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Iberian Horse Groundwork Series: The Shoulder-In

In a few days I plan to do a video on the shoulder-in on the ground in a rope halter. In the mean-time, here are some of my thoughts on the movement and how I approach the training of my Iberian horses.

It may seem backwards to some, but my process with my Iberian horses has been to begin with the shoulder-in (to the outside), even with horses that have not yet been haltered. It begins with body language; my body language, and that of the horse. Iberians, for the most part I've noticed, tend to lead their bodies with a shoulder, a favorite shoulder. Two of my horses lead their bodies with their left shoulders and one leads with the right, my yearling filly. This being said, imagine trying to halter a horse from the left side or "on side" for it's first time and it shoulder's-in toward your body (as naturally the horse still moves into pressure and your body in the horse's space is perceived as pressure, be it visual, or physical if you've been able to touch the horse), and knocks you over in the process! So, my body language in the round pen, even before haltering for the first time, works toward asking the horse to move away from the 'visual pressure' of my body, even ever so slightly as a step in the opposite direction. That is what is most difficult to grasp for the horse-person, not that they can over-stimulate the horse into fear, or to make they themselves look "bigger" so the horse respects the horse-person's space, but to back off the pressure at the moment before the horse gives to the request, licks its lips and then chews in understanding. (It is my opinion that the shoulder-in helps to create within the horse the personal space of it's handler, a safety bubble or zone for the handler, right from the start.) This being said, worked on and completed, the next step after haltering the horse is to again work on the shoulder-in (to the outside) combined with short spurts of forward movement, and of course lots of petting the horse's shoulder.

In my upcoming video, I may use my yearling to help demonstrate my theory on the shoulder-in, but keep in mind that she has been handled and will allow herself to be haltered, led and groomed, which she loves.

We begin at the beginning: it is there that all of the horse-person's faults in communication will shine from within the mirror in their horse. In other words, if the body language of the horse-person confuses the horse when it is at liberty to choose for itself what direction and how and at what speed to travel, then imagine the same horse and horse-person on the end of a lead rope connected to the same horse. What do you see? Of course, the same kind of confusion, perhaps some acting out from frustration is seen in the horse and even the horse-person. To clarify, I'm asking those watching the video to pay strict attention to my body language and that of the horse as a reflection of the energy I will put into each exercise. To clarify further, I am asking the viewer to also learn from the horse in the video, to place themselves directly in my shoes, in order to feel the connection in real time, to comprehend the depth of understanding the horse has of it's horse-person.

However, because my horses are Iberian related, there will be no need for constant repetition of one particular exercise, and in saying that, other movements will be incorporated into the lesson besides the shoulder-in, or shoulder-out, whichever terminology is most correct for the viewer. For example, when working with my six year old part Andalusian, my techniques incorporate other movements such as haunches over, barrel over, side-passing, two-tracking, backing, backing shapes, turn on the forehand, turn on the hindquarters, walk, jog, trot, lope, all in hand, while also putting the focus on the shoulder-in. She knows where the focus is because I will be more critical of the clarity of my body placement in that movement than in any other movement, just for that lesson, it is not in repeat lessons that she learns, rather, it is in the placement of my energy and the praise she receives from me for her "try", and the relaxation she feels upon her understanding of what I was asking of her.

To break my theory of the shoulder-in down further: I do use it at all gaits, to a small extent in backing shapes; and in having already taught the shoulder-in (to the outside), a good portion of the work is already started on the side-pass and haunches-out, because the horse has begun to move away from the visual pressure of my body - what changes now is more where I place my body for each movement.

To be continued.

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