Improve Your Horse's Posture

Posture Focused Training - Improves the horse's

  • Attentiveness - Mental Focus

  • Relaxation Level

  • Lateral and Vertical Balance

  • Strength

  • Quality of Stride

  • Engagement

  • Power

  • Collection

  • Health - Longevity

Step 1 - Hind End Yield - Disengagement

Step 2 - Partial Hind End Yield Engagement, Lateral Flexion

Step 3 - Sideways / Shoulder Yield, Slight Vertical Flexion

Step 4 - Downward Transitions to a Back Up, Vertical Flexion

Step 5 - Shoulder In

Step 6 -  Extend and Shorten Stride -Transitions within the gait

TIPS:

Keep going between those steps back and forth as needed within the session. Reward moments of improvement, anything that looks better to you - ex.: the nose comes in , the hind leg steps deeper under the belly, the knee lifts higher, the neck relaxes, the horse is more willing to add energy or engagement, the stride becomes sweep-y and free, the front end gets taller in the wither, the back rounds up, the stride becomes more compressed - collected, the horse yields off a slight suggestion, etc...Look for those tiny moments. When stuck/no improvements, try something different - experiment -  yield a body part, add speed, slow the horse down, ask slower, make sure the horse is responding - you are being effective, go back to a lower step (even Step 1!). If there is tension in the line, Step 1 must be re-established. There should be slack in the line and pulling should not be used at all. If the horse is leaning on the line, he will be using his muscles to brace, not to relax or to collect. 

STEP 1 Prerequisites and Step 1 - Hind End Yield with a yearling mule Olivia
  Step 1 Prerequisites - Backing the horse up then being able to send the horse (a mule in this case) out on a circle, without the horse being afraid or being too pushy and him/her understanding what direction and what speed we are asking for. Guiding the nose and the front fee onto the line of circle.
  • Step 1 - causing the horse to disengage his hind end, without having to pull on the rope, ideally and the front feet not leaking away from us or moving towards us. The inside front foot should be stationary druing the hind end yield. 
STEP 1 - Hind End Yield with a 2 year old QH gelding Wheeler
  • Stick is used in isolation - when I point the stick towards the rib cage in front of the flank or towards the side of the butt and I take a step towards it, the horse should yield his hind end away from me, without me having to use the line. The inside front leg ought to be stationary in that moment. 
  • TIP - try not to pull on the rope at all, only steady the nose if need be with steady pressure, pulling creates tension, rather drive the hip firmer and/or with more energy. This step is about causing the ribcage and the hind end to yield and the front end becoming more and more stationary, in isolation. I want the horse to understand that I don't want the front end to go forward or away from me - this will prevent leaky shoulders in step 2, so it is important!
STEP 1  - Hind End Yield with a 5 year old Gypsy Vanner mare Charlotte - fixing leaky shoulders
  • The goal is for the inside front leg to be stationary when asked to yield the hind end from a circle. To help Charlotte, I got closer and helped support the nose on the outside, not allowing it to leak away from me followed by a change of direction - driving the leaky shoulder in the oppostie direction of the leak. Another great strategy for leaky shoulders is to back the horse up after the hind end yield, as seen in the video with mule Olivia. 
STEP 1  - Hind End Yield with a 2 year old mustang mare from the wild Willow - isolating stick - stick towards the hip/flank area doesn't mean go faster
  • Willow as a thinking introvert has had a tendency of having very sticky feet. For that reason I have focused on motivating her to be willing to move her feet, especially forward, backing up and laterally (sideways). On this day, she had forward on her mind, so I balanced it with some hind end yields, as preparation for colt starting, as well as the first step of posture training. 
STEP 1 and 2 - Full Hind End Yield and a Partial Hind End Yield with a 2 year old QH gelding Wheeler
  • Stick is used in isolation  for Step 1 and Step 2. For the partial hind end yield, I am asking the inside hind leg to cross in front of the outside hind leg, reaching deep under the middle of the horse's belly, creating a three track (the inside hind leg stepping towards the tracks of the outside front leg). Ideally, the line isn't eventually used at all and the result is lateral flexion with slack in the line - nose looking to the inside of the circle and an engaged inside hind leg, creating lift in the back. Often time after the partial hind end yield, the horse's head will start going down as a result of the better lateral balance and the back coming up will even cause moments of slight vertical flexion in some horses (not all). 
  • Notice: this horse carries a ton of tension in his body. He is innately a reactive introvert and had gone through some training prior to me working with him, bolting with one rider and bucking another one off. That was how I got him, as a project. This session was followed by several others, with focus on getting tension out of his ribcage and neck. He is a much more relaxed horses these days and I have been able to ride him at the walk, bareback with much relaxation. 
STEP 2 and 3 - Partial Hind End Yield/Sideways/"Leg yield maneuver" with a 2 year old QH gelding Wheeler and a yearling mule Olivia 
  • In step 2 the focus is on the inside hind leg reaching deeply under the horse's belly, while the nose comes laterally to the inside of the circle, without the shoulders leaking out. Forward is added in Step 2, to encourage engagement in the hind legs which will help lift the horse's back and often times cause the neck to lower. 
  • In step 3, I ask the horse to either yield sideways away from me (eventually a leg yield - sideways with some forward) for a step or two, until their weight shifts to the outside and/or for the inside shoulder to yield to create more lift in that shoulder, preventing it/or fixing it from leaning inside of the circle. This opens the outside shoulder up, giving it freedom to take a biger step, free-ing the stride up to reach further, creating more bend through the whole body, not just the neck. 
  • The 2nd and 3rd step often times starts resulting in moments of vertical flexion, so keep an eye out for it!!!
  • Treats are used with a treat motivated horse to encourage the nose to come towards the inside point of the shoulder. The treat can be given in any position where the nose is desired to be - higher up, further down (more stretch), out 9 to prevent over bending vertically) or towards the chest to encourage more vertical flexion, or more in the center to prevent overbending  laterally. I don't mind swinging the swing of balance of the nose past where I eventually, ideally want it and then evening it out later as I play with this. 
STEP 3 - Sideways with a TB gelding Bourbon
  • In step 3, I ask the horse to either yield sideways away from me (eventually a leg yield - sideways with some forward) for a step or two, until their weight shifts to the outside and/or for the inside shoulder to yield to create more lift in that shoulder, preventing it/or fixing it from leaning inside of the circle. This opens the outside shoulder up, giving it freedom to take a biger step, free-ing the stride up to reach further, creating more bend through the whole body, not just the neck. 
  • Notice how Bourbon offered  moments of stretch and much vertical flexion, once he was balanced laterally in his whole body 9 no leaning in or out), brought his nose laterally to the inside, and engaged his hind end - thought of moving freely forward. 
STEP 3 - Sideways with a 6 year old Gypsy Vanner mare Cali, video 1 and 2 from same session
  • Cali's tendency was to load the inside front leg and lean inside the circle. During Step 1 and  2 of posture training, the horse is actually taught to bare little more weight on that inside front leg (until he learns to engage his hind legs), in order to cause the outside hind leg to get underneath the belly. That is why it is important to not get stuck in the stage of step 2 for too long and go ahead and start shifting the weight off the inside front leg by asking the horse to yield sideways and eventually sending them forward right out of it, causing engagement of the hind legs, allowing the horse to feel power and newly found lateral balance. The horse's abs contract (one can notice it on their belly), the back starts coming up, the horse starts pushing up and getting taller in the front end, the inside shoulder lifted, the outside shoulder freer to move and vertical flexion starts happening. The top of the horse's nexk starts rounding itself up in a beautiful arch. The gait slows down as a result of the horse not having to rush to catch their own balance and slight suspension may happen as well. 
STEP 3 with 5 yr old Gypsy Vanner mare Charlotte; fixing LEANING TO THE INSIDE of the circle. Few weeks ago Charlotte started off on the line by pulling on the lead line, especially towards the gate. By using the hind end yield and a partial hind end yield eventually, I have taught her to keep slack in the line, but now she is leaning in. She is actually spiraling in on her own, since I have worked on a drawing trot to me and the line of circle she is trying to be on is actually too small, for her lack of balance and strength at this point and the leaning in won’t be good for her joints long term. So slack in the line is great progress, her wanting to come and stay is great progress, but her balance needs improvement. Notice in the photo stills how much weight and pressure goes onto the inside front leg when she is leaning in and then notice the shifting of her weight more evenly over all 4 legs (or 3 if the inside hind is deeper under and carries more weight) as I work with her. Also notice in the video how much she was rushing at first and then found a more rhythmic relaxed tempo at the end once she found better balance. Horses rush when they feel like they are falling, because they have to hurry to get another foot on the ground to prevent themselves from falling down. When they feel like they are losing balance, a lot of their muscles in their body tighten to keep themselves upright, this prevents the horse from relaxing their top line and be able to stretch. Notice in the video how she started offering moments of her head going down and the withers going up at the end. To fix the leaning in I ask the horse to slow down or even stop first and I ask them to go sideways or into a leg yield (leg yield has some forward in it, sideways doesn’t). She started off laterally over bent in her neck, so I worked on straightening her neck while I was asking her to move away from me laterally (sideways). When her nose did not respond to my request, I turned it into a front end yield away from me. This is why it is important to teach the horse those basic maneuvers (back up, hind end yield, sideways, front end yield) prior to this, as a prerequisite.
STEP 4 with a yearling Ringo - alk to a stop and back up, encouraging vertical flexion by adding a treat towards the chest. The bigger the steps the horse takes, the higher the knees, the more engagement there is. Some horses may have such hollow back at first that the engagement is hard for them to achieve. The treat towards the chest may help round the back up and encourage engagement. Just make sure that the back up is a good quality - a two beat gait without hesitations and each time look for improvement of the quality. Speed of the back up comes with time and the quality of the transition from the forward movement gets better as well, the more willing the horse is to go into the back up and engagement. 

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