Do you ride with impulsion and confidence at the lope? If not, that’s a problem, because you must go forward before you can do anything else. I train many disciplines, and a goal for them all is getting the horse’s hind leg moving up underneath him to drive from behind. This kind of “forward” has nothing to do with speed—it’s all about hind-end engagement.
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Timid riders often hesitate to push for that engagement. The feeling of impulsion it creates scares them. They worry their horse might get out of control, the way a truck driver going downhill worries when he’s not sure of his brakes.
With this exercise, you’ll learn not to fear going forward. In a repeating sequence, you’ll go forward, then apply your horse’s “brakes,” then move forward again with energy until you feel completely confident doing so.
Ride this exercise in a secure arena with safe fencing and good footing. Outfit your horse in the bit he responds to best.
Why It Works
When a rider is fearful, her body never fully commits to the lope. The horse is going, yes, but the rider’s body isn’t going along. She may keep checking with the reins, or interfering with the movement by stiffening and not following through with her seat and lower back.
Instead, I tell my students to think of catching a wave. You must ride along on top of a wave; you can’t try to hold it back. It’s the same on your horse. As long as you’re going along with the movement, it’s all good. Only when you try to hold back or go against the movement does it start to feel out of control.
The solution is going just short distances at a time. This enables you to concentrate on getting into the canter rhythm and encouraging impulsion with each stride. You can do this because you know you’ll be stopping soon, and so there’s no need to worry about your horse getting out of control.
You’ll start at a trot, then move on to the lope.
How to Do It
Warm your horse up as you normally do, then put him into a forward trot on the rail, driving him forward with your seat and legs. Continue for several strides, sitting up tall and relaxing down into the saddle, or posting (rising every other stride) if that’s more comfortable for you.
Then sit deep, pick up on the reins, and ask for a stop. Once your horse is still, remain there for a moment to reward him, then trot forward again.
When you feel completely comfortable doing this—that is, you’re 100-percent confident about your horse’s brakes—move on to riding the exercise at a lope.
Now, the Lope
At first, lope just a few strides before stopping. Knowing you’ll stop soon helps you relax and find your horse’s canter rhythm. It’ll also give you the confidence to go ahead and push him forward with energy.
Don’t hold back with your body. Think “push,” using your legs and seat, rather than pulling with your reins or blocking with your body. In this way, you’ll drive your horse’s hind legs up underneath him to achieve balance and impulsion.
Then, after a few strides, sit deep again, pick up your reins, and ask for the stop. As before, stand quietly for a moment, then repeat the sequence.
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Let It Be Fun!
Even with my senior ladies who began riding later in life, this exercise helps them relax and learn to feel what’s happening under them. Before long, they don’t want to keep stopping. They want to keep loping around the arena.
And that’s the best part—because riding your horse at the lope is really fun when you do it right.
Rob Bick of RBC Show Horses in Smithfield, North Carolina, trains Arabian horses and coaches youth and amateurs to compete in the breed’s major events, including the U.S. Nationals, Youth Nationals, Canadian Nationals, and Scottsdale. Learn more at rbcshowhorses.com.