Steer The Tail, Get Control Of Your Horse

The video below is of Josh Lyons. Now, if this isn’t getting control over your horse, I don’t know what is.

This exercise can be done at a walk or even at a standstill. (Though, to begin, it’s much easier if you have movement.) When you feel comfortable, do it at a trot.

When you steer a boat, you always steer from the back end, don’t you? That’s what you’ll do here. Your horse is driven by its hindquarters; that’s the engine and where the drive comes from. To start getting control of your horse, you’ll first take control of its “engine.”

You’ll drive your horse around the arena like you’re driving a boat or playing violin. You’ll pick up one rein and just drive his tail the direction you don’t want to go. So, if you don’t want to go “over there,” then you push his tail “over there” instead and release the rein.

As soon as you release it, then pick it up and drive his tail over the other direction. Release the rein, push him out, drive his tail the other direction. You’ll just keep pushing the tail different directions.

Don’t worry about looking pretty. All you have to do is keep changing directions – for twenty minutes. You can start this exercise at a walk and then at a trot when you feel comfortable.

The more excited or nervous the horse is, the more important it is for you to not let him go straight. If you take a snaffle bit, which is what you should be riding in, and you pull on two reins, what you do is you just make them smile. That’s it. They’re going to pick their head up and you’re going to pull their cheeks back. That’s all that will happen.

You may want to try this first at a standstill, then at a walk and a trot when you’re comfortable. (But it’s easier when you start with movement.) Walk your horse out and pick up one rein (not two). Add enough pressure so that the front leg stops but the hips keep moving for two steps. (Stop now and picture that in your mind: You’ll be doing a quick “turn on the fore.” The front inside leg will stop. The back legs will continue moving around the front, like the hands of a clock.) When the horse takes that second step, release the rein and walk out the other way.

If the horse doesn’t stop, you’re not adding enough pressure to stop the inside front leg. Practice varying the pressure and the angle at which you hold the rein until you make it happen. As soon as you’ve done it on one side, do it on the other side. Pick up the rein, apply enough pressure to stop the shoulder, hold as the hips swing around, release it, and change directions. Move the hips, release it, change direction. Important: Go no more than a couple of steps before repeating and remember to make the hips move at least two steps before releasing.


Look down and watch the inside front shoulder as you apply pressure. If you see it stop, but feel your horse moving “somewhere else,” then you know the hip is moving. It may stop only briefly – so be ready to take advantage of that moment.


Let the horse go straight. Change directions often. If you just go straight, then you are in effect containing the horse’s energy or trapping the emotion and what’s going to happen is that he’s going to blow up on you. Counteract this by changing directions a lot.


Get down off your horse if you feel you’re in danger. In that case, do the same exercise, but from the ground. The more nervous, the more excited your horse is, the more you’ve got to work. In that case, you want to be more assertive; you want to get more aggressive about where you’re going. This is no time to play around. You’ve got two sets of brains here and if you sit back and let the horse think too much, then one of two things is going to happen. You’ve got what the horse wants to do and you’ve got what you want to do. There is no meeting in the middle. Together you’ll either do what you want to do or what he wants to do. That I promise you.

You have to have enough stick to it-ness and enough drive to pick up the rein and say “No, I said we are going this direction.” Then release it, pick up the other rein and again say “We are going this direction.”

Once you get the hips moving consistently, then start asking for more. Try to get the neck to bend. Start bending the head side to side, side to side. Start holding the rein until the head drops before releasing the rein. Hold onto the rein and keep the hips moving (by applying pressure from your seat and legs) until the head actually goes down. When you feel the nose start to go down, release the rein and change sides. Pick up the other side; move the hips; hold pressure on the rein until the nose goes down and the hips move, then release it and go to the other side.

When you pick up the rein, keep pressure on that same rein until you feel his nose start to drop – and make sure that he’s following his nose. Wait for him to start to drop his nose, then release it and change directions. Pick up the rein, wait for him to drop his nose, release it and change directions. Keep the horse moving its feet and just look for a small change in the beginning.

This exercise can be used to teach a horse to follow his nose. As you advance, and you’re looking for ways to improve your horse’s performance, then begin expecting the horse to follow its nose. When it doesn’t, you guessed it, pick up the rein and move the hip around, reinforcing the idea: “I said, we’re going that way.”

The Steering the Tail Exercise:

What To Do If…

The “Steer the Tail Exercise”: What You Should Expect

The “Steer the Tail” exercise will have the effect of awakening your horse to the touch of the rein. Following diligent and patient practice, you’ll find your horse calmer, softer and more willing to keep a bend in his body. Plus, you’ll have a way to teach him to turn – not drift – through his circles.

What If?…

If you get too much of a slingshot action with the horse’s head, where you pull it back and they give but immediately throw it forward, then you need to move your hands a little slower. Hold on longer, move slower to give back. Make them hold a little longer, until they really soften up, then slowly give it back and change direction.

Your horse “powers himself” from the hindquarters. Being able to “disengage” your horse’s hips will allow you to unplug that power or use it to your advantage. You can move the hips to discourage your horse from bucking or rearing. Want to teach your horse to direct rein? This exercise gives you a terrific way to initially teach direct reining or to reinforce your direct rein when your horse misses a turn: Pick up the rein and say “Uh, no, we’re going THAT way.”

Keeping The Following In Mind Will Help You

A horse always has one good side and one bad side. The problem with that is that it keeps changing. The left side might be the good side now, and the right side is the bad side. You’ll work on that for fifteen minutes – and all of a sudden the right side is the good side and the left side is the bad side. It’ll keep going back and forth. Smile, it’s just part of training.

Common Mistake:

Doing a U-Turn instead of insisting that the tail pivot around the shoulders like the hands of a clock. Watch that inside shoulder until it stops – that’s when you’re moving the hips correctly. Remember to time your release in order to let the horse know that that’s what you’ve been looking for.


Ride in a straight line: You shouldn’t spend more than one or two steps max going straight, then you should be turning. You don’t want to be going straight. Getting your horse to travel straight is a perfection of going left and right. If I can’t get my horse to travel straight, it’s because he’s either going left or right. If he’s going left when I’m asking him to go straight, that means he’s not responding to my right cue. (That is “turn right.”) So what you want to work on is going left and right. The more you work on left and right, the easier “straight” is.


Make sure you sit up. Don’t get too hunched over. If your nose gets beyond that saddle horn your body will get out of position. If he stops hard or does something, your body will have a tendency to fall forward. If you’re kicking and that horse isn’t moving, you keep bumping and pick up that rein. If you bump and he’s not moving, keep bumping, don’t bump harder, pick up that rein and make him move. That rein is more powerful that your legs are. Put more pressure on that rein and have that hip move over. If a horse locks up and you keep driving him with your legs what is going to happen eventually, if he does go, you’re going to get too much energy. He’s going to lurch forward or bolt or jump on you. What will happen is that you will put too much energy into your horse too fast and you can lose control of him.

Do This Exercise Until:

While you’ve never actually “completed” any exercise, you should do this exercise (“Steer the Tail”) until you can pick up either rein and the horse immediately responds by planting his inside leg while moving his hip around smoothly. His neck should be relaxed, slightly bent and carried at the proper height.

Number One Mistake We See:

It is very important that you do not stall out after the horse plants his leg and swings his hips. You might have the tendency to stop and congratulate the horse for doing it right. While it is always important to praise your horse for completing an exercise correctly, DO NOT STOP WHEN YOU RELEASE THE REIN – PUSH HIM OUT IMMEDIATELY. If you do not, your horse won’t get lighter, instead, his legs will begin to move more and more sluggishly. Think LaBrea Tar Pits.