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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Speed transitions with my new Halflinger..

Dear Franklin,

You have helped me in the past with details of training. I have become owner of an eight year old gelding, Halflinger. I consider him timid but his training in natural horsemanship is coming along nicely. I am working on walk slow, walk fast and the same at the trot. We work on it on line, liberty and on back. His canter transition looks and feels nervous. He runs into it. The last time I asked for a canter on his back he took it and suddenly stopped on a dime which threw me right over his head and down in front of his face and we just looked at each other! No one was hurt but I need to ask if I can do anything to work up to this transition? I did get back on him at the time and asked for the canter again and was prepared to end the gait before he did, which was the last time I have asked for it. I have only owned him for two months and I am willing to slow down the expectations.

Thank you so much, Beth

Hi Beth,

First off, many, many thanks for your kind and generous donation to my website's Help Center. Folks like you keep it going with your kindness and willingness to help.

Yes, "slow down the expectations." In fact, consider giving up expectations altogether as they set you up to be disappointed, take you away from the present and put you in the future which has not happened as yet and should be of little concern as you are in the NOW and the current flow of your life and energy.

Slow and deliberate speed transitions can be developed in all horses. However gaited horses, in my experience, tend to be somewhat more energetic internally which is reflected in their outer movement. Breeds like Paso Finos, Rocky Mountain Gaited Horses, Halflingers, Tennessee Walkers, etc. with their rather hyper, although smooth for the rider, gaits, tend to be somewhat hyper in other areas of their lives and certainly in speed transitions. This is a habitual way of being that is inbred in those breeds. Not 100% of the time as there are certainly mellow horses in all breeds. But the hyper gait is a reflection of an internal level of energy they are born with. We breed them for the gait not for a mellow way of being and going. Riding a gaited horse requires very different technique than a normal 4-gaited horse.

This being said, I believe it is possible to change this habitual way of moving without destroying the gaiting aspects of the horse. Much it is done on the ground in the initial stages. As the leaders of the dance of movement, it is our job to be able to ask as quietly, gently and softly as possible for a horse to increase and decrease its speed. This can be practiced at liberty or in-hand. We need to practice just how light and quiet our cues can be. We need to be extremely self-aware of how we use our energy as it is so easy to ask with a bit too much pressure. I suggest beginning with a normal walk and going down to slow motion, then to a normal walk, then a bit faster, then slower, then slow motion, etc. Practice this and get very, very good at it with your horse. After a week or two of this, still on the ground, add a relaxed trot to the movements, then a faster trot, then immediately down to a walk, etc.

Doing this will increase your sensitivity to energy and pressure applied to your horse and its responses. This will also enhance your relationship with your horse and the level of trust. After some time with the trot included, all the while going down to slow motion walking, slow trot, etc. you will gradually build the speed to a slow canter while you are jogging slowly alongside your horse. Gaited horses are not supposed to canter. They are not trained to canter as their training is the gait. So it would not be surprising that your horse bolts off when asked to canter as it may have been trained to not canter but rather to gait. Thus, your horse may be getting confused which creates fear and hyper action.

Remember to use lots and lots of immediate reward for the animal even trying to comply. The best reward is total removal of all pressure. Totally ignore the horse for 30 seconds or a minute and allow it some total peace. This is when you will generally see some licking and chewing, and then a sigh, as this is when the animal processes what just happened and relaxes. Relaxed speed transitions are part of your goal. They come from a relaxed horse. It is his confusion and fear that prompts him to 'hit the brakes' as you described his abrupt stop.

When riding you practice the same sort of speed transitions. Do this in a small area. From a walk to a slow motion walk, up to a normal walk, a bit faster walk, and then a slower walk, then total stop as reward, etc. The cues will come from your body (never your heels though). Proper use of your seat, legs and hands, excellent body position and more, communicate your desires to the horse. These things take a lot of practice, patience and time. It might take months to just begin to perfect this. High level riding takes years. You and your horse are dance partners, practicing a dance. You are the leader of the dance. Your horse already knows how to dance as all the moves you want, it would do in the wild on its own. You are the novice, not the horse. The same reward can be done from the saddle. Simply allow the horse to totally stop all movement. You just sit there and breath. Do this reward a lot. Ask for a few steps and then a stop. Do not allow much forward momentum before asking for a stop. Inertia is powerful. Therefore, stopping a lot gets the horse used to not always going, going, going. But rather, go, go slow, stop, go, go slow, stop, go, go a bit faster, go slow stop. etc. I call this one-step-at-a-time training. It works great. But not everyone has the patience to do this. We tend to expect and ask for too much, too fast.

So, those are my suggestions. I want you to please keep me posted as to how it all goes. I am interested and here to help.

Sincerest regards, Franklin

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