Whoa…Slow Down! by Al Dunning
In this fast paced life, we strive for control and things to go at our “speed”, whether it’s our automobiles, our businesses, or our lives in general. In relation to horses, there is a phenomenon: the slower we want a horse to go, the faster they want to go. So how do you successfully slow a horse down?
First, you need to make sure you aren’t accidentally hitting the accelerator. Here are some of the common things I see that make a horse go faster:
1. Riders who are too abrupt with their movements or automatically use their hands or feet more aggressively than needed.
2. Riders who lack rhythm and “feel” in the saddle.
3. Riders who transcend their nervousness to the horse.
4. Horses who are on a feeding regimen that isn’t in keeping with the horse’s needs. For example, a trail horse needs a feeding program geared towards durability whereas a speed event horse needs a feed program specifically for short bursts of intense energy expulsion.
5. Riders not understanding how to outsmart instead of outride the horse. The more you work a horse, the better shape they are in. A horse that is in tip-top shape wants to go!
Several years ago, I had a horse that was being shown in reining by another trainer. The horse was having a lot of trouble rating his speed in the circle. He wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of going slow. I asked the trainer what he had been doing. It turns out the trainer had been “trapping” the horse to make him go slower. Instead of continuing to force the horse to go slow, I said, “let’s go!” We galloped lots of fast circles until the horse finally thought, “Where am I going and why am I working so hard?” Soon, I could drop the reins and cluck to move forward without the horse taking off. In fact, he didn’t want to move very fast at all! Reverse psychology can be an effective method to combat a fast horse.
We use this same method for warming up our cutting horses. We want to push them out into an extended trot to exert energy. It takes the freshness off of the horse before entering the ring and helps the horse suck back on his hocks to work the cow properly.
Once you have determined you aren’t accidentally making the horse go faster than you want, here are some ways to slow down a speedy horse:
1. Diet – Are you feeding the horse according to his dietary needs? Find the right balance between fat and fit.
2. Exercise – Get the horse out of his stall. Turn him out, spend time walking, and get yourself in the right frame of mind. A tight rider makes a tense horse.
3. Proper cues – Make sure the horse is only moving forward when you are requesting the motion. If you teach a horse to respond to legs properly, when you apply pressure they go forward and stop when you release. Quick horses especially have to be taught to accept legs. Also, ensure you have a consistent seat that goes with the flow of the horse and be sure to think before you react with hands or legs.
4. Slow Down Drills – Move in circles, both forward and backward and at varying speeds and sizes. Flex the horse at the poll. Horses that lean against the bit have a tendency to have more forward motion. It is very important not to frighten the horse with the wrong equipment. You’ll have their fight or flight instinct kick in. You can combat this by alternating one-rein pullarounds and rolling a horse back smoothly along the fence, releasing to move forward slowly. Also, instead of stopping hard when the horse bolts forward, simply break them down to the jog smoothly and repeat.
Once you get past the rough spots, a horse with right regimen of feed, exercise and drills will slow down and become more broke. The more he understands, the more he accepts then the easier he is to control.
Al Dunning is credited with 32 world-championship and reserve-championship titles. The knowledge and passion he shares in his clinics, videos, and lessons have molded not only average students, but also some of today’s most successful professional horse trainers. Dunning’s ability to reach people comes from his love of horses and out of respect to the mentors in his own life. For more information go to www.AlDunning.com
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 12