Tools on the Trail: The Ability to Bend


This month, we will conclude our groundwork exercises that help us on the trail with Heart Girth Press. As with the other groundwork exercises, you can do these, as needed, based on whaty ou will be doing under saddle. Specifically do Heart Girth Press if you are going to be requiring the horse to move in a certain way, for example bending and shifting weight.


When we are on the trail, we can ask our horse to put many principles of work we do in the arena into practice.  It is a great place to really put into purpose the principles of forward, bending, weight shifting, coming through, releasing and so much more, all in an environment that uses the principles as they were intended.  If you have ever been on the trail and asked your horse to bend around a tree or shift his weight to avoid a narrow pass, then you will appreciate how valuable the ability to do these things are!


Heart Girth Video
Heart Girth Video


As you do Heart Girth Press, you will feel him softening and bending through the ribs.  Remember to ensure that you are rotating your body and thinking “up” as you do the exercise, as Peggy Cummings, founder of Connected Riding, mentions in the video.


When the horse releases, his body will soften under your forearm, he will lower his head, and he may telescope his neck.  His weight will shift dynamically as he bends through the rib cage.  You may see him release with deeper breaths, yawning, extending his neck forward, licking and chewing, changes in his eye such as blinking or a softness and more.


Heart Girth Press gives the horse freedom to release the base of his neck and his rib cage.  These releases aid in deeper breathing, an ability to easily shift weight from front to back and side to side, and finally to be able to bend through his body.  The horse will also be able to stretch into contact better when ridden and will allow for better lateral work and transitions.




A last note about bending and posture.  If your horse is on the forehand and is in an inverted posture (in other words, base down, weight on the forehand and not coming through), it will be nearly impossible for him to physically be able to bend.  I demonstrate this frequently when we do lessons and the reaction from the participant is always one of astonishment.  You can try this demonstration at home, just be mindful of your own physical needs.  Get down on all fours,and then shift your weight forward.  While shifting forward, invert your head and drop your back.  You are now in a heavy forehand inverted posture.  Next have another person put their fingertips right behind your front arm on your ribcage and ask you to bend to the opposite side.  Ask them what they feel and take note of how it feels to you.  If you are on the forehand and inverted, you will feel the pressure from their hand but that you will not be able bend.  They will feel stiffness and no ability to give to the bend.  Now, shift your weight back so that your hands are under your shoulders and your knees are under your hips.  Release your back so that it is level and expand the space between your shoulder blades, almost like a cat stretch but without the arch.  Go ahead and have your partner ask for the bend again by placing their fingertips right behind your shoulder on your rib cage.  They will feel a “give” as you bend to the opposite side,and you will feel that same give and shift to the opposite side!


Enjoy your bending, shifting and ease of motion on the trail, so that you and your horse will come back to the barn in better shape and happier than when you left!