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Break it down. Slow it down.

By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist - June 1st, 2018 - Trainer Tips, Training

Trainer TipsA friend called and needed help with a Peruvian Paso. Platino is a 10-year-old Peruvian gifted with a beautiful natural gait. However, his speed was uncontrollable. Lunging, working him off-line in the round pen, and galloping in the arena for extended periods of time only escalated his level of energy. He would walk alongside the handler while being led, but once a rider was seated, the race was on. Very little leg pressure was used to eliminate any possible cause for his need for speed, and the owner had had him thoroughly examined by a vet to rule out pain as the catalyst.

Platino arrived, and we headed for the round pen. I was aware that, physically, he was confirmed sound and fit, including a ruling out of gastric ulcers that have become so prevalent. Physically, he checked out. I moved him around a little using halter and lead rope to determine his emotional state. I didn’t find him to be overreactive, fearful or aggressive; quite the contrary, he was a gentleman. The next component that needed to be revisited was their training regimen. Since the current program wasn’t adding up to a successful outcome, a change was required in order to produce a different result.

If you have an issue, just keep breaking it down until you find a flaw or a hole in the training. Once the weak link has been identified, make your corrections. You will know you are on the right track if there is a change, and at times the change may appear to be insignificant. It could be as subtle as a thought to honor your request, but a consistent reward or release of pressure will bring about a more significant transformation.
Over the years, there are certain reckonings that have proven to be spot-on. For instance, Green Rider + Green Horse = Black and Blue. Consistent, repetitive effort + dedication = consistent results. This one also stands the test of time: Speed + Speed = More SPEED.

It wasn’t the lunging, round-penning or galloping that failed to develop speed control; it was the lack of breaks during those elements of training. When designing a training program, you want to work the mind, not the lungs. If you think you can lunge or gallop until the horse tires, think again. That program is actually building his stamina and teaching him to lunge faster and gallop longer. Eliminating all speed and working him only in the lower range is just as ineffective as keeping him in the higher range. You need to incorporate all levels.

I started him out on halter and lead rope going in one direction. I asked him for a walk, a slower gait, and then a canter. After a half-circle at the canter, I brought him back to his slower gait, then a walk before changing directions. I repeated this in both directions until he was listening — until he slowed or elevated to the speed I requested when I requested it. Then, I let him stand and relax as he faced me. He never pulled on my hands or was out of control, so I took him off the lead and sent him around in the round pen. I repeated the same exercise – asking him for a walk, then slower gait, then canter, then gallop. Once in the gallop after half of a circle, I brought him back to a canter, then slower gait by lowering my shoulders and exhaling. I had to be the example of energy that I wanted him to follow. I changed directions frequently and included all speeds. Once he was responding to my requests consistently, I allowed him to stop, face me and breathe for a few minutes. The breaks are just as important as the exercise. The higher speeds allow his emotions to escalate; the lower speeds and breaks allow his emotions to settle. There needs to be a range in speed in short increments as well as a complete interruption in order to allow him to settle and soak.

After allowing him to rest, it was time to take the ground work to the saddle. I was relaxed as I mounted using the same energy I applied when I asked him to slow his speed during the ground work. He stood still. I stayed relaxed in the saddle as I applied pressure with my legs and he moved off perfectly in a nice controlled gait. If I brought my energy up, he raised his. When I lowered mine, he lowered his. A nice change in this lesson confirmed we were on the right track. Don’t underestimate the power of incorporating breaks — their effectiveness is undeniable. Break it down, slow it down.

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