Blistering turns and smokin’ straight-a-ways mean big wins at gymkhana events. It’s also incredibly fun! On the other hand, top speeds and tight turns put extreme demands on your horse’s body. Running patterns frequently puts undue stress and strain on your horse’s joints, tendons, and muscles. These tissues weaken over time and leave your horse vulnerable to chronic soreness, lameness, or injury. There is a psychological impact as well. When GO is regular part of a horse’s riding routine, he will learn to associate entering the ring (or simply being ridden) with excitement. He’s on alert and prepared for action, but if this state of mind is left unchecked, your horse can become habitually anxious and prone to reactive behavior. That’s not optimal for your horse’s well-being or his performance; it can also lead to dangerous acts under saddle such as rearing, bolting, and make him less responsive to your cues – precise communication is essential for safety and competitive success.
Extended gaits are ideal for elongating muscles and increasing suppleness. Ask your horse to give you the full reach of his stride for several laps around the ring at the trot and lope – the number of laps being determined by his current level of fitness. While the extended lope/hand gallop increase his reach from his shoulders and hips and compliment your horse’s overall condition, long-trotting is the best choice for improving cardiovascular fitness. It is dynamic enough to get your horse’s heart rate up with less physical wear and tear.
Building Strength for Better Turns
Your horse also needs to be able to get in and out of turns quickly. Collected work is a great way to develop the hind end and core strength he needs for rapid acceleration/deceleration without the stress and strain of speed. Riding in a gentle bit such as a snaffle, hold your reins in softly open fingers and shorten them until you establish light and steady contact with your horse’s mouth. If your horse may wants to slow down when he feels this pressure use your legs encourage him to move forward at a steady pace. When he responds correctly his weight will shift onto his rear end (engaging his hindquarters) and his back will lift (tightening his abdominals) giving you a smoother and crisper gait.
When you practice patterns, ride them at a relaxed and steady pace. Focus on precision, balance, and alternate between extended and collected gaits. Add circles, serpentines, and changes of direction to further enhance your horse’s athleticism, agility, and stride.
Dale Rudin is a CHA-certified riding instructor and clinician with a mindful and balanced approach to horsemanship and riding.