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Body Control Basics, April 2006

Body Control for the Ribcage

Last time, we discussed the basic Training Triad consisting of Roundness, Guiding, and most specifically Body Control. Body Control is the art of developing independent control over each segment of the horse's body - his chin, neck, shoulders, ribs, and haunches are all separate entities that must learn to work individually or in unison as our riding commands.
Focusing on the displacement, flexibility and control of these separate entities is the mainstay of creating a horse that is willing and capable of moving his body any direction at any time, which in turn will help him to excel in any discipline.

Previously we touched base on creating suppleness and body control through the haunches; now we'll talk about some exercises that work the ribcage of the horse.

When to Apply Ribcage Exercises

The ribcage is a vital part of determining a horse's suppleness through out the rest of his body. It works as an axis that can loosen and enable the front end for free-flowing shoulder control. Likewise when there is a lack of mobility and control in the ribcage, the shoulder may suffer ill-effects. For example, the horse that drops his shoulder into a circle may actually be doing so as a result of his belly and ribs caving inward. His shoulder and head follow into the circle, and are merely a symptom of the lack of body control throughout the ribcage. The same theory may be applied to the hindquarters. In addition to the conditioning and body control exercises mentioned in our previous article, focusing on the ribcage may increase flexibility in things like backing up and lead changes.

When body control of the ribcage is working at it's best, we create shoulders, ribs, and haunches which can have their own respective jobs without one body part infringing on the responsibility of the other parts of the horse's body.

The spin is a perfect example of the suppleness required from the ribcage. The ribs work as an intermediary point providing flexion and suspension, allowing the hind quarters to stay sedentary and the shoulders to turn around freely.

With this in mind, it's easy to envision how the gymkhana horse will benefit from molding his ribcage around a barrel, the trail horse will gain responsiveness and maneuverability in his obstacles, and the horsemanship rider will see more correct circles. The pleasure horse will improve his guiding and passing techniques through responding to lateral commands with the use of two tracking and side-passing, and the reining horse will have cleaner and more accurate spins. The list goes on!

Exercise #1: Circles for the Ribcage

What it helps: Dropped shoulders, swapping ends in spins, 180 or 360 degree turn, difficulty maintaining circles.

When to Use It: On any horse seeking to improve body control.

How it works: By challenging the horse to cave his ribcage into the middle of your circle, you teach him to hold his shoulder and chin inward while his ribcage and haunches remain on the circle. Your Goal: To keep the horse on a circle without allowing him to cave in. Start jogging a small circle with your horse round and soft. When prepared, bring your inside hand down low behind your leg, toward the area where your back cinch would attach. Hold a steady, static rein drawing the horse's chin toward your inside stirrup. Keep your outside hand giving and active in order to maintain roundness. You are asking for the horse to remain on a circle and suspend his ribcage doing so. Bringing your hand to the inside down and low challenges him to 'cave in' to your circle. As he attempts to cave in or break down, make sure that your rein position stays static and that you continue to drive him onto the circle with your inside leg. In time, your horse will become soft and suspend his ribcage on this circle easily. Do it both directions to insure the same response both ways.

Exercise #2: Leg Yield Exercise

What it helps: Increasing responsiveness to displacing leg, lateral work, self-carriage of the ribcage.

When to Use It: When the ribcage is infringing on the horse's ability to perform.

How it works: By using the leg yield as a reminder to maintain ribcage control. Your Goal: To form a 10 foot in diameter circle with the front end, and a 12 foot diameter circle with the hind end while moving the horse in a leg yield opposite the direction of your rotation. Holding light, even pressure with both reins, remove the outside leg completely and apply the inside leg slightly behind the girth. Move the horse into a leg yield, forming a 10 foot in diameter circle with the horse's front feet, and a 12 foot diameter circle his hind feet. If for example you have experienced a dropped shoulder or difficulty spinning to the left, the circling leg yield should be performed to the right with the horse's nose remaining left to loosen the ribcage. This acts as a reminder to the horse to elevate and flex his ribcage.

Exercise #3: Double Reverse Counter Arc Exercise

What it helps: To perfect spins, 180 and 360 degree turns. To refine ribcage control in other areas of performance. When to Use It: To be used when the horse works well in 'Circling for the Ribcage' and 'Leg Yield Exercise' above

How it works: By challenging the horse to arc his ribcage in one direction while traveling in the opposite one. Your Goal: Traveling on a small circle to the right, arc the horse's shoulder and haunches to the left. Walk the horse in a small circle, 10-12 feet in diameter. Position his body with both haunches and shoulder arced to the outside of this circle. An open outside rein will direct the horse's shoulder and nose away from the circle, while inside rein works to maintain guiding on the circle. The inside leg may be displaced back slightly in order to encourage the horse to move his hip away and toward the outside of the circle. Simultaneously, the inside leg should be applied at the girth in order to maintain forward motion. The horse's body should form a reverse 'C' shape while traveling on the circle. Release and allow the horse to travel straight on this circle when he feels soft and giving. As with all things, your horse learns correct responses from the release of pressure. Be sure to reward him with a loose when you have achieved your goal and he is making effort to displace his body at your request. Continue these exercises and over time you will not improved flexibility and performance in your horse.

Questions about this article or have another training challenge?

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Who Is
Holly MacDonald? Email Holly
Holly MacDonald is a coach,
trainer, clinician and open
show judge operating out of
Meadow Pond Stables
in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

Understudying with many
notable professionals over
the years, Holly worked
numerous apprentice positions
where she gained industry
skills and was allotted
the opportunity to begin her career showing,
coaching and training. With
numerous titles behind her,
Holly attended the Equine Science
Program, Major of Western
Training at Olds College,

Holly had the opportunity to
work beside the legends of
reining while riding out of
Gainesville, Texas. She has
competed at the NRHA Futurity &
World Championship Show in
Oklahoma City under the guidance
of renowned author and trainer,
J.P. Forget, President of
Reining Canada.

Horses Holly has ridden can be
found through out Canada,
the United States and now
Europe. They are Futurity
& Derby Champions as well as
competitive Youth & Non-Pro
mounts, piloted by her many
successful students.

With tailor-made programs for
each horse and rider, Holly's
commitment to continual learning
and excellence in horsemanship
provide the basis for success
in her horses.