Keep your horse from dropping his shoulders.
By Dell Hendricks in The American Quarter Horse Journal | February 14, 2011
Riding a horse is like walking a balance beam. You have to be square and keep your weight centered. Put too much weight on one side of your body or the other, and it throws everything off. Riding a horse is the same thing.
You and your horse must be square, and your weight must be kept even. When a horse drops his shoulders in a reining pattern, you can feel him lean toward the middle just a little, or it could cause him to fall out of lead or cut across a circle.
Like a lot of horse problems, dropping shoulders is a people problem. Most people that talk to me about dropping shoulders actually create it themselves because they pull too much..
Could off-balance riding be getting in your horse's way? Horse trainer Martin Black says he sees a lot of horses having people problems -- or maybe it’s people having ego problems. Learn more in AQHA's downloadable report, Horse Training Techniques with Martin Black.
You constantly hear people say to “pick his shoulder up.” You can pick up a dropped shoulder by taking hold of the inside rein or reaching forward with your inside foot and lifting the offending shoulder. But more times than not, this turns into the cause of dropped shoulders. It’s a temporary fix. When you hold a horse up too much, he starts to rely on that pressure and, when you let go, it’s a rubber band effect.
Quit worrying about dropping shoulders and focus on where your horse is going.
Start by getting your horse soft. With both hands on the reins, pick straight up and make him give in the poll a little. Using equal pressure from both legs, drive him forward from his hindquarters. When you feel him give in the poll, give back.
Julie Goodnight explains the importance of balance at her Quarterfest clinic on common equitation problems.
It’s not the pressure that makes him soft, it’s the release you give when he responds.
Start slow and work up to a lope. Just remember every horse is different, and it takes a lot of patience to get your horse soft. Once your horse is soft, you will know it. Don’t continue to pull on him constantly. A horse needs a reason to give to the bridle, not just you picking up to see if he’s soft.
A 150-pound rider doesn’t seem like a drop in the bucket to a 1,100-pound horse, but believe it or not, shifting your weight from one side to the other can make a huge difference. It’s easy for riders to ride on one shoulder more than the other or without their shoulders square. Sit in the middle of your saddle and let the horse carry you.
Can’t tell if you are square in your saddle? Get someone to watch you from behind. He should be able to see if you are sitting to one side.
Keep the horse square, with his weight on his hind end, and your weight evenly distributed in the saddle, and you should be in business.
Horse trainer Martin Black says that by experimenting with your weight position, you will discover a place that you can feel your horse move freely and easily. Learn how in AQHA's downloadable report, Horse Training Techniques with Martin Black.