5 Reasons Why Most Horses Should Slow Down

trotMost of us face this problem at some time in our riding careers.

When you put your leg on, your horse only goes faster. Instead of lengthening his stride, or using his back better, he goes faster faster faster. You follow his lead – you post faster just to keep up. Or you ride the increasing canter speed.

It turns into a vicious cycle. He goes faster so you go faster so he goes faster. Sometimes, you might just learn to expect this and think nothing of it. Other times, you might not be happy with the increasing speed but still not know what to do about it. 

If those scenes sound familiar, you might want to slow your horse down. Here’s why.

1. On the Forehand

You probably notice your horse coming more to the forehand. He can’t help it – his legs are moving so fast that he HAS to catch himself on the front legs in order to avoid falling. We know that horses (usually) don’t literally fall just from a speed increase, but nevertheless, they do have to carry more weight on their front legs to counter the effects of gravity.

2. Stiffness

Maybe he starts leaning on the bit, getting heavier or stiffer in the jaw. You might notice his movement becoming harsher, with shorter strides that require faster leg movement. Your contact might become heavier and you notice that you have less communication with the horse through the bridle. He cannot bend laterally and there is less and less roundness in his overall outline.

3. Tripping

Maybe his movement becomes so heavy that he trips here and there. You’d like to blame it on his feet, but you know that your farrier just came out a while ago. You’d like to blame it on a physical problem, but your vet has given you the all-clear.

And still he trips.

If your horse is on his forehand, moving so quickly that he has to scramble to keep his balance, and he moves along in tension, there is a good chance that the odd trip, especially with the front feet, is happening because he simply can’t finish the stride in this quick rhythm.

4. Hollow Back

It is logical that he will hollow his back in order to keep his balance. If the horse is already on the forehand, hollowing the back will allow him to counter gravity. His head will rise, the base of his neck will fall, and his bracing back will send tension through the spine. He will develop a thicker “underline” – rather than sending energy over the topline, he will muscle up the belly area, leaving a flat, unmuscled topline where the saddle sits.

5. Stress/ Frantic Feeling

Not all horses display this. Some cope quite well, and just truck along with the tension peacefully and with little regard. Those horses are the ones that always have a “hay belly”, regardless of season, corresponding with the unmuscled back (not the same as the obese or wormy horse).

But the more sensitive horses cannot be so quiet. They are the ones that communicate the tension: teeth grinding, dry mouths, pinned ears, wild eyes, and some even hold their breath, letting out gasps every now and then. Most of them continue to move along, obedient to the rider. However, the tell-tale signs are there, if you know what to look for.

It’s hard to believe that just running fast could cause all these problems in a horse. You can probably imagine it yourself if you’re a runner. What would it feel like if you had to run out of your comfortable rhythm, all the time? Can you imagine the tension that would perpetuate in your body if you had to shorten your stride length and move your legs even faster? 

What To Do?

Well, the simple answer is to slow down. 

The very first thing to do is to not accept the speed. Half-halt the speed and encourage your horse to slow his tempo. He may not even know that he can.

Conversely, when you put your leg on, don’t let the horse speed up.

But there is more to it than that. Because if your horse just slows the legs down, he may also let all of his energy “out the back door,” thereby reducing his ability to use his body effectively do that he can carry your weight. 

Then all you have is slow legs on an equally tense and braced horse!

Our next post will go into more detail about how to slow the horse’s legs down without losing energy.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

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Stop Kicking the Horse! Kicking your horse only stuns, disturbs, imbalances, and hurts. Once you have better balance in your seat and a more consistent contact with the bit, aim toward using your legs with more purpose.

Why A Release Is Not A Let Go in Horseback Riding: Many people interpret the term ‘Release’ literally – but that’s not what really means.

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Book Signing This Saturday!

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I just realized that there are only two more days till the books signing at Bahr Saddlery! If you are already heading out to their big Anniversary Sale, or going to be in the area, be sure to drop by, say hi and get a book.

I’ll be there from 9am till 4pm. I’d love to see you there!

On Slobber, Snorts and Sheath Sounds – 3 Ways to Your Horse’s Back


Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Everywhere you look, people are missing out on three significant “happy horse” signs. I’m not talking about the perky-eared cute faces looking for treats, or the mutual grooming kind of affection horses share with each other. This time, I’m talking about signs you can see while the horse is being ridden.

It is a fact – horses who move well and freely have a better time during the ride. They learn to look forward to their time in the saddle, and they even improve physically and mentally

Although we often talk about the hind legs being the “engine” of good movement, it is the back of the horse that is the key to all things great in riding. Think about it – picture the horse with the swaying, supple back and you will almost always recognize the beauty and harmony depicted in the horse’s overall way of going. It doesn’t matter the discipline – a good back means good movement and long-term health of the horse.

Read on to find out all about slobber, snorts and sheath sounds, and how they relate to the horse’s back.


Why do some horses have a white lipstick when they’re being ridden?

Some people say that slobber happens when a horse has his neck so short and the reins are so tight that he can’t swallow. They argue that the horse would be able to prevent drooling if only he could open and close his mouth. Maybe his head and neck is positioned in a way that he can’t swallow. Or the problem is in fact the bit that is in his mouth; the piece of metal makes the horse unable to close the lips and swallow.

The reasons go on and on.

But surely you have seen a (maybe nervous or tense) horse ridden with a dry mouth for an entire ride. And quite possibly, you’ve seen a horse lunged with no side reins or any contact whatsoever, carrying his head any which way he pleases, developing a line of foam in the corner of the mouth and around the lips. And what of the western horse being ridden in a snaffle bit (or any variation of bitless bridles) with very infrequent contact, dripping drool like the highest level dressage horse?

It’s All About the Back 

I’ve seen and ridden these horses and experienced their variations of slobber. And I’ve come to one conclusion: that slobber is connected not so much to the mouth, jaw or swallowing – but to the back of the horse. Develop movement from the hind end, get a nice rhythm and back swing, and presto: discover the path to slobber.

If you think about it, the root to all good in riding rests in the back. If you can encourage an elastic, round, swinging back, you know your horse is on his way to riding pleasure. Not only does he benefit from the work, chances are, he might actually be enjoying it.

However, don’t stop there. It’s not only the horse’s back you have to consider – think about your back too. Because your back can be holding your horse’s back back (did you follow that?), which results in tension all around. If your back is resistant or unmoving, the same will happen to your horse. He won’t be able to carry your weight effectively, nor will he be able to let the energy flow through his topline. So freeing your back up and developing more mobility will also lead you to slobber from your horse’s mouth.


Happy horse sign number two is the snort.

Physically, the snorts happen when the horse takes a deeper breath. He might reach farther underneath the body, work more through the abs or put in a sudden moment of effort. For whatever reason, he then has to take a deeper breath and then he lets it all out in a body-shaking snort. Sometimes, the snort is accompanied by a neck arching or reaching forward that might catch you off guard if you’re not expecting it.

In any case, the snort is a releasing/ relaxing/ letting go of tension and yes, you might notice the horse’s eye soften or his gait become more buoyant. Watch a little longer and you might see him settle in his work, find his rhythm or soften in the mouth. You might also see some accompanying slobber!

Sheath Sounds

Now this one is the clincher. Of course, if you ride a mare, you miss out on the most obvious, tell-tale sign of a tight back. In geldings, the tight back causes a tight sheath area, which then results in air movement – that sound you hear EVERY stride the horse takes.

People often say that the sound is caused by a dirty sheath area. But if you own or care for a gelding regularly, chances are that you can honestly say that the sheath has been cleaned and yet the sound continues. So what gives?

Yes, folks, it’s all about the back yet again.

Try this: when you hear the sound, go for a 3-5 stride canter from the trot. Then trot again. Make sure you half-halt the trot as you come out of the canter, so that the horse doesn’t just trot faster faster faster. Rather, you want to use the canter to add more impulsion to the trot. Feel for more bounce, more air time between strides. See if you can get a snort.

And then listen for the sheath sound. Maybe it stops for a few strides. Maybe it isn’t quite as loud. Or maybe it goes away altogether. If you “listen” carefully enough, you will begin to recognize a pattern to the sound.

Maybe you can make it go away for only a couple of strides. Pay attention to what caused the sound to go away. Then try ro duplicate it. Maybe your horse is too tense for the sound to ever go away. But give it a good try, every ride. Eventually, you might be able to make it go away just using your riding skills. And you’ll know that your horse is using his back in a healthier manner.


So there you have it: three sure-fire ways of knowing if your horse is actually loose in his back! 

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like these ones: 

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In Praise of the (Horse Riding) Hand: How to develop hands that sing poetry in your horse’s mind!

 3 Questions to Consider Before Riding Bareback and Bridleless: What should be in place before you take off the tack?

Why An Active Stretch is Nothing Like A Neck-Down: The problem with the passive stretch is that it is merely a posture.

Move to Stay Still on Horseback: How do we begin to look like we’re sitting still, doing nothing on the horse’s back?

4 Mutual Grooming Strategies For Your Life

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It’s mutual grooming madness back at the ranch! Every morning, as soon as they are turned out, Roya and Cyrus take many moments not to munch on the freshly growing grass, but to say a good morning “Hi” through a wonderfully peaceful mutual grooming ritual. I imagine that they are celebrating the finally warm weather and blanket-less mornings in the summer sunshine.

After many minutes of massage, they finally wander off to graze the long growing grass in their pasture. While I watch them absorbed in their blissful massage, I think of all the different ways we could follow suite and metaphorically partake in  mutual grooming through our own paths in life. Here are four ways we can mutual groom (without actually doing it)!

1. Pay It Forward

We often hear about paying it forward, and although it really is a cliche and maybe the fad of the day, the heart of the saying is valid enough to be included in our mutual grooming session. Because if, just for a moment, we could set aside our needs, desires and wills, and just go ahead and do something nice/supportive/encouraging/helpful for someone, without thinking about how it should or could affect us, the world would simply be a better place.

Next time you see an opportunity, do something kind for someone – not for any personal reward, but just because the moment arises and you can.

2. Helping In A Time of Need

We can’t do everything all alone. Some things just need a friend (or two) to give us the boost we need.

Have you ever watched horses start their mutual grooming? One horse inches up a little at a time and takes a little fur-fluffing tooth-touch on the other horse’s wither area. This is just the invitation – do you want to scratch my back if I scratch yours? Usually, the other horse enjoys the nibble so much that they start edging their body sideways up to the first. One nibble becomes two and soon enough, they’re both going at it in a sort of rhythmical exchange. First one, then the other, back and forth. In the case of my two horses, this can go on for minutes on end. If one stops, the other starts up again!

Helping others is exactly the same process. First, you ask – are you willing to give me a hand? Hopefully, they reach out to you and give you the support you need. Then, you do the same for them when necessary. It’s a win-win!

Collaboration is one of the most important social skills – not only for friendship but also for every avenue of life. Next time you notice someone needs help, don’t walk away. Turn to her and offer a lending hand.

3. Including Others

In general, horses that mutual groom get along well with each other. They socialize with most members of the herd, but they tend to seek each other out when back scratching is in order. In a sense, they get a feeling of belonging in their own mini-herd.

We all have a need to feel included, especially when it comes to people we like or admire. In our hectic rush here/there/work/home/can’t-pause-for-a-moment-to-catch-your-breath, stopping for a few minutes to include someone in a conversation can go a long way to making meaningful and lasting human connections. If you notice someone off on her own, invite her to join your group. Involve her in your activities. You’ll be glad you did!

4. Lend a Listening Ear

I can watch horses mutual groom all day. Besides the soothing rhythm of their ministrations, I can see the interaction that goes on within the grooming. First, one horse nibbles, then the other. It goes on like a tooth-filled dance – first him, then her, then him, then her. They take turns. They contribute.

When your friend needs to say something, just stop. Look her in the eyes and give her your attention. Even just being there to lend a listening ear might make a huge difference in someone’s life. If you can reach beyond listening and respond to her concerns, you can help her problem-solve through a troubled time, or give her some insight she might not have ever thought of.

When you think about it, mutual grooming can be interpreted as a significant act of generosity. If we would just take some notes from the Book of Equine, surely we could each make positive, lasting impact on other people’s lives.

What does mutual grooming represent to you? Write in the comments below.

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Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Avail able as an eBook or paperback.


More fun 3D book 2articles:

HL on The Dressage Radio Show?? Yes! Follow the link to hear me speak about 20 Ways Horse Riding Becomes Life Itself.

Eight Legs Plus Two: A poem.

42 Ways to Learn, Play and Grow With Your Horse: Horses give to us in countless ways. We play, learn and grow with them, making horseback riding not merely a sport (which it truly is, like no other), but so much more.

5 Common Horse and Riding Myths: Do you regularly find yourself explaining/educating/justifying/rationalizing/defending your “horse habit”? Then this article is for you!

Ode to the Stretchy Trot: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.