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Tensing up at Faster Gaits

Q: I have a 10-year-old Quarter Horse mare that is still pretty green. When I ask her to jog or lope, she becomes tense and raises her head. How do I keep her in a relaxed frame?

A: Green horses often feel insecure at the lope. It’s the least balanced and most challenging gait to master. A combination of lateral flexion and increased impulsion will help your horse release her tension and cultivate a relaxed frame.

Begin by teaching your horse to flex, bending her spine from poll to tail while maintaining a forward gait at the walk. Walking on a loose rein with low hands positioned in front of the saddle, ask her to lengthen her stride by rhythmically squeezing both legs. Then ask her to flex her head and neck to one side by shortening, not pulling, one rein. Your rein is the right length when your horse’s head is in the 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock position, depending on direction, with her face vertical to the ground. Her body should take on the shape of an arc, and she should move on a curved track that matches the shape of her body. Should she shorten her stride or slow down while flexed, release half the rein pressure, encourage her to move forward more energetically with leg pressure, and ask her to flex again.

Once your horse is comfortable with this exercise in each direction (it could take minutes or days), ask her to perform it at the jog. When she’s comfortable and consistent at that gait, repeat it at the extended jog until she’s doing it well, then ask her to lope. You may find the lope is greatly improved by the suppleness your horse has gained at the other gaits, but as you continue to work her at this gait, keep the flexion to a minimum, no more than 11 o’clock or so. Ask her to hold the lope for a few strides at a time until she develops her confidence and strength. Additionally, offer her more lateral support with contact on your outside rein and as much encouragement as necessary to keep her hind end working to drive her forward.

Liked this article? Here are others you’ll enjoy:
Can’t Relax at the Lope
Green Horse Rules to Live by

Dale Rudin is a CHA-certified riding instructor and clinician with a mindful and balanced approach to horsemanship and riding.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Dale Rudin

Dale Rudin is a Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA)-certified riding instructor, welfare-centered trainer, rehabilitation specialist, saddle fitter, and certified equine nutritionist. She is a founding member of Force-Free Tennessee, an animal advocacy organization that promotes humane, low-stress training and handling of all animals. Dale's No. 1 goal is to create joyful experiences for horses and the people who love and care for them. She uses compassionate, reinforcement-based training methods that reduce stress and benefit the horse both emotionally and physically, and specializes in restoring health and wellness to horses with mild to severe physical, emotional, and behavioral issues. Dale offers instruction and consultations in person and online. She accepts horses for training and rehab at her farm, Lyric Valley Ranch in Santa Fe, Tenn., which is also the home of Pure Joy Horse Haven, a sanctuary for traumatized and abused horses (

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