Grounded in the Saddle

Part 8. "Did I Ask You to Speed Up? Did I Ask You to Slow Down?"

Your horse should hold whatever gait you ask him for, at whatever speed you set, until you ask him for a change. Whether he is lazy and won’t hold a trot or canter, or is hot and continually speeds up until you feel out of control, this exercise will enable you to fix that. This is a good tune–up exercise for any horse.

Here you won’t be guiding your horse at all, so you’ll need to be in a controlled environment such as an arena, round pen, fenced paddock or a safe, level field. You will need a soft, heavy string or rope to spank with if your horse tends to be lazy. The string from a training stick works well for this, and can be tied to the horn, breast plate, or to your belt loop. You can also use the end of a macate rein, or a training lead rope. Whatever you use, it should be long enough to hang to the horse’s knees when you drop it, but no longer than that. If you are using a macate rein or lead line, be sure not to tie it to you in any way.

Begin by asking your horse to walk by squeezing with your legs. Don’t kick or jab, just squeeze. When he moves off, let him choose where to go. We are looking to work on just one thing in this exercise — speed control — so let him have his head. If he just wants to make small circles, that’s fine as long as he holds the gait you asked for. Most horses will try to head for the gate and stop; if he does, just pick up the spanker and move him off again by gently spanking him with it (slap it from side to side across the front of your saddle).

If you get no response by squeezing your legs, cluck to him as you continue to squeeze. If you still get no response, use the spanker. If you still get no response, steadily increase the force of the spank until your horse moves off. When he does, immediately take away all cues (stop squeezing, clucking, and spanking). He should hold this walk until you ask him to change.

If he stops by himself, go straight to the spanker. You told him once to walk, so you should not have to squeeze again; you just correct him with the spanker. Do this every time he takes it upon himself to stop. If, on the other hand, he speeds up, do a one rein stop, then flex him laterally a few times and ask him to move off at a walk again. Every time he goes faster than you have asked him to, stop him with the one rein stop and then ask for the walk again. Don’t let him go far before you shut him down. This may take a while, depending on just how hot your horse is, but he will eventually get the idea.