There are many times that you want your horse’s face to move away from you: when he is crowding your space, when you want him to turn around, as the very beginning stage of a spin.
The object of this exercise is to get your horse to move his front away from you with just a tiny nudge and, in so doing, cross his near leg over his far front leg.
In order to determine how a horse’s weight is distributed, horses were weighed at the Tarleton State University Equine Center. The average distribution was 57% on the front legs and 43% on the back legs. That information is important to this exercise. Read a New Perspective on Saddle Rigging
If you understand a stationary horse’s weight distribution, you will see that he is putting his weight squarely on the portion of his body that you want to move. Before we move his front away, we need to:
1. change his weight to his rear so that his move is easier (this requires a “back-up” maneuver)
2. get his off-side front leg out of his way so that his near-side front leg can cross over it without stumbling.
While this trainer may want the horse to move away from her, the front legs are not in the correct position. Notice that her off-side front leg is in front of her near-side leg, preventing the cross-over as she moves away.
3. know that a moving horse is easier to direct than a standing horse. Remember the adage, “an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest” AND “moving in a straight line is easier than turning”.
4. know what pressure points induce a horse to move his front (picture below)
Start the exercise standing parallel to and near your horse’s head – both of you looking the same direction. Using your halter cue, induce your horse to back up a step or two to align his feet for the most comfortable turn. (Watch his feet so that you see when his off-side front leg is behind).
At that moment, reach up and put pressure at the juncture between his jaw and his neck (a tender pressure point), forcing him away from you to relieve the pressure. If he seems immune to the pressure, tap his jaw rhythmically. He will probably raise his head up, then also take a step away. When he has taken one step away, release the pressure and stop. Tell him he is good. Relax and rest.
(During the maneuver, he raised his head and rocked backward as he took the step away. That shifted his weight distribution to the rear so he could more easily move his front.)
Done correctly, he should have moved one step away by crossing his near front leg over his far front leg. Work until you get a nice, clean cross-over, then ask for two steps. Build his move until you can get a whole circle, pressuring and releasing as he complies.
Pressure his jaw line only as firmly as necessary to get him to move. Over time, you will notice that the pressure becomes less and less as he anticipates the move – first with pressure, then lighter pressure, then just the slightest nudge away.
When he moves easily with the jaw cues, move your pressure to the neck/shoulder point and go through the same steps. (If you have to use one hand at the jaw AND one hand at the neck/shoulder, do so until the neck/shoulder is sufficient: first press the Neck/Shoulder then follow up with jaw pressure or tap if necessary until the Neck/Shoulder works alone).
Then back to the leg/rib cue (arm pit). Each time, get the pressure very light and the cross-over step neat and clean.
We will soon be moving with a light touch right where his mounted-leg-cue will work when he is under saddle.
See more methods for disengaging the front on the ground in preparation for leg yields: shoulder-over, turns on the rear, spins.
Thank you Kristull Ranch in Austin, Texas for pictures.
Horse training can be dangerous. Not all methods work on all horses. Instruction presented here is not meant to be prescriptive in nature, and Horse-Pros.com takes no responsibility for the welfare of any animal or person using our methods.
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