DVD Lesson 17: Hip Shoulder Shoulder by Alexandra Kurland

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Hip Shoulder Shoulder by Alexandra Kurland: Your Power Tool for Performance Excellence. A truly keys-to-the-kingdom lesson, and essentially two lessons in one.  It tracks the development of Hip Shoulder Shoulder from the ground work exercise to advanced riding. What it is. How to teach it. How to use it.

Approx 4 hours. Two DVD set.

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Hip Shoulder Shoulder, by Alexandra Kurland.

As the title suggests this is a power lesson. But don't let that scare you off. Hip-shoulder-shoulder (HSS) is a very basic leading and riding pattern. If you've been following the previous lessons in this series, you have already been using HSS. It's tied into the lateral flexions of three-flip-three. In it's simplest form it is the disengagement of the hindquarters that you've no doubt used to stop your horse when he's rushing forward. You've slid down your lead or rein and taken your horse's hip around. And then to make sure he really wasn't still barging forward, you followed this up by asking him to back up a couple of steps. That's a simple form of hip-shoulder-shoulder.

Or maybe you were asking for three-flip-three, but you got a little bit too much hip and your horse over-rotated and ended up backing up a step or two. Congratulations! You've just practiced the hip-shoulder-shoulder pattern. Or maybe you were working on the "Why Would You Leave Me?" circle of cones. Every time you changed direction using your food delivery, you were practicing the hip-shoulder-shoulder pattern. You set him up for the turn via a hip-shoulder-shoulder rotation. So whether you were aware of it or not, in all likelihood the hip-shoulder-shoulder pattern is one that your horse is already familiar with.

Lesson 17 begins by defining HSS. It includes a demo where I walk the pattern and show you how it evolves from a complete turn-a-round into a straight line pattern. You'll see examples of HSS so your eye becomes tuned to the pattern, and I review briefly examples of HSS from previous lessons to remind you of the links between these earlier lessons and the current one.

At this point in the lesson series I am assuming that you already have a solid understanding of the lead and rein mechanics. I don't cover that in this lesson. If you need help with your rope handling skills, I refer you back to previous lessons. In this DVD I want to cover new material. I know you can get HSS from your horse. It's already popping out of the previous exercises you've been using. The question is do you recognize what you've got? This lesson will definitely help with that. And do you know what to do with it once you've got it?

The DVD takes you through a series of lessons showing progressively more sophisticated uses for HSS. The first lesson features an Icelandic. I was going to write a perfectly charming Icelandic, but that seemed redundant. Every Icelandic I've met has been a charmer, and Freyr was certainly no exception. You've met Freyr's owner before. Nick Foot was on the "Overcoming Fear and the Power of Cues" DVD with another of his in-for-training Icelandics. Freyr was also in need of retraining. His previous owners had gotten him into a total muddle to the point where all he would do under saddle was back up. Riding was a completely poisoned cue as far as he was concerned.

In the DVD Freyr is being handled by Alison. Alison had spent some time working with Freyr before the clinic. The result were some very lovely "why would you leave me" lateral flexions. HSS was there to be had. I had Alison ask for a bit more hip as she turned around a cone, and there it was. The hind end swung around and set Freyr up perfectly for the backing steps.

So the basic hip-shoulder-shoulder pattern was in place. Everything on the ground looked good. Freyr was connected to Alison. He was relaxed, he was working well. It was time to get on. So Alison walked Freyr up to the mounting block. No problems there, except when she stepped up onto the mounting block, Freyr swung wide.

Ok, that just means we needed to review the "Capture the Saddle" mounting block lesson. Except there was more going on here. Remember the lesson about goals I just talked about from the previous DVD? It comes into play here. Alison and Cherrie Foot had already worked Freyr through the "Capture the Saddle" mounting block lesson prior to the clinic. He understood the lesson, and yet he was still swinging wide, not lining up his hips. He was very politely saying no thank you to what he knew was coming. He was delighted to work with Alison on the ground, but he wasn't ready to be ridden.

We need to listen to our horses when they say no. I've heard so many tales of woe that begin with "I should have known better. My horse was telling me he wasn't ready. I should have listened to him." Listening to our horses in this way is something that is actively discouraged by many riders and trainers. You'll be told to just get on and ride him through it. If you're a strong enough rider, with a solid enough seat, you may indeed be able to get through the road block, and you may even help the horse untangle a mass of confusion. But you may also encounter a back you can't stay with, a temper you can't ride, and a horse who needs to be listened to not shouted at.

So how did we listen to Freyr? We shifted the intent of the lesson and focused on using HSS to help unpoison the mounting block. If we could unpoison the mounting block, then we would be a step closer to unpoisoning the first few steps of riding. And if we could do that - well we'd be well on our way to showing Freyr that riding could actually be enjoyable. I can't show you this entire process on the DVD. To have gotten this all on tape would have meant tracking Freyr's progress over a stretch of time, and I was only there for a couple of days. What is on tape however shows the way forward. Alison does a beautiful job handling Freyr, giving him lots of think time and working him in small enough increments so that he was able to let go of a huge layer of his concern.

Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder Refined
This first lesson shows a very simple, but very important application for HSS. We were working on emotional balance. The second lesson takes you another stair step deeper into the development of HSS. Here we're looking at physical balance. Again, we're working in hand, but this time with a horse that is much further along in her training. This is Chloe with her owner, Liz Lamb. When I met up with them last summer, Chloe had had a chunk of time off. Liz had bought a farm and had spent most of the spring putting up fencing and doing other necessary repairs. So the horses had had a bit of a vacation. In Chloe the time off showed up in her lateral flexions. She was leaning into her outside shoulder, and, as a result, she was rushing a bit to catch her balance. Our set-up was a familiar one by now, the cone circle with a mat at the center. There were two points of focus in this lesson. One was the quality of the HSS turn around the cone. And the other was the approach to the mat. Here the question was: could Liz insert a HSS half halt into the approach to the mat, or did Chloe run through her hand to get to the mat? (There's that concept of goals and reaction patterns coming into play again.)

This lesson illustrates how the basic HSS pattern evolves into half halts which we can then use to rebalance lateral work. Because Chloe was a bit rusty in her work, she was at the perfect place to illustrate this lesson. On the video you'll see that at times when she swung into her HSS resets, she inverted her back. The HSS at this point in the process still had a blocking effect. I want the horse to be able to maintain the roundness of its top line and not have that momentary stiffening. When they figure out this transition, HSS becomes a lesson of grace and not simply control This is where the horse enters into the pivot of the hip through the "Gene Kelly" glide.

The "Gene Kelly glide" is an expression I use to mark a particular feel in the HSS pattern that comes into play as the horse learns to melt into the movement. You won't feel it in the first HSS you ever ask for, or even in the fiftieth. It comes from playing with this exercise over a long enough stretch that you discover this layer of nuance.

I know over the years when I've referred to the "Gene Kelly glide" in clinics, it's been one of those in one ear and out the other expressions. Maybe people haven't watched "An American in Paris". I have to admit I haven't seen it in decades. If I saw it today, I might even wonder how in the world I ever came up with that connection! But there is a point in the famous "Singing in the Rain" dance sequence where Gene Kelly glides across the set with a draw back in his body that makes me think of hip-shoulder-shoulder. It is the feel you get from the transfer of energy when things are absolutely, wonderfully right.

You can walk the HSS pattern without a horse and feel the evolution of the "Gene Kelly glide", That's an important part of the learning process. It also helps to ride a horse that has it in his body, but that's not something I can provide via a DVD. Instead I have to settle for showing you a horse who is learning, or in the case of the video, relearning this pattern. Again, I am showing you a horse who has had a huge chunk of time off. As you watch the DVD, you may begin to wonder - doesn't anyone work their horses regularly? So many of the horses I'm using, including my own, are just being brought back into work after long stretches of time off. The reason for this is these horses are at a point in their training where things are rusty. In another couple of rides they'd be flowing through these lessons, and you wouldn't be able to see how things were formed. That doesn't help you when you're trying to learn, so I show you horses not at their best, but when they are rusty and in need of a tune up.

That is certainly the case of the next horse in the DVD. This is Fengur. Fengur is one of the Icelandics on the cover of the Step-By-Step book. He belongs to Ann Edie, Panda's owner. When this lesson was filmed in the fall of 2008, Fengur had had a huge chunk of time off. He suffers from sweet itch, a severe allergic reaction to insect bites. This had kept him off the riding roster for most of the summer. As a result, he'd gotten out of balance, especially in his tolt, so I was spending a couple of days schooling him for Ann, tuning up among other things his HSS. We'd had two good rides, then I was out of town for four days. When I came back, I gave him another training session, and this one we got on tape. Fengur was at a perfect place in the lesson to show the transition into the "Gene Kelly glide" form of HSS. On the video, I rode him for a bit, and then Hilary Cross from the UK rode him through the same HSS lesson. Hilary gave an excellent commentary on what she had to focus on as a rider to accompany Fengur through the HSS pattern.

Three horse, three good lessons. You'd think at this point that I'd be reaching the two hour limit of what can be squeezed onto a DVD, and you'd be right, but I wasn't done with the lesson. The DVD continues onto disc two. On this second disc, you meet Monty Gwynne and her very beautiful Spanish-bred Andalusian, Icaro (Icky for short). Again we were lucky in being able to video Icky at a point in his training where he was illustrating beautifully some key lessons. With Icky's rides you'll see how HSS develops from a simple redirection of energy for safety and control into the nuanced version that gives you balanced half halts.

Prior to the clinic Monty had been working on sending Icky forward. And, as so often happens, in focusing on one element in the training, she had not noticed that something else was getting out of balance. Icky was beginning to run through his balance resets. He was rushing his lateral work so it wasn't as pretty or secure a feel as Monty wanted. So it was back to HSS. I filmed each of Monty's training sessions over a four day period so you get to watch a wonderful progression in the work. We begin with a straight forward review of HSS. Can you get it? Can you get it consistently? From there we progress into lateral flexions and then into shoulder-in and haunches-in. What that means is we have come full circle. In Lesson 16: Whoa! Stop!, I had Hannah let go of her outside rein. In lesson 17, Monty reconnects with her outside rein, and you'll see how HSS is used to create balanced resets.

As beautiful as Icky is, he is only the understudy. The last lesson I focus on features Snowy, Monty's principle riding horse. Snowy shows you another stair step in with the work, showing off some very pretty ridden work. Snowy also illustrates another very important point about this work. She shows you that you don't have to have a "fancy" horse to access this type of riding. No matter what breed of horse you have, no matter their size or background, you can experience this feels-like-heaven type of riding.

Snowy brings us to the end of four hours of teaching. From Freyr who was just getting started in his training through the stair steps of the other horses you'll see how HSS becomes an increasingly nuanced and sophisticated exercise. You'll see how it evolves from a turn-around ricochet of energy as you disengage your horse's hips, into a straight-line, subtle reset of balance and energy. It's a wonderfully simple yet oh so complex pattern. Certainly for myself the more I explore it, the more good things I discover within it, and the more connections it creates to other layers in my training.

Approx 4 hours. Two DVD set.


Click Here to read what Alexandra Kurland says about her series of clicker training books and DVDs, and how to get the best from the lesson sequence.

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