DEAR DANA: I have a 9-year-old mare that I show in amateur Western pleasure and trail classes. I have had her for three years. When I first bought her, we did quite well and even won at some good AQHA shows. In the last year, it seems like we have been going downhill. My friend says my mare looks like she is on her front end and has lost the lift she used to have. In my trail classes, she isn’t marking as good of scores and hits a lot of poles. What do you recommend that I do?
DEAR EILEEN: One of the most common problems we have in today’s Western classes is keeping our horses’ movement true and excellent. With age, some horses lose that crisp, strong look in their movement. Just yesterday I heard from a lady in the Midwest who said her horse had lost the “lift” she once had. I recommended to her:
1. To drive her horse forward to her face.
2. To take hold and collect her until she felt the mare land on the ground and lifted, with a definite rhythm, to make her drive up until she gets into a rhythm and stays in that rhythm.
3. Then, drop her and see how long she holds it. When she falls apart, pick her back up and collect her until she feels that rhythm again.
At the lope, a horse should have a moment that you can catch her with your seat, a moment of airtime that you can scoop her up with your seat like you are swinging into a swing or sitting in a rocking chair.
The definition of rhythm is “a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound.” I feel and listen for that rhythm every time I ride.
Remember, your horse is an athlete. She needs to be kept conditioned and strong to keep performing at her best! Horses (and people) with age tend to lose flexibility, strength, and length of stride. In my everyday workout for my horses, I incorporate a series of exercises to help my horses be able to move at their best. One of them is working on collection, which I just mentioned. Another is balancing your horse’s body weight correctly over her hindquarters. By pulling on our horses face, and slowing them down we often promote our horses to travel on their front ends. Horses should travel with their weight balanced over their hindquarters. When a horse balances on their front end, they move heavy over the ground. They are also prone to lameness due to the unnatural way they are traveling. Their movement deteriorates and it becomes an unattractive sight. This may even be the cause for your horse hitting a lot of poles! If she is not lifted and cadenced and on her front end, she will be more likely to hit poles. Just picture it, the more your mare is on her front end, the harder it will be to drive up underneath herself. She will be prone to traveling with her hocks out behind hers, becoming more uncollected.
I strongly believe that if you ride mindfully, working in every ride to increase your horse’s collection and improve her gaits, you will improve in every event that you compete in! I would highly recommend Maximizing Your Western Pleasure Horse series (Volumes 1-3). They will contain many answers to help you!