Here’s a simple exercise to get your horse to slow down, whether at the walk, trot, or canter. Speed control, or ‘rate’, is within the grasp of any horse owner willing to work consistently toward a more rewarding and enjoyable relationship with their horse.
Three Reasons Horses Go Too Fast
- The horse is scared.
- The horse has its own agenda.
- The horse is willing, but the horse and rider aren’t communicating properly.
The answer in all three cases is the same – leadership. You must establish yourself as the leader, and, when you talk horses, that means that you must control where, when, and how your horse moves.
Exercise to Slow Your Horse
Whether you ride in an arena or pasture, begin by using the fence as a guide. If no fence is available, begin the exercise by riding a sixty foot circle. This is big enough to work at the walk and trot. Once you have good speed control at the trot it will be a fairly simple matter to advance to the lope or canter. To work at a faster speed you need to ride a larger circle. Make sure your horse understands where the circle is before starting your transitions.
Transitions Are Key
The exercise to slow your horse is built upon transitions from one gait to another. In essence, you are teaching your horse to move up in gait (walk to trot, or trot to canter) and down one gait (trot to walk, canter to trot.) Teaching transitions keeps your horse focused and waiting for your next cue. The result will be a horse that is always ready to slow down, or prepared to gear up quietly.
The exercise is taught the same way, no matter which gait needs attention. The following steps address the trot. Always be sure to have control at the walk before advancing to the trot, and then the canter. Start by walking along the fence. Since you know your horse will trot too fast, decide in advance how many trot strides you will allow before asking. The less control you have, the fewer steps you will allow. Let’s assume your horse is a real wild character and start small.
When your horse is walking quietly and obediently, ask for a trot. Let him trot only three strides, then calmly ask him to drop back to a walk. Expect your horse to resist you at first, after all, he wants to head out. Don’t punish, don’t get tense. Just take your time and firmly insist your horse walk along the fence. At the beginning it may take you fifty feet to get him to walk. Don’t worry, that’s normal.
Walk until your horse is quiet and soft again, then ask for three trot strides again. Once you have three strides, bring your horse back to a walk. Repeat as many times as necessary until your horse seems to be getting the message and is consistently making quiet walk-trot transitions.
If you have to battle to get to first base, take it and stop. Pat your horse and let him know you appreciate his effort. Once you’ve both aired up a little, go back to the fence and go the other way. Every horse is different. You may get total control of your horse’s speed in one lesson. It may take many lessons. Just be sure to stop each lesson on a high note, so you can honestly pat your horse and say, “Good job!”
Perfecting Speed Control
Once your horse understands what you want, and is convinced you fully intend to be the leader, you can start working on making your transitions pretty and soft. As your horse begins to look for your cue to down-shift, you can trot longer and longer distances on a nice loose rein. As soon as you feel your horse speed up, drop to a walk, organize and go back to the exercise. To gain control at the walk or canter, follow the same steps as the trot. Teach walk-stop-walk transitions, or trot-canter-trot transitions.
Routine maintenance is necessary in all horse maneuvers to keep your horse tuned and responsive. Speed control is no different. Every time you horse thinks about taking charge of the gas pedal again, go back and ride a transitions refresher lesson.