Horse Riding

Rating the Speed of Your Horse

This article will be to explain my concept of what “rating speed” is, but also to help people understand how to “feel as one” with their horse; to teach horse and human to be on the “same page” and “following the same lead” with the human in the capacity of being the “director” of this production, but not inhibiting the creativity of both individuals by that direction; to teach the human how to have the horses feet go where they want them to go and at the speed that they wish to go.

Creating “oneness” with our horses is a very achievable endeavor as long as we educate ourselves in the “nuts and bolts” kind of way too. The two go hand and hand. It would be wonderful if we all had “feel” and knew how to “follow a lead” naturally but alas, that usually isn’t the case. The “natural” aspects of interaction with horses will usually take place as more standard education is in place first. Then we will begin to develop a naturalness of interaction that is wonderful; both a union of mind and spirit.

Rating the Speed of Your Horse
Rating the Speed of Your Horse

Horse Rating Speed

My definition of rating speed is maintaining a consistent speed (cadence and rhythm) with your horse once you are at your desired speed. I also consider rating speed to be controlling speed between transitions of speed within a gait.

For example: if we go from a canter to a hand gallop and then back to canter again. Basically the same gait, just making a transition of speed within the gait.

Rating speed is one of those things that is very important in terms of creating understanding and communication between a horse and rider. From a safety standpoint, it is very important as well. If the horse and rider are moving “at speed” and the rider wishes to decrease and/or moderate the speed of their horse and it is at that moment that the communication between them breaks down, the horses “fight or flight” instinct might actually kick in to high gear, potentially causing a run-away scenario with both the horse and rider in jeopardy.

Learning how to horse rate speed

In a perfect world, the horse and human have bonded, done a lot of ground handling to establish mutual respect and trust at that level first and have developed a good communication level between them. The human also has an “open mind” and is continuing on the learning path. Since I’m a realist, I understand that this isn’t always the case, but I make it a point to advise people that their horse experience will be a better, safer one if they take the time to do these very simple basics first.

For example Scenario

One scenario that I see quite often is when the rider sends their horse forward and is enjoying a fast, forward ride in whatever gait the rider has chosen. Now they want to decrease speed so they pull on the reins. If the response from the horse is not one of “coming back” (as in slowing down), the rider may pull harder and harder which may cause the horse to just bear more and more into the pressure. At this point all we have is a pulling contest.

If the rider were to “open their shoulders”, drop their heels down so that they are the lowest point on the rider’s body and then offset a straight pull back on both reins with instead a steady tension on one rein and a “softening of the jaw” (vibrating) type tension of the other rein, all would probably be well. The horse would probably relax their jaw and poll and melt into a slower speed.

Other scenario

Instead, what often happens is the rider now begins to become frightened and they many times will start to curl their body into a fetal (defensive) position. Then their calves and heels come up and grip the horse’s sides hard, which compounds the problem. With the riders calves and heels in their sides, most horses have been trained to go faster with more pressure from the riders legs and heels and that is exactly what happens; the horse goes faster and gets stronger. Now we have a rider hunched forward, trying to pull the horse back while desperately gripping the horse’s sides with their legs and heels.

Quite often this scenario will turn into a “runaway” situation, and because the horse is now scared too, they are running in a panic without either the horse or the rider having a level head and thinking and making decisions.

If the rider had just sat up straight in the saddle, dropped their heels and calves out of the horses ribcage and done effective communication with the horses head and neck via the reins, the situation probably wouldn’t have spun out-of-control.

Let’s break down “rating speed”

From having taught hundreds of people how to interact with and ride their horses, I’ve come to the realization that terms like “feel”,”follow the lead”, “the horses feet are my feet”, etc. don’t really mean anything to some people (especially those with little experience). It’s like speaking in a foreign language. As a person’s horse experience becomes broader (they learn the language), these terms will probably begin to make perfect sense, but in the beginning of the “experience”, they often don’t. I have had better results if I break things down and give people mental “pictures” to relate to.

Think of riding your horse like driving a car (or for a kid, like riding a bicycle). It takes a certain amount of “feel” to drive a car or ride a bike, just like with a horse. We are also “making the cars or bicycles tires, our tires” when we drive, just like when “the horses feet are our feet”. It also takes education, coordination and good reflexes to handle certain situations that may arise.

Of course, we are only dealing with one brain (ours) when operating a car, but if we take the time to educate ourselves, develop our skills and break it down, its definitely transferable to riding a horse.

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