Let’s chat about pacing- part 2

If you’ve had the chance to read part 1 of Let’s Chat About Pacing (click here to read), I brushed over a few little concepts about ‘thinking’. The main reason I split the two into think person number one- and thinking-person number two is that, you don’t need to stress about if your Standardbred isn’t ‘perfect’ during training. Gosh, it’s called training for a reason at times it might look ugly so it can develop into something beautiful!

To recap about balance, it is about balancing the whole horse. As the training progresses, they will be able to accept more weight onto their hind legs. We want to start aligning and connecting through the body. As I mentioned in part 1, turning with the outside shoulder and activate the inside hind leg.

Now, let’s have a chat about the ‘doing’ side of this! I’ve mentioned this multiple times over the years, but out of all the horses (by that I mean Standardbreds- of course) I could have picked on the property for my ridden horse, I picked the one who naturally paces the most. He paces all the time, no there isn’t anything wrong with him. It’s natural and he obviously feels more comfortable pacing more times than some of the others. If anyone has experience with a Standardbred who loves to pace under saddle, that would be me!

 

Transitions

 

You’re probably thinking these topics in this series are a bit boring, where is the short cut and the quick fix. Well, it’s about the hours in and out of the saddle making mistakes and finding ways to do things better. Transitions isn’t just all about walk to trot and trot to canter, it is also about the different gears within the pace.

At the start when I was riding Arnie it was hard! Getting him to wait and to listen, come back and be a little ‘quicker’ underneath me. He really wanted to drop out underneath me into a pace because it was a lot easier. (It’s the best feeling at the trot to really feel working over the back connected through the body and that swing and push!)

Have your horse in front of your leg (not running away, but the feeling of them underneath you if you say go it will go), use your body/position and your half halts to bring them back into a ‘smaller’ trot or canter, you want the feeling that they are still ‘pushing’ still active underneath you. Pushing with the hind legs not pulling with the fronts! A little ‘quicker’, which is about how long their feet are on the ground for.

You want to try and find the sweet spot where they will just hang in before they want to drop out and stop pushing. You’ll know when you find it! When you’re in it, they should be waiting for you to come back out of it into a more working pace again. Don’t hang to long, it is hard for them to find this area to keep pushing and wait.  Chip away at it each ride, if you ask for a little more some days and a little fewer other days. It will start to build them up.

I could write an essay on cantering with your Standardbred, training is like an onion, you just keep peeling back the layers (sometimes yes, we have tears!) As we are having a little chat about pacing under saddle with balance and transitions, I have found that when you are starting out cantering your Standardbred (I’ll have other post down the track with this in focus or please just contact me for any questions, more than happy to help). It’s all about the preparation before the canter and the preparation coming back to trot. If you find they can only canter a few strides that’s completely fine. I honestly don’t know how long it took Arnie to develop and progress to be able to canter down the whole long side of the arena completely balanced and in a 3 beat canter.

Set yourself up for the transition into canter with a positive trot, canter half 20m circle or until they don’t feel like are going to fall out of canter. Prepare make a transition to trot, keep it balanced, don’t let it run on the forehand. It is far better to get snippets of a good quality canter with preparation into and out of then to keep cantering around and being unbalanced.

Start small, keep the bend through the body, they will less likely want to pop into a pace on a circle then down the long side.

Stay tuned for Part 3 – at this point I feel like there are going to be many parts to this series because it is such a large topic and I really want to break them down!

 

Let’s chat about pacing – part 1

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

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!

Most Common Myths Surrounding the Standardbred: Part 2

I enjoy writing and sharing my insights about what I am passionate about, anything Standardbred and dressage I can chat all day. It is important in our sport that we are a supportive bunch of individuals, this is why I find it incredibly frustrating reading and listening to people putting down and creating a negative environment surrounding the Standardbred.

I previously posted about how Standardbreds are trained to pace and trained not to canter in Part 1 of Common Myths Surrounding the Standardbred. I discussed my insights about how the Standardbred are naturally a 5-gaited breed. Thanks to the scientists at Sweden’s Uppsala University, who discovered the gene called DMRT3. In turn, allowing the Standardbred to have the natural ability to pace.

Standardbred Myths

Personally, I feel every myth surrounding the Standardbred stems from myth #1 Standardbreds are trained to pace and trained not to canter. This cloud of misconception hangs over almost every aspect with Standardbreds after racing.

Personally, I feel every myth surrounding the Standardbred stems from myth #1 Standardbreds are trained to pace and trained not to canter. This cloud of misconception hangs over almost every aspect with Standardbreds after racing.

I wanted to discuss what I personally feel is the second biggest myth surrounding the Standardbred.

Standardbreds will never make a competitive mount.

Discussion purposes, let’s just assume 95% of people who have this brain wave of ‘Standardbreds will never make a competitive mount’ believe this because the horse is a ‘Standardbred’ meaning they pace. Which, they believe they will always pace and nothing else. They only believe they will be good trail horses or anything in a ‘non-competitive’ event.

Then the remaining 5% are individuals who aren’t on any of our Christmas card list, they just dismiss anything or don’t even have a second thought about it.  Closed book, Standardbreds don’t exist.

Rather than laying the facts out explaining that the Standardbred is naturally a 5-gaited breed and they have the capability (like any other breed) to trot, canter and gallop. I thought to discuss how to successfully show the 95% can be a competitive mount, as they say a picture is worth 1,000 words.

Because, guaranteed to any Standardbred owner you know your horse has what it takes to hold themselves in any show line up, in any dressage arena, in any endurance ride and even out there eventing. You know from firsthand experience how trainable, quiet and willing the breed really is.

How to successfully make your Standardbred a competitive mount?

I’ve picked a few main areas on how to make your standardbred into a competitive mount, how to reflect your hard work and make them be noticed in a positive way to the wider equestrian community. Turn heads and make everyone take notice on how great the Standardbred can be. These areas are what I feel are very important, not just for Standardbred horses but for any breed of horse.

It all starts from the beginning

Most of the Standardbred’s that we acquire have not been started under saddle or they have only had a few rides. Don’t be despondent, the Standardbred is already broken into harness. They have been mouthed, long reined, driven, floated, cross tied, worked with other horses. All the basic work has already been put into them. It is at this point of their changing careers, the saddle is introduced, the leg aids are introduced, the weight is shifted from being pulled to being carried on their backs.

It is at this stage I encourage (from personal experience):

  • Patience
  • Hard work
  • Patience
  • Hard work
  • Patience
  • Enjoyment

Balance is the main area I would set my focus. I too often see horses out that aren’t balanced, running forward and on the fore. I just love reading anything from Kyra Kyrklund, if you are after a good read about balance I strongly recommend visiting Dressage Today’s website to read all about her ‘smaller steps for greater balance’.

Don’t rush to take your horse out under saddle, it’s no longer a race! Don’t take them out until they are ready. If you are going to be showing, don’t take them out until they have a nice balanced walk, trot and canter (3 beat), smooth transitions in and out of canter. Same if you are going out to compete in dressage, know your test, if it is preparatory ensure you have a nice balanced walk and trot with smooth transitions.

Training is the Number 1 area no matter what level rider you are or what level your horse is at, everyone needs a good coach. A genuine set of eyes on the ground to assist with your journey. I hear too frequently how riders are put off asking for coaches for lessons because they have a Standardbred and are worried they may be rejected for a lesson for it. I feel extremely blessed to have (who I feel) are the best coaches I have access to for lessons, the amount of hours in the saddle during these lessons are invaluable. Not once throughout my career have I had any rejection or negativity from coaches, if you are willing to learn and progress your riding there won’t be anyone stopping you.

A few friendly tips to help change the 95 % perspective:
  • A picture says 1,00 words, so train and work hard at home before you have your first outing
  • Get a good coach, EA has a list of qualified coaches (dressage and showing) in your area.
  • You are never too good to learn
  • Negativity makes you ugly, ignore any hate. We all have our bad days just keep working towards your goals.
  • Enjoy your small successes as much as the large ones
  • Never think that because you ride a Standardbred you are disadvantaged
  • Professionalism goes a long way

Most common myths surrounding the Standardbred: Part 1

common myths surrounding the standardbred

I have long wanted to write about the most common myths about Standardbreds. Having grown up my whole life around them, enjoyed seeing their whole life. From breeding, breaking in, race prep, racing, retiring and starting under saddle.

Which I consider myself fortunate to be a part of many aspects of the breed during their life. I have an understanding about the breed, the mechanics of the breeding and have an understanding and respect for training after racing. Which is the main reason why I have held off for so long on having my opinion about what I believe are the myths about the breed.

Common myths surrounding the standardbred
All Smoked Up and half brother All The Rhythm

I’ll be honest, it used to grind my gears reading the absolute hogwash on social media about the breed. It is unfortunate to witness this hype as many people out there that know little about the breed are quick to pass judgement.

I have learnt to just keep scrolling past, when it comes to any discipline with horses you always are going to find people who are completely left field to yourself. You must learn to respect their way of thinking and way of training, and just put your block eyes on, keep hustling and focusing on your training system and your own horses.  For me this has taken a lot of time and self-discipline to be able to achieve.

So, I thought to myself, why not just put these myths on the table for discussion. I wanted to break down what I believe are the top three myths surrounding the Standardbred over three separate posts. Covering each myth in a bit of detail. I have previously posted a quick overview on the origins of the Standardbred, which I always find fascinating!

-Most common myths surrounding the Standardbred-

-Standardbred’s are trained to pace and trained not to canter-

I hear this one way to often.

To begin, Standardbred’s are a 5-gaited breed. Walk, trot, pace, canter and gallop, naturally they can canter without difficultly. The standardbred is a special breed of horse, thanks to scientists at Sweden’s Uppsala University who discovered a gene called DMRT3. Explaining how Standardbred’s have this DMRT3 gene which allows them to have the ability to pace. New York Times has an interesting article about the discovery of the DMRT3 gene.

Over the last few years learning about self-discipline also my own personal development with my training system, my reaction has changed. I used to dismiss such claims that ‘Standardbred’s would never make a riding horse as they do not have the ability to canter’.

But as I have learnt we are all different, we all have our own views nowadays, I just nod and smile and keep on scrolling on social media. If life has taught me anything thus far, all riders train differently and all horses learn differently. However, you cannot go past the fact that scientifically the horse is a 5-gaited breed.

I hear this comment from two different groups.

One, people who are not involved with the breed and have formed a misconception of the Standardbred.

Two, people who are involved within the breed but only from an “after racing” situation.

What we should remember (or learn for any new Standardbred fans) is when the Standardbred is in race training they’re not hoppled seven days a week forced to pace around and around the track forever and a day. Depending on the trainer and where the horse is up to with its training, they can be “fast worked” 2-3 times a week.

This is mixed up during the week with various training such as incorporating jogging up, swimming, galloping and a day off etc. With the various exercises the Standardbred becomes a fit athlete, capable of trotting, pacing, cantering and galloping.

I believe that many Standardbred riders out there are all individually trying hard to promote the breed with life after racing.  That’s why it is important that we support each other with our journeys, because it is damn hard to get the rest of the equestrian community to sit up and take notice. Especially to take you seriously in open competition.

common myths standardbred

Looking forward to sharing the next two parts to common myths surrounding the Standardbred.

Happy Training ?