I like to think there are two different types of thinking when it comes to pacing. Don’t worry, I’ve been both of them at some point during my time.
The first thinking, who gets a little ‘frustrated’ when their horse slides in the odd pace. Their heart sinks a little, questioning why on earth do they ‘have’ to throw in that few strides of pacing. They shorten them up in front to try to help to maintain the trot or in transitions.
Thinking number two, is when their horse puts in a few strides of pace they really think about how the horse is using their body. Thinking why the horse is putting in a few strides of pace during a certain exercise. How can make them use their body from the hind end and influence them in a way to build their strength and balance to help the horse.
Which thinking do you fall into? I used to be number one, but now I can happily say I’m number 2! But as we know it’s not always as easy as it seems is it? It’s so easy to fall into the trap of think it has to be great and it has to be great now. Without breaking down the process.
I really, really want to put a little something together for you, think of it as a reference guide, just a little something to think about while you are at home training. I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty details about the gait pacing itself in this post. You can read about my views on pacing on my previous blog posts – Standardbred Myths Part 1 here and Standardbred Myths Part 2 here.
If there is one thing I want to repeat again and again is, it’s natural. It’s in their DNA if you like it or not, it is our job to teach them how to use their bodies in a different way, so they learn the 3 main gaits.
I have a few general rules when it comes to pacing under saddle. You might have heard this word a little or a lot, you might think it important or you might not understand the importance as of yet.
Balance – is one of those things that typically we are aiming to achieve from a green horse all the way through to Grand Prix. The degree changes as the horse progresses through the levels, but it is something we need to think about and implement from the get-go.
Why do we need to think about balance for our Standardbred? Great question. Because when you look at the mechanics of the Standardbred, you’ll see they are built different to other ridden horses. And that’s ok, because their sole intention isn’t to be a ridden horse. They were literally born to pull a cart.
Let’s just re read a part of that last sentence. Born to pull a cart. Like any horse starting out under saddle we want to encourage to work from behind and over the back. Naturally our lovely Standardbreds with the tendency to be ‘on the forehand’, when we begin to start asking them to move and bend through their bodies, they find it a bit hard and revert to what they find natural, pulling power. For me, I relate this to a ‘cart’ horse make up of them and never really needing the bend and for them to move through the body being a racehorse prior.
It’s important for us as riders that not only to show them but teach them how to use their body in a way that we are asking. We should never, never, never relate pacing to anything negative. It is our job to show them when and when not to use it. They are in the paddock and have around 23 hours a day to themselves to do whatever they please. In the 1 hour they are with us it is our job to teach them.
So how do we help improve their balance? Well there are a few aspects, in this post I will discuss lightly the first aspect. I’ll be breaking it down over a series of posts. (so stay tuned)
Not getting stuck riding around the outside track in the arena for starters! Even our 20m circles, let’s have some purpose. You shouldn’t feel like you are just ‘riding around’. I mention a bit about planning your training which you can find here.
To begin the process of transitioning them from being a racehorse to a ridden horse, we want them to learn to start moving and to have control over where they are putting their feet and shoulders. If you’ve had a lesson with me before you might have heard me say this, because I really love this analogy! Imagine you are riding on a train track; their shoulders are the front of the train and the rest of the horse are the carriages and they will follow through.
Let’s have a quick chat about the shoulders. Have a think about how you turn your horse. It’s good practise from the beginning, to start to connect the horse with your outside rein and to be able to turn with the outside shoulder. This will be so, super, super helpful when you progress through your training. When you begin to develop turning with the outside rein aid (outside shoulder) this will help improve the connection with their inside hind leg. Because of their previous life as a ‘cart’ horse there was never the true need to take weight on their inside hind leg as their fellow ridden friends.
The only way you will improve is to keep pushing on through your training. Use the space you have and move them around, have the change of bend through their bodies. If in doubt walk through the exercise first and then do it again in trot. By having a handle over moving the shoulders around, you will have less of a chance of them pacing.
From here, we need to as riders, think about the diagonal pair. If you haven’t had the chance to check out my lesson with Brett last year about the diagonal pair, you can check it out here.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, I’ll go into depth about a few handy exercises that I have found super helpful with Arnie and chat away about other areas of pacing under saddle including the diagonal pair. Out of all the horses on the property I could have chosen to ride, Arnie was the one who loves to pace the most naturally!