This article is not meant to be a lesson on how to do it - rather it is a memory of an old man's fabulous ride out one day on a fast Andalusian horse along an ocean side beach in sunny Spain. Those were the days.
Noone seems to have been taught the Gallop, probably because it is a difficult pace to achieve in the training arena. All those corners get in the way. The Gallop is however without doubt the most exhilarating pace to ride, when mounted on a fit & competent horse. The terrain needs to be suitable ie mostly flat & preferably even ground. A gently sloping uphill grassy path is nice, because it tends to slow the horse down at the end. A beach is great if you’ve got the brakes. The rider must be able to see along the line of the ride because old ladies taking their dogs for a walk or young ladies pushing prams can inhibit the run.
The gallop, out on a regular ride, usually begins at the same spot and the horses come to know it. As they reach the starting point so they get up onto their toes and they begin to fret at the bit. No one horse wants to be left behind and some horses insist on being up front. Too often with the ride leader, setting out initially at the trot, then moving up to the hand canter, then an extended canter and on to a controlled gallop, the line of horses and riders disintegrates into a mad gallop often from a standing start. Hilarious - so long as you know what’s coming, your feet are firmly in the stirrup irons and the reins are held short enough. Don’t try to hold the horse back - at best you’ll turn the horse away just for a moment or two - at worst the horse will buck, snatch on the reins and discard you out over the side or back over the rump. Then the race has started.
Rise up and stand in the stirrups in the forward position locking your knees into the kneepads. Push your feet firmly into the stirrup irons, Shorten the reins so that you have a gentle but firm contact with the horse’s mouth. A good idea is to fold the reins over the horses neck leaving the reins slack enough to allow for the free movement of the horses neck. Hold the reins with each hand on either side of the neck in such a way that you can twist the hand and apply a minimal touch to the mouth on the the side of the turn or so that you can lift the rein to indicate a slow down. Leave enough rein to allow the horse’s head to move freely; keep the body weight evenly on each stirrup pedal; tuck the knees into the knee rolls - if there are any. Ride on your fork above the centre of balance of the horse. Keep the lower legs away from the side of the horse, at this stage it will just make the horse go faster. Lean forwards slightly so as to get over the horse’s centre of balance which will have moved forwards as the speed builds up. At the start of the run you won’t need booster power. Keep the legs down vertically, keep the toes parallel with the horse, with the heels pressed down Whatever you do, don’t lose one of your stirrups at the start. In most races you’ll be following the horse in front but very occasionally you’ll be in the lead. When behind, try to keep well back from the rump of a galloping horse in the lead, if your horse is too strong then edge out to one side. If dust and stones are flying up, sheer off to the side. You’ll need to see what obstacles are coming up, you’ll be able to steer but you won’t be able to pull up or even slow down.
The horse will jump automatically any ditches or low fallen trees but it might baulk at anything over 3 feet high if it doesn’t feel comfortable that you can stay on. Feel confident, the horse doesn’t want the rider to fall off. At the gallop most horses like to feel the bit and through it, the reassuring hands of the rider. The horses even hope that if they do stumble or falter that you, the rider, will pick them up, by supporting the bit. Silly in theory but it seems to work in practice. A galloping horse has the momentum from the forces of motion to help keep it upright even when it slips but whereas in truth it has only four legs sometimes in times of emergency, the horse seems to find a “fifth” leg. Above all when in a spirited gallop, just keep your balance and your cool.
All should go well on the run because a shot of adrenaline works wonders for both horse and rider. If the horse does stumble, then please don’t fall off, because at a minimum of 25 miles per hour you might hit the ground very hard, even if having rolled off the horse backwards which is unlikely. The horse won’t want you to fall off - it might throw him off balance and the horse knows it. The horse itself doesn’t want to fall.
If a bend comes up, then don’t worry. When turning right, give the right rein a little squeeze, loosen the left rein, bear down on the right stirrup and lean just a touch over to the right. At the exact moment for the turn increase the pressure on the right hand and bear down on the right stirrup. The pair of you will steam round the bend. Just make sure that there is nothing round the corner blocking the path.
One other thing to watch out for is that your horse does not go into “overdrive“. Some horses can develop a galloping movement that is so fast that the slightest upset from baulking by another horse or from a hole in the terrain would bring about a very, very nasty tumble.
The tricky bit on a gallop starts when you realize that the space for galloping is coming to an end but that the horse is not slowing down. Don’t panic. Shorten both reins evenly by just a touch and take up a firmer contact with the bit. Gently lift your back up towards the verticle. Say “whoah” - the horse might just listen. Say”whoah” again, maybe a bit louder the second time. Push down on the stirrup irons and freeze your body movement. Resist the horse’s rythym, indicate to the horse that you both need to slow down. Maybe the horse will slow, if it doesn’t then, pull back more firmly on the reins and try to shorten the horse’s head movement. If the horse still doesn’t slow, then increase the pressure and once the horse does respond then keep the pressure on the bit even but remember to start to ease off progressively as the horse slows down. Remember, always reward the horse’s compliance but punish disobedience. Keep calling out: “whoah”, but use a strong voice and don’t let your panic show. If there is a convenient obstacle nearby then steer towards it. Restrict the horses neck movement - he has to move his neck up and down to gallop.
If the boy is indeed being good, then say “good boy”. As you come down back down through the canter to the hand canter, gently settle back down into the saddle. Keep your calves and heels away from the flanks of the horse. When the trot is reached, at first rise to the upward thrust, but then settle into a sitting trot. Finally will come the walk even if only for just a stride or two. When the horse comes to a halt, give him a rub on his mane and say: “thank you for the ride“. Enjoy the memory.
Remember to relax after the gallop but be aware that the slightest incentive from either your horse or your companion’s might start the race again. Be ready to adopt the forward position once more and be quick to punish the disobedience - be rough if necessary. Stopping an excited, heated, fit horse is more difficult the second time around.