We’ve all been there. You’re looking forward to a great riding lesson, but from the minute you mount your pony, you’re begging him to go faster. He moves at a snail’s pace no matter how many times you cluck or kick.
First, it’s important that you make sure your horse isn’t going slowly because it hurts him to go faster. You’ll want to ask your trainer or a vet to make sure his legs or back aren’t hurting, and that he’s in good health and fitness for what you’re asking him to do.
If all of these things are fine, your pony has simply learned to tune you out! So how do you get him to tune back in?
While we may not want to admit it, some horses learn to tune out their riders because the cues they are being given are not clear. While you don’t mean to pull on the reins at the same time you’re kicking him forward, when you’re learning to ride, it can be hard to separate the two motions.
Have your trainer or an older rider at the barn watch you ask your horse to go forward to make sure you’re not unintentionally giving him conflicting cues. If you determine that you’re not the reason your pony has a case of the slows, it’s important to remember the order in which you need to ask him to move, working up to stronger aids:
- Cluck to him and push him forward with your hips.
- Add pressure with your calves and tap him with your heels.
- “Pony kick” your horse, where you take your full leg away from the saddle and flap it repeatedly until it annoys the horse enough to go forward (should be done rapidly).
- Add a crop or use the ends of your reins behind your leg (never in front on the shoulder).
Your horse should step off right away, as soon as you ask him to move forward. Let him go forward as fast as he wants; don’t pull back on the reins or ask him to slow down if he’s done what you ask him to do.
However, if he acts like there are cinderblocks attached to his feet, he’s still ignoring you. Need some other ways to get your horse moving forward? Here are some other tricks to try.
If you’re lucky enough to have a place outside the arena to ride, take advantage of it! Riding in circles all the time can be boring, so get your pony out of the arena and ask him to really move forward and motor around.
Have any hills? Even better! Go for a good gallop up the hill and really let your pony stretch his legs. Once he remembers how much easier it is to go forward (and you understand what pace you are asking for), you’ll be able to better translate that energy into your arena work.
Change It Up
Routine comes very easily to most of us. We get up for school at the same time every day, we go to the barn on specific days of the week. We warm up our horses the same way and we ride for the same amount of time. BORING!
Next time you mount up, mix it up. Instead of trotting around aimlessly for 10 minutes until your pony is warmed up, do 8 or 9 minutes of working walk and really ask him to engage. Next, go right into canter, then serpentines, then trot circles.
Add in changes of speed within the gaits as well so you practice working trot, medium trot and collected trot. Change directions and speed a lot—try to surprise your horse and keep him thinking, since he doesn’t know what you’ll ask him for next.
Change Disciplines for a Day
We know that doing the same thing over and over again is boring, and your pony feels the same! He gets tired of being drilled on the same flying lead change, dressage test or line of jumps. So how can you keep it fresh? Try a western saddle on your hunt seat horse; run a barrel pattern on your dressage pony or try some games with your horsemanship horse.
Anything you do that is out of the ordinary will perk up your trusty steed as he works to figure out what he’s being asked to do.
Give Him a Rest
Another way to encourage your lazy horse to go forward is to send him forward in a hurry, then when he gets to a specific point in the arena or has accomplished the gait or task you ask of him, let him stop—and by stop, truly stop everything, not just the task he was doing.
Let him stand, rest, and drop his head. Then, when you’re ready to go to work again, ask him the same way as before to move forward. The resting in between is the reward!
If you’re still urging your horse along during every ride, it may be that you’re not strong enough to properly encourage him to go forward. Ask your trainer if you or she can put him on a longeline or in a round pen to work on getting him to pay attention to your verbal cues.
He should be attentive and listening to you, and move forward when you ask. If he’s not paying attention, send him forward by tapping him on the rump with a longe whip or the twirling the end of the longeline (stand out of the kick zone). What you accomplish on the longeline or in the roundpen will translate into the arena.
Thanks to Hayden Simon and her off-track Thoroughbred, Low Key Obsession!
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!