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Step 1: Move Those Hips!

Hip-Over, Disengaging the Hip

Back to Step 0: Before Training, You Need Respect    Next to Step 2: Backing Up

Editor's note: This article is part of a multi-lesson training series.

After 20 years of training horses, this is still the first thing I do with a horse unless they're so unruly and dangerous that I need to get in a round pen first. Then, as soon as the horse is respectful and safe, I still do this first. Asking a horse to move his hip over from the ground immediately establishes a couple of things.

  1. How attentive is the horse to me and my cues?
  2. What is his work ethic?
  3. How athletic is the horse?
  4. How good of an emergency brake do I have if I get on him?
If you can answer all of these questions in about 5 minutes when you're considering buying a horse, just think how much time and aggravation you'll save yourself as well as maybe saving your life. You don't try a new car and wonder IF the brakes will work when you're going 65 mph, so why would you get on a horse you aren't 100% sure you can STOP? Yet, many people do this on a regular basis. Or, I hear people say, "I can canter in the ring, but not in open fields because my horse will take off". I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to rely on a fence to stop my 65 mph car, so why would I want to trust it to stop my galloping 40mph horse? Call Midas and get a brake checků.or LEARN STEP 1!

To get started, with your horse on halter and lead, stand at a 45 degree angle to his left shoulder facing towards the horse's hind end. Hold the lunge or dressage whip in your right hand. With the lead rope in your left hand, raise up your elbow towards the horse's face so he doesn't try to bite you, turn into you, or run over you. Keep his nose tipped slightly towards you to encourage him to turn to the left if he moves his feet. With the whip, lightly tap your horse's hip. If he moves forward, pull his head more firmly around towards you and stop his forward movement. If he moves away with his hip pat him and ask again.

What you are looking for is that the horse ultimately pivots on his front left hoof like a basketball player while at the same time stepping beneath himself with his left hind. You'll see a drop in his hip as he does this and this is the disengaging of the hip. If your horse doesn't respond to the tap after 3 tries, you must increase the force of the cue with a harder smack of the whip. Remember, soft tap 3 times; if not response, only then do you tap harder and continue until you see at least an attempt by the horse to try and respond to the cue. If the horse kicks out at you, it's ok. But, DO NOT STOP! If you have remained at a 45 degree angle to his shoulder, you're in a safety zone and his kick cannot reach you. His kick is his way of disrespecting your command and if you stop with the whip when he kicks, you've just reinforced that it's ok to kick you, he's in charge, and he can do it again! As soon as he moves away even slightly, stop the whip, pat him, and start again softly. Usually, it takes only 3-6 taps for most horses to make an attempt and then 3-4 additional tries to get it right altogether.

As with any training, you must do this on both sides of the horse until he responds equally well on both sides. Some horses are stiffer on one side than the other. You need to recognize this and lower your expectations a little as to how far he can step under himself on one side versus the other. Stiffness on a side indicates you need to work him longer there to develop more suppleness on that side. Rather than doing the exercise 50% on each side, do about a 40-60 split depending on the level of stiffness. A more athletic and supple horse can do more for you and will do so willingly without resistance. Eventually, over weeks of doing this, you should be able to just point and the horse will give his hip.

Later, when you're on his back, he should quickly give that hip when you pick up one rein and bend his nose in about 33-45 degrees. You can also use some leg just to get your horse used to moving off that contact. A bolting horse cannot bolt if he's trying to move his hip over, thus your emergency brake is established.

Now, to refine this technique so it actually works 100% of the time, practice at the walk, then at trot, and finally, the canter and be sure you can stop your horse on one rein every time. The walk and trot should be almost instantaneous. The momentum of the canter may need 3-4 strides to stop, unless your horse can slide! This one rein brake can also prevent a rear or buck if used correctly.

Back to Step 0: Before Training, You Need Respect    Next to Step 2: Backing Up

Jennifer Goddard has been training horses of various breeds for over 20 years using her natural horsemanship methods. She has also ridden and shown in multiple disciplines and is owner of Levaland Farm, a 30 stall horse farm in Massachusetts. Jennifer has a degree in Finance and Entrepreneurial Studies from Babson College, and is also President of Equine Business Solutions, a business specializing in the starting and running of equine businesses.

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