Many horses tend to just go faster faster when you ask for more energy. They translate leg aids to leg speed, thereby coming more to the forehand, heavier on the reins and less balanced.
We often talk about how good tempo is one of the most basic aspects of good riding. When you find the "right" tempo for your horse, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that the balance and weight can improve with little effort on your part. Your reins lighten up. You stop feeling like you're on a roller coaster going down.
In our previous article, we talked about why you should help your horse slow the legs down. Now, let's see how you can establish a calmer, more reasonable tempo that will allow your horse to swing more through the back, stride deeper under the body and carry the rider's weight with better strength.
1. Slow Down the Legs
Sounds easy and fairly obvious. First off, just get the horse to stop the leg speed. Do this fairly quickly. In other words, don't let the horse go around the ring a few times before you start to ask him to slow down.
As soon as your horse speeds up, slow him down. It is your job to be as clear as you can be in your aids. Explain to him that your impulsion aids do not translate into leg speed. Teach him that he can accept your aids without feeling like he has to brace, go faster, or otherwise become uncomfortable.
Some horses need more convincing than others to slow down. It depends on how sure they are about running "away" from your aids - if you have been letting them run for a long time, you will have to repeat and be patient. Do as much as you need, but as little as possible to get the legs to slow down. This is the first step.
2. Accept Under Power
The next thing that usually happens is that the horse thinks that he has to stop everything. Maybe he breaks to a walk or halt. Maybe he just does this low energy, super strung out under power trot.
But there is more to it than that. Because if you just slow the legs down, you will likely lose a lot of the energy at the same time. In that case, the horse moves his legs slowly, but continues to arch his back and drop his neck because in this case, he has to. There is no energy available for him to lift his back to carry the weight of the rider.
So it isn't really only about slowing the legs.
The key to finding the horse's ideal tempo is to slow the legs while maintaining energy. (Click to tweet that if you agree.)
If, after you slow down the legs, you feel like you and your horse have fallen into quicksand, and each step feels like it has to drag to the next step, you know that's not what you wanted.
Here are the steps to finding energy while slowing down.
3. Gently Allow More Energy
If you soften your body and begin to move along with the horse, he will often offer more energy once he settles into the rhythm.You should just ride when he offers an increase in impulsion. Pet him lightly when you feel him take initiative.
If the horse doesn't offer, then ask in increments. When the horse goes to speed his legs, half-halt to slow down again. Ask for more energy but half-halt the speed. Do this over and over again until the horse maintains the leg speed but starts to engage through the hind end.
Keep in mind that you are part of the equation here too. If you ask for energy but then speed up your posting rate, then the horse will automatically speed up his legs to keep up. So when you ask for energy, make sure you "hover" on the forward phase of the post just a split second longer. Don't fall back to the saddle - carry your own weight down slowly enough to not disrupt the horse's speed.
4. Find the Balance Between Slow But Strong
Sometimes, the horse might slow down and not even know that he can increase his energy. This horse needs gentle encouragement to allow the energy through his body.
Other times, the horse might fluctuate between fast/slow/fast/slow. In this case, it's your job to be the metronome for the horse, and to dictate the slower leg speed after you ask for more energy. This horse might become confused because he is sure that your leg/seat aids mean faster legs. You have to take the time to change your "language" so that he understands that increased energy does not mean increased leg speed. This horse might need weeks of practice before he is convinced that leg speed is not what you're after.
5. Ride With Commitment
Once you find the energy, you have to ride differently. You can't just push him along and let him brace. So you have to hold your own weight, release a little more through your own back, control your post in the slower rhythm, and basically "be there" with your horse in an energy-but-not-speed feel.
It's Easier Said Than Done!
As with most things in riding, changing your internal speed, increasing your internal energy and putting it all together can be quite the challenge. Because as with all things riding, it starts with you. But it is possible and even if you've never thought about the horse's leg speed, you can do it with some intention.
You know you're on the right track when your horse takes his first few "swinging" steps in slowness. You can feel it through the saddle, with a sudden trampoline-y feeling that you can describe as a "swing". Maybe your horse arches his neck a bit, lifting the base of his neck and stretching over the top.
You know you're getting it when he gives you a snort, and his expression softens or his ears point softly forward.
And you're definitely there if you find your reins just got longer miraculously on their own, because the horse just rounded and let his energy travel over his topline. (In this case, gently take up the loose rein because you don't want the bit to suddenly move in the horse's mouth.)
How do you slow our horse's legs down? Let us know in the comments below.
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More articles on the same subject:
Can You Recognize the Sewing-Machine Trot? It is easy to get fooled into thinking that the sewing-machine trot is a good trot.
Why You Don’t Need to Panic When Your Horse ‘Falls Apart’: Even if you are not thinking “panic”, your body might be communicating it by either being completely passive or too reactive after the horse is off balance.
When Good Riding Instruction Becomes Great: How much can an instructor really do to help a rider improve?
The #1 Rider Problem of the Year – The Leg Aid: You probably know from experience – kicking the horse along often does not get the response you really want.
What Being On The Forehand Means to the Horse: The idea here isn’t to cause guilt and doom and gloom; instead, we should learn all we can and take steps to avoid known problems.