Oregon 3 year old TWH ridden in O-ring snaffle and  Western synthetic in  Round pen, indoor and outdoor arena, pasture, trails, hills by Intermediate rider.

Question: I purchased my TWH mare as an unbroken 2 year old.  I started her myself and have been riding her lightly for the last year.  She has always been pacey, but we are
getting better and better under saddle.  I always discourage the pace by twitching the bit or, if she is really stuck in it, I turn her in a small circle to stop forward motion.  We
are really starting to get a nice flat walk going.

I am interested in showing in some of the pleasure shows in my area.  I have started riding 1 hour each weekday and a couple of hours on the weekend.  During the week we usually
work on gait.  On the weekend we just trail ride and relax. My mare is around 14.3 hh and is very petite with very little muscling.  I would like to get her more fit.  Also,
she is getting bored with the gait training work and is starting to resent me coming to get her in the mornings.

Can the trainers list give me some specific exercises to work on during our daily training rides to prevent boredom and tone-up?  I read a recent article in a horse magazine
(Qtr. Horse) that gave a schedule for conditioning, but none of it seems to apply to us.  Most of the books I have refer to trotting horses and my mare is not cantering yet, so that
doesn't apply either.  If someone could give us some things to work on I would be very appreciative. 


From Panelist Liz


Lets see if I can give you a few good things to work on here. Since your filly is pacey and this is not a bad thing you just have to get her to square up from it and part of that is to understand that the pace is a ventro backed gait meaning hollow back. Where the running
walk in a level back so the goal here is to teach here to go to a more neutral (level) back than the hollow. This can be done by working at the walks and having several different speeds of walk . The first being a dog walk which is a head down slow walk, the second being a flat walk where there is more engagement of the hind quarters and she is moving out a bit more and you should start to see her head starting to do an up and down motion. 
Don't lift her head  to high, keep it where the pole is about level with the wither when her head is in the highest point of the lift in the head shake. 

Next is the fast flat walk. The head shake is very pronounced and you can really feel the hindquarters really reaching under and pushing off. The front hoofs you can feel pulling in the ground. Work on the dog walk and flat walk first until she knows the 2 separate speeds you are asking for on Q. Once she has these down then increase to the fast flat walk. And teach her to hold this as well. Remember do not pull her head up and in to
much or she will hollow in the back and go to the pace. You can feel the back drop away from you when this happens. Your running walk will come out of the flat walk. Do not bump or saw on her mouth if she hits the pace because she needs to learn to develop rhythm in her head shake off the bit and messing with the bit to much will discourage her
from getting this. Just don't push her so much until she hits the pace it is a very fine line between the flat walk and going to the pace so just soften your seat till she comes back down into the fast flat walk. She is so young yet and has not fully developed in her body yet so she is going to be able to only develop so much strength to hold gait at this age so work on the running walk in very small increments and not until she has the fast flat walk down just right. Lots and lots of walking will work great and only work on gait for 3 increments of 2 or 3 minutes at a time in an hour at a time. It takes about 9 weeks of riding one hour a day ,5-6 days a week for a horse to reach peak conditioning to hold gait for as long as their body is built to do. She is young and this still may be to much for her at this age. I  would think 4-5 days a week maybe 45 minutes of ring work and 1 hour of trail riding at a time would be just about right with out adding to much physical and mental stress to her at this time. To keep her from getting bored with the ring work. Do serpentines , do spirals in and out, teach her lateral work such as shoulder in and out , haunches in and out. Half passes. Weaving cones at a the walks. Walking over ground poles. Break up her rail work with these exercises. and before you start a session and finish one always allow her to just do a relaxed dog walk to loosen up at the beginning and relax at the end of a training session.


From Panelist Stella

One thing to remember about circling and reversing...you're still going forward, you're just changing direction! One reason the circling works to correct pacing is that is makes them bend and use their stifles more as they should. Similar lateral exercises such as figure 8s, serpentines(with or without cones to help), spirals(working large to small concentric circles, also back out again)are good ones to maintain interest, flexiblity, condition and be helping develop a squarer gait. 

Do first at a walk, then repeat in gait. You can vary the reportoire(order you do them, which ones and when), location, degree of difficulty (but start with big figures, dont 
make smaller ones until large ones are achieved easily and properly). Also, some of them can be done on trail...circle  or serpentine around trees, etc...that seems to give them a good practical reason why they're learning such things! I often find horses that become somewhat disinterested in performing a particular figure somehow have a "light bulb" go off in their head if I ask for it trailriding....especially if not yet well-conditioned in the rear, and the figure is still "work"(and therefore, a little bit of stress and strain to back leg muscles)...it helps give motivation that there IS some gain for them in doing so. Developing greater agility in a natural setting is just a part of basic survival instinct, so they make a better mental connection about why they are being worked in certain movements. (like humans, they'll initially prefer doing what's easiest, and avoid harder work, unless they can realize there's a good payoff for it!)


From Panelist Steve

I would start to canter her. I would allow her to move out and use herself when not in the ring. I would ride outside the ring as much as possible. It certainly sounds as though the horse is ring souring, which will only get worse with time.

Cantering not only helps gait, it helps conditioning AND most horses like the freedom and enjoy moving out. It helps their disposition. So it is a win-win-win situation.

Please be careful not to overdo it. The one comment I would would make is that at 3 years of age, an hour of hard work every day is somewhat excessive. It no longer is fun for this horse. From a physical standpoint, be careful that the horse is not sore somewhere.

So, my advice is shorter but more varied workouts, more outside the ring than in, and introduce the canter gently and carefully.

Steve Chasko


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