Why Do We Need To Learn This Skill?
Well, the first reason is that you should be able to control your horse’s speed within each gait. You should be able to take longer strides or shorter strides. Depending on the situation you are.
Lengthening and shortening is a good skill to learn if you are aspiring to learn dressage.
It also is absolutely necessary when jumping. You need to be able to judge how many strides are between the fences and then be able to either hold or push your horse to that distance.
Just trust me, it’s a skill that everyone should learn along their horsemanship journey.
What You Need To Be Able To Do First
There are some certain skills you need to have to be ready to work on this. You need to have an independent seat and hands. Why? Because your hands and legs are going to be doing different things so we need to make sure you can use your hands and your legs both independent of the rest of your body and each other.
Also, you most likely already know how to half-halt if you have an independent seat and hands. You definitely need to know how to half-halt to succeed with this exercise.
What To Set Up
Two ground poles. One on either side of a 20 meter circle. Eventually you can use a larger circle but for beginning sticking on the 20 meter circle will help you be more successful.
What To Do
You are going to chose whatever gait you want to work in and go around the circle and over the poles. Once you are over the first pole I want you to either count out loud or in your head the number of strides your horse naturally goes through at his own normal pace.
Push Forward For Less Strides , Hold For More Strides
In order to get less strides on the circle you need to push your horse forward for a longer stride. While you do this you want to make sure your body is not leaning forward and you are still sitting up with a straight line from shoulder to hip to heel.
Once you have gone around a time or two and you feel your horses strides are longer, go ahead and start counting. The goal is to get the same number of strides on each side of the circle(in between the poles).
Holding for a shorter stride can be tricky. You are going to put your leg on and ask your horse from more power from behind. At the same time though you are going to be sitting up and deep in the saddle closing your leg and half halting. Basically we want to tell the horse to keep cantering but shorten up that stride.
This can be harder than lengthening stride since your horse may be confused at the beginning when he feels the strong half-halt and he might just break to trot misunderstanding your aids.
That is no big deal. If you have that problem I would suggest using the whole ring and riding different figures while working on asking your horse to shorten his stride. This will keep him more focused on you rather than running around in a circle. It will keep you both fresher for when you are ready to do the exercise on the circle.
This Is Not Necessarily Going To Be Easy
This exercise requires that you and your horse are speaking the same language. You want to give signals he knows. Questions he can answer. If you are struggling, go back to something that you know your horse can do successfully get the lines of communication back open so that with your aids you can ask your question( whether it be to shorten or lengthen, or anything else really!) and he will hear you and have the correct answer.
This Exercise Can Benefit Anyone
Learning to be able to feel and count your horses strides. As well as adjust them will be a really good tool to have in your horsemanship tool box.
That’s what we are doing on this journey right. Learning to speak the same language as our horse and adding more and more tools to the tool box to help us do that!