So much about horse training has to do with slowing and shortening your horse’s stride.
Slowing and shortening the stride is important in anything from equitation to horsemanship. You see it especially in reining, where horses have to go from a fast circle to a slow, collected circle. It takes a lot of balance and training to accomplish that without pulling on the reins.
When you want to slow and shorten a horse’s stride, there are a few things you have to think about.
A horse’s natural tendency when asked to slow his stride is to go to the forehand, because that’s the easy way to do it. Your job as a rider is to:
- Help the horse slow down
- Shorten his stride
- Maintain collection
Remember that slowing a stride changes the overall frame of the horse’s carriage. When you slow a gait, you push the horse into a shorter frame, and his step shortens. The horse goes from carrying his body in a longer, extended frame, to a shorter frame where he carries himself higher off the ground. The shorter frame comes from a slightly shortened rein along with “push” from your lower leg and seat to drive the horse up. You teach the horse to drive up into more collection. The horse’s more collected frame is dictated by his body conformation and his ability to have self-carriage through his topline and hindquarters, not in how his head is set.
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The problem is, when you ask a horse to go s
lower and shorten, he’ll automatically tend to go to his forehand and lose collection, because it’s easier.
To prevent that from happening and to maintain the horse’s collection, you have to ask the horse to stay engaged from behind while you slow the stride. You have to do it with your seat and legs, keeping the horse’s hind legs balanced and moving and carrying his weight.
Forward Motion First
Your horse first has to know how to carry himself with correct balance while going forward with a longer stride before he can learn how to do it with collection. Collection comes from the horse using his hind end to drive forward.
If you want the gait to stay collected, say from an extended jog to a collected jog, the horse must continue to engage his hock and balance himself.
First, establish your driving aids going forward. Here’s how I do it.
- When I am driving a horse forward, I actively push him with my seat.
- When I want him to collect and shorten the stride, I make my seat bone and lower back almost heavy in the saddle.
- I shorten the rein and the feel of my hand for a stride or two.
- And I close my leg at the calf, keeping the weight down through my heels.
At that point, I am holding the horse in carriage. I am telling him he must keep his rib cage and back up. His neck stays flat, and he’s using his whole body, his whole topline, to shorten and collect the stride.
Western Hands and English Hands
I think the really good reiners have the finesse and technique to do a really nice slowed and shortened stride. They gallop full out and then they collect the horse from the rider’s seat and leg.
When the western rider asks for collection, the western hand with the western curb bit simply maintains a shorter frame. The horse goes up to the pressure of the bit and then gets right back off of it, shortening the body and slowing down.
To get that same collection in the hunt seat, we gather up the reins and take more feel and push them to the bridle. It’s not a heavy feel. It’s like holding hands with somebody. Feel where you drive them to your hands, and you hold the motion of their bodies in your seat, leg and hand. If a horse feels heavy to your hand, he’s usually on the forehand. When a horse is in self-carriage and is balanced, it’s a wonderful feeling of give and take between your hand and the horse’s head.
To work on collection in shortening strides, practice riding serpentines across the width of the arena. Shorten your horse’s stride through the curves of the loops and lengthen his stride as you ride across the arena.