Question: I got my horse very soft but for some reason I am having trouble teaching her to yield her shoulder. She knows how to move her back in and out of saddle. Here’s what I’ve been doing so please tell me what’s going wrong. I always start training out of saddle before I expect it to happen in saddle so I have been standing on the ground putting pressure on her shoulder trying to get her to yield her front legs but all she keeps doing is moving her back legs in a circle like I was pushing on her hindquarters but I’m not. I don’t know what to do – please help? Shes a very fast learner so I know I have to be doing it wrong.
Answer from April Reeves: Let’s start by looking at ‘pressure’. Rule #1: never push on a horse. Laying your hand on a horse and using any pressure will result in the horse pushing against you, unless the horse has been taught specifically to move away, in which case you only have to ‘touch’ the horse. I don’t know exactly what you meant by ‘putting pressure on her shoulder’ so I added this in.
Start at her head. This is where you will create the ‘highest point of axis’ where she can sit on her hindquarters and spin around. Take your hands and move them up high and follow her eye. You are going to ‘pulse’ in a rhythmical motion with your first 2 fingers at her eye. Begin to move in to her eye until you bump into it. Don’t intentionally smack her with your fingers. Just keep a steady even rhythm with your fingers and slowly move to her eye until she either bumps into your fingers or moves her shoulder away. If she does not move, continue to pulse your fingers right at her eye. This is not to hurt her, but to encourage her to move on her own. It becomes her idea.
The second she moves away at all, stop and praise her by rubbing her neck, then bring your fingers up again and pulse, coming closer to her eye. Eventually she will get it and start to move her shoulder around. Do not ask for big steps right away. Build on it over a week or two. Eventually she will continue to move around as long as you keep your hand up and pulsing. Horses move away from rhythmical movement instinctually. If you want to move a horse in a herd, just raise your hands and start to pulse with them. The horse will move.
If the horse walks off, you are moving too fast. Baby steps, get it right and perfect first before you ask for speed and accuracy. Work on both sides, asking her to move her shoulder away and roll back off her hindquarters. If she still walks forward to get away, ask her quietly to stay put by gently restraining her with the lead for a second, and once she is still release the lead fully. The horse must turn without you having to micro manage her.
It’s important to do each step without expecting great things too fast. Humans tend to do that; thinking that the horse should learn how to do it fast and good right away. Take the time it takes and don’t give up too quickly. Praise her for the smallest try. She will want to do better that way. Less is always more with horses.