How to re-train an ex trail riding horse to trot/canter correctly?
I just bought an 11 year old gelding who has been used as one of those tourist trail riding horses his whole life until he went to my friend for one year. Now I have him. He is healthy but problem is when I ask for the trot he only trots for a few paces until he slows down. I was told this is due to the fact he is use to following the horse ahead of him and only trotted to "catch up". Now when I asked for the canter he seemed so confused I felt bad for him! He eventually cantered after a lot of leg pressure and "kissy noises". But he only cantered for a few strides before walking again. What's the best way to re-train him to trot/canter on cue and for more than just a few strides?
My guess would be that the trotting for a few strides has very little to do with him only trotting to "catch up" and is more likely just because he has no idea what you want him to do.
The lovely thing about those trails horses is that they usually have amazing temperaments, but virtually no training. They are taught to follow the tail of the horse in front of them and that is all they know. After years of walking trails with nothing more than rank beginners on their backs, they learn to ignore bumping legs and pulling reins and because they are never asked to go faster than a walk, walk is about all they can do remotely well.
For all intents and purposes, even though your horse is very gentle and "broke", he is not trained at all to be a real riding horse. The trot/lope for only a few strides before going back to the walk is a fairly common occurrence with very green horses simply because they don't have good balance at the faster gaits and that makes them reluctant to do it for very long.
My best suggestion? Begin using your cue escalation more aggressively and clearly. Ask: apply leg pressure, tell: bump with legs and smooch or cluck, demand: give him a good pop on the rump with a crop or bridle rein. The escalation should happen rather quickly, you go up to the next step the instant that it is apparent that he isn't responding to the step you are on. The instant that he responds to your cue, remove all pressure and just let him go until he breaks gait, then start again.
Walk......pressure..Pressure..PRESSURE-trot.......sit quietly and let him trot....breaks down to walk..pressure.Pressure.PRESSURE-trot.......sit quietly and let him trot, etc, etc, etc.
With time, he'll begin to respond quicker to the softer cues and he'll be more consistent about keeping the gait you ask for. Beyond that, the best way to get him more comfortable with those gaits is just to do a lot of miles at both of them.
smrobs suggestions are great... I would add to get him used to voice cues using the same principles on a lunge line - he can learn to balance and get used to the gaits without the rider onboard...
I would put his saddle on, a snaffle bit, and run the reins from the snaffle, under the leg of the saddle, and tie on the seat of the saddle, first loosely, then gradually tightening them as he learns to "bit up"... then ask for the walk and when he does, be still and let him circle around you. Then the trot command, raise the whip slightly and cluck, cluck, cluck until he trots. Be still until he breaks then repeat the pressure until he can trot along - then repeat at the canter using a kiss command and more whip pressure...
When he can understand the cues for walk, trot, and lope (walk, cluck, and kiss) then it's easier for him to recognize what you are asking when you are on his back. And since it takes time, he is also more fit and balanced by the time you get on...
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