Here is a great little exercise that will improve your feel for your horse and your riding skills, make your horse suppler, and increase safety when riding. Sounds too good to be true? What I’m talking about is extending your horse out within a gait and contracting it back in. Often when I’m teaching a student they will complain about a horse being too slow or too fast in a gait. A horse creeping along with minimum effort is no fun to ride, but neither is a horse that’s going too fast and feels like it’s going to bolt. This exercise addresses both these issues and is fun to do. Sounds simple, so now lets’ break it down into its component parts.
Start your horse walking and allow it to find its own natural tempo. Let your seat follow the motion of the horses back perfectly so you are both moving as one. Once you are feeling comfortable increase the forward thrust of your seat, lift your energy and see if your horse responds by walking faster. Give them time to respond as this may be new to them. If there’s no response back up your seat aid with leg aids until they’re walking faster. Make sure you take the aid/s off immediately once you feel a response. Repeat this until the horse is walking very fast and is on the verge of trotting. But don’t let them trot. Be ready to control any trotting with your rein aids.
Then cease all driving aids and start half halts with the reins. Slow down your seat. Combine rein aids and seat to get the horse to walk as excruciatingly slow as possible, but don’t let them stop. Be ready with your leg aids if they go to stop.
Now you have three walks, the horses natural tempo, the fast walk and the slow walk. Go back and forward between them, feeling what it’s like to expand and contract. You need to really feel your horse to achieve this, which is great for rider development.
Next put your horse into a trot. Allow them to trot at their own natural tempo. Find a rising trot rhythm so you are moving in perfect synchronicity. With a rushing horse you might start with contraction and for a slow horse with expansion. Use the seat first. To slow the trot, rise slower than the horse. Spend a moment too long in the seat and a moment too long in the air. Allow your weight to sink into the saddle, feel soft and slow yourself. See if your horse reacts to this, if not, back it up with a restricting rein aid. Get your horse trotting slower and slower but don’t let them walk. This takes great feel and timing and is a wonderful exercise in itself.
Then ask the horse for a larger trot. Increase the tempo of your rising, spend less time in the saddle (for real slow movers imagine your saddle is burning hot), bring your energy up and back up with leg aids if necessary. Don’t let the horse break into canter, see how fast and extended a trot you can get without cantering. Then ride and let the horse go at its normal tempo again. Mix up the three trots until you can move freely between them.
Repeat this at canter. Allow the horse to canter at its normal tempo, then expand or contract. Always use the seat first. Be ready to back up seat aids with the legs and hands. Backup needs to arrive fairly quickly. Give them a few moments to respond to the seat and if nothing’s happening, back up. And always release when the horse responds, you can re-apply the aid if required. Have fun with this exercise and reap the rewards of a more responsive and safer horse while improving your own feel and timing.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
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