Speed Control


I was reading through some blogs recently, and it occurred to me, that a lot of riders and their horses struggle with a horse that has too much go, and not enough whoa – in other words, they don’t have any speed control.

While, “whoa” or “ho” is a good command, around here we don’t use verbal commands. We like our horses to tune into our seat and our body, so we can use the reins and our legs to refine the cues we give them for turnarounds, rollbacks, spins, or gathering up so we can do a canter pirouette (or swap directions quickly to corral an unruly bull come fall). Plus, anyone else can use “whoa” or “ho” and that might mean something to our horse when we don’t need it to.

Now, some of you are thinking, all of what you’ve just said is great, and that’s what I would love for my horse, but how do you accomplish that?

I have heard, and read that the way to solve a “charge-y” horse’s “problem” is to ask him to go. Sometimes that may be the key – in the case of say a barn sour horse- we may want to have him go to the barn quickly and make it a LOT OF work to be there. Then we’ll ask him to walk quietly away from the barn, and rest somewhere far away. We might repeat that process until he is mentally prepared to go back to the barn at the speed we’re riding. But when riding a horse like that, we likely have some speed control to begin with. The trouble with asking a forward horse to speed up, is that eventually he’ll just get in better and better shape, and the “go” won’t necessarily get any better – he will just last longer (and longer) before he tunes into you.

We also need to consider this: It is never the horse’s fault. If our horse has too much go, he’s only doing what he has been “trained” to do, or thinks he needs to do to survive. If you are a very tense rider, that can cause “tension” in your horse, and more often than not, the tense horse feels the need to move his feet. It’s how they have survived all these years.

So, how do you gain speed control through your seat?

You ride it. If you want your horse to walk, and he’s trotting away, the best thing to do is bend him around, by disengaging his hips (to one direction or the other), and send him out the other side at the speed you want to ride (or the speed at which you’d like him to go). When he comes out of that maneuver, walking a step-or-two, rub him. If /when he speeds back up, repeat the process. Realize when you are asking him to bend around, that you yourself need to be consciously thinking about what you feel like, and what your horse feels like at the walk, so you do not transmit any more energy to him than you need to.

It is probably most helpful to do this drill in a snaffle bit with split, round, or mecate reins. Be deliberate when sliding your hand down the rein to bend your horse around. Take your time – allow your horse to realize what is happening “BEFORE” he is asked to bend around and slow down. Horses are the masters at realizing what happened before what happened. This is simply another way to help them. Before you know it, you can think about slowing down, and wouldn’t you know it- your horse has beat you to downward transition!

Another great way to help them, is to do a lot of downward transitions. For example: you’d walk, and then ride with enough energy to get them to trot, then ride the walk again. If they don’t realize you’ve asked them to walk (or slow down), you can bend them around and send them out the other side at the speed you desire. Eventually, your horse will understand what’s being asked of him and he’ll start to ride as fast, or as slow, as you do and you won’t need your reins to control his speed. Then you can use your reins to collect him before a slow down, a turnaround, a stop, or a backup.

Now go smile while you ride, and “help” your horses!

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