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Slow Your Speedy Horse Down – Part I


Training a speedy horse.As owners and/or trainers, we are all familiar with the speedy horse - the one that always seems to have the gas pedal to the floor. A horse that tends to set a quick pace looks skittish and unbalanced, and can be difficult and unnerving to ride, as well as to train. Unless your horse participates in timed events, such as barrel racing, control and collection - not speed - is the ideal.

Circles and bending are training techniques often used to help slow a horse, but most of the time the horse will speed right back up once he returns to a straight line. These conditioning exercises can fail because they focus on training the body of the horse. There are two parts of a horse to train: the mind and the body. In this article, I will show you an exercise to train not only the horse’s body, but his mind as well.

The Horse's State of Mind

There are two main reasons why your horse is going too fast. He is either excited and in a high-energy state of mind, or his body is unbalanced. I estimate that 90 percent of all cases of a speedy horse are a result of the horse being in a high-energy state of mind. When a horse is excited, he is not taking his cues from the rider. He is responding to his own emotions and is affected by outside distractions. This lack of control can lead to feelings of fear and frustration on the part of the rider. A horse will sense these emotions, pushing his energy level even higher. As trainers, our job is to teach our horses to go from a high-energy state of mind to a relaxed state of mind. A relaxed horse will be responsive and willing to learn. He may not always get the answer correct, but he will put forth concentrated effort. It is equally important for you as a trainer to maintain a relaxed state of mind. This will show your horse the energy level you want him to emulate.

The X-Pattern

Training a speedy horse. I have created a speed control exercise that I call the X-Pattern, which is designed to slow your horse down and will eventually bring him back to a relaxed state of mind. The pattern is also a great training tool for improving balance, gaining the horse’s attention, and improving steering. The pattern is designed with straight lines and tight turns. The turns are the functional part of the exercise that train the horse to slow down. The turns bring the horse’s attention back to you and serve to balance his body better. The exercise is performed both to the left and to the right. In other words, for the left pattern (described below), you will always pass the cones to your left and vice versa for the right pattern. To set up for the exercise, choose a large, open area, preferably in a fenced enclosure. You will need four cones placed equidistant from each other in the shape of a square. The cones should be numbered one through four, and set approximately 40-60 feet apart.

Performing the Exercise

Again, look in the direction you are now headed. As you approach Cone 4, give the horse a loose rein and allow him to choose the pace of his walk. If the horse speeds up in the straightaway, wait until you begin the tight turn at Cone 4 to slow him down. Your 135-degree turn at Cone 4 will then face your horse in the direction of Cone 1. The complete pattern is: 1-2-4-1-3-4-2-3-1. By referring to the diagrams and after several passes, the sequence will become effortless.

Training a speedy horse.Each time you get to a cone, you can pull back a little harder to get the horse to slow down. With time, the horse will begin to slow down into the straightaways. You will know that you are doing the exercise correctly if the horse begins to slow down in the turns. If he speeds up both in the turns and in the straightaways, you will need to revisit the exercise instructions to make certain you are doing the exercise correctly.

Once your horse seems comfortable with the exercise at a walk, you can move to a trot and then to a canter. Your turns will be wider with the faster gaits, but the exercise is the same. The goal is consistency at all three gaits. Consistency is a sign that your horse has achieved a relaxed state of mind. Remember to work your horse to the right (the right X-Pattern) to balance out his training.

Maintaining That Speed Control

To apply this training tool to your everyday riding, it is important to remember that riding a horse is much like driving a car. When you apply pressure to the gas pedal, you do so until you reach the speed you want to maintain. Rather than letting off of the pedal (which would slow the car back down), you keep steady pressure to keep a steady pace. This is the same with a horse. Rein pulling and erratic leg cues will confuse the horse and elevate his energy level. Always keep your leg cues meaningful by maintaining a steady pressure when your horse is traveling at the speed you want. When your horse is in a high-energy state of mind, continue to practice the X-Pattern, and you will find that you are no longer struggling with a speedy horse. Instead, you will be riding a relaxed horse that will let you set the speed.


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