My horse, being the former 2nd level dressage horse he is, has always been made to go quite forward in the canter. Now, I have the task of trying to teach him to slow it down a bit for Western riding. Not the sleepy lope of WP horses, just slow enough to enjoy the ride.

Any tried and true suggestions?


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I'm of the belief that a horse should go the speed the rider dictates. If I want my horse to have a nice, relaxed lope on a loose rein, then that is what I'll get. If I ask for a little more forward Hunt Seat type canter, then that's what I'll get. Though, if I ask for a full out run for a barrel class, well something just aren't going to happen.

I used a few different tricks to teach my mare what I wanted. I used a different sound for different speeds. If I want a nice slow lope I'll give a quick 'kiss' noise, if I want something faster I'll hold the noise longer. To teach your horse to slow down make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.

So, ask for a canter and gently half-halt your horse to the speed that YOU want. When he speeds back up to the canter he's familiar with, I like to gently pull them into a small circle and bring them back to a jog and re-settle them. Then ask for the canter again and bring him back to the speed. He'll speed back up, so just shut him down again. What he'll eventually learn is that if he goes the speed you want, you'll leave him alone. If he goes the speed HE wants, he'll be trotting in small circles forever.

Also, when you pull him down in the circle, keep his hind-end under him. Too many people forget that western riding is still about collection so don't let him fall on his forehand on you and then start swinging those hips out during the circle.
As with what Terri said, making the horse work for HIS or HER wants and not your wants is a positive way to tell them they didn`t do what you asked when developing a slower canter or lope. Putting leg on a horse that KNOWS what the leg means will help (but if your horse has been taught alot of leg more impulsion it will not work), if you are deciding to try western pleasure showing I would try to avoid the half halts just because we are looking at no rein contact and one handed neck reining in western showing, and you don`t want to have to use that for your horse to realise to be slow (my opinion).

when I worked on slowing my mare down, I didn`t want to use rein (as I said above) and like Terri I still wanted a frame. For ``punishment`` I would back my horse up, which was more work for the horse, developed decent muscle, and kept the horse on its hocks or hindend. then after backing my old mare up, I would change directions (a reining type spin, where they stay on their hocks, but cross their front legs over), and then ask for the lope. If he goes way to fast to begin with, stop him, back him up, change direction and ask again, do not try to slow him down with rein (half halt) try with your seat, some leg, and a voice que. I had a racing mare, and I ended up showing her for 3 years at western pleasure shows before I sold her as a lesson horse.
I do this this is very good advice. The reason I went with a half-halt type is because the horse is a former dressage horse and she's not looking for a WP type lope. I guess I took it to mean that she just wanted a horse that would slow down. Also, I didn't take it to mean she wanted something that would travel well on the super droopy reins that we like in pleasure.

But, like I said, I think this is very sound advice and I have used backing and roll-backs as well.
oh no..I didn't mean the droopy rein either (even an avid WP rider I am often questionable on how droopy), I just read "slow enough to enjoy the ride" and I thought she really wouldn't want to always do half halts.. so I was thinking the odd canter down the trail?

I don't know much about dressage horses..I know more on 3 day eventing (my bestfriend is a 3 day eventer, but she dislikes the dressage part), huntseat, and then the western side of things (mostly the showing classes of WP, equitation, showmanship, and halter) but I am familiar with any other form of western riding without cattle as I began with horses as a trail rider, endurance, and gymkana stuff. So I could very well not know how dressage horses are trained.

also, the horse may not have been as advanced but isn't a collected canter pretty slow? I know an old dressage friend mentioned my old QH mare was doing a "collected canter" when she was loping in a open WP class..
Hi Kathi, Keep it simple, think , eyes up, nose up, chin up , chest up, and close your thighs a little and wait and see . I bet he slows down! Cheers Geoffrey
Sometimes it's as simple as riding the speed you want to go. We all get caught up in riding the horse at his choice of speed..he goes fast, we ride fast. When your horse is loping/cantering, sit and ride will be surprised at how soon the horse reacts to your rhythm and slows down. Another little trick is to hum, a long you ride. It relaxes your body and your horse will respond.
Wendy has a point, although if you do not know how to properly slow your seat to slow the horse, you could actually chase the horse without knowing it.
Good news Kathi!
Since your horse is a 2nd level dressage horse he already has the necessary training tools to do what you are asking of him. Just like dressage slowing the lope for western is all about self carriage. Not only the horses but the riders self carriage as well. While there are many different exercises to help teach a horse to carry the lope I will only mention a few here.

First off I want to address rider position because this is crutial to your horse being able to stay in a balanced frame in a relaxed manner. Your horse will never be happy at this gate if the rider position is interfering. To help you visualize the correct position imagine I could snap my fingers and make the horse disappear out from underneath you, would you land on your feet? on your face? or on your bum? You should answer land on your feet with your knees softly bent. That will give you the mental picture of staying centered over your horse with your shoulders and hips in line with the back of your heels.

Trying to keep it simple I would first make sure that your horse is really warmed up and any excess energy has been worked out, sometimes just lunging your horse for 10 mins before you ride makes it much easier for them to focus. When you're working on the lope begin by applying half halts at regular intervals making sure to really give with your hands between each half halt this is the major difference between english and western; western horses are required to maintain their collected frame on a lose rein. It takes time and effort to teach both the horse and rider this. One of the simplest exercises you can do is to lope a circle with your horse. The size of the circle should be large enough that the horse can continue moving forward however small enough that he is encouraged to collect his gate. On the circle the rider must work with their leg and hand to encourage the horse to drive further underneath with their hind legs and round their back and lift their shoulders. Using a circle helps encourage your horse to slow down because it shortens one side of his body through the bend. Each time the horse responds with even the smallest effort the rider must respond by softening their hands. Through repetition the horse learns that every time he slows down and holds a collected frame he gets rewarded. You can also allow the horse off the circle onto a straight away. Taking the horse off of the circle and allowing him to lope on a straight line is a welcome break and a form of positive reinforcement -- he does something right and you make it easier for him.
There are a lot of important factors such as timing, rider position, riding skill etc. that all come into play. Using the services of a qualified instructor would certainly be beneficial. A second set of eyes is invaluable.
You mention here to warm your horse up. This probably should be unnecessary to say cause everyone should probably warm up prior to riding but with 15 people are my boarding facility, I've seen two people EVER stretch or warm up and even those two don't do it often. The human needs to warm-up too, especially if it's cold and they aren't used to cantering /loping. I was trying to canter for one of the first few times and my horse had been waiting for a long time for me to be ready and he'd had started to offer to canter when I'd get relaxed enough to move with him. After waiting so long, he was excited to finally 'go with it'. His first couple of strides were pretty large and I ended up pulling/tearing something in my thigh. Normally he stops very easily but as I said he was excited and the cantered smoothed to a nice canter but one it started to tear it pulled more each time I came down on the saddle and the pain was horrible. I ended up with terrible bruising from below the knee to over my pantie-line and at least 1/2 way around my thigh. I real piece of modern green/black and blue art-work.
Your rhythm will in the end be the control on your I've been told.
Enjoy the ride and forever progress.
A dressage horse is going to respond largely to your legs and seat and he'll probably be dead confused if you drop contact with his rein.

In a way this is funny. We don't often see third level dressage horse being transitioned into western riding.

JMHO, but I'd start with legs off, which you are probably already comfortable with as a western rider. HOWEVER, complete western legs off is probably going to leave your horse feeling more than a little "adrift". He is probably used to a rounded, draped leg at least. So soft round draped leg that rests against his barrel but isn't excerting any pressure. He is comfortable but not being driven forward.

A very, very relaxed seat is going to be key. Everyone else mentioned it. A dressage horse is very responsive to seat cues. Lossen your thighs and kness, sit deep and ride the lope YOU want. A third level dressage horse will respond to your rythym. YOU decide and he WILL respond.

Rein cues are probably last on his radar of cues at third level, seat, legs, rein. But if you are transitioning him and he is used to contact then you need to respect that and give him contact. Yes the third level horse should be able to do a free walk etc but most of their work is done on contact. It may take some time to transition your horse to a loose/looser rein.

For now I'd go with a loose draped leg, wrapped around your horse but without asking for impulsion. I'd slow/still/steady my seat to ask for the slow lope/canter you expect.

A former third level dressage horse expects to work off your seat first, legs second and hands third.
Everytime you stop, back up... and back up.... back up and bend and flex... bend and flex... ..... till your horse automatically stays going slower..... when you canter just go a few steps and slow... start slow.... that's how my trainer teaches it.. my 4 year old has a beautiful lope..... ") he says to get 3 steps under control before you just go tearin around...
What fun to have a western horse with dressage training. Take a look at Mark Russel and Mike Bridges, two western trainers who have incorporated dressage into their western training for beautiful results.
I agree with Splash--if you are throwing away the contact he may be falling on the forehand in the canter because he's either never learned to carry himself or he's wanting your seat to tell him to balance more on his hind legs and sustain a slower canter. Splash wrote: "sit deep and ride the lope YOU want. A third level dressage horse will respond to your rythym. YOU decide and he WILL respond."

When you slow your seat and maintain rhythmic control of your lower torso and an upright posture (read splashes comment to Jane Savoie's post on heels down--it's an excellent comment on the balanced seat for western) he'll begin to respond by slowing. Go with him in his bigger canter (not on the forehand however) and then ask him to come back for a few strides, then forward again. This back and forth off of your seat will both teach and strengthen him to slow down and maintain it. A lot of western horses lope on their forehands and you don't want him to do that. also, you'll want to go with him first and then ask him to come to you in that way he'll start to listen and respond with willingness. Ask him to go slower in balance and you'll find he'll rely less on the reins--dressage horses are taught to maintain the canter even when the rider gives slack in the reins. With a teaching attitude, gradually working toward it and soft reminders to him that he can stay slow and balanced without the rein pressure you will soon develop your western horse.


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