Preparing for Better Transitions on the Ground - Shoulder Press

It continues to amaze me of the subtleties of some of the Connected Groundwork® exercises. The results can be profound when you support and bring attention to an area on a horse where the horse may have a holding or bracing pattern, or may just need some additional support. Shoulder press is one of these exercises, especially for a horse that tends to be stiff in the ribcage, and has tightness in his shoulders and the base of the neck.

Shoulder press helps the horse overcome habitual bracing patterns that lead to one sidedness and crookedness. The horse needs to be able to easily yield his inside shoulder by shifting weight to the outside, allowing for bend through his body. This bend creates a slight arc from nose to tail, which frees the inside hind leg to come further under the horse (“coming through”). Shoulder press also helps the horse balance and shift weight more efficiently during transitions.

By doing Shoulder Press on the ground prior to your ride, you’ll free up your horses neck, shoulder and rib cage to be able to move with more ease and less restriction…something we all need for better transitions!

Some things you may want to look for from your horse when doing Shoulder Press, are signs of relaxation, indicating that your horse’s nervous system is accepting the information you are giving him. The horse may lower his head, his body may become softer and more pliable under your fist, it may take very little pressure to cause him to shift his weight away from your fist (on the inside shoulder) to the outside leg. These are all signs of releasing.

If your horse raises his head, braces into your fist or you don’t feel a “give” under your fist, or backs away from the exercise, he’s not participating in the exercise. Try to change one of three things, but only try ONE thing at a time;

  • Your pressure (are you “pushing” on your horse? If he shifting his weight over to the offside shoulder and then rocking back to the near side shoulder, your pressure sounds good. If he’s bracing against your fist, then ease off and find that place where he participates by moving with you instead of against you).
  • Your speed (press and count 1-2-3-4, then slowly release 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. You may need to slow down the entire process and make sure that your horse “stays with you” during the exercise)
  • Your own body posture (make sure you are in neutral with a released back, a straight wrist and a “soft” fist on his shoulder.) “Breathing into your back” can help bring awareness to any tension that you may be holding in your upper body, and will release that tension with a few mindful breaths.

Once you’ve completed the exercise, take your horse for a connected walk and see if his walking rhythm hasn’t improved, and if his connection with you is just a bit better…and then of course, enjoy the ride!