A Good Grounding

Part 3: Give to the Bit (Lateral Flexion)

Although this exercise is called 'give to the bit', you'll start teaching it to your horse while he's in a rope halter on a lead line. Once he has mastered it you can do it either in the halter or with a bit and reins. The objective of this exercise is to teach your horse to yield (or 'give') his head and neck laterally, by turning his head (without moving his feet) to touch his side, with his nose at the girth line, in response to a gentle, steady pull of the lead line or rein. When your horse is new to this exercise you will, however, begin with a simpler starting point by accepting any amount of give that yields to the pull of the lead line, no matter how small; you'll then build from there in small increments until finally he touches his side with his nose. Note that you are not merely dragging his nose to his side; he has to be an active participant, giving to the pull enough to put some slack in the lead line. Once he's really good at this exercise he should beat you to the draw, moving with you as you pick up the lead so that you never need to apply any real tension at all.

This is a very important exercise, and one that you will be doing from the saddle as well as from the ground. It is almost impossible to practice this exercise too much. Here's how:

Stand at the side of your horse, near his hip, facing forward with the slack lead line held in the hand nearest the horse. Place this hand up on his back behind where the saddle would be. Reach forward with your other hand to take up the lead line about a foot from his head and, holding the rope in that hand, gently pull your hand toward his rib cage. In the end, when your horse gives willingly to this cue, your hand will end up right about where your upper thigh would be if you were in the saddle. Until he learns this exercise your horse may start to turn in a circle in response to your steady pull; if so, just hold your hands in place and move with him. Eventually he will stop moving his feet.

Hold steady, gentle tension on the lead line until your horse releases the tension, thus generating some slack in the rope, by moving his head toward his side. In early training watch for the slightest slackening of the tension and, when you get it, immediately drop the line from the head hand, releasing all tension, but keep hold of the line in the hand on his back. As your horse progresses in learning this exercise you will ask for increasingly more give before you release the tension, until finally his nose comes all the way to his side. Repeat this exercise until your horse begins to give his head and neck softly and completely. Be sure to change sides frequently.

I do this exercise with every horse, every time I ride, first on the ground and then from the saddle.