WWhen going downhill, your horse may gain momentum, and begin to rush and trot. He might even pick up more speed, then take off at a full gallop at the bottom, which is dangerous for you, your horse, and others in your group. To travel downhill safely, your horse needs to engage his full body, slow down, and move with patience. You must be in charge and disallow your horse to change speeds on his own.
If your horse changes speed without a cue, he’s being disobedient. He’s making the choices, rather than you. He’s learned that you’re not the leader in your herd of two. You need to control each step he takes, so that he moves slowly and deliberately on the path you dictate.
Going downhill slowly is hard work for your horse, as he has to use more muscle than he would if he followed the pull of gravity. Going downhill quickly is more comfortable for him, so it’s easy to inadvertently train him to speed up by allowing him to choose his speed.
But if you allow your horse to take even one or two trotting steps while going downhill, he’ll soon learn to take more fast steps when you get to the next hill. You’re teaching him that it’s acceptable to change speed on his own accord — and possibly that he won’t face consequence if he takes off at a full gallop when he reaches the bottom.
Controlling your horse when going downhill is even more important when riding in a group. If your horse changes gait, the other horses may want to speed up, too. This can be dangerous if everyone loses control. The horses might adopt a herd mentality and take off.
Does your horse speed up his walk or trot down hills without a cue from you? Teach him to pick his way slowly with these techniques from top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.
Here, I’ll give you techniques to help you teach your forward horse that he must travel at the speed you dictate. I’ll help you implement a clear stopping cue. Then I show you how to teach your horse he must listen and slow down immediately — even when you’re on a hill.
Before You Begin
Don your ASTM-approved, SEI-certified riding helmet. Practice your stopping skills on a flat area with good footing before approaching a hill. When you’re ready for hill work, find a small, gently sloping hill to practice on. Make sure your horse is listening and understands your cues before tackling larger, steeper hills. Step 1. Stop your horse. Working on flat ground, remind your horse that he must stop completely when you give the cue. You need to trust that you can stop him at any moment. To do so, use the pulley-rein stop. This isn’t an everyday stopping technique, but it is a cue that will stop almost any horse when he’s threatening to speed up or run off.
(Note that pulling on two reins at once will give your horse something to brace against and can actually make him move faster.)
To use the pulley rein, first shorten one rein. (You can shorten the rein that feels most comfortable to brace against; I’ll use the left rein for demonstration purposes.) Brace your left knuckles over your horse’s neck, just above his withers, to stop him from turning his head.
With your right hand, pull up and back, cueing your horse to stop. As you move your right hand back, lean back, and use your seat aid to reinforce your stop cue. Make sure that you don’t pull back on the left rein. Keep pushing your left hand into your horse’s neck while pulling back with your right hand, moving your hands in the opposite directions in a bow-and-arrow, pulling fashion.
To teach your horse to move slowly while going downhill, start by asking him to step and stop. First, practice stopping him on flat ground. When you’re ready for hill work, find a small, gently sloping hill to practice on.