Your horse can have all the talent in the world, but if he has the attitude of a sloth, good luck! Lila Gendal shares some motivating tips.
Almost three years ago I stumbled across a specific type of horse that I had never dealt with before… at least not to this degree. His name is Skybreaker, an 8-year-old Selle Luxemburg gelding (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) owned by Denny Emerson. What a hugely talented horse, but extracting his talent was a task and a half. So today I would like to offer tips and advice on how to speed up a slow-moving/slow-thinking horse!
Personally, I adore a fundamentally quieter horse. A horse that can hang out by himself, a horse you can hack alone, a horse you can tie to the side of a trailer–you get the picture. I love riding horses that are basically “quiet” but that still have that little bit of an edge. In the beginning, there was no “edge” component to Skybreaker. He was desperately unmotivated and his favorite gait was standing completely still.
My eventing trainer, my dressage trainer and I all thought long and hard over this horse. OK, we thought, this horse has big floating gaits, he has an enormous jump and basically he is one of the most athletic horses we have ever seen but he has the enthusiasm and motivation of a sloth. How do we take this big slow-moving and slow-thinking horse and turn him into a hotter animal?
This is what we have done:
1) TONS of trail riding
Even though this horse has innate abilities because of his breeding, he was not about to give me anything for free… I had to seriously WORK to get this horse motivated. What made the biggest difference with this horse was all the hacking I have done with him. He climbs mountains now like it’s nothing. Of course he struggled initially, and I took it easy with him in the beginning, but getting this horse out of the ring on onto the trails made all the difference.
Trail riding offers countless benefits to any horse, regardless of your discipline or type of horse you’re on. Taking a big-boned warmblood up and down hills 3-5 days a week has changed this horse’s physical and mental demeanor. I’m not talking about measly little 20 minute strolls either, I’m talking about 7-10 miles of real countryside hacking!
2) Sharpening him up on the flat
This is something that was crucial for his training but took a VERY long time to achieve. He has come such a long way from almost three years ago. When I first got on this horse I couldn’t put him on the bit because he would hurl himself on the forehand. I couldn’t push him off my leg because he was oblivious to such aids. The only thing I could do with him in the beginning was ask him to go forward… and even that was like pulling teeth. Nothing else mattered, not his head, not his neck–nothing! He had to think GO!
Once we established the GO component then I could ask more of him. My dressage trainer is constantly telling me to shorten and quicken his stride. More activity, more under and up. QUICK, QUICK, QUICK with his hind end. Tons of transitions and anything to get him to anticipate.
One of the more beneficial exercises this horse has done in the jump ring has been gymnastics, or a series of jumps in a straight line with a specific distance set between them. You start easy–only one jump, then two, then three, etc. A series of bounces are always great to do. There are countless variations you can set up. The point is to get your horse more coordinated and quicker to think/react (not frantic), to teach him to cope with the idea of seeing a series of jumps ahead, and to improve your horse’s overall form. Even though Skybreaker can jump a house, gymnastics helped him think and move more faster.
This has been one of the more physically and mentally challenging horses that I have ever ridden. He is enormous and I am quite small in comparison. It has literally taken over two years to get this horse more pumped about life. The goal was never to change this horse into a fire-breathing dragon, but instead make all the pieces work and function in a faster manner.
In order to extract this horse’s talent, we had to speed up his body and mind. I hope these training tips can help riders who want to achieve similar goals with their similarly wired horses!
About the Author
My name is Lila Gendal and I am 27 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I currently have a 2005 Holsteiner mare, “Valonia” (Contester X Parlona), who is currently going training level, and I am riding one of Denny Emerson’s horses, a 2005 Selle Luxemburg gelding, “Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker” (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) who will be moving up to training soon! When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.