Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tossing the Head from Walk to Trot

In yesterday's post, I briefly described a problem I'm having with Leah. When I ask for the trot, she tosses her head and acts kind of mad.  At first, I thought it may be the saddle, because I didn't think she did it when ridden bareback, but last week she did it in saddle and bareback.

Hmmmm....another mystery.


1. Leah prefers the trot to the walk or lope.  I have a hard time getting her to start out at a walk.  She wants to get up and go. For the first half hour, it takes me about 2-3 asks to get her from trot to walk.  At the slightest provocation, she will start to trot again.

2. When SHE chooses to trot, she doesn't toss her head.

3. The tossing happens bareback and in different saddles.

Possible Solution:

I was watching Julie Goodnight last night (I tape all the episodes) and she had one on a horse that would buck when asked to lope--an "explosive departure."  The horse was very forward, sensitive, smart and athletic.  She pointed out that the horse was nervous about being asked to lope because he expected the rider to pull on his mouth.  The ask for movement, then the pulling back of that movement, was sending the horse mixed signals and he had developed a sourness or anxiety about the transition.

Here is a link to Julie's article on this topic.

During my lessons, I was always told to gather up my reins and make them short before asking for the trot and, I'm thinking now, my execution of that has made Leah anxious about the walk-trot transition.

Julie's advice was to throw the horse the rein before the ask and really emphasize that you WILL NOT get in their way or yank on their mouth.  AND, to use her seat only to ask for that transition. Then, let them move into the new gait for a few steps before gathering up any rein.

She also said to use his movement and don't try to hold it in all the time.

My plan:

1. Let Leah start out at the trot, if she wants, and stay off her mouth except when needed for control. (Julie said that allowing them to move out at first will help them get in the groove and listen better when they settle down.)

2. Throw her some generous rein whenever I ask for the trot and let her find that movement for a few strides before I shorten the rein.  And, if I don't need to, I'll continue to give her that rein--which I have been doing.

3. Use my seat ONLY for the ask--no clucking (which she hates) or leg--seat only.  Leah is extremely sensitive to cues.  I have to be very gentle with my leg cues anyway.  As for vocal, she even hates it when I'm talking to other riders while she's trying to work.  She'll pin her ears back anytime I start talking loudly.  On the ground, however, she likes voice commands.  Go figure.

Now, I just need to dig my trailer out again and get to the barn to put this into practice!


  1. It's worth a try to see if it works for Leah. Good luck with it and digging out your trailer!

    1. Getting more snow today, but warming and rain tomorrow-so here's hoping I can get it out tomorrow afternoon! :)

  2. Interesting- and good advice from Julie. One more thing you could try when asking for transitions: before you use your seat cue, use mental imagery. If you are at the walk, count the strides 1-2 3-4, until you get a good rhythm going then to transition to a trot change your mental timing to 1-2, 1-2 for a few strides before you ask with your seat. Once your mare picks up on it you should be able to cue the trot or any other gait by changing your mental rhythm- as what we have in our minds is subtly picked up on by our bodies. A good example of that is when we are mentally tense and our bodies get all tight, then when you realize it and take a deep breath your body relaxes too.

  3. Great advice from Shirley! I also agree that collecting the reins before asking for transitions sends mixed signals. I know why your trainer asked you to do that though, collection. But the more we can ride, transition, get control of everything that we ask of them on a loose and relaxed rein, the better. Loose reins equals relaxation and we always get better responses from our horses. I think Leah is just keeping you guessing!

    1. Yeah, and Julie's was for cantering, but I think it applies to the trot, too. I'm excited to try this new, softer ask. The keeping us guessing part is what bonds us in the end. :)

  4. I was taught to gather my reins before speeding up too, in part for collection and in part so that I wouldn't get off balance if I did have to pull back to get the horses to slow down. I had a few wild rides on my greenies. It's funny how horsemanship is ever evolving.

    1. Yeah, she was really green when I took those lessons, and my instructor may have been telling me to do that for my safety.

  5. i'll tell you something Linda, your posts always make me think about what I do, how I do it, & how I could do better for my horses.
    Thank you for that.

  6. Love your blog and your very very nice posts!!! Good luck to you and thanks for sharing your good advice:)


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