Uncouple excitement from speed to create a calm, cool, collected horse at any gait.
By Kalley Krickeberg
Unbeknownst to many people, there is an actual need for training your horse at speed, but it needs to be done with great care. Speed is easily connected to bad emotions in horses—you might have seen speed-event horses jumping around, jigging, shaking their heads or pulling on the bridle. But this does not need to be the case. With a background of training and selling polo horses, I’ve learned the art of developing a quiet, very controllable horse while traveling at top-end speed.
The value—and sometimes need—of training at speed has two very important parts: emotional control/stability and correct body function.
It is very easy for horses to get negatively excited the faster they go—that’s the nature of a fight-or-flight beast. If you don’t teach a horse to be steady and emotionless when speed is involved, the rider is likely to lose control whenthe horse spooks or shies. In those precious moments, the horse might find himselftraveling at a speed he’s never done with a rider and become more fearful—the cascade of tragedy begins there. Personal preference comes into play, too; I do not like when a horse can’t settle down before, during and after his work. In my mind, that is our fault as a trainer and it certainly doesn’t need to be the case.
Correct Body Function:
The second value of training at speed is helping the horse to use itself correctly. The horse being used for this article’s photos had trouble keeping his lead behind—as the speed increased, he would get worried and this was his way to “escape,” but it’s neither functional nor comfortable to ride. In his case, I got up off his back so he could move more freely, which helped him figure himself out in motion.
At times, you might find yourself having to do too much when riding to get or keep your horse driving from his rear. For example, you might have to keep your outside leg back all the time to keep the horse from “falling out of lead.” Or you might have to help your horse sit up and balance over his hindquarters when turning, if you feel like his rear-end is slipping to the outside because he’s trying to pivot on his front end and pull through the turn, rather than staying in gear, maintaining his power, and driving through the turn on his rear end. This is a mental issue that shows itself in the way the horse is moving. I fix this, teaching the horse self-carriage, by carefully adding the element of speed to his training regimen. When speed and straightness are carefully added to the horse’s repertoire, it is nearly impossible for him to move incorrectly or have their weight shifted incorrectly, and they are also able to maintain a steady disposition. On the contrary, when speed is randomly or carelessly added, the horse just learns to be erratic with his movements, often creating an emotional disaster.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2021 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join