Striding Right

So much about horse training has to do with slowing and shortening your horse’s stride. AQHA Professional Horsewoman Carla Wennberg explains.

So much about horse training has to do with slowing and shortening your horse’s stride.

Slowing and shortening the stride is key to any discipline. Journal photo.

By AQHA Professional Horsewoman and Certified Horsemanship Association master instructor Carla Wennberg in The American Quarter Horse Journal

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.

Slide into the excitement of reining with AQHA world champion Craig Johnson. “Reining Basics With Craig Johnson” is a valuable addition to any horseman’s DVD library, whether you are a beginning horse enthusiast learning to ride or an accomplished rider polishing a performance reining horse for competition.

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.

Correct Progression

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.

Serpentines

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.

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6 thoughts on “Striding Right”

  1. Great stuff! Working with polo quarter horse rescue on dressage. This is exactly what we are doing. We are learning together. Wish I had had this instruction about 18 years ago.

  2. In one precise sentence and concept, Carla has captured both the essence of “collection” and the difference in the feel between collected and not. I will use this to explain so much that before I could only approximate in my training and teaching. Thanks, Carla!

  3. It doesn’t give any tips for lengthening the stride, only to shorten! I am sure we’re not the only ones having trouble extending.

    We have recently taken in a mistrained and underdeveloped “pleasure” horse that only moves with very short strides. We’ve fixed hoof and saddle problems and let her grow, but are struggling to teach her to move at a normal pace. She’s a snail at the walk, but we’ve made progress with her jog, although it still needs work.

    So tips for teaching a horse to lengthen its stride would be greatly appreciated!

    We have no problems with our own horses. Just this one problem horse.

  4. This is one of the best articles you’ve had on America’s Horse Daily!!! It is what I am working on now with my horses which makes it exciting for me also!

  5. She touched a little on extending by pushing the horse with her seat, but using your legs along with your seat in rhythm with the stride will help more. For instance extending the jog use your right leg when the horses left front leg reaches forward because the right hind leg is reaching at this time also and your leg will help drive that hind leg up under the horse more. Therefore use your left leg when the right front leg reaches forward. At the lope the rhythm pattern is a 1-2-3 so to help the horse drive more use your outside leg at the 1 and 2 of this rhythm pattern (when the hind legs are reaching under). Using your leg farther back on the horses belly, but prevent your body from falling forward, will help to get more drive from behind or just get the horse using his hind end better. The reiners actually pull their horses into the ground if the horse doesn’t respond to their body cue of going slower. For instance going big fast they will sit forward and urge the horse forward when they want to go slow they will sit down in the saddle and heavy and will often give a verbal command, mine is eeeeaassssyyy, some make some weird noise. So if the horse doesn’t respond to that they pull’em into the ground – stop them – bring them to a halt – then lope off again. The horse will then know if I don’t slow down by the cue of the rider just sitting down and heavy I will get pulled on. Reining in my opinion is not the dressage of western riding, western pleasure is because of the exercises we use to train our w/p horse. I’ve done all three. But we need some changes in our western horses!!

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