters on the fence and then drift into the sidepass. When sidepassing, most horses have a tendency to lag their hindquarters, so by exaggerating the hindquarter yield before asking your horse to sidepass, it will encourage him to keep his whole body straight. This method of teaching the sidepass is easy for the horse to understand because it creates energy in his feet by yielding his hindquarters so that all you have to do is redirect that energy sideways. So in order to effectively teach the horse to sidepass, he must first be able to do this exercise well.

  • 6. Yield the Hindquarters and Sidepass on the Fence

    Goal:
    To be able to walk down the fence, yield the horse’s hindquarters 90 degrees and then sidepass him along the fence, keeping his body in a straight line.

    Why:
    This exercise begins to teach the horse how to sidepass. Sidepassing is just another way to get more control of the horse’s five body parts (head and neck, poll, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters). I always start out on the fence because it makes it easier for the horse to understand what you’re asking him to do. By using the fence, the horse can’t walk forward, but instead has to drift sideways down the fence. And yielding his hindquarters first, creates less resistance because you don’t have to create the sideways energy from scratch; you’re just yielding and then redirecting the energy sideways. This exercise will start teaching the horse to move his whole body laterally off your leg, which is the foundation for lead changes.

  • 7. Rollbacks on the Fence Stage One

    Goal:
    To be able to ride the horse up to the fence at a 45-degree angle and have the horse stop, collect himself on his hindquarters and do a 180-degree rollback and go in the other direction.

    Why:
    In order to get a horse soft and supple, you have to get control of all five body parts – the head and neck, poll, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters. Once you have control of the horse’s whole body, you have control of his feet. And when you have control of his feet, it’s easy for you to teach him what you want him to do. If you can get this kind of softness, suppleness and responsiveness, it doesn’t matter what industry you belong to because you’ll make progress a lot faster when the horse isn’t resisting you.
    Rollbacks are the easiest way to start teaching the horse to move his front end, work off his hindquarters and collect himself. They are really beneficial for horses that want to run around on their front end a lot. The more you can get the horse to stop and roll over his hocks, the better brakes, steering wheel, collection and overall attitude he’ll have. You can start this on a colt that’s only had five to ten rides because you’re not forcing him into anything; you’re just using the fence to redirect his energy. You’ll find that this exercise will really free up a horse’s mind – it’s great for horses that have “sticky feet” because it gives them a reason to get up and go somewhere.

  • 8. Vertical Flexion at the Trot

    Goal:
    Whenever you lightly pick up on the reins and add leg pressure at the same time, the horse should immediately soften to the bit, tuck his nose in and create slack in the reins.

    Why:
    By this stage, you should have the horse thinking about softening and relaxing when you pick up on the reins instead of pulling on the bit and racing forward. Whenever you add speed the horse’s resistance to pressure doubles, so it’s important that you’ve done your homework with exercises such as Draw to a Stop and Vertical Flexion at the Walk. The soft feel you obtain in this exercise and others will eventually turn into collection. But right now, it is just a soft feel. It’s important to teach the horse to soften vertically because whenever a horse’s poll gets above the saddle horn, you’re in a position to get into trouble. When a horse braces up against the bit pressure and raises his head and neck, he’s in a powerful position where he’s in control. Your horse’s first reaction when you pick up on two reins should be to soften to that pressure and tuck his nose in. If he braces against the bit when you pick up on two reins, it will be very difficult to teach him any sort of maneuver (spins, lead changes, sliding stops, etc.) or to gain control of his five body parts.

  • 9. Shoulder In/Shoulder Out

    Goal:
    To be able to lightly pick up on the reins, press with the calf of your leg and have the horse’s shoulders move off at a 45-degree angle, isolating his shoulders from his ribcage. Then you should be able to change his shape and push his shoulders in the other direction at a 45-degree angle. The horse should allow you to position his shoulders wherever you want them to be.

    Why:
    Once you have control of a horse’s shoulders and can move them independently from the rest of his body, you’ll have more overall control of his body and his feet. You’ll be able to easily push him in and out of a circle and it will stop the horse from wanting to drop his shoulders and cut in. The better shoulder control you have, the better steering wheel you’ll have. This exercise also lays the foundation for rollbacks and spins, two maneuvers that require good control of the shoulders.

  • 10. Serpentine Exercise

    Goal:
    To be able to trot the horse all over the arena, bending him from side to side while he stays soft on the reins, not raising his head and neck higher than his withers. You should be able to trot the horse in half a circle one direction, bending him around your inside leg as you turn him, so that he has an arc in his body from his nose to his tail. Then when you pick up on the other rein, he should instantly soften and change his shape, bending his body around your inside leg going in the other direction with no resistance.

    Why:
    The Serpentine Exercise is a great way to supple the horse. It will help to get him soft through all five body parts (head and neck, poll, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters) using lateral flexion. With this exercise, you’re going to get the horse to look like a big snake, turning to the left and right with a lot of bend through his body. It will get the horse to be really responsive to the bit so that when you pick up with just light pressure, he will instantly bend and soften through his whole body.
    This exercise is really good for a horse that bends his head and neck, but stays stiff through the rest of his body. It’s an exaggerated form of Bending at the Walk. Remember, horses don’t have hard mouths, they have hard, stiff bodies. So the softer you can get the horse through his body, the softer he will be in your hands. This is a great exercise to really get the kinks out of a stiff horse. It’s also good for capturing a horse’s attention pretty quickly because it requires him to continually change directions and move his feet, which in turn gets him paying attention to you.

  • 11. Yield the Hindquarters and Bring the Front End Through

    Goal:
    To be able to yield the horse’s hindquarters 360 degrees and then bring his front end through and yield his forequarters 360 degrees while he remains soft and light in your hands.

    Why:
    This exercise will teach the horse that when you bring your leg back, he has to yield his hindquarters and when you bring your leg forward, near the girth, he has to yield his forequarters. By yielding the hindquarters first, it helps the horse realize that he can isolate each end of his body. If you try to teach this exercise without yielding the hindquarters, the horse will have a tendency to get more frustrated and confused about what you’re asking him to do. Eventually, you’ll just yield his forequarters from the standstill, but in the beginning, this method seems to keep it more black and white in the horse’s mind. This exercise sets the foundation for spins and rollbacks where the horse has to shift his weight to his hindquarters and bring his front end around.

  • 12. Down and Around

    Goal:
    To be able to flex the horse to the right and then bring his nose around straight and have him soften vertically and then flex him to the left. So it should be: Flex to the right side, down, left side, down, right side, etc. There should be no tension or resistance whatsoever from the horse, and his poll should never come above his withers. Each flex should move smoothly into the next.

    Why:
    This is a great exercise just to get some of the kinks and stiff spots out of your horse. A lot of horses will get kind of stuck as you’re flexing them either laterally or vertically. For instance, let’s say you’re working on lateral flexion and the horse gets into the habit of just going from side to side and then, when you ask him to soften vertically, there’s resistance. Or, he’ll get in the habit of doing it the other way around, where you’ll ask for vertical flexion and he’ll get in the habit of softening vertically, but when you try to take him off to the side, he gets stuck and there’s a lot of resistance. This exercise ensures that no matter where you pull, the horse softens to the rein pressure.

  • 13. Bending With Vertical

    Goal:
    For the horse to walk forward and around in a small circle while bending around your inside leg and keeping his nose tipped in laterally as well as vertically. Ideally, his nose should be softening toward the point of his shoulder. The horse should be very soft and supple through his whole body from his nose to his tail with his hind end stepping up underneath him and his shoulders following his nose on the circle.

    Why:
    So far we’ve only been working on vertical flexion while the horse is completely straight. This exercise will start to teach the horse how to tuck his nose in and soften while his head and neck are bent, which will get a lot more control of his poll. Practicing this will help when you start doing circles and spins and asking the horse to collect because he’s going to have to tuck his nose in and shape his body laterally at the same time. If there’s any stiffness in the horse, it is going to show up dramatically when you start doing more advanced maneuvers.

  • 14. Leads Exercise

    Goal:
    To be able to yield the horse’s hindquarters from the canter, and then immediately canter off again on the correct lead in the opposite direction.

    Why:
    In order for the horse to be able to pick up the correct lead, his hindquarters have to be in the right position. By first yielding his hindquarters and then asking for the lead, you’re going to set him up for success. This exercise is designed to teach the horse to quickly pick up the correct lead on a circle. Up until this point in his training, you haven’t made a big deal of whether or not he takes the correct lead when he canters. So now when you first introduce the concept, you want to keep it very basic and easy for him to understand by teaching him that a left circle means pick up the left lead and a right circle means take the right lead.

  • 15. Sidepass From a Standstill on the Fence

    Goal:
    For the horse to sidepass from a standstill on the fence when you gently press his side with the calf of your leg. He should keep his entire body in a straight line as he steps sideways.

    Why:
    This exercise will help you get better control of the horse’s shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters, which are the three main body parts you need to control to be able to guide the horse and keep him between your hands and legs. Sidepassing is also essential to being able to teach the horse maneuvers such as flying lead changes. It’s an important exercise in teaching the horse that leg pressure does not necessarily mean go forward, it can also mean move laterally.

  • 16. Stop on Whoa

    Goal:
    To get the horse to stop from all three gaits when you say the word “whoa” without having to use the reins. You want your horse to act like there’s an imaginary cliff in front of him and if he takes one more step after you say the word “whoa,” he’s going to fall off the edge of it. When you say “whoa,” you want all forward movement to stop NOW.

    Why:
    Most horses will stop when you pull on the reins, but a lot of them won’t stop if you just say the word “whoa.” I want my horses to be able to stop three different ways: When I pull on the reins (one rein or two), when I sit down and relax in the saddle, and when I say the word “whoa.” You can never have too many ways to stop a horse. Whether you are in the arena or out on the trail, a good stop is important for your safety and overall control.

  • 17. Draw to a Walk Transitions

    Goal:
    To trot or canter the horse on a loose rein, and then, using the lightest degree of rein and leg pressure, cause him to immediately transition down to a walk and tuck his nose in, creating slack in the reins.

    Why:
    When you pull on two reins and add leg pressure, most horses’ first reaction is to pull against you and run faster. This exercise will teach the horse to rate your body and soften to your hands and legs. The horse needs to understand the difference between: 1) leg pressure by itself means speed up, and 2) leg pressure accompanied by rein pressure means soften to the bit and keep moving forward. This exercise will help to exaggerate this concept to the horse by actually making him slow down when you add leg and rein pressure, which is the complete opposite of how most horses think. This will really improve the horse’s vertical flexion at the trot, and eventually the canter, because he’ll allow you to use your legs to drive him up into his face without speeding up. This is the next step toward collection

Advanced Groundwork

  • 1. Lunging for Respect Stage Three

    Goal:
    To have the horse circle around you with the belly of the rope on the ground, maintaining his gait and direction, until you yield his hindquarters with just a look and draw him up to you. You should be able to keep your feet completely still the whole time.

    Why:
    This exercise teaches the horse to be responsible for his own feet. Too many people babysit their horses and constantly micromanage every step. Let the horse be responsible for his own feet by making it his job to maintain the gait and direction you set him at. If you babysit the horse, he’ll never learn to take responsibility for himself. I want my horses to have a sort of military mentality: “If I tell you to do something, do it and keep doing it until I tell you to do something else. If I don’t tell you to do something, don’t do it.” Nobody ever complains that their horse did exactly what they wanted him to do, but everybody complains if their horse doesn’t do what they want. A lot of horses will lunge as long as you keep driving them around the circle; this exercise will teach your horse to be respectful enough to carry his own momentum. It will also prepare the horse for liberty work, where you won’t have the halter and lead rope to control his feet, instead you will have to rely completely on body language.

  • 2. Backing Angles

    Goal:
    To be able to back the horse up in a straight line, turn 90 degrees and then continue to back up straight using only your body language. Eventually, you should be able to back a square with your horse.

    Why:
    Backing Angles teaches the horse that he can change directions while going backwards. You should have as much control of your horse going backwards as you do going forward. The more you can turn a horse at your discretion, the easier it is to back him up on a straight line. If he has a tendency to back crooked, you’ll now have an easy way to straighten him up. Remember, the more you can control the direction of the horse’s feet going backwards, the more overall control you’ll have of the horse. You back your horse up to gain his respect. The more you back your horse up, the more he’ll use the thinking side of his brain, which is why backing up is a major component to the Downunder Horsemanship Method. Backing Angles is also the foundation for Backing Circles. Instead of asking the horse to back a circle straightaway, you’re going to make it easier for him to understand by first teaching him to back 90-degree angles. Once you can back him up in four 90-degree angles to complete a square, then it will be relatively easy to back a circle. If you don’t get this exercise good, backing in circles will be difficult.

  • 3. Backing Circles

    Goal:
    To be able to back the horse in even circles with energy in his feet while he remains soft on the halter and respectful of your personal hula hoop space. You want to be able to just make a suggestion by marching toward the horse to get him to back away.

    Why:
    If you can get your horse to back an even circle, it proves that you have ultimate control of his feet while moving backwards. You want to have just as much control of your horse’s feet moving backwards as you do moving forward. Backing Circles helps with the horse’s collection because he has to work off of his hindquarters. If you don’t back your horse, he’ll get pushy, heavy and disrespectful. If you can back the horse up on the ground, it will be easy to teach him to do the same thing under saddle. Backing in circles will improve your control and steering of the horse in reverse. The better the horse backs up, the more respectful and responsive he’ll be on the ground and under saddle. When you start asking your horse to back up in a circle, you’ll be amazed at how little control you really have of his direction backwards. You might think you’re backing up well, but when you put a cone in the arena and start backing around it, you’ll be shocked at how crooked your circle is. Being able to back a horse in a round circle proves that you have really good control of his hindquarters and forequarters and that he’ll back out of your space. The more control you have of your horse’s feet going backwards, the more control you’ll have of his feet going forward.

  • 4. Leading Rollbacks

    Goal:
    To have the horse lead up beside you and stop when you stop, back up when you back up, and pivot on his hindquarters to do a 180-degree turn to either the outside or inside when you change directions. Your horse should be like your shadow, never getting in front of you or behind you.

    Why:
    This exercise teaches the horse to rate your body language and listen to the voice command “whoa.” It introduces the concept of backing up while you’re beside the horse, rather than facing him and driving him back. Because the horse has never had to back up in this position before, he’ll have a tendency to go crooked, so the rollbacks will teach him to stay straight even when you’re not facing him. It is also a good exercise to get the horse working off his hindquarters. If the horse can do rollbacks well on the ground, he’ll have an easier time understanding what to do under saddle. It is also a very important exercise in preparation for liberty work because it really gets the horse reading your body language and staying in tune with you.

  • 5. Jumping and Crossing Over Obstacles

    Goal:
    To have the horse confidently cross and jump over a variety of natural and man-made obstacles while keeping your feet still.

    Why:
    Crossing and jumping over obstacles builds the horse’s confidence and tests how much he respects and trusts you. A lot of horses will do arena work just fine, but when you ask them to start negotiating unfamiliar obstacles, they’ll often give you resistance. Use the groundwork for a purpose; I call it “reason training.” Giving the horse responsibility and a reason to do the groundwork will make it more fun and exciting for both of you and will challenge the horse’s respect and trust in you. Drilling on the same exercises the same way every day is what causes a lot of horses to become pinny-eared and sour. Horses get bored very quickly. You’ll notice that when you introduce obstacles, your horse’s ears and attitude will pick up considerably. Obstacles will also teach the horse to pick up his feet and pay attention to where he’s going. Don’t micromanage his feet – teach him to be responsible for himself. As a horse trainer, your greatest tool is your imagination. The more creative you can be, the more your horse will enjoy his job.

  • 6. Pick Me Up Off the Fence

    Goal:
    To be able to sit on a fence, pick up on the lead rope and have the horse sidepass over to the fence where you are sitting. When the horse is parallel against the fence, he should stand still and be relaxed while you desensitize him and eventually get on him.

    Why:
    This exercise is a great way to desensitize your horse to objects moving above his head. A lot of horses, especially young ones, get very frightened when they see something up above them, which is very natural for any kind of prey animal. If you think of the wild where mountain lions and cougars stalk their prey from above and then jump down on them, it’s no wonder why horses are naturally wary of movement above their eye level. This is a great exercise to use to desensitize your horse to all sorts of objects moving up above him. I do this to all of my weanlings, yearlings and two year olds before their first ride to get all of the fear and spookiness out of them. It’s a tremendous safety precaution because if you’ve never ridden the horse before, it allows you to get him used to seeing someone above him while giving you the safety of being on the fence. It’s like giving the horse his first ride, without any of the risk. Even if your horse isn’t fearful of you moving above his eye level, it’s a very practical exercise for him to know. If he’s a tall horse, you can teach him to pick you up from the fence instead of using a mounting block to get on. It’s just a really handy exercise to teach your horse that gives you even more control and teaches him to use the thinking side of his brain no matter the situation.

  • 7. Backing Serpentines

    Goal:
    To be able to back the horse in a serpentine pattern around cones, curving a half circle in one direction, and then a half circle in the other direction. At the end of the pattern, you should be able to back your horse in a complete circle around the last cone.

    Why:
    Backing Serpentines gives you more overall control of the horse’s feet and increases his respect in general. This exercise is also useful for correcting a horse that backs crookedly because whichever way he wants to swing his hips, you can immediately correct him by backing him the opposite way. If you can back your horse in and out of cones in a serpentine pattern with very little effort, you have really good control of his feet. You should have as much control of your horse’s feet going backwards as you do going forward. Not only is this a good exercise for your horse, but it will also increase your feel and timing.

  • 8. Outback Exercise on the Long Line

    Goal:
    To be able to back the horse away from you in a perfectly straight line without ever having to move your feet. He should respectfully back away from you when you wiggle your finger at him, with the belly of the rope never leaving the ground. Then you should be able to draw him back up to you in a straight line by just a suggestion of your body language.

    Why:
    The better you can get a horse to back up, the more responsive he will be in everything else that you ask him to do. You’ve already practiced this exercise on the 14-foot lead rope, now it’s time to challenge your horse more and see if you can get him to back away from you at a distance. The farther your horse gets away from you, the more of a tendency he’ll have to ignore you. A respectful horse backs up with energy anytime you ask. If you don’t practice backing your horse up, he will get pushier and more disrespectful. If you can back your horse up without moving your feet, you’re establishing even more respect and control. Not only does this exercise teach the horse to back away from you off the lightest amount of pressure possible, but it also teaches him to come forward anytime he feels the slightest pressure behind his ears. A lot of horses want to brace up and pull back when they feel pressure behind their ears. Eventually, you won’t need to use the lead rope at all to back him up or draw him to you. It will improve the horse’s drive (his desire to move away from you) as well as his draw (his desire to come to you). The more you practice getting control of the horse’s feet from farther distances, the more respect you’ll get.

  • 9. Lunging for Respect Stage Three on the Long Line

    Goal:
    To be able to back the horse up to the end of the long line without moving your feet and then point and send him off with an energetic departure and have him circle around you while you stand perfectly still. The horse should maintain his gait and direction until you yield his hindquarters with just a look and draw him up to you. While the horse is circling, the belly of the rope should never leave the ground.

    Why:
    This exercise teaches the horse to be responsible for his own feet and prepares him for liberty work. Too many people babysit their horses and constantly micromanage every step. Your horse should learn to maintain the circle by himself, not going any faster or slower than what you tell him to go. If you babysit your horse, he’ll never learn to be responsible for his own feet. By putting the horse on a longer line, it will encourage him to move out because it will give his feet a place to go, which also makes him enjoy it more. On the other hand, the longer line gives the horse the opportunity to cheat you and ignore you more because you’re farther away from him. By putting him on a longer line, it will teach him to listen to you and move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right from a greater distance. If you don’t have respect or control on the long line, you certainly can’t expect to have it at liberty.

  • 10. Long Line Changing Directions

    Goal:
    To have the horse change directions on the long line off of just your body language without breaking gait and without taking the slack out of the rope.

    Why:
    You should be able to control the movement of your horse’s feet forwards, backwards, left and right from a distance. The farther away from you a horse gets, the more of a tendency he’ll have to ignore you and not pay attention. This exercise is very similar to Lunging for Respect Stage Three, but now you’ll be asking the horse to change directions without breaking gait. It’ll teach the horse to pick up his energy and go in the direction you tell him to. He’s got to be able to follow the feel of the halter and long line and come forward off of that pressure. It will increase his overall respect and attention to your body language and your cues.

  • 11. C-Pattern on the Long Line

    Goal:
    To be able to walk and eventually run in a straight line while sending the horse from one side of you to the other with energy, yielding his hindquarters on either side with only a look. The horse should stay out of your personal space and be responsive enough to do the exercise while keeping slack in the long line the whole time.

    Why:
    The C-Pattern on the Long Line is just another exercise to get the horse to move his feet without making him go around in the same boring circle. It not only gets the horse moving left and right while respecting your space, but also teaches him to stay out of your space while you’re running forward, which makes him constantly gauge how close he is to you. The C-Pattern on the Long Line is basically the same as doing the exercise on the 14-foot lead rope, but it gives the horse more room to move. It really helps him unlock his feet and go somewhere. Sometimes, if you keep a horse on the shorter line too long, it will cause him to get sticky feet and have a sour attitude. (It’s the same idea as riding a horse in the roundpen too much – it shuts him down mentally.) By giving him more room to run, it will free up his feet and his mind. This exercise is good for lazy horses to give them a reason to move their feet, stretch out and go somewhere. It’s also a good exercise to get rid of excess energy for horses that haven’t been out of their stall in a while because it really wakes up their attitude. Remember, the more variety you can include in your horse’s training, the happier and more interested he’ll be in his work.

  • 12. Sidepassing Off the Fence

    Goal:
    To be able to sidepass the horse down the center of the arena with his body in a straight line and energy in his feet using just your body language to cue him. The horse should not leak forward or back up; he should stay light on the halter pressure, and should move away from you with minimal effort.

    Why:
    This exercise will prove to you that your horse isn’t thinking about constantly moving forward. Remember, horses are “forwardaholics.” They always want to go forward, forward, forward. Any horse can sidepass on the fence, but it takes more advanced training to teach a horse to sidepass without having a barrier in front of him. Sidepassing teaches the horse to move his ribcage away from you instead of pushing and barging into your space. A lot of pushy and disrespectful horses will lean into you and don’t want to move their bodies out of your way. This exercise will build on the respect you’ve already taught the horse and will carry over to riding exercises as well. It will get the horse thinking laterally instead of forward all the time. When the horse thinks laterally instead of forward, it’s a good sign that he’s using the thinking side of his brain.

  • 13. Stirrup Driving

    Goal:
    To be able to drive the horse around you in a circle at a walk and trot using pressure from the stirrups to make his feet move forward and to yield his hindquarters. At the same time, the horse should remain relaxed and not overreact when you flap the stirrups to desensitize him.

    Why:
    This exercise is used both as a sensitizing exercise and a desensitizing exercise. It is designed to prepare colts for their first ride, but it will benefit older horses as well. It will help the horse understand how to move off of pressure from the stirrup, which represents your leg pressure when you ride, and will desensitize him to the flapping sensation of the fender and stirrup, both of which are important concepts for him to understand before you get in the saddle. When starting colts, I never ride them until I’ve done this exercise first. So in that case, I will move this exercise up on the order of the list of exercises so that I can properly prepare the colts to be ridden.
    As a sensitizing exercise, it teaches the horse that when you use the stirrup to apply pressure toward his belly, he should move his feet forward. Teaching the horse to move forward when you touch his side with the stirrup mimics how you’ll ask him to move forward when you’re in the saddle; you’ll gently apply leg pressure to his sides. The exercise also teaches him to yield his hindquarters off pressure back by his flank, which will simulate your leg when you ride.
    As a desensitizing exercise, it will take a lot of the spook and jump out of the horse. Remember that horses are prey animals and are frightened of objects, especially those that move and make a noise, which the saddle does both of. To help desensitize the horse to the saddle before you get on his back, you’ll flap the stirrup up and down as he moves forward. Many horses will get scared when you start flapping the stirrup up and down and will try to run away from it. That’s the reactiveness you’re trying to get out of them. A lot of people get bucked off when they first get on a colt because the colt isn’t comfortable with things flapping around his body and gets frightened of your legs moving. You want to make sure that if you bump your horse in the belly, he understands that you mean to go forward, but you don’t want him to overreact by bucking or galloping forward and getting scared about the whole thing.
    The more you can prepare the horse on the ground, the better your chances of having a successful ride. Anything that I plan on teaching the horse under saddle, I try to teach him on the ground first. I would much rather deal with resistance on the ground than up in the saddle, where I am in a more vulnerable position.

  • 14. Flex and Lead by the Ear

    Goal:
    To be able to have the horse immediately flex his head and neck so that his nose touches his belly whenever you lightly pick up on his ear with your hand, no matter where you’re standing. The second part of the exercise is to have the horse lead by his ear; he should come forward, bend and soften around you, and be able to do inside and outside turns, all from pressure applied to his ear. Anytime you pull on his ear, he should come forward off that pressure. If you pull harder, he should come forward faster. And finally, you should be able to lower the horse’s head to the ground by applying light, steady pressure to his ear with just two fingers.

    Why:
    A lot of horses get very defensive around their ears. If you reach up and grab most horses’ ears, the first thing they’ll do is raise their heads up and try to back away. Anytime I pick up on my horse’s ear, I want him to think “soften and relax,” not “resist and fight” against me. It’s a normal response for horses to want to resist and pull back and use the reactive side of their brain when they feel pressure. Remember, horses are reactive by nature. When something grabs them or applies pressure to a body part, they have a tendency to react and pull against it. You want the horse to learn to soften and give anytime pressure is applied to his body. This is a response you have to teach your horse using consistency and repetition.
    Teaching a horse to flex and lead by the ear is something that I use on all of my own horses to train them to give and yield, and it keeps reminding them that when they feel pressure, their first reaction shouldn’t be to feel trapped and claustrophobic, but to yield and give to it. It’s a great tool to test how soft and responsive your horse is and another way to prove to your horse, “I do the pulling, you do the giving.” You’re the leader.

  • 15. Leading by the Muzzle

    Goal:
    To be able to lead the horse forward, left and right by applying gentle pressure to his muzzle or underneath his chin.

    Why:
    This exercise is important because many horses want to throw their heads up, back up and get really defensive when you grab them around their muzzle. A lot of horses are defensive about being touched around their muzzles and their faces in general, and for good reason. Mother Nature taught the horse that in order to survive, he has to protect himself. The horse needs his mouth to eat, his nose to smell predators, his eyes to see and keep himself out of danger, and his ears to detect danger. These are all vital to the horse’s survival, and he’s extremely protective of them. You can teach your horse to accept you touching his face by desensitizing him and eventually leading him by the muzzle. Getting the horse to submit, move his feet and yield to pressure from his muzzle teaches him to use the thinking side of his brain instead of just reacting. It’s a little test for the horse: “Will you submit to this pressure?” A lot of horses will yield to halter pressure, but when you start to ask them to give to pressure on their muzzles, they want to resist. This exercise is a handy thing to teach your horse to be more respectful and responsive in general.

ADVaNCED Riding

  • 1. Two-Tracking Stage One

    Goal:
    To be able to move the horse off your leg at a 45-degree angle so that he’s moving forward and across at the same time. He should keep his shoulders and hips in a straight line, with his head and neck bent all the way around to his side so that his nose nearly touches your big toe. You should be able to do this at a walk and trot.

    Why:
    Two-Tracking Stage One is a great suppling exercise because the horse has to move his ribcage while keeping his head, neck and poll soft at the same time. It’s one of my favorite suppling exercises because it gets control of all five body parts (head and neck, poll, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters) by moving his whole body off your leg laterally, and encourages the horse to become softer and more responsive to your hands and legs. In this exercise, you are going to start getting a little bit stricter by asking the horse to move off your leg and stay soft in the face at the same time. I love to do a lot of this with horses that are stiff because it really gets them soft through the ribcage, head and neck, and poll. When you can get a horse to move laterally off of your leg and bend and soften his head and neck at the same time, you’ll find that when you work on vertical flexion he’ll be a lot lighter.
    When your horse does the exercise correctly, his front feet and hind feet will actually be on two separate tracks. In order to teach Two-Tracking so that the horse understands what you’re asking, teach him in two separate stages. In this first stage, you’ll two-track the horse with bend in his head and neck, which will make it easier for him to move his body sideways. Later in the series, you’ll work on Stage Two, where you’ll have the horse two-track without any bend in his body.

  • 2. Sidepassing Off the Fence

    Goal:
    To be able to sidepass the horse off the fence using only the calf of your leg. The horse should be soft in the bridle and stay perfectly straight from his nose to his tail. In the beginning, you’ll teach the horse to sidepass by yielding his hindquarters and then redirecting his energy sideways. Once he gets broke, then you can sidepass out in the open from a standstill.

    Why:
    Sidepassing is another way to get better control of the horse’s five body parts (head and neck, poll, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters). Anytime you can get your horse to move laterally, you’ll encourage him to use the thinking side of his brain. Remember, the secret to earning your horse’s respect and getting him to use the thinking side of his brain is moving his feet forwards, backwards, left and right. You first taught your horse to sidepass on the fence because it was easier for him to understand what you were asking him to do. Horses are forward-aholics and when first taught sidepassing, have a tendency to walk forward instead of moving sideways. Using the fence initially to teach the exercise stopped the horse from walking forward and helped you to teach him to move sideways off of your leg. Now, your horse should be moving sideways really well as soon as you press the middle of his ribcage with your leg, which means you’re ready to practice off the fence. Not having the fence in front of the horse makes him more responsible for his actions and softer to the bridle. Sidepassing is an important exercise to teach because if you can push the horse laterally off of your leg, you’ll be able to direct his feet as he’s circling, open and shut a gate and teach him flying lead changes. A flying lead change is nothing more than the horse sidepassing in midair. This is also the lead-up exercise to teaching Two-Tracking Stage Two.

  • 3. Counterbending at the Walk and Trot

    Goal:
    To be able to tip the horse’s nose in one direction and push his shoulders around in a circle in the opposite direction at both the walk and trot. You should be able to move his shoulders by barely pressing with the calf of your leg and using only two fingers on the reins to direct his energy, having him stay light in your hands the entire time.

    Why:
    You should be able to move the horse’s shoulders independently from the rest of his body. Counterbending is very similar to Shoulder In/Shoulder Out, only now it’s more extreme because you’re pushing the horse’s shoulders beyond a 45-degree angle all the way into a circle. For example, if you’re counterbending the horse in a clockwise circle, his nose will be tipped to the left and his shoulders will be pushed to the right. It will teach him to pick up his shoulders and ribcage a lot more and get him lighter to the bridle and to your hands. It’s great preparation for rollbacks and spins because it teaches the horse how to move his shoulders off of light leg pressure. I love to do this exercise a little bit every day, especially at the trot, because it really softens and supples the horse’s entire body and improves his steering. The more you can control the horse’s shoulders, the better steering wheel you’ll have.

  • 4. Vertical Flexion at the Canter

    Goal:
    Whenever you lightly pick up on the reins and add leg pressure at the same time, the horse should immediately soften to the bit, tuck his nose in, round his back and create slack in the reins.

    Why:
    Being able to collect your horse at the canter will give you better control of his feet. You’ll be able to guide him, stop, turn and eventually do flying lead changes better. If your horse won’t let you collect him vertically, you will be very limited in what you can accomplish with him. This is especially true when you start to add any sort of speed to your horse’s training for events like reining, cow horse or barrel racing. If you don’t teach him how to give to the bit vertically at the canter, he’ll have a tendency to get up over the bridle (throw his head up in the air) and be resistant when his feet speed up. This exercise is no different than what you did with the horse at the walk and trot; now you’re just going to ask him to soften and give to the bit vertically at the canter. By this stage, you should have the horse thinking about softening and relaxing when you pick up on the reins instead of pulling and racing forward. Whenever a horse’s poll gets above the saddle horn, you’re in a position to get into trouble. When a horse braces up against the bit pressure and raises his head and neck, he’s in a powerful position where he’s in control. Your horse’s first reaction when you pick up on two reins should be to soften to that pressure and tuck his nose in. If he braces against the bit when you pick up on two reins, it will be very difficult to teach him any sort of maneuver (spins, lead changes, sliding stops, etc.) or to gain control of his five body parts. Keep in mind that whenever you increase speed, the horse’s resistance to pressure doubles, so it’s important that you’ve done your homework at the slower gaits first.

  • 5. Rollbacks in the Corner

    Goal:
    To have the horse canter an even circle in the corner of the arena and do rollbacks on each side of the corner before continuing to canter on the circle. When your horse hears the word “whoa,” he should use his hindquarters to stop and then bring his front end through the turn.

    Why:
    Now you’re going to take your rollbacks to the next level and get your horse working off his hindquarters more. When you say, “Whoa,” you want him to bury his hindquarters in the ground and then jump his front end through the turn. Previously, in Rollbacks on the Fence Stage One (Intermediate series), you cantered up to the fence at a 45-degree angle and then asked the horse to roll back over his hocks. Now you’re going to use the same concept to work in the corner of the arena so that you have two fences to roll your horse back into. All horses will eventually start to anticipate the rollback when they know exactly where and when you’re going to turn. By doing the rollbacks in a corner, it gives you more options, so the horse never really knows where or when you’ll ask him to turn. This will make him pay a lot more attention to you and will improve your control at the same time. The more you can get a horse to work off his hindquarters and collect, the better he’s going to stop and turn, and the better overall control you’ll have. This is a warm-up exercise for taking your rollbacks to an even higher level.

  • 6. Advanced Rollbacks

    Goal:
    To build on the basics of rolling back that you’ve already established in previous exercises. You’re looking for the horse to listen to the word “whoa,” respect your hands and use his hindquarters in the turn better.

    Why:
    Now you’re going to work on getting the rollback more correct and a little prettier. Up to this point, you’ve stopped and rolled back into the fence to get the horse to do a 180-degree turn and go back in the other direction. Now you’re going to get a little pickier and ask the horse to stop better on his hind end, come through the turn softer and collect on the circle. In order to do that, you’re going to break the exercise down into steps and get pickier with each portion. If you don’t do this, the horse will eventually start to get sloppy where he will anticipate rolling back and will dive his shoulders into the turns. Advanced Rollbacks will help you get a better stop, a better turn and overall better collection.

  • 7. Yield the Hindquarters on a Straight Line

    Goal:
    To be able to walk, trot and canter the horse forward on a straight line and then press with your leg back near his flank to have him move his hindquarters up and over while still maintaining forward motion. At the same time, the horse should keep his nose softened to the inside. Initially, you’ll use the fence as a barrier to teach the horse, but eventually you’ll be able to do it out in the open.

    Why:
    Teaching the horse to yield his hindquarters on a straight line will prepare him for collected lead departures. You should be able to push the horse’s hip underneath his body and frame him up and when you cluck, he should step up into the lead. I personally hate it when horses leap into a lead by lifting their heads and necks up and hollowing out their backs. All horses will do that to a certain extent until they get broke, but now you’re ready to take your horse to the next level and expect more out of him. Up until this point, when you’ve asked the horse to disengage his hindquarters, you’ve always tipped his nose off to one side and put your leg back by his flank to yield his hindquarters in the opposite direction. Now, you’re going to teach the horse that even though he’s traveling on a straight line, you can still push his hip up and over in either direction. You’ll also be asking him to tip his nose and push his hip up in the same direction, which is much more difficult to do. This exercise will give you better control of the horse’s hindquarters and will prepare him for more refined lead departures and flying lead changes.

  • 8. Two-Tracking Stage Two

    Goal:
    To be able to move the horse’s whole body off your leg so that he moves across the arena at a 45-degree angle, staying completely straight from his nose to his tail while remaining soft in the bridle. You should be able to do this at a walk, trot and canter.

    Why:
    You first introduced two-tracking to your horse with bend in his head and neck to help create softness and make the exercise easier for him to understand. Remember, your job as a horse trainer is to make learning as easy as possible for your horse. When the horse is good at Two-Tracking Stage One and Yield the Hindquarters on a Straight Line, you’re ready to move on to Stage Two, where you’ll ask him to keep his body straight from his nose to his tail. It’s much harder for a horse to move forward and across with his whole body on a straight line. Stage Two will help you develop even more body control. The better control you have of your horse’s body, the easier it will be to teach him to do a flying lead change and it will also improve his sidepass.

  • 9. Collected Lead Departures

    Goal:
    To be able to collect the horse, push his hip up and elevate his shoulders in order to shape him for a lead departure. Then, when you kiss to the horse, he should step into the correct lead, remaining light and soft in your hands without raising his head and neck. You should be able to do this both bridled up and on a loose rein.

    Why:
    This exercise will really help with your horse’s overall collection, especially in circles. There’s nothing prettier than a horse pushing his hip up, softening his face, elevating his shoulders and stepping into a lead using impulsion from his hindquarters. If you want to know how truly broke a horse is, watch him do a lead departure. Horses with no training flip their heads and necks up and pull themselves into the lead with their front legs when asked to canter. It’s likely that your horse has done that in the past, but now that you’ve worked through the Method, establishing a solid base of fundamentals, it’s time to refine the way he departs into the canter and expect perfection. If you can get a great lead departure, half of your work is done for you when it comes to teaching your horse how to do a flying lead change. Remember, this is the Advanced Series and it’s time to expect the horse to step up his performance. You’re not dealing with a green-broke two-year-old anymore or a problem horse. If you’ve followed the Method step-by-step, you’re ready to take your horse to the next level.

  • 10. Flower Power

    Goal:
    To be able to guide the horse around the arena with two reins in a flower pattern with no resistance at the canter. You should be able to do the exercise collected and on a loose rein.

    Why:
    This is a great steering wheel exercise because it combines both straight lines and turns. It’s really good for hot, nervous horses because when you put them on the straight lines they are going to want to build speed. As soon as they get faster, you’ll turn them. Anytime you turn a corner, it makes the horse rate back to you mentally and physically. It’s very hard for a horse to build speed as he’s turning because he has to shift his weight from his front end to his back end. This exercise is very similar to the Cloverleaf Exercise (Intermediate series), but because it has more turns, it will get the horse even softer and more supple. It also requires the horse to make sharper turns, which will cause him to really sit back and use his hindquarters during the turns. It’s a great lead-up exercise to neck reining and will improve your horse’s overall steering. By the time you finish the pattern, your horse should be easy to guide and steer. He shouldn’t pull you around or gather speed when you put him on a straight line.

  • 11. Backing Circles on the Ground With the Bridle

    Goal:
    To be able to back the horse around in even circles with energy in his feet and with a soft and collected frame.

    Why:
    Backing Circles is a great warm-up exercise to get the horse off the bit, especially if he’s kind of pushy and heavy. It helps to get your horse focused on you before you get in the saddle. It will really get him backed off the bridle and will help with his collection because he has to work off of his hindquarters. If you don’t back your horse up enough, he’ll get pushy, heavy and disrespectful. If you can back the horse up on the ground, it will be easy to teach him to do the same thing under saddle. Remember, anytime you can teach your horse something on the ground first, it makes it easier for him to understand the same thing when you get in the saddle. If you can get your horse to back an even circle, it proves that you have ultimate control of his feet while moving backwards. You should have just as much control of your horse’s feet moving backwards as you do moving forwards.

  • 12. Backing Circles Under Saddle

    Goal:
    To be able to yield the horse’s hindquarters 360 degrees and then back an even circle and bring his front end through in a rollback. Eventually you should be able to back the horse in serpentines as well.

    Why:
    The better control you have of the horse going backwards, the better control you’ll have of him going forwards. I’m a fanatic about getting my horses light, soft and supple. When your horse will back up and get soft and supple at the same time, you’ll be amazed at how responsive he’ll be going forwards as well. Backing Circles also gets the horse’s inside front foot to step back and over so that when he goes into a spin or rollback, his inside front foot is always stepping in the correct position. When a lot of horses roll back or spin, they put their inside front foot too far forward and then have trouble crossing over correctly. Not only that, but the more you can back your horse, the softer and more respectful he’ll be. Remember, the backup is the foundation for stops and collection.

  • 13. Counterbending at the Canter

    Goal:
    To be able to tip the horse’s nose in one direction and push his shoulders in the opposite direction at the canter. You should be able to push his shoulders into a circle by barely pressing with the calf of your leg and using just use two fingers on the reins to direct his energy, having him stay light in your hands.

    Why:
    It’s important to be able to counterbend your horse at the canter because it’ll set you up for being able to do a lead change. Before doing a lead change, you have to be able to move his shoulders from one side to the other. If you attempt lead changes without a good foundation, it’ll turn into a wreck. Once you’ve taught the horse to counterbend at the canter, you’ll be able to correct him if he dives into the circle by picking him up and pushing him back out of it. Remember, the more you can control the horse’s shoulders, the better steering wheel you’ll have.

  • 14. Drive to a Stop

    Goal:
    To be able to collect the horse at the walk, trot or canter, driving him forward on a straight line, and when you sit back in the saddle and take your legs off, he immediately stops and then backs up with lightness in his feet. When you take your legs off, the horse’s frame should not change – he should keep his back rounded, his head and neck level and his nose tucked in. Then you should be able to drive him back forward into his face again without his frame ever changing.

    Why:
    Driving the horse to a stop will improve his stops and backup. You should be able to stop the horse in three ways: 1) by pulling on the reins, 2) by saying the word “whoa,” and 3) by taking your legs off. The horse should have the same response regardless of which technique you use. This exercise will reinforce to the horse that when you take your legs off, he should immediately stop, stay in frame and suck back. When I take my legs off my horses, I want to have it so that it’s like someone hooked a chain up to their tails and pulled them in reverse. If you want the horse to stop well, you have to create a desire in him to want to get back. That’s how reining trainers get their horses to do such great sliding stops. Unless they’ve been trained otherwise, when most horses stop, they throw their heads and necks up in the air and lose their shape. Driving the horse up and over the bridle gets him soft through his entire body. The more suck-back a horse has, the better he will stop, spin and roll back.

  • 15. Backing Shoulder In/Shoulder Out

    Goal:
    To be able to lightly pick up on the reins, press with the calf of your leg and have the horse’s shoulders move off at a 45-degree angle, isolating his shoulders from his ribcage while backing up. Then you should be able to change his shape and push his shoulders in the other direction at a 45-degree angle. The horse should allow you to position his shoulders wherever you want them to be and remain light and soft in your hands while backing.

    Why:
    Backing Shoulder In/Shoulder Out is a great control exercise that will be a handy tool in moving your horse’s shoulders. With this exercise, you’ll now have a way of isolating the horse’s shoulders in the backup, which will help you shape his body for turns and rollbacks. If you have a horse that leans into a turn or rollback, you’ll now have a way to pick his shoulders up and prepare him for the turn. Similarly, if the horse has a tendency to back up crookedly, this exercise will give you the tools to be able to correct him. The more you can soften and supple the horse’s body from left to right while backing him up, the better collected he’ll become and the softer he’ll get.

  • 16. Post-to-Post Rollbacks

    Goal:
    To be able to canter the horse in a straight line toward a post and have him stop in front of the post, back up in a straight line, roll back 180 degrees on his hindquarters and canter in a straight line to another post.

    Why:
    Post-to-Post Rollbacks will help the horse in several different ways and increase his overall performance. First, it will teach him to stop better and get back on his hindquarters. In order for him to do this exercise well, he really has to shift his weight back and work off of his hind end. The more a horse works off his hindquarters, the better he’s able to collect because he learns to round his back. It will also get a lot of softness through his head, neck and poll. This exercise is a refinement of Advanced Rollbacks, because now you’re expecting the horse to do a rollback on a straight line like you would if you were competing in a western performance event.

  • 17. Neck Reining

    Goal:
    To be able to steer the horse one-handed by laying the indirect rein across his neck at the walk, trot and canter. You should be able to lay the rein and have him first look in the direction he’s going and then turn that way. A horse should always look in the direction he’s turning.

    Why:
    The most obvious reason to teach the horse to neck rein is if you plan to show him in any sort of western breed class or a performance class like reining or cutting. In those competitions, it’s a requirement to ride the horse one-handed and steer him with the neck rein. It’s also essential to teach the horse neck reining if you ever plan on roping off of him, participating in mounted shooting, or a number of other sports that require you to hold something in one hand while steering the horse with the other. While most people associate neck reining with western horses, any horse can learn to neck rein. Being able to steer and guide the horse around the arena or down the trail with just one hand is a higher degree of horsemanship that requires feel and a better line of communication between you and the horse. If the horse doesn’t neck rein, it’s hard to control him with one hand for everyday tasks such as reaching down for a water bottle, opening a gate or putting on a jacket.