Do you micromanage your horse, especially at the lope? It’s common, particularly if you're not a confident rider. The lope feels like the most precarious gait, so we want to check our horse often to make sure he’s not going to rush off or do something silly.
This is the wrong approach. Instead, we should train our horses to maintain their relaxed cadence at the lope without constant interference from us. In other words, we should ask for a nice lope, and our horses should maintain that gait until we cue him otherwise.
This “passenger exercise” will teach your horse to do exactly that. In the process, it also schools you to avoid the urge to micromanage.
Ride this exercise in a secure arena with safe fencing and good footing. Outfit your horse in a snaffle bit or hackamore.
Why It Works
This exercise lets your horse discover that a nice, steady lope is his good friend. You’ll ask for a lope, give him his head, then sit back and let him keep going without further fussing from you. The instant he speeds up on his own, however, you’ll flex him and disengage his hindquarters, then send him off in the opposite direction at a lope.
Over time, he learns that staying at that relaxed, even pace is easier than stopping, turning, and starting up again. The loose rein is essential, because hanging on the reins or fussing with them just unnerves or irritates your horse.
Ride this exercise for extended periods of time (without overtiring your horse, of course), over many practice sessions. If you want the best possible lope, you have to do a lot of loping!
How to Do It
Start by warming your horse up as normal, then put him into a lope on a loose rein. (If need be, work the exercise at a trot first, advancing to a lope when you feel comfortable doing so.)
Sit quietly in the saddle, your hands low and relaxed (no contact!), your upper body erect, your hips swinging with the motion, and your legs hanging naturally—no gripping. Remember
to breathe deeply from your belly.
Most important: Don’t micromanage! Be a “passenger” and let your horse lope around the arena on a loose rein.
If He Speeds Up…
…immediately ask him to disengage his hindquarters. (Note: This speed increase may occur after a few laps, after just a few strides, or even in the transition to the lope. Wherever it occurs, respond immediately.)
To disengage his hindquarters, sit down in your seat as you slide your inside hand down the rein to gain purchase. Then lift your outside rein slightly for balance as you apply just enough pressure to the inside rein to flex your horse’s neck to the inside. At the same time, press with your inside leg behind the cinch. All this stops him and causes him to cross his hind legs as he turns—this is the desired “disengagement” of his power source.
Once he’s yielded in this way, give him slack and let him stand a moment as a reward. If he tries to move off on his own, yield his hindquarters again until he stops. Once he’s standing willingly, turn him the other way of the arena and immediately ask him to lope off on a loose rein.
Work to increase the amount of time he remains at the desired speed on his own, achieving more over time.
Try a Test
When you think he’s ready, test him. As you exhale a deep breath, sit deep and “stop riding” (you may even rest your hand on his neck). Your horse should slow down and come to a stop. If he doesn’t, yield his hindquarters again and carry on with the exercise. It will come in time!
Madison Shambaugh of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Telluride, Colorado, won the 2017 Mustang Magic event at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. In 2015, at the age of 20, she earned reserve at the Virginia Extreme Mustang Makeover (mustangmaddy.com).