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To be effective when training your horse, it’s important to understand the difference between disengaging the horse’s hindquarters and engaging them. I tell people to think of the horse’s hindquarters like the gas pedal of a car. The hindquarters are where all the horse’s power comes from.
When you disengage a horse’s hindquarters, asking him to cross his inside hind foot in front of his outside hind foot, you’re actually taking away all the power in his hind end. You teach him this from the very beginning of his training with Fundamentals exercises such as Yielding the Hindquarters and Yield to a Stop so that you can quickly gain control in an emergency situation. As you work your way through the Method and reach the Advanced level, you’ll have a respectful, willing partner and won’t have to worry about your safety. At that point, you can start teaching the horse to engage his hindquarters, which will actually increase the power in his hind end. When you engage a horse’s hindquarters, you’re pushing his hip up underneath his body so that his shoulders are elevated and it’s easy for him to perform a maneuver such as a lead departure or lead change by driving from his hind end.
When working on engaging the horse’s hindquarters and asking him to push his hip up underneath his body, make sure that you aren’t pushing his hip way over to the side. If you do, you’ll be disengaging it and taking his power away. When you push his hip up too far, all his weight has to fall on his front end because he can no longer balance on his hind end, which makes a maneuver such as a lead departure very difficult and frustrating for you and the horse. So instead, push his hip up at no more than a 45-degree angle so that you’re driving his hind end forward underneath his body, putting him in a power position that he can use to elevate his front end and drive from behind.