The Partial Disengagement – Florida Horse Trainer

by Jennifer on March 4, 2013

The first thing we usually learn getting on a horse is how to stop him by using one rein and disengaging the hindquarters. It’s an indirect rein position, and it takes the power away. In order for the horse to move forward and be powerful he has to engage his hindquarters, so disengaging them means stopping the forward movement and reducing or impeding the power.

Every time a horse speeds up when you don’t want him to, you need to use one rein rather than two to slow him down or stop him. So “partial disengagement” is exactly what it sounds like: It partially disengages the hindquarters so you can keep moving, but with less power.

Partial disengagement is a good technique for:

  • Reducing tension—mental, emotional or physical.
  • Increasing a horse’s confidence and relaxation while riding.
  • Improving rhythm, flexion and length of stride.
  • Keeping the horse “in front of your leg.”

How to do it

Ride along the fence, slide your hand down one rein and slightly bend your horse toward the fence. As you do this, encourage him to keep walking by pressing gently with your leg on the same side. If you are bending him with the right rein, you’d be using your right leg.

This causes your horse to bend his body a little so he is in an arc with his head close to the fence on about a 45-degree angle. Don’t bend him more or he will face the fence and stop, which defeats the purpose of the exercise. The idea is to keep moving along the fence, a little slower and in a different shape. Don’t look at the fence or look down; focus ahead and down the fence.

Make sure you can do it to both the right and left. In fact, you might find that one side is more difficult than the other, and if so, this is the most powerful side to practice! You have the opportunity to gently cause the greatest change where your horse carries the most brace.

When you feel confident doing this at the walk, try some transitions. Trot a few strides, then use partial disengagement to bring your horse to a walk, but keep him walking and holding the bend until you achieve the feeling you want: a rhythmic, soft stride with no brace in the body. In fact, you want to keep him walking with that feeling for another five or ten strides, because you are teaching him to access and enjoy this feeling when being ridden.

Now try it from canter to trot or canter to walk, and hold the partial disengagement in the trot or canter until your horse is calm, rhythmic and relaxed in his movement.

Why it works

Using transitions is a great strategy for gaining control of a horse’s forward movement, so when you do transitions with partial disengagement they become powerful relaxers. It is very hard for a horse to maintain tension when you bend his ribcage, because when a horse is tense he braces his ribs and holds his breath.

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