It only requires some small changes to produce huge results and create a horse that is truly light. Now when I say light, I don’t mean a horse that operates off a tiny amount of pressure. I’m talking about a horse that operates on little more than a thought.

The horse is thinking what you’re thinking. You make a slight change in your body position, without pulling or kicking, and he takes it upon himself to respond. He is tuned into any miniscule adjustment you make in your seat, shoulder, hip, or thought.

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Small Changes When Backing Up

You will be amazed at how fast your horse begins to back up off just your seat once you get in the habit of always reaching for his feet with your body FIRST. Think of it like this. We don’t use reins or legs to back the horse. We use those things when he doesn’t back any time a slight change in our body suggests that he does.

Here’s how that would go. You’re sitting on your horse with ½ inch slack in your reins. If you barely move your hand, you will feel his mouth or nose on the other end. You are just on the edge of that contact point.

Now your hand remains in this neutral position. Sink down onto your pockets so slightly that someone watching may not even be able to tell you just made a change in your seat. Give the horse a few seconds to at least shift his weight back. If and when he doesn’t, that’s when you conclude that he missed the signal. Only then would you pick up the reins or say whoa or bring legs and rein in to show him what that small adjustment you just made was supposed to mean.

Small Changes For Side Passing

It would work the same way for a side pass. Remember that you don’t use your leg to get a horse to side pass. You use your leg if he doesn’t start moving sideways when you lift your hip as though you’re fixing to barely reach with your leg. Give him a second or two. If he doesn’t start side passing, then pick up the reins, put your leg on him, or touch with a spur.

The Horse Will Look For The Small Changes

The beauty of all this is that you can do it at a stand still under a shade tree.

Very quickly the horse will start to pick up on these slight signals. Within a few rides, he will begin to look for those minute changes in your body. They will now mean something to him. And you will swear he can read your mind.

What’s really going on is you’re making those small changes almost subconsciously. And your horse feels them. He’s actually always been able to feel them, but now he understands how to respond. Then you will see those small changes start producing huge results.

For more instruction about the timing of your pressure and release, go here: Successful Horse Training

Small Changes Example

This is a good example. Most every rider has probably experienced this scenario already. Think about when your horse is standing still. And you decide that you want to walk off. 

With most horses, all you have to do is move your hand forward an eighth of an inch, and come up off a neutral seat. Those small changes cause the horse to come to life and walk away. 

Keep in mind what that feels like. All you had to do was begin to reach and the horse carried you forward.

That’s the type of lightness you can build into a horse for everything – backing, sidepass, canter departures, turning, bending — anything you can think of.

Learn more about Lead Changes, Flexion, And Lateral Movements

Things To Try

Get your horse to side pass to the left without actually having to put a right leg on him. If he doesn’t side pass when you drop your right hip and open your left knee, then come in with your leg.

But the instant he starts going sideways, your leg comes off. All you do is keep your right hip weighted to push him to the left.

With a little practice, you can develop these habits to always reach with your body first before ever reaching with your legs or hands.

Here’s another fun one. You want your horse to look to the right. Barely take the slack out of the right rein. You do not want to even feel tension on the rein. Give him a couple of seconds to bend. If he doesn’t, THEN bump the rein to get him to bend to the right. At first, if he even gives you an inch, release, reward, and repeat. Before long, just the small change of taking the slack out of the rein will cause him to bend.

It’s the same concept with groundwork. A flag is only for when your body language cue doesn’t work. But your groundwork will never get lighter if you don’t ask and expect a slight adjustment to have meaning.

More info about Groundwork.


I highly encourage you to get this stuff going. Every time you ride or interact with your horse, work on it for just a few minutes. 

Start thinking of your legs and reins and flag as secondary. Always reach with your thoughts and your seat and your body position first, and give them a chance to get it done. 

Before long, they will get it done before you have a chance to take a hold with a rein or leg. Being consistent with these small changes will produce huge results.

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Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.