Counterbending BASICS by Clinton Anderson Photos courtesy of Darrell Dodds horse’s neck. You want to tip his nose so that you can just see his eye. At first, stay on a 12-foot circle so that it’s relatively easy for the horse to counterbend. The tighter the circle, the harder the exercise is. To tighten the circle up, use more leg and pull on the indirect rein more. To make the circle larger, use less leg and pull on the indirect rein less. 2) Pull the indirect rein (in this case the right rein) down low so that it is near your knee and point with your little finger where you want the horse’s shoulders to go. The indirect rein directs the horse’s shoulders. If you don’t use enough of it, the horse will walk forward with his head flexed to the side. If you use too much indirect rein, he won’t be able to go forward and around in the circle. You need to add just enough pressure to the indirect rein to direct the horse’s shoulders around in the circle, but not so much that you lose all forward motion. Goal: To be able to tip the horse’s nose in one direction and push his shoulders around in a circle in the opposite direction at both the walk and trot. Why: You should be able to move the horse’s shoulders independently from the rest of his body. Counterbending will teach him to pick up his shoulders and ribcage and get him lighter to the bridle and to your hands. I love to do this exercise a little bit every day, especially at the trot because it really softens and supples the horse’s entire body and improves his steering. The more you can control the horse’s shoulders, the better steering wheel you’ll have. the girth. The further forward you put your leg, the easier it is for the horse to understand that he should be moving his shoulders. 4) Look for the horse to do about ¼ of a circle and then release the pressure as soon as he is moving off your leg and is soft in his face. Then walk him forward on a loose rein. While the horse is going around in the circle, be conscious to continuously reward him every time he gives to the bit pressure by pushing your hands forward a couple of inches, even if it is only for a split second. Every time he softens, immediately give back to him, even if it’s only for a split second. Once he understands how to hold the shape for three or four steps, then you can ask him to do more of the circle. But if you try to get him to counterbend a whole circle right away, he’ll get frustrated and lock his feet up. 5) When the horse can do ¼ of a circle consistently, ask him to complete half a circle. Only release the reins when he’s soft. Teaching Stage: 1) Walk the horse forward on a loose rein. To counterbend the horse in a circle to the right, pick up on the direct rein (in this case the left rein) and pull it up and over so that it is in line with your belly button. The rein should just be pressing on the 3) At the same time, apply pressure with your inside leg up near the horse’s girth to drive his shoulders around in the circle. The reins control the horse’s head and neck, and your legs control from his shoulders back. Place your leg as far forward on the horse’s side as you can without actually pressing on Whenever you release the reins, you’re rewarding the horse for what he just did a second before. If he’s pulling on you and you release the reins, you’re teaching him to pull and be heavy. If you release when he’s soft in your hands, that’s what you’re rewarding him for. Your timing is very important. www.PerformanceHorseDigest.com 42 Issue 6 • 2015