Riding a hot horse and riding a lazy horse might as well be two different sports. If you have two horses with opposite personalities, you have to learn to ride both. Even if your goals for both horses are the same, they require different approaches in order to get there (without getting run away with, or getting stuck at the in-gate with no hope of making it the whole lap around the ring).
Keep the Focus of a Hot Horse
Many riders make the mistake of getting on a horse that’s churning with nervous energy, and tensing up to try to prevent the horse from moving forward or misbehaving. Clenching the reins will only cause the horse to resist or throw his head into the air. Plus, if the horse does bolt forward, it’s hard to make an effective half halt if you are already hanging on the reins. The best thing a to do with a hot horse is to let them be forward, so long as you’re still in control. They need to get to work in order to have an outlet for their energy. Relax into their forward energy, then ask them to come back. You can play with transitioning within and between gates.
If you can sense that the horse is already wired and acting up as soon as you get on, skip the normal routine of walking on the buckle and shorten the reins. Ask him to get right to the working mindset by doing leg yields or half passes in the walk.
If he’s so fresh that you feel he might explode, go immediately into trot in a working frame and do lateral work. He can still be nice and forward but he will also have to tune into the rider to do the lateral work. By going right to the trot, you’re immediately giving him a job to focus on rather than just walking around hoping he will relax on his own. You will not succeed with a hot horse if you do not know when to make decisions that prevent you from being just a passenger. After warming up like this for about fifteen minutes, the horse should have expended his nervous energy and relax into a more focused mindset.
Loosen and Engage a Lazy Horse
I find that most horses that are reluctant to go forward generally have two problems: they have become dull to the aids and they are not loosened up. Many lazy horses are really just bored with their routine. Wake them up by breaking the monotony of riding in the arena every day.
If there is a large pasture in which to ride safely, go out and hack your horse. After riding in the walk, trot and canter, try letting the horse gallop. A short galloping burst of as little as a minute or two will get the horse’s blood pumping and help him loosen up. Galloping allows the horse to open up his stride and move through his whole body in a unique way that he can’t do in the other gaits. Galloping also increases circulation and allows the horse to extend and engage the back more than in the trot. You will be surprised how much a short gallop can perk up a lazy horse. When bringing the horse back down from a gallop, let him trot and then walk on a loose rein.
Be very aware of how your leg hangs on the horse’s side. It’s easy to get into the habit of squeezing with every stride to keep the horse going. Nagging just makes the horse tune you out. Break the habit by keeping your leg relaxed and promptly squeezing only when you feel the horse start to slow or become unresponsive.
What to Remember with Both
Always avoid over-cueing the horse, as this will only make them more dull if they are lazy and it will annoy the hot horse to the point of having a tantrum. If you must make a point, do it but move on and never nag.
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