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Speed and Control Must Travel on Parallel Lines, by Richard Winters



Richard Winters photo on horseI recently judged an Extreme Cowboy Race  where riders had to navigate an obstacle course,  as fast as possible, and exhibit control and  refinement in every maneuver.   I addressed the  contestants and audience, and told them, “It will  probably not be the fastest horse that wins  this event.   Nor will  it be the pair that  exhibits the most  control.   The winner  will no doubt be  the horse and  rider combination  that exhibits both  speed and control  throughout the  entire course.”

Whether it’s an  extreme cowboy  race, a reining, a  cow horse event, or  a barrel race ““  speed and control  must travel on parallel  lines.   When these  two elements travel  at an equally high level, it makes for an outstanding  performance.   When speed intersects control  and begins to exceed the amount of control you  are able to maintain, it makes for a dismal and  sometimes dangerous situation.

Much of our training and conditioning of  horses is done to help them relax, soften, and  slow down.   We lope a thousand circles to teach  our horses that they don’t need to speed up and  get excited, but rather that they can relax and  lope around in a soft three beat cadence.   All of  this is very important, and I do a lot of it, however,  somewhere along the way, we need to get  them comfortable with speed as well.   I need to  condition my horses so that I can ask for speed  without them emotionally falling apart.   I need  them comfortable with speed and build in a  willingness to then decelerate and slow back  down, without resistance.   If my horse is far  enough along in his training, and can willingly  walk, trot, and lope on a loose rein, then it’s time  for me to periodically accustom him to controlled  speed.

If you never ask your horse for speed and  then on a random Saturday morning, at a local  team penning, attempt to run after a wayward  steer, the horse might get excited and overwhelmed  and buck you off!   If you are out on trail  ride and all of your friends lope off, at a pretty  good clip, and you attempt to keep up on a horse  that is not used to moving out fast, it could get  dangerous very quick as you realize how little  control you have once the speed factor is added  to the equation.

Here is a simple exercise that I recommend:   In a safe arena, with good footing, without others  in your way, begin to lope some circles with your  horse.   After your horse begins to feel very  relaxed and warmed up, begin to urge him forward  and travel faster.   Maintain a big, wide, circle  and push your hands forward and allow your  horse to extend his stride, on a loose rein.   The  sluggish horse might need more encouragement  with clucking, our legs, or spurs, or even a  spanking.   The high-strung horse would require  that we be much more subtle in our suggestion  for acceleration.   Ask your horse to lope fast, one  to four full circles  and then shift your  weight back, in  your saddle, and  ask him to slow  down.   As I sit  back, I say the word  “easy” in a low drawn out  tone and pick up slightly  on my reins.

If your horse has  difficulty understanding  how to slow down, you can  make your circles slightly smaller as you suggest  with your body, hands, and voice to slow down  and relax.   A slightly smaller circle can help your  horse learn how to regulate his forward momentum  without you having to pull back on the reins.   You can also vary this exercise by loping around  the entire arena, periodically speeding up along  the rail and then asking them to slow back down.   If they don’t follow your suggestion of slowing  down, you can go right into a loping circle until  you can begin to feel them relax and soften.

One  horseman said, “The only way to gain experience  is to experience it!”   Yes, you need to be smart  about it and you need to stay safe.   However, not  teaching your horse to handle speed, with control,  is limiting your horse’s potential and setting  yourself up for a possible dangerous situation.   By presenting these ideas, in a controlled  environment, when it’s your idea, will better  prepare you and your horse reach your goals  confidently and safely.

Richard Winters Horsemanship Bio:  For nearly three decades Richard has  dedicated himself to honing his horsemanship  skills and to passing this knowledge onto others.   His vast experience includes starting literally  hundreds of horses that have gone onto almost  every equine discipline imaginable.   Richard’s credentials include World  Championship titles in the National Reined  Cow Horse Association along with being an A  rated judge.   For more information about Richard  Winters Horsemanship please go to[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 6.]


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