Wanted: Light-footed Loper - Horse&Rider

Wanted: Light-footed Loper

Western Pleasure training tips: Follow trainer Bob Avila's advice to help your heavy-footed Western Pleasure horse move smoothly at the lope or canter.
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Q: I have a 3-year-old quarter Horse that I plan to show in Western pleasure. This gelding is a nice horse for the discipline except for one thing: When he lopes, he hits the ground hard. How can I help him move more softly at that gait? Can you suggest an exercise or perhaps a shoeing tip?
Stephanie Douglas
Janesville, Wisconsin

A: You can help your gelding move more softly by improving his degree of collection; here's why. Typically, a horse that hits the ground hard at the lope is moving with a hollowed back, rather than a rounded one. This causes him to move with most of his weight on his forehand, meaning he's literally sloping downhill, thus pounding the ground with his front feet.

A rounded back results from collection—that is, the more collected your horse is, the more softly he'll lope. That's because collection shifts your horse's weight onto his hindquarters, freeing up his front end for the soft, slow-legged movement that's rewarded in the pleasure pen.

To learn more from Champion Western horseman Bob Avila, download a FREE guide?Perfecting the Lope: Champion Western Horseman Bob Avila on How to Train a Horse to Counter-Canter and Change Leads While Loping.??

To increase your horse's degree of collection at the lope, drive him forward from his hindquarters by softly squeezing with both legs. As you do so, capture the forward impulsion you're generating by maintaining light contact with his mouth. You should feel his back bow up slightly beneath your seat as your horse lowers his hindquarters, rounds his back, and elevates his shoulders. (Picture a speedboat during fast acceleration. Its engine end--like your horse's hindquarters--will lower as the engine propels the boat forward, causing its front end to elevate.)

Avoid letting your horse stall out when he moves into your contact, which would enable him to shift his weight forward and hollow his back. If he does stall out, increase your leg pressure to keep him driving forward from behind. This will force him to round his body as he encounters your bit contact.

With time and repetition, your horse will develop the strength and balance necessary to carry himself in a collected frame. As he does, you'll find you need less and less contact to help him maintain that frame. As for shoeing tips, you might try outfitting your horse's front feet in aluminum shoes, if you haven't already. Aluminum weighs less than steel, so shoes made from that material tend to encourage softer movement than
steel ones.

And if you don't currently have a farrier who specializes in pleasure horses, I'd suggest you find one. Specialized horses have specialized needs. Only a farrier familiar with those needs can offer you the solutions you seek. There are many options now available in aluminum shoes for Western-performance horses such as yours. One of them, coupled with the proper degree of collection at the lope, may be just the ticket for your horse.

A lifetime horseman and show competitor, Bob Avila has competed in nearly every show event, including hunt seat, as a youth rider. He credits this experience with enhancing his balance in the saddle. "I encourage my amateur
students, and my son, B.J., to try English riding, because it really strengthens your riding skills and makes you a better all-around competitor," says Bob. In the Western-performance horse world, Avila Quarter Horses has produced
more than 30 American Quarter Horse Association champions and reserve champions. When he's not competing in the show pen, Bob can be seen officiating at Quarter Horse shows in the United States and abroad.

This article first appeared in Horse & Rider magazine in 1999.

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