In this article I will discuss the importance of being able to move the shoulders, and what to do when you can’t!

Movement of the shoulders comes in to play to help create a supple and flexible horse. Flexibility and suppleness are necessary for every discipline of riding.

Recently I have had a major “aha” moment. When these moments happen, I get very excited, and can hardly wait to get a chance to share with my readers.

Even at my level, there are times when several elements come together to create a chance to learn and progress. I love what I do!

Let me go back a bit, so you all can catch up.

I have a very strong background in the Parelli club. I was a member for several years, and you will see bits and pieces of it in everything I do. The reasons I left are mine alone, and you can read about some of my opinions in my “Natural vs Normal” article as well as “How Natural Horsemanship Found Me.

We will come back to the Parelli link shortly.

Over the last few months I have been noticing how stiff most horses are through the shoulders. This translates to short strides in all gaits, poor flexibility through turns and bends, stiff non-flexible necks and heads, and poor steering, stopping and backing.

I have been experiencing stiffness through the shoulders with both Finn and Mr. Kippling, as well as a number of my clients horses.

This has got me thinking, and experimenting.

In the summer I was watching Chris Cox working 3yr olds. He said something about flexibility. He said that he always bends a young horse’s head around, but unlike Parelli, always does it at a walk and trot, never at a stand still. He said that unless the horse is moving, you don’t get a proper bend through the rib cage. At a stand still all they do is bend their neck, and there really is no benefit there. I remember thinking, hrmm that’s interesting, and tucked it away as important.

Recently when working with Finn, my friend and former training partner Marleen was over. She mentioned how “stuck” Finn was through the shoulders. This was something I had also noticed. She did a bit of work with him, and watching her really got my mind turning. Sometimes it takes a step back to get the whole picture.

I’ve been spending a lot of time bringing my horse Mr. Kippling back into work. He is very short backed, with short legs, and at the moment he is also a bit over weight. Flexibility would not be his strong suit!

Kippy is my former Parelli horse, and would be considered a lvl 4 horse. When I was last working with him, we were working on bridle-less riding, and I had a few issues with steering. I then got pregnant, he went into semi-retirement and that was about where things were left.

So I’m back working with him, (finally after more years then I would like to admit, paid work always comes first!) and this stiff shoulder thing has presented itself. I have spent the last 3 days trying to make him understand the concept of bend towards me, and move the shoulder over.

I get several attempts from him, none of which are a bend in, with a step over. I get backwards, hind end dis-engagement or a very straight sideways.

Now remember his primary training has nearly been pure Parelli. It occurred to me today, in a flash, that none of the Parelli “exercises” cause a horse to bend in at the shoulder and step over sideways.

You can “drive” the face, which bends them away, you can “pull” the face while “pushing/disengaging” the hind end, but nothing bends them around you while stepping away and over.

On their back, you have a direct rein or sidepass, which does move the shoulder over, but with a short back, short legged horse, who needs help on the ground, there is a huge hole! It occurred to me that my direct rein was more then likely getting the same results! More of a disengagement then a shoulders over.

(*Added 24 hours later*)
*Ok so I can’t stop thinking about this gapping hole in my parelli horse! I keep going over direct rein, indirect rein, and even that misses this movement.

Direct rein, your leg is pushing the opposite side, so your still counter bending your horse and moving the shoulder from the opposite side. Indirect rein, you may be bending your horse and pushing with your leg on the same side, but its the haunches that are moving.

Dressage conquers this issue with a sidepass, horse is bent around your leg, and pushed over from the same side, but in the Parelli system, this wouldn’t really be introduced until level 4, finesse, and, imho, thats a big flaw in gaining flexibility, and basic steering!

I’ve started an awful lot of horses, and I can tell you, if you can’t control those shoulders, you can’t truly control where your horse is putting his feet, and ultimately where he is going.*

Chris Cox rings through my head. He nailed it. So, ok, what to do!

We spent time standing still, bending the head around, then pressure on the girth until he attempted to move over at the shoulder. We got a lot of false attempts, he’s not used to being wrong! I got a lot hind end stepping over, but patience and persistence, rewarding the slightest try and he began to understand. The amount of licks was amazing!

Thanks to connected horsemanship for use of the photo

After spending time on both sides (one side was far worse, and stiff) he seemed to be getting it. I sent him out on the circle and tried to “push” him over at the shoulder, and sure enough, I could get him to look in and step over at the shoulder.

I have a feeling this is going to benefit my bridle-less steering immensely, and it gives me some ideas for some of my students horses that are also fairly locked up in the shoulders.

I hope some of you can benefit from my discovery!