Question: The group I ride with is very competitive in a fun way. When we’re on the trail, every time we ask for the canter, it means woo hoo race! It is fun, and we have done it a lot. Now, when I’m riding my mare with one other horse or with a group of horses, if I ask for the canter on the trail, my horse immediately kicks into fifth gear and is in the race to win. Other than stopping her, what exercises would you suggest I do when out with other horses that might change her thinking? – Maureen Earle
Clinton’s Answer: When you’re riding with other horses and your horse speeds up, use one rein to redirect her excess energy. Turn a negative into a positive. If she takes off at the canter, slide one hand down the rein to bring her back to a trot. Then bend her in at least three circles around your leg. Then change directions and bend her in at least three circles in the other direction. More than likely, it’ll take several minutes before she relaxes and focuses back on you instead of the other horses.
Once she’s working well (she’s calm and paying attention to you), put her back on a loose rein and continue on your ride. Dare her to speed up again and commit to the mistake. If you constantly try to hold the horse back, you’ll always have to babysit her. If she starts to build speed and head after the horses in front of her, bend her around again.
With repetition, she’ll learn to relax and stay at the pace you set her at—not getting any faster or any slower—because she knows that if she doesn’t, you’ll put her to work. Horses are creatures of habit and basically lazy—they’ll always choose the option with the least amount of work involved.
After a few repetitions of bending and hustling her feet, your horse will realize it’s far easier to stay at the gait you set her at and go down the trail on a loose rein.