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Q. My horse is very stiff, especially with bending. Do you have any ideas what I can do to soften him?

A. I have found lateral movements to be instrumental in developing spinal flexibility and softness in my horses. Leg yields are generally both easier for most horses to learn and to perform than are side-passes or half-passes. I spend a lot of time incorporating leg yields into various figures to inspire my horses to soften and to yield and bend around my legs.

For example, I'll walk on a light contact in a fairly small circle to the left. Once the horse is moving well forward - even if stiffly - around the circle, I'll apply my left leg strongly to leg yield the animal gradually out into an expansion of the circumference of the circle while maintaining (or establishing) a bend appropriate to the direction of the circle itself. I will then switch directions and repeat the exercise on the other side.

If your horse is unfamiliar with leg yield, it may be easier for him to get the idea initially by first teaching him to move away from your leg in turn on the forehand in both directions. Once the horse is stepping readily away from leg pressure in both directions, you can introduce leg yield. As you work around the arena - let's say to the left again - turn in about ten feet short of the second corner of a short end of the ring (just before you would begin down the long side). You are now traveling a straight line parallel to and about ten feet inside of the long side of the arena. You will now apply a strong and steady left leg pressure to push your horse laterally out toward the rail (do this at walk only until your horse becomes very comfortable with the movement in both directions). The horse should be moving primarily forward with some sideways movement of his legs to bring him laterally over to the rail. If he simply tries to turn diagonally toward the rail and walk straight forward to it, you must hold his parallel-to-the-wall position with your hands while still urging sideways motion with your left leg. If he tries to bulge his shoulder and lead with it to the rail, move your left leg back a bit and urge his hindquarters to catch up while pressing his bulging shoulder back in line with your right rein.

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