Grounded in the Saddle

Part 2: Give to the Bit (Lateral Flexion)

Teach this to your horse on the ground first (as discussed in A Good Grounding, Part 3), starting in his halter and then advancing to the bridle. You will be well ahead of the game, and a lot safer too, if he's already very good at this from the ground before you introduce it from the saddle. Horses asked for lateral flexion for the first time from the saddle can have a tendency to panic and get into trouble. They can easily flip themselves over backward. So do your ground work first.

Holding the center of the reins in one hand, slide your other hand far down the rein toward the horse's head and gently bring that rein to your hip. Be sure to keep your hands low and slow. You are looking for the horse’s nose to touch your leg or the girth softly, with no pulling. He should bend to the point where he takes the slack from the rein. Immediately release the pressure by dropping the rein, giving him his head. Repeat on the other side. Note: When asking your horse to flex to one side, the other rein must be completely slack. Do not pick up any contact with the other rein during this exercise.

It is just about impossible to over-do this exercise. The more you do it, the softer and more responsive your horse will become. Always ask with just an ounce or two of pressure at first. You can slowly increase when necessary, but always give him the chance to do it right at the softest possible cue. Once thoroughly learned, this becomes a very relaxing exercise for your horse. If he gets upset out on the trail, just asking him for lateral flexion will help him to calm down.