How to “Unstick” Your Horse’s Shoulders, by Jane Savoie

If your horse’s shoulders are stuck, it’s like having a kink in a water hose. The energy can’t flow from behind, over the back, into your hands where it can then be recycled back to the hind legs.

Here are two shoulder suppling exercises for you to try with your stiff horse.

1. Make a 20-meter box with 4 corners in the walk.

  • To give you more control of your horse’s shoulders, do the exercise in counter flexion. (That is, you’ll just barely see his outside eye or nostril.)
  • If you’re going to the left, ask for right counter flexion with your right wrist. Stay in counter flexion during the entire exercise.
  • At the first corner, bring both hands to the left to swivel your horse’s shoulders around the corner.
  • Then, soften the contact without letting the reins get loopy.
  • After the corner, walk straight ahead in counter-flexion.
  • At the next corner, bring both hands to the left again.
  • Do this in all four corners.
  • As your horse’s shoulders become more supple, it’ll get easier to spin his shoulders around the turn without meeting resistance.
  • You can tell there’s no resistance when the weight in your hands stays the same as you swivel your horse’s shoulders around the corner.

2. Ride down the long side of the ring, and move your horse’s shoulders slightly to the left and right.

  • Walk down the long side of arena.
  • Flex your horse at the poll opposite the direction you’ll be moving his shoulders. For example, when riding to the left, ask for a counter flexion to the right by turning your right wrist. Then, take both hands to left to slide your horse’s shoulders over. Move the shoulders over only 1-2 inches.
  • Now change to correct flexion by turning your left wrist.
  • Move both arms to the right to pop the shoulders back out to the track.
  • Smoothly and fluidly move the shoulders back and forth as you work your way down the long side.

Reader Mailbag

This is from my dear friend Kris. Enjoy!

Yesterday was a very emotional day for me.

My beloved stallion Teme is getting old. He is 28 now, and really showing it. I think that is about 100 in people years. His legs hurt and his body is looking thin and weak. His eyes are still bright and full of life, but I know the end is not far away. When I gaze at him my heart still swells, but I feel the grief that is to come. I resist, pushing it away, but I know I will not be able to avoid it forever.

I have been blessed with knowing and working with a lot of great horse people. That happens when you’ve been around horses as long as I have. I know several really fine trainers, a couple of good vets, and one exceptional farrier who is not just a farrier.

Farriers who know how to make good shoes or trim feet are not that hard to come by. Anyone can be taught the techniques to be a good farrier or a good horse vet. But truly good horsemen and women… well, that’s another story. I believe truly good horsemanship is an art that has to come from a naturally open heart. You can learn the technique of how to make a shoe, chase a horse around a pen, or to sit a trot, but an open heart that has the ability to connect to a horse is something you are either born with, or not.

My farrier, Dan Craig, is a true horseman, and a man with a true horseman’s heart. There is no pretense, no ego, no anger or impatience in this man when he works with horses. He is totally present and in the moment. I’ve seen him get testy with people, but never once with an animal. He lives for the horses in his life… mine, yours, and his own.

Dan and his wonderful partner and equine nutritionist Ginny Plouff have a beautiful horse rehab facility in Franktown, CO. They have done some amazing things with a lot of terrific horses that would have otherwise been put down as useless or in unmanageable pain. You can learn about what they do at

Of course, Dan is a good farrier. That’s a given. He takes the time to make sure every foot is balanced correctly for each horse. No cookie cutter work… he really pays attention to each and every foot. I am sold on the Mustang Barefoot Trim as the healthiest and wisest way to take care of a horse’s feet and I will always ask for this technique. And no, it is NOT the same as the usual “farrier’s trim!” I will still put on shoes if I have to, but so far all of our horses have done well with regular mustang type barefoot trims and no shoes.

Dan doesn’t just stop by and trim feet. He has patiently helped me train our young horses to feel safe and to stand well for trimming. He has had a profound calming affect on our little mini who was once very frightened of having her feet messed with. I like the way Dan requires respect from the horses without using force or anger, and how well he speaks their language. They trust him, and that makes me trust him.

My wonderful old Andalusian stallion was due for his trim and Dan came out yesterday for our usual appointment. Teme’s front feet are easy to do, however, his back feet are sometimes very difficult. Teme’s right hind leg is very weak and he has a hard time holding a back leg up for very long. An old suspensory injury has made it very wobbly and unstable. Dan knows this and is very careful how he sets Teme up. He barely lifts his hind feet off the ground to trim.

Teme is a proud old man and doesn’t like to show his weakness. You can see it in his eyes. He’ll hold himself stiff as a statue as he trembles in an attempt to not move. Dan trims the same first three feet, leaving the difficult left hind one for last. Dan always talks to him and takes his time, not forcing Teme to stay in any one position too long. They have an understanding.

Yesterday, Teme was fine for his first three feet, but had a more difficult time than usual with his last foot. Dan was holding the foot only inches from the ground, working as fast as he could, when I saw Teme start to tip over in Dan’s direction. Teme’s eyes grew wide and his whole body started to quiver in an effort to stay upright. Then I saw Dan’s body rise up and catch Teme’s hip with his shoulder, while he was still working on the hoof.

Teme calmly settled onto Dan’s strong back like an old man leaning against a sturdy post. Dan’s spine went rigid as he held Teme up, and they both trembled with the effort to make a pillar against the pain. Dan quickly finished the foot, then slid his body up Teme’s side and put his hand on Teme’s hip, gently helping him stand up square on both hind legs. They stood there for a moment, Dan’s hand still on Teme’s side, the two of them breathing hard from the exertion.

When Dan looked back at me, there were tears in my eyes. There was something so beautiful and moving about how Teme trusted Dan to take care of him, and the gentle loving touch Dan returned. The trust was so complete… so total. Horse and human. I was feeling silly at my strong emotions and tried to hide my face in my dusty coat, but could not help myself. It was an incredible moment, seeing that grand old fellow and that open hearted man connect and trust each other in such a profound way. It was one of those moments in life I will never forget.

Trust is a big issue for me. I think it is for most people. Horses too. Trust is the strong pillar against which all pain and weakness can lean. It may be trust in another person, God, us, or even a horse.

May we all be blessed with a way to find that place of trust.

Thank you, Teme, for being my teacher. Thank you, Dan, for showing me what trust can accomplish.

Kris Garrett

Jane Savoie
1174 Hill St ext.
Berlin, VT 05602

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