Shoulder and hip control are a crucial part of the foundation that should be built into every horse. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a performance rider or a trail rider or a casual rider or you work all day horseback.
Having control of your horse’s shoulders and hips is essential. Anything you will ask your horse to do will be better or worse relative to how lightly his front and hind ends will respond and move.
You will see lots of horses that can kinda slow down, speed up, turn left/right, eventually stop, and heavily back up. But not nearly as many can get collected and balanced and use themselves correctly in a turn. The majority will swing their butt out and wallow through it.
Precise shoulder and hip control will be the bedrock of your sidepass, spin, flying lead changes, canter departures, and even opening a gate. You may argue that you don’t care about spinning your horse. And that’s fine. The main goal of working on these maneuvers is to increase your ability to effectively communicate an idea to your horse. It will increase your horse’s trust and confidence in you as a leader. And once you have this going, it will be like the difference between driving a VW and driving a Ferrari. You will never want to go back to sloppy turns. I promise.
Shoulders and Hips | The Front End
The best way to teach precise shoulder control is to have the horse backing before you ask the front end to step over. This will ensure that his weight shifts to his hind end, leaving the front end more prepared to make a clean step. Do not try to move the shoulder over unless the horse is backing.
For more help with backing your horse, go here: Backing Your Horse
AS he is backing, when the front right foot comes off the ground, open the right leg and right rein. At the same time, lightly come in with your left leg. Use the left rein to support his neck to prevent overbending and walking forward. At first you will likely need to catch him with your reins to keep him from drifting forward.
The horse’s right foot should reach over and land in the proximity of under your right stirrup. The horse’s left front foot will cross behind the front right foot and the outside hind foot will be the pivot foot.
The goal here is for your horse to not take a single step forward. Part of this lesson is that he learns to turn and wait instead of walking forward or falling onto his front end.
Do the opposite leg and rein to repeat for the left side.
Advance The Shoulders
Now add some motion to the turn. Begin your horse walking in a circle to the right. Open the right rein and right leg. Come in with back pressure to close the front door and stop forward motion. Keep the neck supported so that the horse doesn’t overbend as you move both hands slightly to the right and step the shoulders over. Repeat on the left side.
Once your horse is proficiently staying in a turn to the right with good form, you can then have him leak forward just a bit. The outside hind foot will become the driving foot. The left front will then cross over the right front foot. The power in a turn is in the outside hind foot.
You can now take this as far or fast as you want as long as the form stays correct. That applies to both shoulders and hips. But it doesn’t matter if you want to go fast or slow. The horse should make the turn and feel like he only weighs an eighth of an ounce on your hand and leg.
To watch a video about shoulder control, go here: Is It My Horse, Or Is It Me Causing The Problems?
Shoulders and Hips | The Hind End
You want to be able to move the hind and front ends independently. To move the hind end, you will lift one rein and tip the nose the opposite direction of the way you want the hip to go. The rest of the cue is done with your outside leg. Use the outside rein to support the neck and keep it as straight as possible.
The front end will stay in one spot. It can help at first to stand in front of a fence or panel to discourage forward motion. If the horse wants to back up, use more lifting and less back pressure or have him walk forward.
It takes some feel and balance to find that sweet spot for both front and hind end maneuvers. For instance, if the front end goes forward and to the right, your hands will go back and to the left. Do just enough until you feel him begin to step his hip over. Then release and allow him to make the move. You are not using your leg to push the hip over. You are lightly cueing him with your leg and then increasing the bumping of your leg if the hip doesn’t step over.
Always allow the horse to stop and settle before you ask for another step when you are first teaching shoulder and hip movements. The goal is for you to do less and less and have the horse do more and more. It’s helpful if you can recognize when the horse needs your help and support and when he needs you to stay out of his way. Read more about this concept here: Trust Your Horse
Advancing Hips and Hind End
The more advanced version would be to walk your horse forward and then step the hip over. As your horse is walking, lift the rein to slightly tip the nose. Close the front door and stop your horse. In one fluid motion, use your outside leg to cue the hip to step over. When the front end stops, the hip should pop.
You should be able to move the shoulder and the hips independently. Step the hind end to the right, load the hocks, bring the front end to the left. Your hands and legs and seat and timing should work in one fluid motion.
Think ballerina ninja cat.
To see real life examples of how these exercises are done, visit The Virtual Clinic masterclass on BuckarooCrew.com.