Photos by Emily Kitching
Editor’s Note: At a clinic when a troubled spot surfaces it’s a fantastic opportunity to explore what is causing an issue and how addressing the symptoms might not only help a particular horse and rider but also further clarify everyone’s understanding of a concept in general. In the following series of photos what started as Buck’s answer to a question about a troubled horse led to a demonstration of a vital concept and a deeper understanding of the foundation of engagement.
“When things like this surface, I hope everyone will store it away in their hard drive. I’m going to show you a way to help a troubled horse that is not truly stepping over behind. But beyond just a fear or a safety issue, this is the foundation of engagement.
“A horse must learn to engage between lateral flexion and movement first before you would ever use two reins to promote engagement of the hind end.
“You have to understand there’s some things some of you need to fix. If you’re not moving forward and through with the hindquarters well then, everything else connected to it is not going to work either.
“This horse that is bothered is not reaching forward and through with her inside hind leg. To start with, your timing needs to be better as to when you are asking… you need to consistently time up with when the inside hind foot is leaving the ground for your message to be clear. But she is shuffling sideways when you ask, stepping on herself as she does. If she was really amped up and you asked for her hindquarters she, could flip over backwards on you. And there are many of you on horses that you think are solid who are missing this piece. Your horse might be moving his feet sideways but shuffling instead of reaching forward and through. This is grade school stuff, knowing where the feet are.
“If you were on your horse’s back and couldn’t feel what is taking place, step off and work on it from the ground so you can help your horse find the answer and improve your timing. A horse that shuffles tends to stop moving forward, to lock up and shuffle sideways. I’ll demonstrate on my horse from the ground and then from her back what I call putting her on a drift.”
First on the ground…
Start on the ground so you can see when what's taking place. Send your horse in a united circle around you.
I ask her to drift her hindquarters away from me while still stepping forward and through. Note the bend in her neck.
The life in my body tells her to keep stepping forward and through with her inside hind foot.
Here you can really see that her inside hind is lined up with her outside front.
We drift step by step until she's smooth and even. Then I take her off the drift back onto the circle, traveling united.
My leading hand tells her we are going forward; my driving hand may need to help her shift from drift tracking evenly.
I'll start again. I feel for her and start asking for a little bend, changing my position to tell her what I'm asking for.
With a little bend in her neck I ask for that inside hind to step forward and through, putting her on a drift.
I'll ask her to drift until her steps make an improvement in quality, then I'll release back to the circle.
She should transition smoothly from the drift to reaching evenly without losing her rhythm.
… then from the saddle.
Now in the saddle I'll start from a united circle. She has to be moving forward with life before I would ask.
I bend her slightly to the inside and apply only my inside leg and ask her to drift her hindquarters.
The right moment to ask is when the inside foot leaves the ground. I'll take a few drifting steps with the hind.
Then release the bend and return to the forward circle and tracking united.
She has to be traveling with life, with a good cadence around the circle to give me something to direct.
I'll time up with that inside hind foot, and ask her to drift.
I'm getting her comfortable stepping forward and through with her inside hind leg.
Drift. See that the inside hind foot is on the same track as her outside front foot.
Only my left leg is active asking for her inside hind to step over and reach. That needs to be comfortable for her.
I'll wait until her steps feel more smooth, balanced and even.
This is the beginning of engagement, one hind foot at a time, traveling forward while reaching under and through.
When we return to the circle I release the bend, and my outside leg comes in and says now we're going united.