Down­hill Con­trol


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.

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.

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