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Old 07-31-2010, 02:26 PM   #1
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The Five Body Parts by Clinton Anderson

In case anyone is interested, here is an article I cut and pasted from the Clinton Anderson NWC forum:

The Five Body Parts

Horses don't have hard mouths; they have hard, stiff bodies. When I say that at any of my horsemanship clinics, someone always asks, "If horses don't have hard mouths, why does mine feel stiff and heavy when I pick up on the reins?" Because a horse's mouth is nothing but a telegraph station. Any stiffness that's present in the horse's body comes through to his mouth. If you get everything behind his mouth soft and supple, his mouth will feel like velvet.

To prove my point, I always ask the disbelieving riders to take the bridles off their horses and ride around with just the halter and lead rope. After 10 or 15 minutes, I ask them if the horses feel softer and more responsive. Their response is always the same—an emphatic no. If the horses truly had hard mouths, as soon as the bridles were taken off of them, they should feel light and soft to the rider, but that's never the case because horses don't have hard mouths, they have hard, stiff bodies.

It doesn't matter what sport you do with your horse - team roping, team penning, cutting, reining etc., every single sport revolves around the horse being soft, supple and relaxed. Think about all the times someone comes back from a competition or a show and tells you that their horse didn't do very well. What do they always complain about? The horse kept pulling on the reins, he wouldn't slow down, he wouldn't move off their leg, they couldn't steer him, etc. Well, if you have a soft, supple and relaxed horse, you're going to have a better roping horse, team penning horse, cutting horse, etc.

In order to get a horse soft and supple throughout his entire body, you need to concentrate on five body parts - the head and neck, the poll, the shoulders, the ribcage and the hindquarters. Think of these five body parts like hinges on your horse's body. Each time you ride the horse, you have to oil those hinges to make them work properly.

The five body parts can work together in unison, but you should also be able to isolate them and move them separately. For example, when the horse sidepasses, he has to pick up his ribcage and move it away from your leg pressure, as well as move his shoulders and hips at the same time - his whole body should move in unison. On the other hand, if the horse's feet are standing still and you ask him to flex vertically, he's isolating his poll. Like anything I do with horses, I first teach the horse how to soften each of his body parts independently from the others before I ask him to combine body parts. If you break things into steps for your horse, he'll understand the lesson much quicker and he'll progress through his training faster and without as much frustration.

Horses have a natural instinct to pull and push against pressure - not give and soften to it. So every opportunity I get, I like to have my horses soften to pressure. You always want your horse thinking of how he can give and soften to pressure, rather than thinking of how he can resist, stiffen and get out of doing what you want him to do. That's why I'm a fanatic about softness. I want my horses to be so soft that I can pick up on the reins with two fingers, and they instantly give. Or I can barley touch them with the calf of my leg and they're moving their ribcage or hindquarters away from it.

If you can't control all five body parts and have the horse soft from his nose all the way through to his tail, you won't be able to control his feet. That's what we're really trying to do, control the horse's feet. If you can get control of the head and neck, poll, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters, eventually you'll have really good control of the horse's feet.

Throughout the rest of this article, I'm going to thoroughly explain each body part and why it's important to gain control of it. Then I'm going to describe an exercise or two for each body part that will help you soften and supple your horse.

The Head, Neck and Poll - Lateral Flexion is the key to Vertical Flexion
We've all been to shows and have seen riders in the warm-up area bumping and jerking on their horses' mouths to get them to lower their polls. Some riders even use a tie-down to force the horse's head into position. When a rider physically pulls a horse's head down, the horse usually keeps it there as long as the rider keeps bumping or jerking on the reins, but will stiffen up and raise his head as soon as the jerking stops - an example of a "false give." Basically, the horse isn't giving to the bit pressure at all, but is just intimidated by the bit, and he stays down as long as the rider is hurting his mouth.
However, if you teach the horse to be soft and responsive to your rein and leg cues, it'll be easy to put him in the position you want. To get that responsiveness, you need to begin with lateral flexion. Lateral flexion is the key to vertical flexion.

Before you can get the horse to lower his head and neck, soften at the poll, and collect, you must be able to bend and soften him laterally from side to side. Lateral flexion exercises work well because you are taking away the horse's ability to balance against you and push against the reins.
Imagine you and I are in a tug-of-war. I'm standing in front of you and you're standing in front of me. I'm stronger than you, but you're smarter than me. If we stand facing each other, I can pull you toward me and win the tug-of-war, but if you stand off to the side at an angle towards me, and I'm still facing straight ahead, I can guarantee that you'll pull me off balance. Pull to the side, and you'll take a lot of the horse's advantage away.

Think of the horse's body like a piece of molding clay. If you let the clay harden, you can no longer bend it. When the clay is soft and pliable, you can shape it and bend it however you want. The same goes for horses - it is easy to work with a horse that is soft and supple in any discipline. I always say that "horses don't have hard mouths, they have hard stiff bodies." They have to be taught to give to pressure. Most horses are capable of bending on their own - the challenge is getting them to give to pressure and bend and flex when we ask. The more you bend the horse and flex him from side to side, the easier it will be to gain control of his poll, soften his head and neck and get him to relax.

One Rein Stops - A Lateral Flexion Exercise
One of the first things I teach all my horses, regardless of their age or previous training is the One Rein Stop. The One Rein Stop is essentially bringing the horse to a stop by picking up on one rein and flexing the horse's head to the side, causing his hindquarters to disengage. Not only are One Rein Stops great for suppling and softening a horse, but they're also a must have to ensure your safety. If you can bring your horse to a stop anytime, anywhere, no matter what is happening, your confidence and his will greatly increase.
To do a One Rein Stop, walk the horse forward 40 to 50 feet. Put him on a loose rein and don't steer him. Let him go wherever he wants to go. Just hold one hand on the middle of the reins down in his mane. Then when you're ready to ask for a One Rein Stop, sit back deep in the saddle, take your legs off, then slide your hand down one rein about 3/4 of the way down, and then pull the rein up to your hip bone, following the seam of your jeans.
Hold the rein at your hip until the horse stops moving his feet and softens his face. Make sure that your horse's nose actually touches your boot, jeans, stirrup or fender before you release the rein.

The instant the horse stops moving his feet and softens, immediately drop the rein out of your hand. Don't release the pressure from his face until he stands still and softens. Just because the horse stops, it doesn't mean you should release the pressure. He has to soften too.

Once you release, flex him once to the other side. Then ask him to walk off again for 40 to 50 feet before asking for another One Rein Stop. Don't stop the horse with the same rein all of the time. If you stopped him with the right rein the first time, the second time stop him with the left rein. Remember, the horse has two separate brains, the right brain and the left brain, and each side needs to be trained independently from the other.

When you're comfortable asking the horse to do a One Rein Stop at the walk, and he understands what you're asking, you can move on to the trot and then the canter.

You might say, "Clinton, I can't pull on one rein forever. Eventually, I have to use two reins." You're absolutely right, and I have no problem with you using two reins as long as you've worked on lateral flexion first. The straighter a horse is from his nose to his tail, the more resistance he's practicing. So how can you tell if the horse is ready for you to use two hands? If at any time you slide one hand down the rein and the horse's first reaction is to brace against the pressure before softening, you're not ready. Any time his response is to push his nose out and root against the pressure, he's anticipating that you're going to pull on two reins. He's telling you to do more lateral flexion. You want the horse's first reaction to be to soften immediately and drop his nose - not throw his head up in the air and then bend down.

The Shoulders - the Steering Wheel
When I'm training a horse, I always think of it like I'm building a car. First, I establish the gas pedal because if you don't have control of a car's gas pedal, you can't do anything with it. The same goes with a horse. Once I have a gas pedal established, I work on the brakes. Once I have a gas pedal and brakes on the horse, then I work on his cruise control - making the horse responsible for his feet and maintaining the speed I put him at. When I can make the horse go forward at the speed I want and stop whenever I want, then and only then, do I start working on my steering wheel. There's no sense in working on steering when the horse can't go forward and take responsibility for his gait or can't stop when you want. When you're steering a horse, you don't want to have to pull and heave him around. He needs to be light and responsive to your aids. While the hindquarters are the horse's gas pedal and engine, the shoulders are his steering wheel. Once you have control of the horse's shoulders, you can push him into and out of circles and move his body in any direction that you want. As soon as I have a solid foundation on my horses from lots of lateral flexion, trotting and cantering on a loose rein, and vertical flexion, I'll start counterbending them in small circles.

Counterbending for Shoulder Control
Counterbending is pushing the horse's shoulders in a circle in the opposite direction than his nose is going. For example, if you're pushing the horse's shoulders to the left, his nose would be tipped to the right, and if you were pushing his shoulders to the right, his nose would be tipped to the left. Being able to push the horse's shoulders in the opposite direction of his nose makes the horse softer and helps him break at the poll. Again, the more shoulder control you have, the better steering wheel you'll have.

I always make sure that the horse is confident with the exercise Shoulder-in/Shoulder-out (moving his shoulders off of my leg at a 45 degree angle) before I start counterbending him. To begin the exercise, slightly tip the horse's nose to one side by picking up on one rein and pulling it toward your hip. Then, holding the outside rein low, point where you want the horse's shoulders to go. At the same time, apply pressure with the calf of your inside leg up by the girth to encourage him to pick up his shoulders and move away from the pressure. For example, if you want to counterbend the horse to the right, you'll tip his head to the left and hold the right rein low and use it to point out to the side where you want him to move his shoulders. At the same time, you'll apply pressure with the calf of your leg on his left side. The more leg and the more outside rein you use, the more you'll draw the horse's shoulders into the circle. A common mistake is not using enough leg or outside rein, causing the horse to walk straight with his head flexed to one side. The outside rein helps direct the shoulders into the circle, so make sure to apply enough pressure to the rein and use it to point where you want the shoulders to go. When you can counterbend the horse in both directions at the walk, practice the same thing at the trot and eventually, the canter. The more you practice counterbending with your horse, the more control you'll have of his shoulders, and the softer he'll be throughout his entire body.

The Ribcage
Getting control of the horse's ribcage sets the foundation for correct lead departures and flying lead changes. If the horse doesn't understand how to move laterally off of your leg, he can't sidepass or do other advanced maneuvers, and if he doesn't understand how to soften his ribcage and bend his body around your leg, he'll never be able to circle smoothly.

A Softening Exercise
One of the best exercises to teach a horse how to soften his ribcage as well as his head and neck is the Bending Exercise. In this exercise, you'll walk the horse in a small circle, 3 to 4 feet in diameter, and have him bend around your leg and soften his head, neck and ribcage while walking.

To bend a circle to the right, start by asking the horse to walk forward and establish forward motion. Then slide one hand down the right rein and pull it up to your hip. Glue it to your hip and wait for the horse to soften his head and neck toward your toe, and for him to bend his ribcage around your inside leg. As soon as he does, release the rein to your knee and as soon as he starts to take his head back, pull the rein back to your hip. Wait for the horse to soften, and when he does, release the rein back to your knee. Ultimately, your goal is to release the rein and have the horse stay on that circle until asked to go straight or in the other direction.

The most important part of the exercise is forward motion. Without forward motion, you can't train the horse. So in the beginning, you may have to sacrifice some of the bend for forward motion. Start off by asking for just a little bit of bend and ask for a little more every day until the horse can walk forward and around with his nose touching your toe. Any time the horse loses his forward energy in the circle, use your inside spur to encourage him to move forward. If you're not wearing spurs, you can use the end of your mecate to spank from side to side. All four of the horse's feet should be moving forward at all times throughout the exercise.

During the initial stages of the exercise, the horse will often stiffen up and pull against your hand as you slide it down the rein and pull it up to your hip. To work through this, simply place your rein hand on your hip and hold it there. With your inside leg, bump his ribcage, or if you're wearing a spur, gently roll the inside spur on his ribcage to encourage him to bend around your leg. But if you only pull on the rein and don't bend his body around your inside leg, the horse can pull and fight against you because his body is straight, meaning that he is in a better tug-of-war position. When you release your hand to your knee, release your leg as well. So, it's hand to hip, leg on; hand to knee, leg off. It's like a pulley system - on together, off together. It usually takes most horses anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to catch on and really start to soften and give to your cues.

The Hindquarters - the Engine
All of a horse's power comes from his hind end, which is why I refer to it as his engine. The horse's ability to go faster, stop and turn all comes from his hindquarters. The sooner you can get control of the hindquarters, the better. The hindquarters are one of the main components in getting a horse to collect and soften to the bit. In order for a horse to collect, he has to shift all of his weight back on his hindquarters and elevate his shoulders. Gaining control of the horse's hind end lays the foundation for advanced maneuvers like sidepassing, lead departures, lead changes, etc.

Yield the Hindquarters at the Stand Still
Yielding the Hindquarters is not just a suppling exercise, but a control exercise as well. If you can get the horse's hind feet to cross, that's the opposite of him having them balanced, ready to drive away. Remember, all of the horse's power comes from his hindquarters. By being able to disengage his hindquarters, you're essentially telling the horse that you can stop him and take away his power anytime you want - a horse can't buck, rear, bolt etc., if his hind legs are crossing.

To yield the hindquarters, flex the horse's head to one side, and then put your inside leg back and apply pressure by the horse's flank. The horse should move off of the pressure and yield his hindquarters. As soon as he takes two steps, take your leg off and wait for him to soften to the rein. When he softens and stops moving his feet, immediately release the rein pressure. If the horse doesn't respond to your leg pressure, use the end of the mecate to spank him off of it.

Yield to a Stop Transitions
While the horse is moving forward on a loose rein (at the walk, trot and eventually, the canter), slide one hand down the rein and bend the horse's head around to your boot. At the same time, press with your leg back by the horse's flank to encourage the horse to disengage his hindquarters. Keep applying pressure with your leg until the horse takes one or two steps - crossing his inside hind leg in front of his outside hind leg. When the horse has taken one or two steps, stop applying leg pressure, but keep his head flexed. Wait for the horse to stop moving his feet and soften. As soon as he does, immediately release the rein.

Gaining control of your horse's five body parts will ensure better control and an all around better performance. In essence, you'll have control of the horse's entire body. Once you have control of all five body parts, you'll be safer and it will help develop your horse's responsiveness. The head and neck, poll, shoulders, ribcage and hindquarters are what you'll work with later on down the road when you want to get your horse ready for more specific and advanced maneuvers. Horses don't know right from wrong. All they know is what they're allowed to practice. So if you let your horse practice being stiff, he will get good at being stiff. But if you practice flexing and suppling him every day, he'll get softer and more responsive.


There's more to life than horses ----- but NOT much!

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Old 07-31-2010, 05:12 PM   #2
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Good post, and exactly what I try to covey when people state they have ahorse with ahard mouth or one who hates bits
What is most often the problem is that the horse has no body control, and an uneducated mouth, usully ridden by someone who rides front to back instead of back to front
In other words, they ride with way too much hands versus legs, and concentrate on a head set, ignoring whether the horse is moving correctly, driving from behind
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Old 07-31-2010, 05:41 PM   #3
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Will have to come back to read the entire thing but thanks for posting it!

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Old 07-31-2010, 09:12 PM   #4
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Thumbs up thanks!

great info, thanks for posting!
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Old 07-31-2010, 10:04 PM   #5
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Very interesting. I'll read it again tomorrow after a good night's sleep.
Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain but I'd have had to miss the dance. ~Garth Brooks~
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Old 07-31-2010, 10:27 PM   #6
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had to re read the title

I'm a little tired and was glancing through the titles...this one caught my eye...but I read it as "The Five Body Parts OF Clinton Anderson" wooohooo...darn it...had me all excited... I need to go to

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Old 08-01-2010, 07:18 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by roguemare View Post
I'm a little tired and was glancing through the titles...this one caught my eye...
but I read it as "The Five Body Parts OF Clinton Anderson" wooohooo...darn it...had me all excited...
I need to go to

By the way,..., Clinton is MARRIED.
Read it in my latest No Worries Club magazine.

I guess he's officially 'Off the market' ladies!!

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Old 08-01-2010, 08:05 AM   #8
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just shows the basics are the same in every discipline.
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:50 AM   #9
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There are different excercises for gaining body control, and the flexing and one rein stop is over done by NH, but the concept is the same-to have control of the horse's entire body, ridden mainly off of legs not reins
After having re-read the post, there are some things I disagree with, and the main one being the over use of one rein. To me, the one rein stop is an emergency type of stop you might want to put on your horse if you decide to ride him out before he is ready, but is not the basics for creating a correct stop. For a correct stop you want to engage the hips, not disengage them, having the horse stop straight
He also uses way to much rein, with little mention of correct leg use. A horse softens and learns to be light by driving with legs, holding until he softens, then release
counter bend for shoulder control is good, but it goes way beyond that. You also need excercises to teach a horse to stay evenly between the reins, shoulders elevated, thus any time a horse leans on one rein, you bump those shoulders around the opposite way, until he is turning on his haunches with no resistence
I`m glad he mentions to keep foreward momentum, as over flexing at the stand still is way over done by many NH. Also, there is not one manover where you need ahorse to give you his nose to your stirrup. When I think of building suppliness, it is in conjunction of the entire body, thus the shoulders need to be used along with neck flexing, or the danger lies that you teach a horse to rubber neck
Rib control is also obtained by two tracking and other lateral moves
I guess bottom line, it does not make sense to me to start a horse one way and then backtrack to get correct body aleignment
Thus, I have found the training programs that has you ride a young western horse right from the beginning as a horse that will eventually work off of the indirect rein alone works best for me. That means right from the beginning I use the direct rein and follow with the indirect rein. This is changed to using indirect rein first, then direct rein only as needed. Right from the beginning I work on keeping correct body aleignment and having a horse track up from behind by riding with lots of legs
You will not find this over use of the one rein in any well known reining program or western pl program, nor is the one rein stop used.
Sure, you need hip control to disenge a young horse that wants to bolt or buck, thus you teach the turn on the forehand, so you can boot those hips around when needed, but you don`t use that disengaement to teach a stop IMO
Having said that, a horse can get a 'hard' mouth through improper riding, using a 'bigger' bit for control, not finesse, and using strong constant contact
A horse can learn to run through any bit, soon as his pain tolerence gets higher and the tissues in his mouth tougher. He can also chose an escape route of last resort, getting behind the bit. Once the horse gets to the point that he over flexes so that his head is against his chest, you have absolutely no control left, far as bit. Also why getting behind the verticle is such a serious fault in NSBA and stock horse breed rail classes, although I often see it as an accepted head carriage to a slight degree in Morgan, Arabian and open English classes.

Last edited by Smilie; 08-01-2010 at 11:17 AM.
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:53 AM   #10
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Thanks for posting this! It's very interesting.
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