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A Pattern For Speed and Directional Control

Maintaining a consistent speed and changing directions at the cue of the rider are two basics that all horse should know and respond to. However, many horses will anticipate what the rider wants, or worse completely ignore the rider’s cues. Sometimes cues may be confusing to the horse such as constant contact on the reins, yet the horse is expected to stop when pressure is applied. This pattern will separate specific cues, making the correct response easy and the wrong one hard. Doing so allows the horse to figure out exactly what is wanted of him.

This lesson is particularly great for hot horses, working on your steering, and for using at horse shows on horses that are fresh or nervous to get them to relax and focus on you.

Speed Control

  1. Start by setting up the pattern in one corner of the arena. Place a cone in the center of the pattern, as this will be your reference point to keep your horse straight.
  2. Begin at a walk or trot, ride a straight line parallel to the cone on either the left or right side. Start on your horse’s stiffer side first. For this example to the right.
  3. Let the horse have a loose rein on the straightaway. Doing so gives your horse the opportunity to speed up, which you can then quickly correct by turning him.
  4. The horse should travel at either the walk or trot consistently at the pace you want.
  5. If you start to feel your horse speed up, make a half turn (to the right) and continue on a straight line in the other direction. Keep making turns in the same direction, all right hand turns, then when your horse is going well change to making turns to the left. If you are riding the pattern correctly you will make a shape similar to the petals of a daisy around the cone.
  6. If the horse gets fast, quickly make your pattern smaller so he has less time to speed up. Also, if your horse is lazy make the pattern bigger to encourage him to speed up on the straightaway.
  7. Go in one direction the entire time, then let him rest in the center by the cone for a few minutes before going off in the other direction.
  8. Once your horse is staying at a constant speed at the walk and trot try cantering the pattern.

Directional Control

  1. Start riding the same pattern as described above.
  2. When you are ready to turn feel which way your horse is leaning, this may either be very obvious if you horse is dragging you toward the gate or may be more subtle if the horse is slightly drifting to the left.
  3. Make a turn in the opposite direction that your horse is anticipating or leaning.
  4. Continue on the pattern, feeling at each turn which way it is that your horse wants to go.
  5. Through repetition your horse will become more balanced each direction and learn to wait for your cues.
  6. Ride the pattern at all three gaits but only move up to the canter when the horse is performing consistently at the first two gaits.

Helpful Hints

  • Don’t hang on your horse’s face when going straight. If he does speed up turn him instead of pulling back.
  • As he starts to relax start making the pattern bigger. If your horse is speeding around, make the pattern smaller until he slows down and relaxes.
  • Focus on where you want to go so your horse doesn’t get wiggly when riding straight.
  • If your horse is diving in during the turn automatically turn him in the opposite direction. If the horse is diving in to the left and you turn him right the horse can no longer drop his shoulder and this balances him out.
  • Don’t stop riding the pattern too soon as it takes time for the horse to understand the exercise. Canter for up to 10 minutes at a time on this pattern.
  • Turn the opposite direction, even at a canter, in order to balance the horse and keep him straight. The horse will be counter cantering but he needs to learn how to do that regardless, as it is a great strength building and supplying exercise.
  • Do the lesson everyday for a week. Consistency is the biggest factor in learning for horses. Don’t move on until your horse can complete the pattern without speeding up and turning smoothly without leaning.
  • You want your pattern to have equal “pedals”. It helps to practice in a freshly drug arena.
  • You can mix both directional control and speed control into the same lesson by only turning when the horse speeds up and by only turning the opposite way the horse is expecting or is leaning in.