Teaching Your Horse to Flex
The object of this exercise is to teach your horse to move his neck and shoulders: to bend and flex laterally (left to right) and vertically (up and down).
Lateral Flex is the KEY to every exercise from now on. It prepares your horse mentally for your partnership and teaches him to be “soft” and “supple” in the turn and controlled when you mount. The Lateral Flex is also the very foundation of the emergency stop!
The Flexing lessons use three of the training principles used by all trainers:
Physical pressure: that is the tactile feelings such as the bit against the bars in his mouth or the rope halter pulling at the side of his face. (see Pressure)
Release is the reward that the rider or trainer gives the horse for executing the proper maneuver. (see Release Training)
Shaping is the term used for GRADUALLY lengthening or fine-tuning a response. (see Shaping)
Flexing is a HUGE basic lesson that all horses must learn on the way to training. Without it there is no control, no steering, sometimes not even good balance. A horse whose face is to his girth cannot easily run away.
It also helps to teach respect. A horse that is flexed is not protecting himself or exerting his own will. You should get into the habit of flexing laterally several times every time you get your horse from the stall or the paddock. It is my belief that flexing and sending through the paddock gate in a mannerly way are the keys to getting a horse ready for your day.
Just a bit of personal observation here: Many many people believe that hopped-up liberty lunging is the way to start the day. They believe he must be “put through his paces” or “worn down”. Without it, many riders don’t feel confident to mount their horse. My experience has been that horses who walk into a round pen and are expected to lunge endlessly get excited before they ever get started. They anticipate the lunge, get light on their feet, start twirling and being overly sensitive before your day begins. Why they need to be put into a frenzy of right-brain activity before they come down to left-brain control evades me. I don’t believe in it.
I expect a horse to be haltered and enter the round pen as controlled as possible. He should ask me what I would like him to do before he anticipates a hot activity. If you MUST ask your horse to lunge before a ride, ask that it be done at a walk with several “whoa’s”. Then get to the business of riding.
If you want to train, get to training – not running. If part of his training is learning gaits during a lunging exercise, do it later in the process instead of at the very beginning. Ask for attention and up-close control during the first half of the lesson; gait transitions in the last half.
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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