A horse that lopes too fast is probably doing it because he’s anxious, unbalanced, or both. Fortunately, the fix in all three cases is helping him organize his body. We do this via bending. As I like to say, bending a horse is a little like penicillin…it fixes just about everything. So, precisely how do you slow down a fast lope?
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What you don’t want to do is focus only on the speed by pulling back on both reins. With an anxious horse, this just bottles up the anxiety and makes things worse. Yes, you might physically slow him down, but mentally he’s no better than he was before. You’re just cramming his anxiety down further–and making it more volatile.
With the unbalanced horse, when you pull back on both reins he slows down but doesn’t change the way he carries his body. That means he’s still leaning forward on his front end, running to catch up with himself. So when you let go the reins, he’ll just speed up again.
To successfully slow down a fast lope, here’s what to do.
1. Don’t Pull!
Note how my horse is running in an unbalanced frame, leaning on his forehand. By pulling back on both reins, I’m addressing the symptom–speed--but not the underlying cause--that is, why he’s speeding. In this case, it’s a lack of balance and maybe some anxiety, too. Pulling on both reins solves neither of these problems and is not the way to slow down a fast lope.
2. Use Inside Rein
Instead, open your inside rein--my left in the photo--and begin to guide your horse onto a circle. Don’t worry at this point about actually slowing him down; that will come. Just initiate a change in direction that will start him circling and bending.
3. Increase the Bend
Gradually decrease the size of the circle to increase your horse’s bend, still using that inside leading rein. You’re looking for him to “let go” and really bend through his body.
The increased bend is like half a sit-up for your horse--it stretches and lengthens the outside of his ribcage and contracts the inside. He won’t do this until he relaxes. Over time this work will develop the muscles he needs to enable self-carriage, where his weight will be carried more on his hind end. That’s the more-balanced frame you’re ultimately looking for.
4. ‘Let’ the Slowdown
As you continue to guide your horse on a small circle with a leading rein, he’ll begin to slow down naturally. Let it happen! He may even break to a trot, as mine has. That’s OK. Wait until he bends his ribs and relaxes. Then ask for the lope again, and if he speeds up again, repeat the circle.
Be sure to work both ways in this manner to strengthen and supple both sides of his ribcage and abdominals. And repeat this exercise frequently over time to give it the best chance to work.
Click here to watch Warwick Schiller’s how-to video for this slow-the-lope exercise.
Australian clinician and reiner Warwick Schiller lives in Hollister, California. He’s an NRHA reserve world champion and represented Australia at the 2010 and 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games. He solves horse problems by changing the rider’s perspective. Learn more about Schiller and find his clinics, books, and videos at warwickschiller.com.