Q: I have a gelding that I bought for trail riding. Unfortunately, his previous owner used to gallop him a lot on the trails, so he constantly wants to bolt off. His mouth is dull too, which makes matters worse. Do you have any tips on how I could possibly retrain him to go the speed I want?
Here is one example of how to achieve this goal. Work in a quiet, flat area. Start at the walk, holding a rein in each hand. Increase the contact with your right rein and ask your horse to tip his nose to the right and bend his neck to follow. Press in with your right leg, against his rib cage, until you feel him shift his body slightly to the left. Your horse should create a small circle, in essence bending around your inside (right) leg. Envision a circle the diameter of a long lead rope, not a tight barrel racer turn. Once he completes his circle, relax your contact on the right rein, walk forward several steps, and repeat the process to the left, reversing your leg cue. Next you can add larger circles (the diameter of a longe line), progress to the jog, and work on transitions from one gait to the next. For instance, ask your horse to halt from the trot and back up. If you decide to canter (a slow gallop), stick to a few large circles, then ask him to walk. Remember, if you lack control and authority here, you’re liable to encounter problems on the trails.
When you do venture out on the trails again, find some opportunities to school your horse. There’s no reason why you can’t break up long stretches of flat, even ground with a medley of a slow jog, a trot, transitioning down to a walk, etc. In wide, more open areas, bend your horse in a large, gentle circle. Avoid cantering or galloping until you’re confident that your horse is listening to your requests. If you feel overwhelmed with the concept of re-schooling your horse, then seek some support from a veteran rider in your area who can put some structured rides on your horse.