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
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
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
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
/ (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
In training from almost the very beginning to slow you....
/ .... put
! 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
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
speed" is, but also to help people understand how to "feel as one" with
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
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
both a union of mind and spirit.
My definition of rating speed is maintaining a consistent speed
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,
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
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),
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
of the jaw" (vibrating) type tension of the other rein, all would probably
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;
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
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
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
lead", "the horses feet are my feet", etc. don't really mean anything to som
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
Think of riding your horse like driving a car (or for a kid, like
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
few seconds and then lighten the contact with your horses mouth (easing up
the brakes) to just contact, not pressure and tension on the reins.
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
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
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
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
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
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),
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
>When do you train it?
First ride. And every ride thereafter.
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
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
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
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
>>And how do you think this fits in with horses that go a little faster, and
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
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
>>Do horses that learn how to rate speed from the beginning have less of the
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.
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
the change in speed just before it happened. It was almost like balancing
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
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
> 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