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Engage and Disengage

Dear Ed
I have read opinions about the disengagement of the hindquarters that in combination with the pivoting of the front feet in the long run is bad for the horse (biomechanically). The problem seems to be that the horse puts all the weight on the forehand and that this should not be done too often and that it never should be put in the foundation training of a horse.  It can, according to the critics, be done more like a test and emergency stop but not as a drill.

I also found some comments from a trainer that a horse should never be put on the forehand (as a drill) but instead recommends the engagement of the hindquarters and getting the horse to round through his body evenly unlike some trainers who put the horse in a pivot on the front end while doing hindquarter disengagement in endless repetitions.
Please give me your opinion of this.
Thank you,

Dear Katarina,
I have seen horses pivot on one front foot when they are loose on their own and want to turn quickly or are in flight or defense mode.  To ask a horse to pivot on one leg, whether front or back, is not an unusual thing for a horse to do.
I do not believe in overdoing hindquarter disengagement.  I teach hindquarter disengagement to be used as mainly an emergency stop and to gain independent control of the hindquarter.  I want to be able to move all the horse’s body parts independently to the left and right.  That just makes sense.  If you are to have complete control of the horse you must be able to control all the body parts separately. 

In order to use hindquarter disengagement as an emergency stop, it must first be taught to the horse so the horse will respond correctly to your request when you need it in an emergency.  When I really need hindquarter disengagement in an emergency to stop my horse I want my horse to already know how to disengage the hindquarter and what my cue for that movement feels like so he will know how to respond especially in an emergency.  Finding yourself suddenly in an emergency is not the time to begin teaching an emergency stop.

I and many other highly respected trainers teach lateral flexion and hindquarter disengagement, which can also be called the “one rein stop” or “doubling”.  This was also taught by the Spanish Vaquero horsemen of the 18th century.  Hindquarter disengagement is not something new. 

I am not necessarily particular about the horse actually pivoting on one front leg.  I am ok with the horse walking a bit on the front as long as the hind is moving more than the front and the hind is moving around the front.

I completely disagree with having the horse do “endless repetitions” of hindquarter disengagement.  Trainers who require these endless repetitions usually also have the horse with his nose on the rider’s knee.  This places the horse in an extreme off balance and abnormal position and far too much on the front end.  Why do humans feel the need to go to extremes?

I agree that engagement of the hindquarter is also very important but it is a different request.  Just like a request to turn left is different than a request to turn right, the request to disengage the hindquarter is a different request than to engage the hindquarter.  A horse can turn left just as easily as turn right.  I also want to train a horse to be able to disengage the hindquarter just as easily as I want him to engage the hindquarter. 

One movement does not hinder the other just the same as if someone thought that teaching the horse to turn left would hinder them from being able to turn right.  It is all in achieving a training and communication level with the horse so I can ask my horse to do any movement smoothly and gracefully- engage or disengage, turn left or right, from the front or hind, go forward and back up.  Why not have a horse that can do all this gracefully with ease and lightness?

Enjoy the Journey,

Ed Dabney is an internationally acclaimed clinician, presenting horsemanship and riding clinics all over the US and in Europe.  In 2007, Ed was named Champion of the East Coast Trainer Challenge Series by Equine Extravaganza.  Ed was honored to have been selected by the University of Georgia to teach their senior level Young Horse Training course.

His training articles have appeared in many major national magazines.  Ed produces instructional videos and the “Gentle Horsemanship” TV program which has been seen on RFD-TV.

Ed's blending of natural horsemanship and classical equitation has made an indelible mark with students all across the United States and now also in Europe, drawing the attention of serious riders searching for the lightest touch and the deepest connection with their horses irrespective of breed or discipline.