In Plain English: Back to basic riding and showing issues for amateur riders

Whether you're riding a hunter, a jumper, or an event horse, you need to be in control. If you can't regulate your horse's pace while on course, it's nearly impossible to find a correct take-off spot. Some naughty horses start the course at a reasonable speed, but by the end they look and feel like a locomotive. Let's examine this bad habit.Whether you're riding a hunter, a jumper, or an event horse, you need to be in control. If you can't regulate your horse's pace while on course, it's nearly impossible to find a correct take-off spot. Some naughty horses start the course at a reasonable speed, but by the end they look and feel like a locomotive. Let's examine this bad habit.

Story originally posted by: Cindy Hale

Whether you’re riding a hunter, a jumper, or an event horse, you need to be in control. If you can’t regulate your horse’s pace while on course, it’s nearly impossible to find a correct take-off spot. Some naughty horses start the course at a reasonable speed, but by the end they look and feel like a locomotive. Let’s examine this bad habit.

Signs of the problem: If your horse gets strong it may be said that he "builds on course", meaning he builds up speed and strength as he motors around and over the jumps. You begin your round at a nice pace, and jump the first line of fences. But as your horse lands out of the line, you barely get him back in time to make the corner. Now, heading to the next line of jumps, you’re on a freight train. You can just hear your trainer telling you, "Slow down!" but when you pull on the reins, nothing happens. Self-preservation kicks in, and you decide to hang onto the reins-and your horse’s mouth-because loosening the reins makes no sense. By the end of the course, you’re flying to the last combination. Your horse almost leaves out a stride, but he can’t quite do that, so he chips in a horrible stutter-step. As you make your closing circle you realize your arms feel like they’re twenty feet long. To make matters worse, your trainer asks, "When he got that strong, why didn’t you just pull him up?" If you could’ve stopped him, you would have!

How this affects other parts of your riding: Perhaps you weren’t aware of it, but your horse probably takes advantage of you in your flatwork. Do you have trouble cantering on a consistent length of stride? Can you maintain a steady pace? To find out, place a couple of pairs of ground poles around your arena. Make sure they’re lined up straight, just like jumps would be. Make each pair about forty-six feet apart. Have one pair down one long side of your arena, and the other pair across from it, along the other long side. Now begin cantering around the arena. Canter over your first set of poles. You should get three strides in between the poles. Keep cantering, and see if you can still fit in three strides with the second pair.

What happened? Did your horse speed up through the poles? Or did he try another trick, which is to get more and more excited, until he blazed through the second pair? If you have any trouble with these ground poles, you must fix the problem now before returning to jumping.

How to fix the problem: First, you need to have your riding instructor evaluate your riding position. If your lower leg is not supporting your upper body, you won’t have all of your strength and body weight available to stop or slow your horse. Second, have your instructor check your horse’s bit. Never resort to just reaching for a stronger bit, but you do need to make sure that you have the appropriate bit for your horse. Third, consider allowing a very experienced rider climb aboard your horse and analyze the problem. Sometimes they can tell if your horse has learned a vice and is avoiding your aids, or if your horse just needs more training.
Finally, you need to become more demanding in your flatwork. Practice plenty of downward transitions. Remember to use a half-halt to slow and rebalance your horse. If your horse is heavy on its front end, and leaning on your hands for support, it’s a monstrous task to slow it down. As you canter, alternate between asking your horse to canter on a long gallop stride and a slower collected stride. If you meet with resistance, bring your horse to a halt, pause, then resume your canter.

When you return to jumping, don’t allow your horse to gain speed on course. It’s quite simple to school your horse to listen to your aids. Pull up in some of your corners. Break to a trot and trot some jumps. Add some circles between jumps. Keep your horse thinking about your wishes. And if your horse ever feels out of control, bring him to a stop. If he doesn’t obey when you pull back on the reins, lift both of your hands and use the weight of your upper body to brace against his pulling. As a last resort you can use a pulley rein. Brace one hand on the top of his mane, just in front of the withers, and then lift up and back with the other hand. If your horse doesn’t change his ways, be sure to consult with a professional.