With the Olympics recently behind us you may be wondering, how do I easily teach my horse to lengthen and shorten their strides, or at least track up?
Here's a quick and useful tip (+1 more important one at the end) for you to start working towards extended and collected gaits now, no matter what level you're currently at.
Ride to a metronome (or music) that works with your horses tempo (download a phone app). The average tempo (from military times) is:
- 95 bpm (beats per minute) for walk
- 75 or 150 bpm for trot
- 98 bpm for canter.
If those speeds don't seem to work for your horse, either watch a video of your horse where you like their movement, or have your instructor use a metronome app on their phone that has a tap option, where they tap in time with your horse and it tells them the tempo.
Once you know your tempo, and can ride it consistently, it will help your horse to ride it consistently.
Then you can go to the next step.
Set up a line of markers (I ride parallel to the slalom posts).
While riding in the correct tempo for your gait, count steps between markers until you are consistent.
Now ride the line and put in one less, or one more step, without changing the tempo.
I don't count strides in the beginning because the horse has to make too big of a change from what they are currently doing.
If the tempo changes instead, you are changing their leg speed which is not what we are after.
Once your horse can maintain tempo, and change the number of steps, they will be lengthening or shortening their stride just a bit.
You can build on that.
It should be your goal to work on your horse's hind feet stepping into the tracks of the front feet (or past depending on build and gait).
This is a prerequisite to any collected or extended work as it helps them to be able to carry more weight on their hindquarters and free up the front end.
Asking them to put in one less step, in the same distance, at the same tempo, requires that they step further with each leg.
I go into more detail on how in the lesson on this in the Working Equitation Mastery Online Program.
Your horses demeanor (attitude, tension, happiness), should not get worse when you shorten (collect) or lengthen (extend) your horse's stride.
If it does, you need to ask yourself what you are doing, or not doing, that is causing it.
Don't lose your rhythm and relaxation, while you work on the suppleness that this exercise encourages.
You CAN learn how to improve your horse's skills from online courses and tips such as these.
But only if you implement.
So when you read my articles write down the steps as a reminder for what you're going to try in your next ride.
Take them to the barn and try them out.
Come on back when you're done and let me know how it went.