Nov 18 / More on Galloping

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I competed quite a bit in my first eventing season and it was generally all good. The bad spots led me to a greater understanding of this sport and what skills are needed to be a better competitor. It was an advantage to have two completely opposite horses. I was able to expand my riding skills and at the same time get to quite a few venues. I’ll be writing about some of our exploits later on, but I want to write about a lesson I learned on galloping for eventing before my mind moves on.

I have two retired racehorses and they already know how to gallop. Horses are taught to gallop. I know they do “gallop” in the field, but that is usually just running. Sometimes you’ll see them extend their strides and grab up the ground for a few strides – that’s galloping. If you don’t know much about galloping and you have an ottb, he can teach you – if you let him. Exercise riders communicate with the horse with subtle changes in our position. With Birdie I can tighten my abs and he will shorten his stride. I can relax my shoulders a bit and he will extend his stride. That’s all it takes to “control” him. If I start pulling, he’ll pull back and it will get unpleasant awfully quick. With most retired racehorses, the more you “ride” them, the harder it is to “control” them. My advice in general is to try less, you’ll probably find out it’s more.

When I was competing Willie at Beginner Novice, I had an awful time keeping a rhythm cross country at that speed. He was heavy throughout and not a willing partner. It was slow and it irritated Willie. I never did find a way to make the time and relax him. I finally decided to try a new approach at Seneca and I let him gallop. He went the same pace for the entire ride. He was comfortable, easy and relaxed. He was willing. Best ride I’d had on him, but alas, we got what I lovingly refer to as a speeding ticket. We came in under minimum time. I decided the thing to do was move up to Novice rather than try to hold him to BN speed.

Right about this time I started to compete Birdie. What I found from the onset is that yes, he’s a handful in dressage and a little quirky in show jumping, but if every horse went cross country the way he does, everyone in the world would event. He is so responsive and willing. He’s light as a feather and nimble as cat. Yes this is the same crazy horse you see warming up for dressage with his head in the air and his eyes popping out. I did one BN with him and moved up to Novice immediately. Too slow to relax him properly. By this time I had a goal. To get as close to minimum time without going under. We are not running, we are completely in control (well except for a few moments at Morven, but I had an excuse that day). We are galloping and relaxed. The horse is very responsive. Why?

When you ride at the track you are given instructions on what to do with each horse, each day. One of the most common is “back him up to the wire and gallop him (insert distance here). Notice there is no speed discussed.

Each horse has a comfortable gallop. Some faster, some slower, but most fall into an area. So when you are told to gallop, that’s the normal everyday gallop. That speed falls into the fast Novice/regular Training Level speed. So what I’m saying is most racehorses are most comfortable going Training Level pace. It’s the pace they go most days. We keep a rhythm you can set a metronome to. We don’t speed up and slow down. If the horse wants to accelerate, say a horse is coming by, we stay the same and hold the pace. It probably annoys and upsets most ex racers if you are galloping cross country and speeding up and slowing down a lot. They know it’s wrong and it makes their job harder. It also makes it almost impossible to relax.

When a trainer tells us to gallop easy, it’s rarely ever easy. This would mean a Beginner Novice type of pace. The horse is usually frustrated and we have to hold them the entire way. They’re usually a jerk going home too.

I have more to write on galloping for future posts. I have learned enough about eventing this year to start applying what I already knew about some of it’s aspects.