Controlling Speed in a Circle by Sandy Collier
Sandy Collier – You’ve been working all along on encouraging your horse to stay framed-up even when you put slack in the reins. By now he should be rounding up well and holding the position on his own for a few strides after you pitch him slack.
Now, as you begin to ask for more speed, his “wheels will begin to wobble,” so to speak. He’ll get out of frame—his head and neck will come up, his back will hollow, and his hind legs will trail out behind. This is natural as speed increases. Have you ever seen a horse framed-up as he’s running free? Or as he’s running away? Neither have I. So we have to teach our horses how to handle speed both mentally and physically.
– If your horse gets excited and wants to run off when you add a gear to your large circles, don’t make a big fuss. Just let him go at the higher speed for a while, keeping his nose tipped to the inside so his inside shoulder stays up and he’s not running off with you. As the thrill wears off and he realizes no one is fighting him to slow down, he’ll reconsider. When he begins to feel as if he wants to slow down (softening in the face and beginning to ease off on the speed), reinforce that idea for him. Take a deep breath, then let it out slowly (humming or otherwise making your breath audible which helps you relax in a way your horse can feel) and “melt” in the saddle. He’ll continue to think it’s his idea as he slows down. When this happens, lope a slow cir¬cle (not necessarily a smaller one remember, you don’t want him to equate slowing down with cutting in to a smaller circle).Then break him down softly to a trot, then walk, then “Whoa,” then back up a few steps. Let him rest for a moment.
Once he realizes that volunteering to lope fast winds up being a lot of work, he’ll be only too happy to slow down when you ask. At this point, he’ll be han¬dling speed well mentally, so advance to work on “fram¬ing him up”(drive his rear end up under him with your legs while softening his jaw with the reins) more and more while going fast. Do this just a few strides at a time, though, until he no longer resists it, and can hold the rounded position for longer periods of time on his own.
When the horse:
Refuses to slow down: Don’t jerk on the reins. Instead, sit down in the saddle, with your shoulders square, and pull assertively on the reins to draw him down “through the gears” to a stop. Don’t use more rein pressure than is needed, but use enough to get the job done promptly. Release pressure for a moment when he does stop, to reward his response. Then back him a few steps, stop, and stand for a moment so he can think about it.
Falls out of lead when slowing: Do these things before you ask him to slow: keeping his nose tipped to the inside, gather him up by driving him onto the bit with your legs and push his hind end a bit to the inside by bumping just behind neutral position with your out¬side leg. This positions his body to remain on the cor¬rect lead and makes it hard for him to break gait or switch leads.
Drifts off track (your” power steering” fails): Overcorrect by cutting across to the other side of the circle, as you learned in Cutting the Pie.
Leans to the inside, falls into the circle, drops his inside shoulder: This is most likely to happen on the left lead (his “stiff” direction, when he’s at the point in the circle that’s farthest from his favorite magnet. By moving toward the magnet, he cuts in and makes the circle smaller. To fix it, don’t make any small, slow circles for awhile. Ride only large, fast and large, slow circles.
Sandy Collier’s successful horse show record is reflective of her dedication, talent, and integrity as a horse trainer. She was the first and only woman horse trainer to win the prestigious NRCHA World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity. In 2011, Sandy was inducted into The Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Learn more at SandyCollier.com.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 7