Because the horse I’m riding is still fairly young and green, I’m riding her two-handed in a snaffle to ensure she stays soft throughout this exercise. Even if this is just a refresher exercise for a more seasoned horse, I recommend starting in a snaffle to see how your horse is listening to your cues. While I like to work on this maneuver regularly, I also pay attention to my horse to make sure I’m not over-practicing.
Here I’m finishing up the last part of my large, fast circle. Ideally when it’s time to cue my horse, I want her to shut down from the fast lope and go directly into a walk, but with a young horse I’m more concerned about having her respond to the cue and slow down. If she breaks down to the trot before gradually walking, it’s OK. I don’t want to scare her and think that slowing down is a punishment. If my horse isn’t being responsive once she’s familiar with the drill, then I’ll go ahead and correct her.
[RELATED: PERFECT YOUR ROLLBACK]
Once I reach the center of the arena and want to shut down to the walk, I stay soft in my hand and release my inside leg and hum at the same time. The biggest takeaway from this exercise is consistency. However you like to cue your horse to slow down, be consistent in that cue. Every time I take my inside leg away I hum to ensure my horse knows I’m asking her to slow down.
After my horse has successfully broken down to the walk, I pay attention to what she’s doing. If she’s being good, and wanting to stay engaged at the walk, I reward her by continuing to walk at a relaxed pace. If I notice that I’m having to pick up my hand a lot to get her to listen to me, I’ll put her back to work until she wants to focus on me instead of what’s going on around us.
[RELATED: HAND POSITIONING]
When I ask my horse to shut down, I want her to have a rounded back and keep her hind legs underneath herself and engaged. If I feel like my horse isn’t listening to me once I release my inside leg and hum, I go to my hand to engage her legs and shut her down. I make sure to leave my left leg off and continue humming to be consistent in how I shut her down.
Because she didn’t want to slow down on her own, I’m going to ask her to back up a few steps instead of going directly into a walk. I want her to lift her back, engage her feet, and think about rocking back onto her hind end. I keep my inside leg off as I back her to reestablish the slow-down cue. Once I’m done, I let her sit for a few minutes to process what we just did. Then I’ll go back to my fast lope and try the shut-down cue once again.
Ideally I want my horse to slow down with my leg and voice cue before going to my hands, but when I do have to go to my hands I make sure that they’re soft and I’m using them in a manner that helps correct my horse and not scare her in the process; I want her to crave that slow down. My horse has her nose tilted just slightly to the inside, but each horse is different and some might prefer to be a straighter. However, your horse should never be looking to the outside of the circle during this drill.