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To lope…or not to lope

By Sheryl Lynde / Horsetrader columnist - September 15th, 2016 - Trainer Tips, Training

Trainer TipsThe answer is yes. I have had several people come to me for help to overcome their fear of loping. Growing up, they were daring and would ride whatever horse was in front of them at whatever speed they chose and in any environment. But as they aged, that sense of reckless abandonment slowly dissipated and a new emotion emerged on the scene – FEAR.

Well, let’s face it — when we were younger and we hit the ground, we bounced. Now we land with a thud, and it takes a bit longer to get up. We also have more responsibilities as we age and can’t afford the time injuries take away from the workplace.

One other common scenario is a rider who owned a horse for 20 years or more. This horse was a real gentleman and gave the owner a tremendous sense of security and perhaps more confidence than they should have in their riding ability. Inevitably, the day arrives and they suffer the passing of their trusted companion. Once they have overcome their loss, the search is on for a new mount. More times than not, they purchase a much younger horse, and they realize perhaps they don’t know as much as they thought they did. Their older horse built their confidence, the younger one is depleting it and FEAR has again arrived.

Riding should be fun. Whether you compete, ride arena or trail blaze, you should be looking forward to heading out to the barn and riding your horse. One way to ensure a positive experience is to pair your riding ability with the appropriate level of horse. Even though you have been riding for 30 years, your ability may still be at the level of beginner. Someone in the relationship has to have more experience than the other. If you have a green horse, then the rider must have more experience than the horse. If the rider is green, then the horse must be more seasoned than the rider. If you have a green rider and a green horse, this equation always adds up to black and blue.

So let’s say you are paired up with the proper horse and you want to overcome your fear of speed and learn how to lope confidently. Start in an environment where you feel safe, like an arena or other fenced area. Another great place if you have access is a sand wash. Your goal is to lope, but we don’t start with your goal, we build up to it in steps. Begin at a speed that is in your comfort zone and work on smooth transitions. Go from an energetic walk to a jog, then increase your energy by posting and go to an extended trot for a few steps. Then, reduce your speed by exhaling, lowering your shoulders from your ears, softening your lower back, releasing your legs and sitting deep in the saddle. This should bring your horse back to a slow jog. If not ,and you are sure you gave clear cues with your body, take the slack out of both reins and ask him to honor your request now – not halfway down the arena, but NOW. Always give your horse a chance to respond to your seat, legs and body first, and then back up with your reins.

As Ray Hunt has been quoted as saying, “legs are more important than reins”. Once you have completed several transitions and your horse is consistently responding to your seat and legs as your increase and decrease speed, you are ready for the lope. Go from the jog to the extended trot, and really extend your trot until your horse breaks into the lope. Make sure you are relaxed in your body and sitting deep in the saddle by polishing the seat with your back pockets. Resist gripping with your knees and calves and let your feet lightly rest in the stirrups and just ride. After riding a few strides, break him back down to the extended trot by relaxing your body. Make sure you aren’t leaning forward, check yourself and position your shoulders slightly behind your hips when loping. When you ask your horse to move into the lope, have arena awareness. If you are positioned at one end of your arena and pointed to the opposite end, all he sees is space in front of him and he may build up unwanted speed. Begin your lope halfway down the arena. He will be less likely to build speed with the end of the arena a shorter distance away. Slowly increase the length of time you lope. Allow yourself to get out of your comfort zone a little each day. This is where progression happens. Giddyup!


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