‘Let go’ with the pas­sen­ger ex­er­cise.

This ‘pas­sen­ger ex­er­cise’ trains your horse to main­tain a re­laxed lope as you learn how to trust him and ‘let go.’

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

Do you mi­cro­man­age your horse, es­pe­cially at the lope? It’s com­mon, par­tic­u­larly for rid­ers deal­ing with con­fi­dence is­sues. The lope feels like the most pre­car­i­ous gait, so we want to check our horse of­ten to make sure he’s not go­ing to rush off or do some­thing silly.

This is the wrong ap­proach. In­stead, we should train our horses to main­tain their re­laxed ca­dence at the lope with­out con­stant in­ter­fer­ence from us. In other words, we should ask for a nice lope, and our horses should main­tain that gait un­til we cue him oth­er­wise.

This “pas­sen­ger ex­er­cise” will teach your horse to do ex­actly that. In the process, it also schools you to avoid the urge to mi­cro­man­age.

Ride this ex­er­cise in a se­cure arena with safe fenc­ing and good foot­ing. Out­fit your horse in a snaf­fle bit or hack­amore.

Why It Works

This ex­er­cise lets your horse dis­cover that a nice, steady lope is his good friend. You’ll ask for a lope, give him his head, then sit back and let him keep go­ing with­out fur­ther fuss­ing from you. The in­stant he speeds up on his own, how­ever, you’ll flex him and dis­en­gage his hindquar­ters, then send him off in the op­po­site di­rec­tion at a lope.

Over time, he learns that stay­ing at that re­laxed, even pace is eas­ier than stop­ping, turn­ing, and start­ing up again. The loose rein is es­sen­tial, be­cause hang­ing on the reins or fuss­ing with them just un­nerves or ir­ri­tates your horse.

Ride this ex­er­cise for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time (with­out over­tir­ing your horse, of course), over many prac­tice ses­sions. If you want the best pos­si­ble lope, you have to do a lot of lop­ing!

How to Do It

Start by warm­ing your horse up as nor­mal, then put him into a lope on a loose rein. (If need be, work the ex­er­cise at a trot first, ad­vanc­ing to a lope when you feel com­fort­able do­ing so.)

Sit qui­etly in the sad­dle, your hands low and re­laxed (no con­tact!), your up­per body erect, your hips swing­ing with the mo­tion, and your legs hang­ing nat­u­rally—no grip­ping. Re­mem­ber to breathe deeply from your belly.

Most im­por­tant: Don’t mi­cro­man­age! Be a “pas­sen­ger” and let your horse lope around the arena on a loose rein.

If He Speeds Up…

…im­me­di­ately ask him to dis­en­gage his hindquar­ters. ( Note: This speed in­crease may oc­cur af­ter a few laps, af­ter just a few strides, or even in the tran­si­tion to the lope. Wher­ever it oc­curs, re­spond im­me­di­ately.)

To dis­en­gage his hindquar­ters, sit down in your seat as you slide your in­side hand down the rein to gain pur­chase. Then lift your out­side rein slightly for bal­ance as you ap­ply just enough pres­sure to the in­side rein to flex your horse’s neck to the in­side. At the same time, press with your in­side leg be­hind the cinch. All this stops him and causes him to cross his hind legs as he turns—this is the de­sired “dis­en­gage­ment” of his power source.

Once he’s yielded in this way, give him slack and let him stand a mo­ment as a re­ward. If he tries to move off on his own, yield his hindquar­ters again un­til he stops. Once he’s stand­ing will­ingly, turn him the other way of the arena and im­me­di­ately ask him to lope off on a loose rein.

Work to in­crease the amount of time he re­mains at the de­sired speed on his own, achiev­ing more over time.

Try a Test

When you think he’s ready, test him. As you ex­hale a deep breath, sit deep and “stop rid­ing” (you may even rest your hand on his neck). Your horse should slow down and come to a stop. If he doesn’t, yield his hindquar­ters again and carry on with the ex­er­cise. It will come in time! 

Start by lop­ing your horse on a loose rein in a safe arena. The draped rein tells him you’re not mi­cro­manag­ing his speed, and that it’s up to him to main­tain a com­fort­able, steady pace un­til you cue him oth­er­wise.

TOP LEFT: The mo­ment your horse speeds up, use your in­side rein and leg to stop him and dis­en­gage his hindquar­ters. TOP RIGHT: When he’s still, let him stand a mo­ment as a re­ward. ABOVE: Then turn and lope off in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Re­peat when­ever...

Madi­son Sham­baugh of Fort Wayne, In­di­ana, and Tel­luride, Colorado, won the 2017 Mus­tang Magic event at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. In 2015, at the age of 20, she earned re­serve at the Vir­ginia Ex­treme Mus­tang Makeover ( mus­tang­maddy .com).

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