Five Yield-Point Exercises to Enhance Your Ground-Work Training

Learn how to improve your horse’s flexibility and responsiveness on the ground using these exercises from an AQHA international horsemanship camp.

During my travels in Europe, I have found the transition to each new horsemanship camp refreshing and interesting. Moving from camp to camp allows for the interaction with a new group of AQHA members and American Quarter Horses, as well as seeing the difference in the interests and events of the camp participants. Each college that I’ve had the opportunity to travel with has done an excellent job of tailoring its training methods and approaches to conform to the skill and interest levels of the camp riders. Whether the group is more involved in showing, trail riding or simply enjoyed the company of their American Quarter Horses, the college instructors and students have certainly spread a large scope of knowledge and skills to all types of AQHA members during the camps.

The horsemanship camps in Switzerland and Slovenia were conducted by Dr. Jessica Leatherwood and four students from Sam Houston State University. Prior to starting work under saddle, Dr. Leatherwood and her students required the camp participants to complete several exercises on the ground to establish hierarchy and gain control of different parts of the horse’s body. Dr. Leatherwood developed these exercises through her work with Bob Byrns of the Parsons Mounted Cavalry Unit at Texas A&M University.

During her experience with the Parsons Mounted Cavalry, Dr. Leatherwood learned how important establishing control on the ground was with cavalry horses, especially while training novice cadets from the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. Gaining the horse’s respect on the ground prior to mounting up is critical for the horses of the Parsons Mounted Cavalry, and it makes all the difference in high-pressure situations on the job. Bob emphasized the true purpose behind these maneuvers and taught Jessica that, while ground training, “pressure motivates, and release teaches.” Dr. Leatherwood has continued using this principle into her professional career, as she teaches these ideals on a daily basis to her students enrolled in the equine behavior and training courses at Sam Houston State University.

Practice the following exercises with your horse to gain his respect and to set him up for success for several maneuvers under saddle.

1. Poll Yielding: Using an overhand grip, wrap your right hand around your horse’s lead rope a few inches below the chin with your thumb down. Apply a steady pressure on the lead rope and pull toward the ground. Once the horse gives or yields to the pressure, release. Ideally, you should be able to yield his head to the point of his nose touching the ground. Additionally, you can apply direct pressure to the horse’s poll to encourage him to drop his head. This is very beneficial in making bridling easier. Remember to always release after your horse responds by giving to the pressure.

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2. Neck Bending: Standing at the horse's heart girth, place your right hand over the horse’s back. Using your left hand, pull your horse’s head toward you. Encourage your horse to remain still and move only his neck toward you. Naturally, a younger or greener horse will move his feet the first few times during this exercise. It’s important even as the horse moves that you maintain a consistent pressure with the lead rope until he releases. Bend your horse’s neck both directions to improve his flexibility on both sides.

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If your horse is more advanced, you can yield his neck on the opposite side. While you are standing on your horse’s left side, place your lead rope on the right side of your horse and apply a steady pressure with your right hand. This move simulates a right direct rein, as if you are under saddle.

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3. Yielding the Shoulder: This exercise is very similar to a hindquarter pivot. Place your left hand on the horse’s neck and your right hand on the horse’s shoulder. While stepping toward your horse, drive his shoulders around and away from you in a turn. Initially, you should use the lightest amount of pressure to push the horse’s shoulders up and out of the way. This is an excellent tool when training your showmanship horse to move away from your body. You can expect your horse to eventually move away from you by simply stepping toward them.

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4. Yielding the Hindquarters: While holding the horse in your left hand, stand at the point of your horse’s hip. Using the end of your lead rope, drive your horse’s hindquarters away from you, toward the right. This exercise teaches your horse to disengage his hindquarters on the ground. It is important that the shoulders stay stationery during this exercise. If needed, bump on your horse’s lead rope during this maneuver to encourage him to keep his front end still. Your horse’s head should be bent toward you to allow him to cross over behind. Complete this maneuver both directions.

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5. Stepping Back: While directly facing your horse, walk toward him with a confident stance to encourage him to back away from you. If needed, you can reinforce this cue by bumping on the lead rope with your right hand. Ideally, you want your horse to respond by backing up simply by walking toward him. This teaches your horse to respect your personal space and could be an excellent solution for horses that have a tendency to be pushy or aggressive. This is also an excellent maneuver to teach your showmanship horse to back up with the lightest amount of pressure on the lead rope.

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Completing these exercises properly on the ground will help you progress to similar yielding exercises under saddle.

[caption id="attachment_49467" align="alignleft" width="300"]photo 33 Sam Houston State University graduate student Rafael Martinez and Joanie Jack Sprat[/caption]

Special thanks to Dr. Jessica Leatherwood for providing these exercises as well as Sam Houston State University graduate student Rafael Martinez for demonstrating. Additionally, we would like to thank AQHA member Drazenka Borak of Slovenia for allowing us to borrow her beautiful American Quarter Horse, Joanie Jack Sprat, for these exercises.

Thank you again for following along! We are currently in Kreuth, Germany, conducting an AQHA international horsemanship camp, and I will be headed to Norway soon.

See you next week!