Flexibility is the ability to adapt to different situations. It means being willing to change and be adaptable when you are faced with new information or a changing environment. If a horse is inflexible he puts unnecessary tension on himself, which will only make him more vulnerable to injury. The main cause of breakdown in a horse is when we do not allow the horse time to relax.
Horses are powerful and relatively large animals; their strength is necessary for survival in the wild. Despite their size, horses can be taught to perform many feats and tricks that once seemed unachievable to those training them.
Teaching a horse to flex is an important part of their training process, and it allows the rider to more closely control the animal. It’s important that you don’t try to force your horse into flexion if they’re not ready for it—you can cause serious injuries by doing so.
To teach a horse to flex, make sure they are in a good mood and have had some time to relax from their last ride. Gently pull on the reins with one hand while you lightly tap the horse’s neck with your other hand. Don’t be afraid to use a little pressure—you want them to understand what you’re trying to do! Once your horse starts moving its head toward the side of the pressure, reward them with praise and treats. Repeat this process until your horse understands what you’re trying to do, then gradually increase the amount of pressure until they are flexing naturally under all circumstances.
The most important thing to remember when teaching a horse to flex is that it’s not necessarily about the flex itself. It’s more about being able to move your body in a way that makes sense to the horse, which is something you’ll learn by observing how they move in general.
In order to teach your horse to flex, you should start by observing them and seeing how they move while they’re at rest. They might have one leg tucked underneath them or one leg up in the air; they might shake their head or swing their tail back and forth. All of these motions can help you figure out what kind of movement would be best for you to adopt when teaching your horse to flex. For example, if your horse has one leg tucked underneath them while standing still, then it might be helpful for you to practice standing with one leg tucked underneath yourself so that you can mimic their position as closely as possible.
When teaching a horse to flex, it’s important that your body language matches theirs as much as possible—not just because it will make them feel more comfortable around you but also because it will help them understand what you want from them!
Teaching A Horse To Flex
The object of this exercise is to teach your horse to move his neck and shoulders: to bend and flex laterally (left to right) and vertically (up and down).
Lateral Flex is the KEY to every exercise from now on. It prepares your horse mentally for your partnership and teaches him to be “soft” and “supple” in the turn and controlled when you mount. The Lateral Flex is also the very foundation of the emergency stop!
The Flexing lessons use three of the training principles used by all trainers:
Physical pressure: that is the tactile feelings such as the bit against the bars in his mouth or the rope halter pulling at the side of his face.
Release is the reward that the rider or trainer gives the horse for executing the proper maneuver.
Shaping is the term used for GRADUALLY lengthening or fine-tuning a response.
Flexing is a HUGE basic lesson that all horses must learn on the way to training. Without it there is no control, no steering, sometimes not even good balance. A horse whose face is to his girth cannot easily run away.
It also helps to teach respect. A horse that is flexed is not protecting himself or exerting his own will. You should get into the habit of flexing laterally several times every time you get your horse from the stall or the paddock. It is my belief that flexing and sending through the paddock gate in a mannerly way are the keys to getting a horse ready for your day.
Just a bit of personal observation here: Many many people believe that hopped-up liberty lunging is the way to start the day. They believe he must be “put through his paces” or “worn down”. Without it, many riders don’t feel confident to mount their horse. My experience has been that horses who walk into a round pen and are expected to lunge endlessly get excited before they ever get started. They anticipate the lunge, get light on their feet, start twirling and being overly sensitive before your day begins. Why they need to be put into a frenzy of right-brain activity before they come down to left-brain control evades me. I don’t believe in it.
I expect a horse to be haltered and enter the round pen as controlled as possible. He should ask me what I would like him to do before he anticipates a hot activity. If you MUST ask your horse to lunge before a ride, ask that it be done at a walk with several “whoa’s”. Then get to the business of riding.
If you want to train, get to training – not running. If part of his training is learning gaits during a lunging exercise, do it later in the process instead of at the very beginning. Ask for attention and up-close control during the first half of the lesson; gait transitions in the last half.