Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder Part 1: Solve Every Horse Problem
July 10, 2014
Written by: Josh Lyons & Keith Hosman
Written by: Josh Lyons & Keith Hosman
Practice Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder to gain more control over your horse's shoulders (so your knee won't hit that tree, so he won't "dive into his turns," etc.), to teach your horse to back with far less resistance - and to take a giant step toward teaching your horse to carry itself in a more collected fashion. ("Collection" equates to turning without leaning, turning now instead of later, etc.)
Every horse-related problem you can think of comes down to "going and stopping" and here's how to get that control.
Before you begin Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder, you should have practiced "Three Step Stop." That exercise would have begun to teach your horse to not carry so much weight on the front half of his body. So instead of leaning or dropping the balance of his weight onto his shoulders, (when he stops for instance) he would have learned to stay more maneuverable by carrying more weight more evenly throughout his body with his back end doing more of it's fair share. He'll begin traveling with his shoulders "raised" as opposed to "dropped." (You experienced a dropped shoulder the last time your leaned into a turn and you felt like sliding off. You probably blamed the fit of the saddle or figured your cinch was too loose.)
We'll continue to build on that previous exercise by teaching the horse to disengage his hindquarters in this one. "Disengaging" is a fancy way of saying "The front end stops; the back end moves around like the hands of a clock." Think of a turn on the forehand or a one-legged duck swimming in circles.
This exercise, Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder, has become a "classic" exercise for one very big reason: It gives you control of your horse's stop. Every horse-related problem you can think of comes down to "going and stopping." "I can't get my horse to cross the creek." "I can't get my horse to go in the arena." "I can't get my horse to go away from another horse." And people get hurt when they can't stop their horse: "I can't get my horse to stop bucking, stop rearing, or stop kicking." We spend most of our training time, (as in this exercise) dealing with, and practicing, "going and stopping" because that's where you need the most control.
If you pick up two reins to stop your horse, he might stop - but without the correct training he's going to get heavier and heavier on that bit. And that means his stop is going to get worse and worse. If you remember nothing else from this lesson, remember this: If it takes your horse two seconds to stop then back up, you can multiply that by eight to figure how long it'll take your horse to stop when he's running and his emotions are high. Your horse can travel a long way in those 16 seconds - maybe far enough to get you bucked off or seriously hurt. To keep you safe, you want to teach your horse to go from a walk to backing up with zero hesitation. And that's what this exercise gives you.
First you teach the horse to "start to stop" by getting a single part of him to stop moving. Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder first teaches the horse to stop a single shoulder and swing his back end around. His power comes from the rear end, so swinging those hips puts his "engine" into neutral, causing that single shoulder to stop. When you're able to consistently stop that single shoulder you can begin teaching the horse the concept of "stopping and backing."
Tip: Teach almost anything to your horse with the "Clock Work Exercise." That's a chapter in the basic training book "What I'd Teach Your Horse" - and you can hear the whole section right now for FREE on audio when you click here.
Getting control over a single shoulder will go a long way to controlling your horse - but that's not going to be good enough. To understand why, think of your horse as a car: Like a car, your horse has four sets of brakes, one on each foot. Practicing Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder on the left side gives you brakes on the left front foot (that single shoulder mentioned above). But... do you want to drive a car with three out of four brakes out? Is that the car you'd take down a scary trail or let your kid drive? What's going to happen when you apply just that single brake? At best your horse the car is not going to stop evenly; he'll veer and you may have an accident on your hands. You need to build all four sets of brakes - and you need an exercise like Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder to isolate horse body parts to build each brake individually.
To really drive this point home, allow us one more analogy: Have you ever seen a train stop? It stops from the front end. Like that train, when your horse stops, all his energy piles into the front end, pushing the front - causing you to "stop" (notice the quotes) about four blocks later if you haven't got control over all four feet. Stopping in four blocks isn't any good if the cliff is coming up in one.
Practicing Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder will give you a way to tell each shoulder to stop. And, if one of his hindquarters should continue driving forward or veer off to one side (during your stop), you'll have the ability to pick up a rein and say "Hey, move your rear to the left, back behind you; quit driving forward." By the same token, you'll have a way to fix those front brakes (shoulders) should they begin to slip (read: not stop) by isolating and fixing one shoulder at a time.
We're trying to gain control of particular parts of the horse's body. This exercise isn't about teaching a "stop." That's too broad. If your horse doesn't stop correctly, you want to fix the part that "stops the worst." Because when you ask the horse to do something, it's never the whole horse that messes up. There will be a part of the horse that you need to single out and fix. You simply have to have a way to break it down and talk to each body part individually because if you can't tell a specific part how to move, there's no way to control the whole horse.
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Ready for part 2 of this three-part series? In "Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder Part 2: The Exercise" you'll learn to put a stop on your horse the easy way. Click here to read it.