How often has your horse given you the choice of head down or hocks under? You trot around the school, you know he looks pretty but you also know that his hocks are nowhere to be seen. Wouldn’t it be nice to have both?
There is an answer. It’s called canter. It’s the best pace in the world for unlocking those rigid back muscles. Because of the way his legs move in canter – one hind, a diagonal pair and a foreleg – his muscles have to stretch from side to side and front to back. The best news is there’s very little he can do to stop them.
Establish your canter around the arena. Keep your weight back on your seat and lift your hands up. If your hands are too low then his weight will fall onto his shoulders making it impossible for him to get his hocks working correctly.
At the start of a long side ride a 10m circle. Sit up and push on. All horses can canter small circles it’s their riders who think they can’t.
Come out of the circle and push on up the long side. Don’t throw the reins at him. Keep your contact, sit back and kick on. At the end bring him back using your knee and thigh not your hand (See The Other Way of Stopping) and put him onto a 10m circle. Now ride to the next corner and run through the whole exercise again.
Do this at every corner and on every long side. Ride as many as you feel fit enough to do making sure you do equal amounts on each rein. The important thing is to get him really moving on the long sides and coming back on the 10m circles. This is what gets his back muscles shortening and stretching. This loosens up his back allowing his hocks to step further under his body.
When you trot ask with your knee and thigh, sit back and keep your contact steady without pulling back. This is the most crucial part. Your horse will move into trot and his back will be soft. The last thing you need to do is pull him in the mouth and upset him! Keep the bend in your elbow and your fingers moving so he doesn’t lean but leave the rest to him.
This is a great exercise and it works with most horses however stubborn they might be. Canter for long enough and they forget why they were arguing in the first place. Suddenly they’re trotting around the arena as if there was never a problem in the first place. Good luck!