Do you know how to shift your horse into three different gears–all at the walk, and again at the trot, and again at the canter? It’s a skill that can lead to a collected pace that will come in handy if you like to jump your horse. In this piece from Practical Horseman, hunter-jumper trainer Steven Weiss explains how to do it.
Play with the Paces
By Steven Weiss
This exercise will help you find your medium pace and stay on your track. It is done on the flat, but its benefits will carry over to your jumping, too.
1. Start at the walk in what you think is a medium pace, with even contact on both reins, staying about 6 feet off the rail. (Adjust the distance from the rail, making it closer or farther, depending on the size of your arena.) For the rest of this exercise, maintain this same distance from the rail. This will force you to concentrate on your track, without relying on the rail to steer your horse.
2. Squeeze your horse’s sides with your legs and ever so slightly ease the pressure on the reins to encourage him to increase his pace. He should respond with longer, more active steps. If he breaks into the trot, you know that you were not in your medium pace to start with; you were one gear above it in an extended pace.
3. After several strides, slightly increase your rein pressure to return to your -medium pace.
4. Next, close your fingers on the reins and increase your leg pressure again, this time to ask your horse to slow his pace. Adding leg pressure is crucial here—and in every downward transition between and within all gaits—because it keeps his hind end engaged. Again, if your horse can’t produce a slower walking pace without halting, you weren’t starting in a medium pace; you were one gear below it in a more collected pace.
5. Repeat this several times at the walk until you feel your horse producing three clearly different paces. Then try the same exercise at the trot. Ideally, you should be able to do it both rising and sitting, but if you’re not comfortable at sitting trot yet, stick to rising trot.
When the exercise is going well at the trot, try it at the canter.