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Horse breaks to next gait instead of working harder in current gait

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  • Horse breaks to next gait instead of working harder in current gait

    My horse is a lazy horse when he chooses to be. Luckily at shows, he gets more forward. I have done a lot of work with him on being far more responsive and our hard work has paid off. However, we've been recently working to really WORK in our gaits such as the walk and trot. I'm showing training level, working 1st level. I always gets marks off for "slow" walk even though he is over tracking. He just doesn't really swing and move forward energetically. I've recently been trying to get him to really lengthen his trot but instead, he has almost a gimp every few strides and would MUCH rather just break into a canter. My trainer said he's not lame, he's just being lazy. I would agree because when we're out on a trail or something, he has NO issue with this gimp trot step every so often. At the walk, when I push him on, he'd rather pick up a slow, no impulsion jog. I'm confused because when I send him forward, he goes forward but into the next gait. I don't want to punish him for moving forward since that's what I'm asking BUT I don't want him to think forward means just break into whatever gait is the least work. I just cannot figure out how to get him to work harder in the gait we're in. Doesn't matter if we're doing long and low or if we are collected. Any ideas?

  • #2
    It would be helpful if you could post of video of what you're experiencing What may seem like laziness to one person, could -- actually -- be a physical issue such as true lameness, rein lameness, weakness, etc.

    In addition, I've got some questions that could clarify: How old is the horse? Did he have a previous career that might be affecting his interpretation of forward? Same goes for you: are you a dressage "lifer" or are you learning as your horse is? Are you possibly sending mixed messages to the horse -- even unintentionally as the result of your own crookedness, sidedness, or weakness? We all struggle with this
    Piaffe Girl -- Dressage. Fashionably.


    • #3
      DFF suggests some good things that would add information. It's hard to distinguish between the horse being lazy and ignoring you, and you being stiff in your seat and/or hands and not letting him stretch. Everything you mention to me points to your horse lacking strength and balance to hold the gait. That would make sense if he's showing training level and schooling first. You are right not to punish him if he changes gaits because he may think that your asking him for that and may be trying to please you in his own way. He doesn't know what collected gaits are and at Training level, he's not asked to show any range in his gaits. He's just learning how to do this. I'd suggest your trainer ride him to a) school him to progress him to first level and b) see what your horse is actually thinking. Next, if you've never ridden above first level, I'd suggest you seek lessons on a horse that has so you know what you're aiming for with your own horse. Good luck!!!
      Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation


      • #4
        We have exactly this issue at times at the trot. Walk is no issue anymore, thank goodness, and when he learned that swingy walk was what we wanted, all was better. But at times when I ask for more impulsion at the trot, he will break into canter. I ride with my trainer, so I have instant feedback on the cause. Sometimes it is me, asking too hard, but lately it is more often horse. He is schooling first level with trainer and training level with me. Now I am learning some first level, and this is where we run into some trouble. He breaks with trainer at times as well. He is learning that if he wants to evade, then we will canter around a bit, and not a lazy canter but a proper balanced canter. I then bring him back to trot and ask again for more impulsion, not canter. He is a smart horse. He gets it. As he developed more muscle, and as he is able to carry himself so much better than when we started, he gets better. When I am balanced and sit properly, he has a much easier time because he doesn't have to deal with my being out of balance. I'm starting to "feel" him better, but it is definitely helpful to have trainer there with INSTANT feedback saying, "this is you, asking too hard," and "this is horse, being lazy," and "this is you, out of balance with your head in front of you and your rib cage collapsed." I'm just learning dressage, and my horse is 14 and also learning, so we are by no means experienced. But we do have this problem, so wanted to share. Also have found that he does it a few times in the beginning, then seems to either be more relaxed, I may be riding better, or maybe he realizes that I mean business. Regardless, it seems to work itself out pretty quickly into the ride. Good luck!!
        LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...


        • #5
          assuming that everything is good ( health and saddle fit) and that you are encouraging the motiong with your hips, if the horse breaks gait when i ask for more forward, I immediately ride the most difficult lateral movement they know. ie, as they break gait i says, sure, go forward in trot, but it going to be a shoulder in, or a leg yield, or a moving turn on the fore hand, and the momenth they resume the gait i prefer, a allow them to go straight and forward in that gait.

          Lets say we are working on a forward walk, and the horse is not forward, first i ask , once, DO NOT NAG, if the response is not there then you send. if the horse breaks into a trot immediately send them side ways, making sure they keep their hind legs very active, ie make the trot harder than the walk, when they go back to walk, ride them forward in the walk.


          • #6
            All good ideas offered so far. My suggestion would be to try to use the trail rides to also do some schooling work. Helps the horse brain to learn in a different environment, possibly a more relaxed one. Variations within a gait, for example, might be easier outside than in an arena.
            "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths


            • #7
              Do you ever work him in a different venue? Ride to a clearing or far end of a pasture and work there? Sometimes horses just get bored and a change of work places can do wonders (like more forward at shows). Or a change of work itself. Pop over some cavaletti or crossrails. Mix it up and keep him guessing. Check his diet. All the usual stuff.

              DFF has asked the questions I would ask also. What's his background? Age? Etc..
              Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"


              • #8
                My guy will do this sometimes. Trainer is always with me and watches. My Boy is just lazy lol. He can do it yet he is not strong enough to hold some of the movements to long so if I ask for to long of more collection and forward he will break. I don't punish, I just bring him back down and ask again. Once he gives me a few strides I know he is listening and trying I will move on to something else not to burn him out and not to ask for more than he can do at this moment
                Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                • #9
                  Your seat must always be aware of the rhythm you want. If the horse breaks gait, he is breaking rhythm, so your body must actively half halt, until the required rhythm is established.

                  It is definitely a "make my lfe easier" move by the horse.
                  Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                  Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by merrygoround View Post
                    Your seat must always be aware of the rhythm you want. If the horse breaks gait, he is breaking rhythm, so your body must actively half halt, until the required rhythm is established.

                    It is definitely a "make my lfe easier" move by the horse.

                    Also, see my thread titled The Seat.
                    If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


                    • #11
                      I'm a redneck, so take what you like and leave the rest.

                      1. The sumb!tch ain't broke to your leg. I say that with technicality and love.

                      From your description, the horse can give you a bigger gait, but only when the circumstances are right for him and not when you ask.

                      2. That means you should ask him for a correct, bigger trot and you *can* punish him for giving you either nothing or a canter. The mature/secure/lazy horse can be taught the difference between an aid for canter and one for a lengthening. It's time for him to step up his game and learn the difference.

                      3. That being said, I'd work on this at the trot and leave the walk alone until you and the horse have a new understanding about the leg.

                      A walk is easy to screw up, and it's easy for us to contort our seat and nag. You don't want to try to undo any of those habits. They are hard to dig out.

                      The ol' "bigger trot, smaller trot, bigger trot....." will be your friend. You can do the same at the canter.

                      It's a great exercise. We can talk more about how to do this and how to refine it and use it forever in your training program if that confuses you.

                      Best of luck, and please know that if you are spending, say $35 a day to feed a horse who only has to work 5-7 hours a week, the least he could do is get off your damned leg!
                      Last edited by mvp; May. 31, 2013, 12:10 PM. Reason: spellcheck don't know slang.
                      The armchair saddler
                      Politically Pro-Cat


                      • #12
                        If he breaks into canter when asking for trot lengthening, don't take him back to trot - ask him to canter lengthening instead. You need to get to his head that you are asking for lengthening trot, not slow canter. Keep at cantering lengthening until you are satisfied. Drop to trot and try for trot lengthening again. If he does the same thing, repeat. It won't take long to fix this. If he is lazy, he will figure out really quick that a trot lengthening is much easier than a canter lengthening. Make sure you go with him when he complies, either in canter lengthening or trot lengthening.

                        The walk is difficult to fix and easy to mess up. Talk to your instructor about this.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by mvp View Post
                          That means you should ask him for a correct, bigger trot and you *can* punish him for giving you either nothing or a canter.
                          My horse evades "more trot" by breaking to a canter, too.

                          I "punish" him by doing counter canter. Then back to canter for a few more strides before I ask for a down transition to the trot and try it again. Unless he's really really distracted or fresh, it usually only takes once or twice. He's smart -- counter canter is harder than more trot.
                          "... if you think i'm MAD, today, of all days,
                          the best day in ten years,
                          you are SORELY MISTAKEN, MY LITTLE ANCHOVY."


                          • #14
                            Quote-mvp: 2. "That means you should ask him for a correct, bigger trot and you *can* punish him for giving you either nothing or a canter. The mature/secure/lazy horse can be taught the difference between an aid for canter and one for a lengthening. It's time for him to step up his game and learn the difference".End Quote

                            The difference between the canter and the trot, should be the rider's aids, and the riders body rhythm. This is why we used the expression "lift into canter". If the horse offers canter when not asked punishment is not the answer, correction is. The rider half halts fractionally, til the required gait is attained, and then being very careful with their aids, resubmits their request. Compliance is rewarded.
                            Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                            Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                            • Original Poster

                              Let me see if I can clarify some great questions that were asked:
                              1. I’m not sure how to post a video, I’ll look into that.
                              2. Horse is 11 years old.
                              3. He was previously a jumper but poorly jumped. So, in the two years I’ve had him, we’ve done a TON of learning how to engage the hindquarters, long and low, stretching, etc. It’s pretty much all we did the first year we were together since he did not know he was even allowed to stretch. He was a much happier horse once he knew not only that he could stretch but that he was rewarded for it! He had sore hocks from being jumped with his head cranked up in the air and mouth slammed (not to mention an ill fitted saddle) so I had his hocks injected, he’s on MSM and CoMega oil. We tried to avoid the hock injections but eventually ended up there. About a month after the hock injections, he felt much better and I noticed a difference in his going. It’s been well over a year since the hock injections. I would think to inject his hocks again but out on trail he doesn’t have any of the issues he has in the arena so it leads me to believe it’s not physical. The horse has been vetted and checked by chriopratic, saddle fitter, etc. -- no soreness.
                              4. I have ridden a lot of disciplines from barrels to jumpers to dressage. Dressage is my passion and I’ve been riding it for about 10-12 years. I’m certainly no pro but take lessons with a well respected trainer.
                              5. I’ve schooled horses up to 2nd level.
                              6. My saddle is custom fit and flocked to the horse, I have it checked reguarly.
                              7. We have been showing training level and have been getting high 60’s% and into the 70’s%. Comments almost always include, “needs more suppleness, horse needs more impulsion, walk is too slow.”
                              8. By all means I could be sending mixed messages – rider error causes most of the problems I know of. I know I am stronger on my right side and when I REALLY want something, I can get stiff because I am working too hard. When I find myself doing that, I drop my reins and go long and low and start looking at the treetops and things OUTSIDE the arena to get my focus up and off what I’m trying so hard to achieve.
                              9. I do know that when I really DEMAND something from my horse, he WILL perform. He just would rather be lazy if it were his choice. For example, he would make you believe he could not possibly leg yield but if you demand it and make him realize you mean business, he leg yields like a champ! Now that I’m older and a bit wiser, I prefer a lazier horse to the speed demons I once loved ☺ However, I still require that my horse pay attention and move off aids and not hang on my hands.
                              10. My horse is just learning how to extend in all the gaits, my trainer said it is time to start making the differentiation in the gaits now. I realize he might not have the strength to really hold the extentions for a long time but I would like to work toward more and more consistent steps.
                              11. I would LOVE to ride a higher level horse so I can focus on myself and what “correct” feels like however it isn’t an option since I’m about the only dressage rider I know! ☺ I trailer over an hour just to get to my dressage trainer and she doesn’t have any horses that are experienced enough at the current moment for me to focus on myself.
                              12. LOVE the idea of the lateral movement exercises whenever the horse breaks gait! I already do that whenever he tries to get too heavy in my hands (another response he came with but we’ve been able to really nicely work through).
                              13. I totally agree with not nagging -- one of my pet peeves.
                              14. I always work some dressage into our trails – he is so very forward on trails it makes my rides a true pleasure. I would hate to thing he’s ring sour and has no go left for the arena ☹
                              15. We do ride in various locations and do some jumping here and there to mix things up. He gets nicely forward and under himself when we jump so I usually set a jump up somewhere in the arena and pop over it when he starts dragging.
                              16. One thing I’ve learned quickly about this horse is that drilling something does NOT work. A few times through and then I need to switch it up to something else. Maybe come back to the original plan after some other excercises.

                              Questions I have:
                              1. On the note about doing a proper balanced canter when the horse breaks into the canter from the trot -- I’ve thought about that but didn’t know if that would reinforce the canter que, not the lengthening of trot que. ???

                              2. LOVE the idea about the “bigger trot, smaller trot, bigger trot …” I think I know what you’re saying by this. I’d love to know how to better refine it. (BTW, I could not agree more with your comment regarding my horse working for me for 1-2 hours a day, 5 days a week …. I say the EXACT same thing!) Could you elaborate more on how to refine the work??

                              3. Also like the idea about doing canter lengthening whenever he breaks gait. Will try that. He does have a fabulous trot when he comes down from the canter, I just can’t get him to maintain it any longer than his chosing. Ideas??

                              4. In so far as the difference between the canter and the trot quote – The more I ask for the lengthening and the more he breaks into a canter, the worse our half halts get and the more he blows me off, disregarding my hands, seat, etc. until we then have to work on purely getting the halt without plowing through my hands and having to resort to a one rein stop. Any ideas??

                              5. I don’t really want to do counter canter work right now other than the loops we are doing which incorporate some counter canter. He’s not quite balanced enough to hold a counter canter correctly for more than half way around the arena. We’re also working on adding that to our repituore. Is this correct thinking or am I off by saying/thinking that??

                              SORRY for the novel!! HA! But THANK YOU for all the great ideas, input, etc. I really appreciate it!!


                              • Original Poster

                                Ugh, sorry for the spelling errors in my above post! They're driving me NUTS!!


                                • #17
                                  its not a problem if he goes into a higher gait and should not be punished or penalized for doing so. all forward activity should be rewarded.

                                  normally when a horse is learning to engage and carry more they will break into a higher gait instead of taking more weight behind. this is NORMAL.

                                  your job is to teach him step by step how to do what you wish.

                                  my guess is that you are forgetting to half halt when you ask for a bit more.... so without the half halt he will naturally break gait.

                                  so, my suggestion would be to be sure to HH before asking for more, then see if you can get him to go a bit more forward - but if he breaks - no problem - just work that gait until he is going as you wish, then bring him back to the initial gait and try again.

                                  the trick is to ask the right amount while asking him to take more weight behind.

                                  remember too that this is hard work for him so only do a few steps at a time to begin with and work up to more over time.

                                  a video would really help.


                                  • #18
                                    Here I disagree. If he breaks gait, he should be quietly, as I've said before, brought back to his original gait, and then asked for a little less forward, lengthening, whatever, than you had asked for before.

                                    I agree with the OP, allowing him to remain rewards him. Forward doesn't mean a change of pace. It means more energy in the gait requested.
                                    Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                                    Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Follow up question:
                                      When I allow him to stretch and go long & low, I get a much larger and far more fluid stride with way more forward. He almost floats when I let him go long & low (at least as much as is possible for him physically). I obviously start out each ride with a LOT of long and low stretching. However, I'm finding that it's easier to push him into a more lengthened stride while long & low instead of collected. Should I continue doing this with variations of collection while still maintaining as much of the forward, larger stride as I can? I don't want to be unfair but I also don't want him to fall on his forehand and think he's stretching every time I want to lengthen the trot (or any gait for that matter).

                                      Also, when I want the larger stride, his speed increases. I don't want a rapid "sewing machine" trot but a larger trot with the same rhythm as our working trot. Would it be asking too much at this point to ask for extending the trot in the same rhythm or is it okay to work for the extended trot right now and then slow the gait (keeping the extension) later? I'd LOVE to get some suspension!


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by merrygoround View Post
                                        Quote-mvp: 2. "That means you should ask him for a correct, bigger trot and you *can* punish him for giving you either nothing or a canter. The mature/secure/lazy horse can be taught the difference between an aid for canter and one for a lengthening. It's time for him to step up his game and learn the difference".End Quote

                                        The difference between the canter and the trot, should be the rider's aids, and the riders body rhythm. This is why we used the expression "lift into canter". If the horse offers canter when not asked punishment is not the answer, correction is. The rider half halts fractionally, til the required gait is attained, and then being very careful with their aids, resubmits their request. Compliance is rewarded.
                                        OK, call it correction then.

                                        What I meant was

                                        1. The OP doesn't have to settle for forward in the wrong gait just because she's starting with a baseline lazy horse. Also, all but the most stupid or most fried horses can't be told that more forward within the gait is the only right answer. For the other ones-- scared or very stupid or too green to be working on this problem-- you have to settle for *any* forward they give you as the right answer.

                                        2. The basic philosophy is that the rider asks specifically for one thing and the horse's life gets harder if he answers with the wrong one. Life gets easier when the horse gives the correct answer. So is that negative consequence a correction or a punishment? I'll let you decide what to call it.
                                        The armchair saddler
                                        Politically Pro-Cat