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THE CURE

When trainers use shoeing techniques or action devices or rough ground to get rid of a pace, they are working on the flight pattern and timing of the horse's hooves. By delaying or speeding the lift off of a hoof, they are making the gait less lateral. Eventually the horse adjusts to his new, artificially produced gait, his muscles develop along the lines necessary to do the gait, and he quits pacing, often without the action devices. Of course, this training may wear off in time, particularly if he is turned out to pasture and then ridden by someone who does not know how to keep him in gear.

Another, more long-lasting way to deal with the pace is to eliminate the body and muscle problems that make it possible. Although not much can be done about conformation, what the horse does with that conformation can make a big difference in the gait he uses. Since a horse travels with a swayed back, stiff, hollow neck, sagging belly and trailing hindquarters in the pace, if you simply train him to travel with a more rounded back, supple, flexible neck, tight stomach muscles and engaged hindquarters the pace will evaporate! Even horses with bony conformation predisposing them to the pace can be helped. You can cure a pace.

Physical therapy:

While they are not training solutions for the gait problem, equine massage and chiropractic are often useful in dealing with a horse that paces. Although physical manipulations will not instantly cure a horse of traveling with a hollow back, they can relieve cramped and blocked muscles and help him become more flexible under saddle. It is worth a try to see if a treatment or two from a competent massage therapist or equine chiropractor will help your pacey horse move better.

Conditioning:

If you get your horse in shape before you ask him to do a flat walk or running walk under a rider, he is much less likely to start pacing. Before you start to ride a young horse, condition him by work on the longe line or in a round pen, at a controlled flatwalk if you can, both on the flat and over poles spaced about 5 feet apart. Pony him from another horse to build up his muscle strength. Spend a couple of months getting your horse "legged up" and in condition before you start riding him in gait. Remember that the younger a horse is when you start to ride him, the more undeveloped his muscles will be and the more likely he will be to pace. Give him a chance to grow up before you put him to work.

When you do start to ride, remember the credo of competitive trail and endurance riders-Long Slow Distance. Ride at a walk and occasional flat walk for several months, over gradually increasing distance. Don't overdo and wear out your horse-build him up gradually. Increase the time you ride and the distance you cover in small increments. Dismount frequently to rest his back, and ask him to raise it by cueing him with a fingernail at the midline of his belly, a version of the "belly lift" that makes him raise his back muscles as he tightens his abdominals.

Ride at nothing faster than a flatwalk for several months. The old timers used to say that a horse should be flatwalked a minimum of three months before he was ready for the runningwalk. They said they did it to develop rhythm, but it also worked to condition the horse.

Ground flexibility Exercises:

A horse's head and neck assemblies are the most accessible part of his spinal column. To help a stiff, "hollow" horse begin to use his back and body in a more rounded way so that he can stop pacing, begin by teaching him from the ground to have a supple, flexible neck. Again, these exercises are often much more productive if the horse has had chiropractic, message therapy or acupressure treatment.

Bending: While a well-conditioned, supple horse should be able to touch his nose to the stirrup on both sides of his body, many horses that pace have very limited lateral flexibility in their necks. To improve lateral suppleness, they need some ground work in a halter. Standing at the horse's shoulder, grasp the halter noseband at the sidepiece, and gently bring his nose to the side, insisting that he keep his body still. Ask him to bend just a few inches away from a resting position, pet him, then repeat on the other side. Practice bending his neck just a bit farther each time you work with him, until he can touch his nose to his side, on both sides. This may take several lessons. The idea is not to force him to bend, but to gradually stretch the muscles in his neck so that he can do it easily. It is sometimes useful to use a carrot as a bribe, holding it in front of his nose and tempting him with it until he follows it around, bending his neck in the process. Naturally, give him the carrot when he bends as far as you want.

Reaching forward: Another useful exercise for conditioning a horse with a tight neck is the forward stretch. Again, this is best taught from the ground, with the horse in a halter. Standing in front of the horse, grasp the noseband of the halter in two hands, one at each sidepiece. Alternate light tugs toward your body and down, asking the horse to lower his neck and reach out with his nose. Practice over several sessions until he can easily lower his head to the ground in response to the alternate tugs. Again, it helps to use a carrot to bribe some horses to lower their heads. The idea is not to force his head forward and down, but to ask him to stretch the muscles in his neck and back so that it is not difficult for him to relax and lower his head. It is important to teach this exercise on the ground so that the horse will have a head start on the same exercise when you try it from the saddle.

Ridden flexibility exercises:

To overcome the hollow position that produces the pace, a horse needs flexible, well-conditioned muscles in his neck and back. After he has learned to stretch and bend his neck from the ground, he can be taught to use his entire body in a more effective position while developing the condition of his neck, back and hindquarters.

The "neck stretching" exercise: [this is a slight variation on an old Dressage exercise called "showing the horse the way to the ground" or "deep work". It is the absolute key to overcoming the type of body use that leads to the pace and replacing it with the one needed for a good runningwalk or fox trot.]

To teach this exercise you should try to use a snaffle bit, if at all possible. It will not work in a gag bit of any kind, and is very difficult in a curb. Ride the horse in a slow walk, in a large circle. Take gentle contact with his mouth, encouraging him to relax on a relatively light rein. Very gently, pull to the side and down with the outside (toward the rail) rein, then alternate this with another light twitch down and to the side with the inside rein. Keep your hands low and separate as you give these cues. Allow the rein to slip through your fingers, remaining slack, as soon as he responds by lowering his head, then repeat. Practice this exercise until the horse will stretch his head and neck down and forward with a light series of alternating twitches on the reins. This will take time. A horse that has been taught to carry a high head, been "set up" in a bitting rig, or otherwise convinced that he must never lower his head will have trouble responding to this new exercise. Be patient and persistent, and eventually your horse will learn to reach forward, stretching his neck and back muscles. It may take weeks or even months to teach this exercise, depending on the previous training and conformation of the horse.

When your horse responds instantly to the cue to reach down and forward into a loose rein, begin to teach him to work through his back into the bit. With his head in its lowest position, take light contact with his mouth-about the weight of a small plum in each hand. Push the horse forward with intermittent strong leg pressure, keeping his head low by separating your hands at the first sign of his neck or head rising. His nose should start to come in just a bit from the horizontal, his neck will arch very slightly and the base of his neck, just before the withers, will begin to rise. Ride for a few steps in this position, then reduce rein contact and allow the horse to relax with a low head. Repeat, gradually building up to riding "deep" with light contact through the snaffle bit for longer and longer periods. Push the horse on for some speed in the ordinary walk, then move into a flatwalk in this position. At the first sign of a pace, reduce speed and lower and separate your hands a bit more, while driving the horse strongly forward with your legs. This part of the exercise will not work unless the horse is pushed forward into the action of the bit with strong use of your legs. If your horse starts to rush forward from leg pressure, use light, intermittent squeezes and releases on the reins to slow him. Never use a hard, steady pull to slow him. You will have much better results if you use "half-halts" to ask for slower speed. After some practice, you should start to feel a slight fullness in the horse's back muscles under your seat as he works in this part of the exercise. He is gaining strength in his back, and beginning to eliminate the hollow that is a main part of the pace position. Work for at least half of each session in this position, alternating it with periods of a free dog walk on a loose rein.

 

 

 

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