Icelandic Horse Connection

Making The Change 3

Facilitated by Nancy Allen and Dan

Once your horse is backing up straight pretty well, we can start to work on backing him in an arc and eventually a full circle.

Backing in an arc should be done from both sides of the horse and one side will probably be harder than the other unless you have really made it a point of working with your horse from both sides. That's something to think about too as we progress with the exercises: work from both sides.

Backing in an arc can be hard for your horse mentally and physically at first so go slowly, work one step at a time and reward often! (To be honest, it's usually harder for the human to figure out how to set the horse up to back him in the arc than it is for the horse).

This exercise builds a foundation for turnarounds and leads. It prepares your horse for learning how to bring his front end across and gives you another way to develop control over your horse's hindquarters.

Your horse should know how to back straight first, if not, then wait until he can to teach the arc. Take all the time you need! It's not a competition! :-)

As you have been learning about your horse's footfall you will know when that front foot is about to come up off of the ground. This is the time you start to ask him to bring the his front end across.

So in backing in an arc to the left you pick up a light feel and begin to back your horse straight. As your horse is shifting his weight off of the front left foot this is when you open up your lead, tip his nose to the left and ask him to step out and back on the left.

The right rear foot (the diagonal again!) will step back and out to the right.

The right front and left rear step straight back.

The hindquarters move to the right.

Confusing to read? Then try this visual: Start by practicing next to a fence. Give your horse room, a few feet from the fence. Start to back your horse up straight along the fence, then when you're ready, tip his nose towards the fence and his hindquarters will move away from the fence.

It is sometimes easier to understand the movement in relation to a fixed object. Do it as many times as you need to, watching his footfall and movement. See how one thing effects another.

Remember, slow but sure wins this circle game. Take your time. Observe how what you do effects how your horse moves.

Backing over a log: this is something fun to work on and easy to accomplish. The trick is in your timing. Walk your horse forward, straight over a log and just as the hind feet step over it, immediately ask him to back over the log again. Release and reward.

Don't stop your horse in between, although you may be tempted to. Dan would sort of seem to forget exactly where that log was if I stopped him, even for a few seconds, and wasn't too comfortable with backing over something he wasn't sure about anymore. This starts building his confidence and pretty soon you will be able to hesitate between steps, but in the beginning, this has worked best for me.

Backing straight up against a barrel or fence post: Some horses aren't too comfortable about backing up against something that they can't see. They are just going on your feel and the trust they have in you. (Only back them into something that is smooth and can't hurt them accidentally-that's obvious, I know!) Stay safe if you try this, sometimes they tend to jump forward or might think about moving you out of their way. It sounds like a simple job, but can be alot tougher than it sounds.

If you diligently work on all of these things you will begin to feel like you can place your horse's feet anywhere and this will also extend to ridden work.

Anyone else have some other interesting backup exercises for us to try? As always, stay safe, don't over work your horses-for some, these are very new movements-and have fun!

Backing Pictures 1
Backing Pictures 2
Backing Pictures 3


Although some of us are still working on the other exercises I will keep moving forward with the next ones. Remember though, everyone should go at their own pace and asking questions about ANY exercise that we have covered, at any time, will be great!

Exercise #3 on Bill's site, Bringing the Head From Side-to-Side, Real Slow, With the Feet Still.

You can read its description at: http://lesliedesmond.com/

I included a photo of Dan demonstrating the exercise under saddle.

Dan Lateral Flexion

If you haven't already read through the exercise then give it a quick look-see. I'll start to talk about the exercise as if you've already read it:

Hints: As you stand a little bit ahead of your horses shoulder you can put one hand on his poll or neck and one hand on either the bridge of his nose or on the halter knot under the chin (if you're using a rope halter) or close to the lead rope clasp (if you're using a web halter), to help encourage him to turn his head towards you.

Remember, give your horse enough room to bring his head around and don't crowd him. He might get tight all through his body or try to pull his head away if you do.

Also, think about how you present your "feel". For example, prepare your horse for where you are going to touch him. Like for Dan I might stroke his forehead first then move my hand down to the bridge of his nose and ask him to bring his head in my direction.

Dan is very used to this, but some horses might need more preparation before you can reach your hand to their face. Maybe you have to start by petting their neck, for instance, and then continue touching your horse until you get to his face. This way he can always sort of "follow" where your hand is. Always take things like this into consideration.

Bill writes, "Developing a presentation that really feels good to the horse is something a person needs to learn about AND GET GOOD AT."

Some of this is very similar to how we will ask our horses to yield their hindquarters AND what we did to teach our horse about backing in an arc. How can your horse tell the difference between what you are asking? Bill relates that it is easy to confuse the two, but the difference depends on the "feel" that you present and the energy that goes towards the horse that causes him to move away. So, since we are not asking the horse to move away here, how will you adjust your energy to let your horse know this?

Be thinking of this aspect of things. I'd like to hear from people concerning this. Was it easy for you to understand and relate to how you change your feel fairly quickly? Do things seem too similar to other exercises and so this is a little bit confusing?

This is another one of those areas that is hard to describe because it concerns feel. How do you describe in words something that must be felt? Anyone care to try?

At first some people may have to take many "fresh starts" in teaching their horses and themselves this exercise, but that's okay, because you will both get it! As you get it, too, it will mean that you are becoming more effective with feel!

Throughout the previous exercises has anyone come to understand "feel" better? Are you becoming more effective with it then?

The release should come not just for the horse stopping his feet if he were to move, but for turning his head towards you. The smalled try, remember, gets a release.

When you do release let your horse bring his head all the way around to a normal position, making sure that he has enough rope to do this. If he ran out of rope, because you were still holding it too short, he would bump himself and that good release that he earned and is learning from will lose it's meaning.

Let us know how your timing goes for the release (and praise for your horse!). Can you see how this training will help you to improve your one rein stops while mounted? How was your "presentation"? Where have you found the braces in your horse? What did you do to eliminate the bracing if there was any there? If you have an older horse, were they tight in the beginning?

Remember, this is also an exercise for the youngsters. This would sure give the "babies" a great head start!

Please let us know how it goes and if you have any problems that we can discuss.

Thanks a heap!


(Original message for Exercise #4 is missing--attempting to find it. Bill and Leslie's version here: http://lesliedesmond.com/)

Moving the Inside Hind

I would like to comment a little on Bill's way of teaching this and maybe what we might consider, the cowboy way. It also has a little to do with safety, and with these youngsters, I like that idea!

There are quite a few reasons why a person might want to teach their horse to move his hindquarters by bringing the horse's head around.

1). It's an easy way to teach it. The horse naturally seeks to straighten himself, and learns to move his hindquarters pretty quickly this way. He learns to move the hindquarters through a feel in the reins too at this time. In the end, if you want, you can ask the horse to move his hindquarters while his body remains straight, but the feel in the reins is still there (and the horse understands that feel now because of the way that you taught him by asking him to bring his head around a little).

Now, I don't think that alot of neck bend is necessary to teach this (just tipping the nose will often do it) but I want to be able to ask my horse to bring his head all the way around if I ask him to. This is because I want a relaxed horse. I want him to be flexible for whatever I ask and I want to know that he follows the feel in the reins softly when I present it to him.

This movement has to do with the entire body. It all needs to be supple and flexible for the hindquarters to be most efficient. It's sort of like making sure that one part works before you ask for another.If he can't do the first part, then the second part just may fall apart on you.

Bill mentions that it's the feel of something that causes a horse to react. You are not always going to want to bring your horse's head around (no matter how much or how little) to accomplish this maneuver, but you'd like to be able to do it, through the feel you present, if you want to.

2). The horse is following a feel. With this you are certain that your previous foundation work is in place: he'll be real flexible in his head and neck. "His head and neck should be able to go up and down and sideways and all the places in between" real soft, for him to be able to move the hindquarters. As Bill would say, "This needs to be a reliable response." If your horse (especially a young one) will not turn his head, or be very stiff at your request, he would not really be very relaxed. This is a handy thing to know and you might get this straightened out on the ground first and not in the saddle. For the first rides especially, it's a good idea to check this out before you get on and then once you're in the saddle.

3). This is part of what Ray Hunt calls 'turning loose'. If the horse cannot bring his head around or give his hindquarters he has not relaxed, he has not turned loose and is still in go forward or fleeing mode.

4). Turning the head is a good safety precaution to install in a horse. It will keep a person safe and put a horse in neutral. The two are combined, bring the head around and ask the horse to disengage the hindquarters. The horse may still be moving, but he will circle and not run away with his rider. It also serves to bend the spine and works to relax the horse in a way. It is nice to really instill this in your horse so that it is a natural reaction almost and reliable in an emergency. You just have an opportunity with this exercise to work on feel and some things that might help in an emergency. You don't have to do it every time you ask your horse to move his hindquarters though that's for sure.

5). The horse should learn to follow your feel to even keep that head turned as he moves his hindquarters, or keep his head turned without moving his feet (depending on your feel and what you ask) OR the horse should be able to keep a straight body and move his hindquarters. What he does is dependent on the feel that you are giving him and the way that you present it all. You can really connect all of these different ways to accomplish the exercise and come out with a more relaxed horse in the end and one that understands your feel better. You will be able to influence his feet more specifically even! Wow, all that!

Don't know if this helps, but even if you do choose to teach a youngster this without bringing his head around a bit, the rest IS something that's very important to know that your horse can do-especially a youngster.


Now, working on the ground with this I will start with a rope halter and 12' lead. I prefer a rope halter but any kind will do just fine.

There are several ways to present this to the horse for riding in the hackamore because he will be learning to follow your feel through the lead or reins but also start to learn to move away from the touch of the rein on his neck so you can begin the foundation for neck reining.

The height of the rope on his neck when neck reining (up high on his neck) will dictate the bend in the neck and often the tightness of a turn (or lower at his shoulder for instance for more straightness of his body) but there are other factors that you can also use to keep the turn tight if you want to.

In the coming exercises, getting familiar with neck reining is going to come into play and it might confuse matters adding more to it here so I will wait on that a bit.

You can ask for the horse to move his hindquarters at a distance (from the end of the lead) but for preparation for riding I like to come in closer to the horse's neck and lift my line or rein. I will lift just slightly and turn my wrist a bit )so that I am turning my wrist out so that the rope is closer to his neck than my hand is) without lifting my hand anymore. This lift and twist makes for easy fine tuning because you can make quick adjustments just by turning your wrist or straightening it.

The lift and twist asks the horse to follow that feel and tip his nose towards me and break at the poll just a bit. I will wait for the horse to think a little. If he doesn't move I will lift and twist a little bit higher. Usually it doesn't take much if the foundation is there, but the horse will move his hind end over to straighten his body.

At this point he is just searching for answers and his inclination to naturally straighten himself will come into play. When it does I give a total release of the rope and lots of praise.

There is only so far that I will go with the lift and twist though-I want it to stay soft. If I have reached that point and still nothing, then I will do as Elaine did and bring in other clues to help like touch or point to his hindquarters. When the horse steps away I will release and praise but when I begin again I'm going to start in the same way that I did the first time with just the lead or rein and hope to get the step with even less.

The other rein is what I look at as a 'holding rein'-but I can go into that more later.

EVENTUALLY, down the line, this lift and twist really can fine tune the horse's hindquarters when riding him in a sidepass for instance, if his front end gets ahead of his back end.. Once the technique becomes familiar it's very effective.


So how is exercise #4 Bring the Head Around and Step the Hindquarters Slowly Around the Front End, in Both Directions going (if you've had a chance to try it)?

I'm just going to keep moving forward with things bust we can discuss any aspects of any exercise at any time!

Let's hear about your successes! Any problems or insight?

If anyone has a horse that is a little defensive about their hindquarters, this could be an exercise where that shows up pretty strongly.

How is it going so far? Here's a little hint from Bill:

"..... What's going to take place just depends on the horse and on how far along and observant the person is. Remember to praise the horse and rub his neck to reassure him.

"If there's alot of tries at this and the horse still isn't stepping the inside hind leg across the outside hind leg, why the chances are real good that you've either let the head loose as he starts to move or you're holding him too short on the rope and having him move when there isn't any float left in the line." -BD

The following is from an old post I wrote the last time we did an online clinic like this.

I hope that you don't mind the repeater (if you were with us last time):

" Yesterday I went to some talks that had nothing to do with horses, but so much of what was said applies. The speaker talked about trying to accomplish something that seems hard. We might try a thousand times to accomplish it but then on one-thousand-and-one we do it! That one try just makes all the others positive. The one makes good on the one thousand.

But the one could not take place without the one-thousand.

Our goal with this exercise is to be able to move the hindquarters around the front end, but what's so valuable is that learning part in between. How much we can observe and learn and develop our feel.

Monty Roberts said, "If learning is from 1 to 10, the most important part is 0 to 1."

Now, not everyone is a big fan of old Monty, but he is VERY right about this.

That 0 to 1 is that spark, that inkling for the horse that the release helps us to define so well for him. Looking for opportunities, observing, making the right adjustments and seeing the very first glimmer of what we are looking for and marking that for our horse.

What I really hope to get across here is that the process of learning is just as worthy of high praise as the end result of it is! The process of learning for the human as well as the horse!

What have you been observing and learning about yourself and your horse as you train this exercise? Were you able to use alot of what you'd learned about youself and your horse from previous exercises and just time spent together? Once the light bulb went on for your horse (or you) how did things progress?



It's time to start Exercise #5 on Bill's site: Moving the Front End Clear Around the Hindquarters Slowly In Both Directions.

You'll find it at: http://lesliedesmond.com/

One of the main objectives of this exercise is to let your horse know that you are there to help him accomplish things. You are going to set it up, with Bill's help, to make this as physically easy for your horse to successfully do and therefore understand.

Remember that first you will rock the horse back to free up his forehand.

If you are asking your horse to move to the right you would tip your horse's head slightly so that it is over the leading foreleg, which would be the right one in this case.

Ask your horse to step back just a little to lighten up the front end. IMPORTANT: When you actually ask your horse to move his front end to the right, make sure that the following foreleg, the left, goes behind the leading foreleg, the right. He will be able to step over much freer and help keep his forehand from becoming heavy.

This is also going to tell you if the weight IS rocked back to begin with. If that following leg crossed in FRONT on the leading leg, then this would tell you that the movement is more FORWARD.

You'll start with your hand by the halter knot or lead buckle under the chin but later experiment with stepping away from your horse and see how, with your life and feel, that you can also accomplish this.

Bill starts this way because he asks us to get in close to our horse to direct him and help him get with your feel. Some horses may not learn best with you in close. Gear your method to the individual.

There will be alot of experimenting in the beginning as you discover how your body placement, in relation to the horse's, effects his movement.

Look for accuracy of movement and foot placement and how you can encourage this.

Are you beginning to see that have the ability to place your horse's feet just about anywhere you want?

Did you push him forward or backwards with your energy, or to the side?

Did you have to tone down your energy or liven it up?

Remember, do this equally from both sides. And, as always, reward the smallest tries in the beginning. : ) Watch how your horse moves and think about how you can influence him to make this as easy as it can be!

THEN let the list know how it all went and what you learned!

This exercise is dependent on your horse's good understanding of the previous ones. They are all building one upon the other, as you know. If you are still working on the others, don't worry, we have nothing but time!

Bill writes that it is the "hindquarters that the horse depends on to maneuver his whole body the way he needs to.

"Those feet will need to be placed and replaced to get the front end freed up and where it needs to go."

So it is the hindend that frees up the front end. This is a good thing to remember as you teach this exercise.

Have fun with this one! Stay safe and fill us in on what you learn!

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