Icelandic Horse Connection

How To Rate Speed

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One of the important things your horse should know, as a basic skill, is how to "rate speed".

Speed Control is an important part of riding and training any horse. Speed control allows for a variety of speeds within a gait and the ability for safety by having a horse respond to requests to speed up or slow down a notch. It helps us to achieve rhythm and balanced gaits.

Before training, be sure that your horse does not have a sore back. Check saddle fit as a poor fitting saddle can cause a horse to move short and quick instead of long and smooth.

Check yourself for tenseness or nervousness. Horses will know about this and start moving quickly. Relax, breathe, pull to mind your pre-formulated plan.

To slow down or rate your horse (shorten his stride or slow down his tempo) use a series of half halts or "checks" applied at the moment of suspension. A half halt or check is a momentary "calling to attention" and just like the name implies, it is about half a halt. You want to reorganize your horse by briefly applying your aids for a halt but releasing them before the horse actually halts.

Always release after each successful reaction to a series of half-halts or checks to rate a horse. Don't think you can slow a horse down by constant pressure on the reins. What you eventually want to do is have your horse learn to hold a gait at a certain tempo "on the honor system"-- on his own without you holding his speed down via the reins.

Rating Speed by Tamara Gunter-Howard
Gaited Horse Trainer

Rating in horses is done with the seat...imagine the upper body in the classic position ear..shoulder....hip....heels all in alignment....

This is "neutral" and the symbol for this is     !

Now to increase momentum/drive we tilt forward as in     \

To decrease momentum /drive we tilt rearward as in     /

So the three upper body shifts are     \ ! /

Rating is to combine the body shifts early in training with the more crude rein and leg aids....

Leg aids are the same....to move the shoulders over the leg position is this     / (ahead of the girth)

Neutral or forward impulsion only is     ! (at the girth)

And movement of the hindquarters is     \ (behind the girth)

Thus you have     / ! \

Rein position (for one handed or "bridge" reining) is -------- for stop/slow (five/10 inches off mane hairs)

And ____ for forward (this being within a brush of the mane hairs)

In training from almost the very beginning to slow you....   / .... put legs in   ! and ---------the reins and finally end in "whoa" as the horse progreses you drop the cues in reverse fashion

And to go forward you ________ the hands ....put legs in   ! and with the voice "kiss" ....and drop cues in reverse order as training progresses....

The key/goal being that a horse maintains it's last task until you give him another command....so your legs and hands maintain a "neutral" position as long as he is "on task"....he's not wearing you out but pumpig his sides and you're not harassing him....

Speed rating comes from the repetition of stop and start....maybe 1000 boring times if you have a real clueless case (g) and when is so ingrained in them you step up to a faster gait and practice 1000 more times....if they decide to "forget" then you drop back down the cue "list" to a more crude cue that they "remember".

Rating the Speed of Your Horse
By: Laura Phelps-Bell

My purpose with this article will be to explain my concept of what "rating speed" is, but also to help people understand how to "feel as one" with their horse; to teach horse and human to be on the "same page" and "following the same lead" with the human in the capacity of being the "director" of this production, but not inhibiting the creativity of both individuals by that direction; to teach the human how to have the horses feet go where they want them to go and at the speed that they wish to go.

Creating "oneness" with our horses is a very achievable endeavor as long as we educate ourselves in the "nuts and bolts" kind of way too. The two go hand and hand. It would be wonderful if we all had "feel" and knew how to "follow a lead" naturally but alas, that usually isn't the case. The "natural" aspects of interaction with horses will usually take place as more standard education is in place first. Then we will begin to develop a naturalness of interaction that is wonderful; both a union of mind and spirit.

Rating Speed:

My definition of rating speed is maintaining a consistent speed (cadence and rhythm) with your horse once you are at your desired speed. I also consider rating speed to be controlling speed between transitions of speed within a gait. For example: if we go from a canter to a hand gallop and then back to canter again. Basically the same gait, just making a transition of speed within the gait.

Rating speed is one of those things that is very important in terms of creating understanding and communication between a horse and rider. From a safety standpoint, it is very important as well. If the horse and rider are moving "at speed" and the rider wishes to decrease and/or moderate the speed of their horse and its at that moment that the communication between them breaks down, the horses "fight or flight" instinct might actually kick in to high gear, potentially causing a run-away scenario with both the horse and rider in jeopardy.

Learning how to rate speed: In a perfect world, the horse and human have bonded, done a lot of ground handling to establish mutual respect and trust at that level first and have developed a good communication level between them. The human also has an "open mind" and is continuing on the learning path. Since I'm a realist, I understand that this isn't always the case, but I make it a point to advise people that their horse experience will be a better, safer one if they take the time to do these very simple basics first. For purposes of this article, we will assume that the foundation groundwork is solidly in place.

One scenario that I see quite often is when the rider sends their horse forward and is enjoying a fast, forward ride in whatever gait the rider has chosen. Now they want to decrease speed so they pull on the reins. If the response from the horse is not one of "coming back" (as in slowing down), the rider may pull harder and harder which may cause the horse to just bear more and more into the pressure. At this point all we have is a pulling contest. If the rider were to "open their shoulders", drop their heels down so that they are the lowest point on the riders body and then offset a straight pull back on both reins with instead a steady tension on one rein and a "softening of the jaw" (vibrating) type tension of the other rein, all would probably be well. The horse would probably relax their jaw and poll and melt into a slower speed. Instead, what often happens is the rider now begins to become frightened and they many times will start to curl their body into a fetal (defensive) position. Then their calves and heels come up and grip the horse's sides hard, which compounds the problem. With the riders calves and heels in their sides, most horses have been trained to go faster with more pressure from the riders legs and heels and that is exactly what happens; the horse goes faster and gets stronger. Now we have a rider hunched forward, trying to pull the horse back while desperately gripping the horses sides with their legs and heels. Quite often this scenario will turn into a "runaway" situation and because the horse is now scared too, they are running in a panic without either the horse or the rider having a level head and thinking and making decisions. If the rider had just sat up straight in the saddle, dropped their heels and calves out of the horses ribcage and done effective communication with the horses head and neck via the reins, the situation probably wouldn't have spun out-of-control.

Let's break down "rating speed":

From having taught hundreds of people how to interact with and ride their horses, I've come to the realization that terms like "feel","follow the lead", "the horses feet are my feet", etc. don't really mean anything to som e people (especially those with little experience). It's like speaking in a foreign language. As a persons horse experience becomes broader (they learn the language), these terms will probably begin to make perfect sense, but in the beginning of the "experience", they often don't. I have had better results if I break things down and give people mental "pictures" to relate to.

Think of riding your horse like driving a car (or for a kid, like riding a bicycle). It takes a certain amount of "feel" to drive a car or ride a bike, just like with a horse. We are also "making the cars or bicycles tires, our tires" when we drive, just like when "the horses feet are our feet". It also takes education, coordination and good reflexes to handle certain situations that may arise. Of course, we are only dealing with one brain (ours) when operating a car, but if we take the time to educate ourselves, develop our skills and break it down, its definitely transferable to riding a horse.

Riding your horse (driving your car):

You have reins (your steering wheel and brakes) and your seat and legs (the accelerator, but also your steering wheel and brakes if you know how to use your seat and legs effectively, but that's a different article!). Now let's picture coming to a railroad crossing with our car and the crossing gates are down. We sit patiently until the train comes and goes (unless you're silly enough to try and weave your way between the gates and play "chicken" with a train!). The crossing arms go up. Now, do we mash down on the accelerator (kick the horse in the sides) and dash across the railroad tracks blindly? A sensible person wouldn't do that. Instead, we apply pressure to the accelerator, (squeeze our legs on the horse's sides), we steer the direction of our vehicle with our steering wheel (our horse with our reins) and in this way we are controlling the speed and direction of our vehicle (our horse). We regulate/control our speed and direction by how we use our accelerator, steering wheel and brakes in balance and harmony. Once we get to the desired speed, we maintain that speed by how we coordinate our feet and hands on the controls in the car.

Think of the crossing arms as they go up as being a door that is opening and we are simply going through the opening with our vehicle. With our horse, we are the ones that are creating an opening for them to go through by easing up and relaxing our contact with the reins to their mouth and by applying leg pressure (the accelerator), we then send the horse smoothly through the opening created by the easing or relaxing of the reins. Rating the speed of a horse is like rating the speed of your car; a balance between accelerator (seat and legs) which sends the car (horse) forward, the steering wheel (hand/s of the rider on the reins) and our brakes (hand/s of the rider). *For purposes of this article, I'm not going to complicate things by going into all the different ways that we can use our hands, legs and seat in unison to steer, stop and have our horse perform intricate movements. I'm keeping things as basic as possible. If you push your horse forward with your legs, you will then "catch and direct" them with your hand/s as your horse moves forward (just like applying the accelerator in your car. When the car goes forward, hopefully you have your hands on the steering wheel to control the direction). Once you are at the desired speed, you will hold steady, in light contact with your horse's mouth. If the horse wishes to go faster and you don't want them to, you simply apply pressure with your reins (the brakes) to ease them back to your desired speed, hold the pressure for a few seconds and then lighten the contact with your horses mouth (easing up on the brakes) to just contact, not pressure and tension on the reins. Sometimes you may have to repeat this exercise until the horse understands that if in reality you wanted to go faster, you would apply the legs (the accelerator) to ask for faster. Since that is not what you are doing (and you may need to check yourself to make sure that you aren't actually egging your horse on with your calves and heels gripping into their sides) the horse will begin to realize that he has to focus on what it is that you are asking for in that moment. I take this a step further with some of the horses that I train and will hold with slight pressure at the desired speed and then ease off of the contact completely to a loose rein. This causes the horse to have to learn to "carry themselves" without me having to hold their mouth (forehand) with my hand/s. When I want something else, I then apply the appropriate signal of hand, leg or both in harmony. We should avoid a "pulling contest" because it is combative and counter-productive. Combat has no place in riding (or driving, but maybe that's why we have "road rage" because some people just don't get it!).

Just remember that we are pushing our horse forward with our legs and then "catching" and directing with our hands on the reins. It's a matter of riding the whole horse, not just the forehand or the haunches. We should be thinking in terms of dividing the horse in half; forehand, haunches. Now divide them into quarters; right forehand, left forehand, right hindquarters, left hindquarters. Both legs of the rider will direct the horse's haunches.

The left leg of the rider will also direct the left haunch more precisely, just as the right leg will direct the right haunch. Both hands on the reins will control the forehand (unless the horse has more advanced training and knows how to neckrein, in which case both reins are in one hand of the rider). The right hand directs the right forehand and the left hand directs the left forehand. When sitting in the saddle, from the riders hands forward that is the realm of the hand controlling direction and speed. From the riders legs back, that is the realm of the influence of the riders legs.

So now we can look at this scenario: the rider "opens the door" with their hands on the reins by relaxing the reins. They give the horse a squeeze with their legs to send them through the opening that has been created with the relaxation of the reins. They ride their horse up to the desired speed and then apply just enough contact/pressure to tell the horse that this is where they want to be in terms of speed. Once the horse regulates their speed at that speed, the rider can either ride in light contact or they can ease off completely on the rein contact and go to a slightly slack rein. If the horse speeds up, the rider makes sure that they didn't do something with their leg to tell the horse to in fact go faster.

When the rider has checked themselves to make sure that their legs and heels are not grabbing the horse in the sides and that they are sitting up straight and not hunching into a ball, then they can bring the horse back with tension/pressure on the reins ("closing the door", applying the brakes), hold the horse at the desired speed once they get to it and then after a few seconds, ease off the pressure/tension on the reins and continue the ride at the desired speed. Sometimes this exercise will need to be repeated until the horse understands that a relaxing rein is not their cue to go faster. They are only to go faster if the rider applies leg pressure and/or sound cues such as clucking or kissing.

In order to decrease speed, the rider should once again check to make sure that they are sitting correctly and are not cueing the horse to go faster. If everything is as it should be, the rider will now relax their legs ever so slightly, apply as little pressure as possible to the reins (remember, if a subtle cue will get the desired response, that will keep the communication between you and your horse "light". If we don't get the response we're looking for with a subtle cue, we can always increase what we're doing until we get the desired response) soften the jaw of the horse (vibrate the rein) with either rein but not both and only increase the pressure (pull) on the reins if necessary. The rider should be thinking of synchronizing the balance of their hands and legs and the "jobs" that the parts of their bodies are performing in cueing the horse. The rider is "directing" the production and that includes directing themselves, not just their horse.

By creating an atmosphere of communication, trust and also balance (harmony) between horse and rider, we can effectively ride our horse at any speed, maintain a consistent speed, vary the speed from slow to fast and back to slow again and also do smooth, balanced transitions between gaits. Unless the event we are riding in calls for it, we should avoid abrupt, helter-skelter, quick moves. Actions like these are what will tend to frighten a horse and cause them to lose their balance, which in turn sometimes leads to erratic, paniced behavior on the part of the horse and maybe the rider too if they become frightened and realize the situation is out-of-control. Try to keep transitions smooth and in balance and keep thinking about riding "the whole horse", not just the front or the back.

Here's some questions I asked of gaited horse trainers and natural horsemanship trainers on other lists:

> How do you train your horse to "rate speed"?


> When do you train it?

from about the fifth ride or so...

> And why?

the more control you have in speed rating the less you have to bother with their face...


>>How do you train your horse to "rate speed"?<<

By teaching them to respond to different seat positions (how I rock my pelvis either forward or back) to speed up or slow down, followed by light rein or leg signals as is appropriate. When the speed desired is reached, relax all aids and "let the horse be" at that speed.

>>When do you train it?<<

Starting with about the third ride, after we have learned a little about moving forward at a slow walk.

So the horse is pleasant to ride -- stays consistent in gait and speed, without constant reminders, on a relatively slack rein and is safe in all sorts of footing -- a horse that only knows "full speed ahead" is dangerous in rough ground and going down hills.


> How do you train your horse to "rate speed"?

I use my seat and legs, squeezing my legs to go forward and sitting deeper to slow down.

> When do you train it?

I have never trained a young horse so I don't know when you would start that specifically but I have taught it to every horse I have had if they didn't know it when I got them.

> And why?

So that I don't have to get in their mouth. Stopping should not be the tug of war that you see all too frequently, I want my horse to slow down and/or stop with as little pressure on the reins as possible. I don't think you can achieve true collection on a horse that doesn't know how to rate speed and isn't that the ultimate goal when training an optimal riding horse?


I think of rating speed as teaching the horse to move at slow, medium and fast speeds in each gait. Depending on the level of push and energy in your horse, I'd either start at a very fast walk or at a very slow walk - whatever the horse needs. You wouldn't want to try to get a very forward "hot" horse to walk slowly at first, but rather to start fast and work down the scale.

The goal/purpose is to get hooked up with your horse so that you are working together as a team. As others have said, we don't want to be tugging on the reins to get a horse slowed down or stopped and we don't want to be banging on their sides to get them to go. We should be able to move from slow through medium up to fast and back down again smoothly without the horse becoming bothered.

Most people I know would say to start this work very early in a horse's training. I think it helps the horse to feel that somebody's got a plan and that they are in the hands of a competent leader. I believe horses look for and appreciate that in a rider. The first few rides it's nice to not ask too much and just go with the horse, but after that one of you had better start controlling speed -- better you than the horse!


>> would you consider rating speed as something basic that a horse should know--meaning should it be included in a horse's basic training?<<

Yes, I think so. I think it applies to a number of important elements: sensitivity to the rider's balance and energy, a comfort level at speed, and "self carriage." I think it also should be included in a rider's basic training, as well.


>How do you train your horse to "rate speed"?

The life in my body - liven up more for more speed, quiet down for less.

>When do you train it?

First ride. And every ride thereafter.

>And why?

Why not? Why wouldn't I? It's necessary for everything I do with the horse to have him be with me, where I am. His feet are my feet. Sometimes I have to move slow, sometimes I have to move fast.


This is a great topic, that at one time I thought I was so good at in teaching a horse . And maybe compared to many Walking Horse techniques at that time I was.

I then had the opportunity to work with Peruvian trainer named German Baca who taught everything I didn't know about this and so much more.....

I hope I can put this to words so it provides some understanding.

IME Rating speed starts with the ground work. Using our body and voice as aids to instruct the horse of what we want and then is carried over to undersaddle work later.

As they learn, extra aids such as voice can be dropped later when they learn and understand the physical signals given. But that voice is always there to back up a lesson if they start to slide back or get in an insecure situation such as first time at a show or trail ride. On the lunge I teach the slow walk and to maintain , a fast walk and maintain this. I don't work up to gait until they have these 2 things down and then we work at gait. I also teach this working in a straight line in hand too. Pick your words for each and hand signals for each so that they are very different and they are clear. When I have them in gait we go back down through the transitions as we went up.

Starting under saddle is when the voice commands really carry over. I start teaching rating speed about the third ride although this can vary with horses and what they are ready for. Just like in hand, I work the slow walk and the fast walk using the same words and tones to move them up. While using pelvis and then legs to urge them up. I really would rather not use heel. If they do not respond then I go to tapping the back end of the horse to send them forward. I always give a positive toned word when they have done what I ask. When the slow walk and fast walk are down then we start working toward gait or trot.

During each phase of speed you have to give them some release of the aids and give them the opportunity to hold it on their own. If they don't I then remind with pelvis and then leg if needed. Coming down threw the transitions are just as important as going up. After we have done some work at gait or trot we got back down to the fast walk, giving a slight bump with my little finger on rein and settling my weight down into the seat of the saddle. hold the flat walk for a period of time. Then the same signal for the slow walk. You work up and down this way asking them to hold a speed for a decent amount of time so there is no confusion of what you want.

One very important lesson Gemand taught me was at the end of a session let them go at a slow relaxed walk for a period . Not just knock off a lesson at the fast walk. Although I see many stop right after working gait and jump off. The horses really look forward to this nice slow time at the end of a lesson.

Also in training rating speed , self collection along with many other tasks it's important to give them the chance to do it on their own once you have shown them how. If they don't just remind them with your signals and let them try again. Good team work between animal and human is giving the opportunity to trust each other in doing a task.


>>Do you think that a horse that knows how to rate speed, is less likely to be a runaway?<<

That depends on what would cause a horse to run, but generally speaking, if you're building in a feel, the horse would be more where the rider is.

>>And how do you think this fits in with horses that go a little faster, and a little faster to catch up to themselves--sort of spiraling out of control? Does this have anything to do with their inability to balance themselves and rider at a higher speed?<<

This is the rider getting in the way of the horse. The rider causes balance problems in the horse when they do not sit quiet and relaxed enough for the horse to learn how to balance the rider. Horses have no trouble balancing themselves out in the open without a rider. They have trouble when they become unsure of how to balance the rider on their backs and the rider never sits quiet and relaxed enough for the horse to figure it out.

>>Do horses that learn how to rate speed from the beginning have less of the speeding-up-without-being-asked problems?<<

It does not matter when you begin to help them, as long as you begin to help them as soon as you aware they need the help.

If a horse were struggling with such things, the rider would do well to go to the round pen, loop those reins around the horn, or take them off altogether, get settled and just ride.

Nine times out of ten, those reins caused the problem for the horse in the first place, so let 'em go.


>>Would you consider rating speed as something basic that a horse should know--meaning should it be included in a horse's basic training?<<

One thing I learned in the PP program, is the horse needs to know "don't change gait, don't change direction".... in that order.


> How do you train your horse to "rate speed"?

This is something that Mark worked with me on last December with my then-5 year old gelding, Jimmy. We worked on it at the walk and, particularly, the trot. As with most things, the horse already knows how to rate his speed, it's the rider that usually gets in the way. Mark worked with me on putting the right amount of life in my body to speed up or slow down my horse. Until then, my horse's trot was pretty strung out and big. He did not have a jog. We worked on getting that jog and keeping it. The goal was to use very little leg or rein, just internal "life" and balance. The trick was catching the change in speed just before it happened. It was almost like balancing on a teeter-totter, with just the slightest change in my body position causing him to slow or going faster.

> When do you train it?

I don't have the answer to this one. My gelding was 5 when I started working on rating speed at the trot. He's six now, and we're just working on rating speed at the canter. He's a fabulous horse, but probably slower than many to develop.

> And why?

Getting Jimmy to trot at different speeds caused him to use different muscles. With the slower jog, he had to use his underline more, and helped him to develop those muscles and begin to collect. Getting him comfortable in the fast trot gives him somewhere to go if he's troubled in the canter.

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