Hill Starts

How many times do you see someone getting on a forwards going horse and trotting off, getting faster and faster, spiralling out of control as you cover your eyes and peer through your fingers?

I met a new client last week who has been struggling with her horse. The mare is forwards going and ultimately the problem they have been having is that the trot gets bigger and bigger, like a ball rolling down a hill, and they run into canter. And the cycle continues…

The first thing I did was to get her to shorten her reins. 

When you ride a forwards going horse you have to compare it to driving a car. And hill starts particularly. If you just use leg and no hand, it’s like pressing the accelerator hard and speeding down a hill. If you have too much hand and leg then it’s like revving the car with the handbrake on. If you have a little bit of hand and use the leg at the same time you can get a smooth transition into the perfect gait, akin to a perfect hill start. Ultimate control.

Back to this horse rider combination. With a better rein contact the walk-trot transition was immediately steadier. Then we looked at the different ways of slowing down, and maintaining the desired trot – upper body position, slowing the rising, half halts, circles, transitions. 

Gradually the mare started to listen, and soon my rider managed to maintain the trot, prevent the mare running into canter, and keep a steady trot.

With a forwards horse half the secret to keeping a lid on the speed is to stop the horse anticipating the next move – so use circles, changes of rein, transitions, serpentines, to keep the horse on their toes – waiting for instructions from their rider.

Once I’d educated my rider in using all these tools they both settled down into some lovely flat work, which proved to me that the mare has had a good education and by riding her as if you are doing a hill start. She seems happier with a rein contact to guide her, as she’s a little worrier, and needs more leg when it’s there. 

Just a couple of sessions later my rider felt much more in control, and could generate a specific trot, keeping it for longer and longer. The circles became more balanced because my rider prepared for the movement and gave the mare the support and guidance she needed. The canter was more controlled too, but that will improve further as the trot progresses. The mare moves better, in a softer frame and less on the forehand, but most importantly she seemed happier. I think that she is a submissive horse, who seeks confidence from people, which is why she gravitates towards people standing in school. Now that my rider was sitting more positively, keeping a rein contact, and has taken more control over where they go the mare is listening more and is more confident going to the far end and doesn’t rush back home. Hopefully they can continue this, and their partnership will grow so that they can tackle new things, like traffic on the road. 


One thought on “Hill Starts

  1. theInelegantHorseRider Apr 12, 2016 / 8:20 am

    Really interesting. As a nervous rider I often feel as you describe in your opening sentence but that car analogy really helps me understand how I am impacting the situation. Sometimes it is just a different set of words and things become a little clearer – funny that. Thanks.

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