Pacing horses are very stiff laterally, and many are not able to go in a large circle with an even bend in their bodies from head to tail. The ground exercises in neck bending can begin to overcome this problem, but more difficult mounted work is needed as well. You should start these exercises in an ordinary walk, and later perfect them in the flatwalk, after your horse has learned to semi-collect in that gait.
Riding curves: To teach a horse to bend in an even curve, start by teaching him to bend into the corners of your arena. Ride forward at an energetic walk, with his head at a medium height, on contact with the snaffle bit, in an energetic walk. As you reach the curve of the arena, push him into it, so that he must conform his body to the corner of the arena. To do this:
This will channel his body into a shallow curve. Practice in both directions, at all four corners of your arena, until the horse can easily move into the curve, making a shallow "C" with his body. Over time, you will be able to push him deeper into the curve, increasing the bend in his body.
Riding circles: Once the horse has developed the flexibility to do good, deep curves, you can then teach him to work good circles. Remember, a circle is round, not egg-shaped or amoeba-shaped! To help you judge how well you are doing with them, place a cone at the center point and ride on freshly raked sand or dirt so you can see your tracks. You may be surprised at how hard it can be to ride a round circle.
To ride a circle, with your horse in an energetic walk, on contact with the snaffle, move forward with your:
Practice riding large circles, at least 60 ft in diameter, at first. Then gradually reduce the size, as the horse learns to bend on the curve of the circle. Eventually you can put two circles together and ride figure 8's, increasing the horse's flexibility training. Do not try to do small circles at speed-that will often encourage a pace as the horse feels threatened by them and tenses even more in anticipation of being forced to try to bend more than is comfortable.
Lateral flexion: Although these are usually thought of as "dressage" exercises and may be intimidating, they are basic gymnastic exercises invented to improve the lateral bending of any horse. They are especially useful for pacing horses because they work on the back and neck muscles that are the culprits in making a horse travel "hollow" in the gait. You don't need to be a fanatic about correct riding to benefit from these exercises.
Shoulder-fore: This is a beginning exercise in which the horse travels forward in a straight line with his head, neck and body bent slightly to the inside of the ring, while his haunches move parallel to the rail. It works to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the back and the hindquarters, as well as working to improve flexibility in the shoulders. To begin this exercise, ride a 30-foot circle, in one corner of your arena. As you come out of the circle next to the rail, ask the horse to move forward while keeping his head, neck and shoulders bent in the curve of the circle. He should walk forward parallel to the rail, while looking toward the center of the arena.
To do this exercise use:
Do not be too worried if you are not doing this exercise perfectly. It can work to loosen up a pacey horse even if it is not being done to good dressage standards.
Haunches-in: This is actually a reverse version of the shoulder-fore. In it you keep the shoulder parallel to the ring and move the hindquarters toward the center. This bends and stretches the rear portion of the horse's body. To begin this exercise, with the horse standing still, use your outside leg as it hangs in the stirrup to put pressure on his side, to push his hindquarters over one step. [You may need to teach this from the ground at first, using your hand to push on the horse's side at the girth, while tipping his nose toward you, teaching the turn on the forehand. When he has learned that, you can repeat the same cues from the saddle and he will yield his hindquarters away from leg pressure.] Ride the horse parallel to the rail, keeping his head and neck straight, not allowing him to turn his nose toward the rail. Keep his hindquarters yielded to the inside of the arena about six inches, so that the outside hind hoof falls into the track of the inside front. To do this:
Do not ask the horse to move in this position for more than a few steps at a time, and avoid doing the exercise around the curves of the ring. Practice in both directions, so that the horse learns to bend both sides of his body.
In time, you can increase the number of steps you take in the haunches-in until your horse goes in the "two-track" exercise for the entire length of your arena. You can then start alternating it with the shoulder-fore, bending the horse first in one part of his back, then in the other. After several months of practice, when the horse is becoming increasingly flexible, you can try to ride the haunches-in through the curves of your arena. This is not necessary, but it does increase the bend in his body and is an indication of good flexibility.
Semi-collection and "working through":
Once your horse has achieved some lateral flexibility and learned to reach forward and down into the bit, and then maintain the stretch through his body with a slightly higher head and neck, he is ready to learn to work with a rounder body position or "frame", eliminating the pace position entirely. This is the final phase of the body use you began to develop with the neck stretching exercise. This in not false collection by "head set" as you may know it. Instead, it involves teaching the horse to develop energy in his hindquarters and channel it through his body, while taking advantage of the increased elasticity he has developed in his back muscles through the flexibility and stretching exercises.
For a typical gaited horse, the best way to work into this new position is from an energetic walk of flatwalk. Ride at the ordinary walk, with the horse in the neck-stretched position, keeping your hands low and separate. Drive the horse forward with strong, repeated squeezes from both legs, keeping his head low. Increase his speed until he is moving with energy in the flatwalk. Lower and separate your hands at the first sign of a pace. Establish a consistent flatwalk, then gradually bring his nose toward vertical with light, intermittent squeezes on the reins, allowing his head and neck to rise a few inches, keeping up his forward momentum, hands low. Again, atg the first hint of a pace, slow to an ordinary walk, lower his head and neck, and push him into the bit with leg pressure. Do not try to pull the horse's head into a more vertical position with strong rein pressure, and do not try to set his head with your hands. Ask him with light vibrations on the reins to relax and give his jaw, while moving forward energetically. He should begin to flex his neck just at the poll, with a slight bulge in the top of his neck muscles about six inches behind his ears. Find the speed at which he is willing to move out well while staying in a four beat walk, and keep him there, asking him to keep his head and neck just slightly higher than he did when you were practicing the neck stretching exercises.
Ride the horse in this position for several strides, then return to the neck stretched position to relieve any tension in his neck. Repeat, alternating between several strides with his neck up and nose toward vertical and the neck-stretched position, being sure to drive him forward with strong leg pressure when he uses the higher head position. Do not try to raise the horse's head by lifting your hands. Push with your legs and allow it to rise as he works forward from his hindquarters in response to your leg cues. If you do this correctly, and do not rush the process, the horse will naturally raise his head and neck while at the same time slightly lowering his hindquarters and very gently rounding his back. At first the new body position will be virtually imperceptible, but soon you should be able to feel fullness in the horse's back muscles under your seat. He is losing the hollow that causes the pace and allowing the energy from his hindquarters to come "through" his back.
Continue riding in this semi-collected position, gradually increasing speed in the flatwalk until the horse is moving out well, head in slightly elevated position, neck a continuous curve from poll to withers (no dip in front of the withers) back full under your seat, and hindquarters pushing efficiently. Practice maintaining this position for increasing distances in the flatwalk. Then speed him on into a runningwalk, keeping the horse slightly rounded, and preventing him from breaking into a pace by regulating his speed and "frame". If he starts to pace at the faster speed, slow him a bit, lower his head and separate your hands, and push him on with the lower head position. This will re-establish the connection between poll and tail, and stretch his back muscles, eliminating the hollow that causes the pace.
Why only semi-collection? Because if you go too far in collecting a gaited horse you will lose the gait and convert him to a hard trotting horse. This happens because to continue in gait a horse requires a bit of looseness in the back that disappears with true collection. Think of collection as a progressive continuum, shown in varying degrees by horses in various gaits. From the pacing horse, with a totally concave or "hollow" back, to a hors in a piaffe, which is totally round and at the peak of collection, different gaits and movements require different degrees of collection. Some gaits are actually best done with the back in a neutral (not rounded, not hollow) position. The runningwalk and foxtrot are in this category, with the foxtrot being just a bit more collected in position than the runningwalk. Teach your horse semi-collection to convert the pace to one of these gaits, but avoid using so much that you turn him into a hard trotter.
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