Yielding the Hindquarters
These four exercises help build a more supple horse and a stronger relationship between horse and rider.
By AQHA Professional Horseman Brent Graef in America's Horse | February 20, 2012
There are lots of reasons why it’s important to have control over all of your horse’s body parts – including his mind. These four ways to yield the hindquarters will help you check your horse’s suppleness; you’ll notice if he yields his hind end more easily to one direction. They’ll help you improve his softness and suppleness both directions, and they’ll also improve the communication between you and your horse.
1. One Rein, One Leg
This is the easiest way to move the horse’s hindquarters, and it’s a good place to start.
Let’s say I’m moving the hindquarters to the right. I’d pick up softly on my left rein and bend the horse’s neck slightly to the left. I’d want the head to remain vertical (not cocked sideways), with a soft bend at the poll. If the nose is tipped sideways, so that the ear would fill up with water if it were raining, that means the horse is locked up in his poll, which is not what we want.
The poll needs to be flexible. Once the horse’s head is flexed correctly to the left, I’ll use my left leg to step the hindquarters over.
I’m looking for the inside hind (the left leg in this example) to step in front of and across the outside hind leg. That’s what creates suppleness through the loin.
At first, though, I release my cues for any movement from behind. That tells the horse, “Yeah, you’re on the right track.” I can build on that from there. Next, I might not release until he gets one really good crossing-over step, then we can do step-release-quickly ask again, step-release-quickly ask again until the horse can do a full turn on the forehand.
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As the horse advances in his training, I want his front feet to stay pretty still, but never drill into the ground. He needs to move his front feet a little as he steps around so he can stay balanced. Regardless of what your discipline of riding is, balance and suppleness are the keys.
Do the exercise the other direction as well, using your right rein and right leg.
2. Soft Feel, One Leg
I start by picking up a soft feel – gently taking the slack out of both reins and asking the horse to flex vertically and get soft in the poll. Holding that soft feel, I use my hips and left leg to ask him to step over behind. (I also do this exercise using my right leg.)
As with the first method, I’ll want the inside hind leg to step across and in front of the outside hind.
3. No Rein, One Leg
When I ask my horse to step his hindquarters over with this method, I make sure my reins are loose, then I put my hands on the saddle horn or pommel so that I’m not tempted to use my reins. I’ll use my leg only – the left leg to step the hindquarters to the right, for example – and see if my horse will respond.
If the horse walks off I’ll stop him, back him up to where we started, wait until he’s soft, then release my reins to give him all the slack and start over.
4. One Rein, No Leg
I reach down the left rein, asking for a lateral flexion. But instead of releasing my rein after the horse flexes, I hold that light pressure and do nothing with my legs or hips. I hold the rein and wait, letting my horse search for the answer. He might bend his head around and put more slack in the rein or look at me, or he might try to pull his head away. I’ll just stay the same. Before long, he’ll start to shift, and as soon as his hind feet move, I’ll release. Then I’ll ask again and wait for the inside hind foot to step over and across, then release.
With each of these last two methods, it’s more about asking the horse to think, to get both of us in tune with each other. I want my horse thinking, trying to feel my intent. I have a mental picture of my horse stepping his hindquarters across, so I’m very clear in my mind what I’m looking for. And I’ll release when he’s getting there.
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When using just the one rein, people are so tempted to use their leg just a little bit, but it’s not about how quickly or precisely a rider is able to get his horse to move his hindquarters. It’s about how well the rider can communicate his intentions and how he helps the horse search for the right answer.
When, Where and Why
A lot of times in clinics or working in the arena, folks will say “I’ll focus on this,” and then when they get out on the trail, they just watch the scenery and ignore their horse. I like to relax and enjoy the scenery, too, but as riders, we’ve got to pay attention to the horse underneath us. We can get a whole lot done on the trail without picking at our horse.
For example, if I was going on a trail ride with friends, I might try to be one of the first ones in the saddle. While everyone else is tacking up, I might just reach down one rein and ask my horse to bend his neck. Is he supple, or is he stiff? Then I’d reach down the other rein and compare the two sides.
Next, I might pick up one rein, then use my leg to step his hindquarters over. We’ll see how that feels on each side. I keep that in mind if I need to stop him from bolting. Paying attention to little details can keep me out of big trouble.
It just takes a few minutes; you don’t have to sit and drill these things. It’s more fun for both of you if you mix it up.
Let’s say the trail is curving to the left, I’ll see if I can bring my horse’s hindquarters to the left and keep his front feet straight. That’s a haunches-in, but the shape of the trail and the fact that my horse is moving out freely help make it happen. I won’t make a big deal out of any of these exercises. It’s just saying, “Where are we today, horse?”
It all starts with “Move this foot here; move that foot there.” When you’ve got a foundation, then you can start building on it.