Speed Control – Train Your Horse to Slow Down

The number one reason horses speed up is to maintain their balance. Think of a baby learning to walk. The instant he gets off balance he begins leaning forward and totters faster and faster until PLOP, down he goes. Like babies, horses also use momentum to maintain balance.

Walking is easier than balancing on one leg like a stork. Walking has one leg in contact with the ground at any given instant but forward movement helps you stay balanced. Try standing on one foot like a stork and start juggling or hold something heavy at the end of one arm. It takes 100% of your concentration to keep from falling over. Use a little imagination and you’ll understand the predicament we design for horses . When we ask for more than they can easily balance they have to speed up or PLOP!

Use this simple exercise to slow your horse’s speed at the walk, trot, or canter. Speed control, or ‘rate’, is within the grasp of any horse owner willing to work consistently toward a more rewarding and enjoyable relationship with his or her horse.

Two Reasons Horses Go Too Fast

There are only two reasons why any training exercise fails. One is unwillingness and the other a lack of ability. In this case,

  1. The horse is UNABLE to respond correctly because of fear, insecurity, imbalance or improper communication with the rider, or
  2. The horse is UNWILLING to be obedient.

The solution for both is the same – leadership. You must establish yourself as the leader. When you talk about horses that means you must have control over their feet. You horse should move where, when, and how you ask him to.

Easy Exercise to Slow Your Horse

Whether you ride in an arena or pasture, begin by using the fence as a guide.  If no fence is available, begin the exercise by riding a sixty foot circle. This is big enough to work at the walk and trot. Once you have good speed control at the trot it will be a fairly simple matter to advance to the lope or canter. To work at a faster speed you need to ride a larger circle. Make sure your horse understands where the circle is before beginning your transition work.

Transitions Are Key to Teaching Speed Control

This exercise to slow your horse down is built upon repetitive transitions from one gait to another and limiting the opportunity your horse has to lose control in the first place. It’s far easier to train a calm horse than one who is already an emotional wreck. In essence, you will teach your horse to move up one gait (walk to trot, or trot to canter) and down one gait (trot to walk, or canter to trot.)

Teaching transitions keeps your horse focused, balanced, and waiting for your next cue. The result will be a horse that is always ready to slow down or quietly prepared to gear up.

Exercise to Slow the Trot

The exercise is taught the same way regardless of which gait needs attention. Always be sure to have control at the walk before advancing to the trot, and control at the trot before moving into the canter.

Start by walking along the fence. Since you know your horse will trot too fast, decide in advance how many trot strides you will allow before asking it to return to the walk. The less control you have, the fewer steps you will allow. If your horse is a really wild character begin with baby steps.

Once your horse walks quietly and obediently ask him to trot using the slightest cue possible. After three trot strides calmly ask him to relax back down to a walk. Even though you ask for the walk after three strides you may not get it for twenty more! That’s okay. Expect your horse to resist you at first. After all, his habit is to race to the next county.

Don’t punish your horse and don’t get tense. Just take your time and firmly insist your horse walk along the fence calmly. If your horse totally ignores your cue to walk after fifty trot strides, rein him to a stop.  Don’t get excited, just line him back out along the fence and walk off.

Walk until your horse is quiet and soft again, then ask for three trot strides again.  Once you have three strides, bring your horse back to a walk. Repeat the simple transition as many times as necessary until your horse seems to be getting the message and is consistently making quiet walk-trot transitions.

When your horse begins to make transitions willingly start changing the number of strides at the walk and trot.  Instead of three trot strides do seven; then nine; then three; then five; then nine again. But if you have to battle to get to first base, accept it gracefully and stop. Pat your horse and let him know you appreciate his effort.  Once you’ve both aired up a little, return to the fence and try again.

Every horse is different. You may get total control of your horse’s speed in one lesson. It may take many lessons. Just be sure to work in both directions and stop each lesson on a high note, so you can praise your horse and mean it. “Good job!”

 Exercise to Slow the Canter

Use the same exercise to get your horse to canter calmly at a speed you enjoy.  Refresh the walk-trot transition exercise. Once you’re doing that transition well, continue to trot forward at a speed that is comfortable for both you and your horse.

Ask your horse to pick up the canter using the smallest possible cue. Keep in mind that you only want him to canter three strides before downshifting to the trot.  Again, it will probably take far more than three strides before he slows to the trot, but you have to begin somewhere.

Remember to warm up adequately at the trot before starting working on the canter. Also, if you always ride your horse with short reins and a lot of weight on the bit you will always have to ride that way. Be sure to work regularly on a loose rein.

Perfecting Speed Control

Once your horse understands what you want, and is both willing and able to continue, begin working on making your transitions pretty and soft. As your horse begins to listen for your cue to down-shift, you can trot longer and longer distances on a nice loose rein. If your horse starts to speed up again drop to a walk, organize, and go back to the exercise.

Routine maintenance is necessary in all horse maneuvers to keep them tuned and responsive. Speed control works the same way. Any time you horse even thinks about hitting the gas without permission, go back and practice your transition exercise again.

Reins, seat, legs, and relationship provide support to your horse. You are responsible to train your horse’s body just as much as his brain. Be thoughtful about balance and always give your horse the benefit of your doubt.

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  1. VB:

    “The number one reason horses speed up is to maintain their balance”
    That sums it up nicely, thank you! Instructors say to slow the horse by slowing your post, but I haven’t quite figured out how to keep a slow post whilst the horse keeps speeding!

    • Lynn Lynn:

      VB, slowing your post means you have to slow your mind and physical energy. But, horses have to learn that changing your timing is a meaningful cue before it will affect their own movement. Lots of folks ignore the huge problem imbalance causes. If you’re wobbling on one foot atop a three foot wall you can’t think of anything else because you’re trying not to go splat! Being out of balance or off-balance is, by definition, a negative situation whether it’s a person, tires, washing machine, or horse.

      Horses can’t figure out what the rider wants if he is busy trying to stay upright and moving forward. Slowing the post must be combined with limiting forward motion and supporting the horse as he begins a more difficult maneuver. Doing almost anything more slowly requires greater ability. Working transitions to MAINTAIN balance will build a foundation and habit that brings far greater control and confidence.

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