Three Exercises to Gain Body Control

Find out how to gain proper body control of your horse with these tips from an AQHA international horsemanship camp.

Sam Houston State University professor Jessica Leatherwood has formulated several lesson plans that she uses with her students and while teaching riders during the AQHA international horsemanship camps. Jessica, along with Sam Houston State University students Rafael Martinez, Michelle Majewski, Doran Proske and Turner McQuaide, focused on a particular lesson titled "Basic II: Gaining Body Control" with the camp participants. Basic II has been incredibly useful for the camp riders to improve their transitions, lope departures and lead changes. Try out the lesson plan for yourself with your horse to see improvement in a variety of maneuvers. If you are not confident in performing these exercises correctly on your own, you can seek advice from an AQHA Professional Horseman. And it's always helpful to have a friend to watch you from the ground to provide feedback.

The idea behind Basic II is getting your horse to move away from pressure, and there are three components to this lesson. They include hipping-in, "snaking" and side passing, and two-tracking. 

    • Hipping-In: When introducing this drill to your horse, walk alongside a fence. Using your outside leg, apply pressure to your horse behind the cinch while tipping his nose slightly to the inside. You want to encourage your horse to step over and across with his outside hind leg, so that his hindquarters are moving to the inside of the arena. This exercise allows you to gain control over your horse's hind end and essentially sets him up for the correct lope departure. Most often, horses lead with their shoulder during this exercise. To ensure that the hindquarters are properly engaged, you must keep the shoulders straight and square. If your horse's shoulders continue to drift to the inside, apply more outside leg farther behind the cinch while using more of a direct inside rein to block the shoulder. Complete this exercise both directions and advance to hipping-in off of the fence.

photo 1 photo 2 (1)


    • "Snaking" and Side Passing: To introduce your horse to the side pass, face your horse into the fence, and move his shoulders and hips over independently in a “snaking” motion. Switch between moving his shoulders over, then his hindquarters, then his shoulders, etc. This allows you to establish control over the shoulder and hindquarters separately before moving them over together in a side pass. Once your horse has a handle on this drill, progress to keeping him perpendicular to the fence and side passing him while keeping his body straight. When you cue your horse for the side pass, be sure that your leg stays in a neutral position, or directly beneath you, to encourage both the shoulders and hindquarters to move simultaneously. It is very common to see the horse lead with his shoulder, so it is important to always ask for more hip by bringing your outside leg back to push his hindquarters over.

photo 4 (1) photo 5


    • Two-Tracking: This exercise is a modified side pass that uses a forward, lateral motion. Always introduce your horse to the two-track at a walk and eventually progress to the trot and lope. Starting at a corner of your arena, side pass your horse while asking him to take a lateral step forward. You want to keep your outside leg back behind the cinch while maintaining your inside leg in a neutral position. Your horse's nose should be straight or bent slightly in the direction that you are traveling. Two-track your horse along the arena diagonal to end up on the opposite end corner of the arena. You can place a cone or object at the opposite corner of the arena and two-track toward that object. Try this drill at the trot and really encourage your horse to cross over with his outside hind leg. Once again, Jessica says she sees many horses lead with the shoulders during this drill, so she asks her riders to really bring their outside leg back and apply pressure to bring that horse's hip toward the direction he is traveling. The rider should feel the horse's back lifting up and the horse crossing over behind. You can also use this drill at the lope to improve your simple lead changes or to put a flying lead change on a horse.

photo 4 photo 1 (2)

Special thanks to Sam Houston State University for providing the training information, as well as SHSU graduate student Turner McQuaide for demonstrating the drills.

Thanks for following along with our travels! We are now headed to Norway. See you next week!