If your horse walks sluggishly on the trail, there’s a chance your body cues are keeping him at a slow pace. Your horse should walk with a cadenced beat and allow you to keep up with fellow riders without breaking into a trot. (For how to teach your horse this lesson, see Julie Goodnight’s “Walk On,” Natural Horsemanship, The Trail Rider, May ’09.)
As part of that lesson, you’ll learn to accentuate your horse’s walk by applying leg cues in rhythm with his pace. When you learn to feel and accentuate his walking rhythm, you’ll propel him forward while encouraging him to walk on-even when he may not want to speed away from the barn’s creature comforts.
In addition to your rhythmic leg aids, pay attention to your rein placement so you don’t stop your horse’s forward momentum.
“I often see riders who are focused on their leg cues pull back on the reins or use an artificial aid to ask their horse to move forward,” Goodnight says. “But you’re using your aids to ask your horse to speed up, so it’s crucial that you don’t pull back on the reins, which stops him and gives him mixed signals. Instead, reach forward with your hands and reins to ‘open the door,’ allowing him to move forward in the direction you choose.”
If you need to prompt a slow horse to move on, keep your rein hand in front of the saddle horn or just above his withers. If you move your hand back farther, he’ll think you want him to stop.
“Your horse is more focused on your hands than other aids,” Goodnight notes. “He has to be sure that he can move forward without penalty and without unintentional bit pressure.”
If your horse speeds up too much, relax or dial down your leg cues, or discontinue artificial aids. Limit your body cues before pulling back on the reins to get your horse to stop.
“It’s easy to have greedy hands–which your horse doesn’t like–but it takes a self-assured, competent rider to have generous and giving hands,” Goodnight says.
Julie Goodnight (www.juliegoodnight.com) lives in central Colorado, home to miles of scenic trails. She trains horses and coaches horse owners to be ready for any event, on the trail or in the performance arena. She shares her easy-to-understand lessons on her weekly RFD-TV show, Horse Master, and through appearances at clinics and horse expos held throughout the United States. She’s also the international spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association (www.cha-ahse.org).
Heidi Nyland (www.wholepicture.org) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer based in Longmont, Colorado.