After last week’s “free jog in the show ring” we will now concentrate on how to train for it. The free jog, as the name indicates, is a movement of freedom and relaxation, of giving the reins and letting the horse stretch over the top-line and lengthen his stride. Once trained correctly your horse will love it and will be eager to perform this movement when cued. I use it in every training ride, as a warm-up, a break or reward after difficult work and as a cool down.
These exercises work best in a snaffle and as with any new lesson, consistency in cueing, repetition and prompt reward for correct responses are the keys to your horse’s learning. Start out by playing with your horse’s connection to your hands. This can be done at the walk or jog, depending on where your horse is in his training. Take up the connection carefully and see if you can shorten his neck and stride and then slowly release and see if he will follow and lengthen his neck again. In the beginning the stride length probably will not change, but if he is following your rein aids easily, you have a good base to start from.
Now if your horse is not ready for this yet, go back a step and simplify it more for him. Start with him standing. You can do this either from the saddle or on the ground. Keep a soft connection with one rein (don’t throw it away) and slowly put pressure on the other rein until the horse’s head follows it all the way to where his nose would touch your foot if you are in the saddle. Do this both directions, go slow and don’t fight with him if he becomes resistant. You want him to trust the rein pressure and follow it willingly. If you encounter resistance don’t keep pulling but hold steady at the point where the resistance starts, until he gives, then slowly keep going. Most horses should be able to do this without problem. If you encounter strong resistance it could be a suppleness issue and you will have to adjust and maybe not go all the way to your foot. You know your horse best, remember you want to make this a pleasant learning experience!
Once your horse understands and easily follows your hands with his neck, you can now try and see if he will stretch at your cue. Start with a shortened walk or jog, then squeeze your reins first left then right, then give them forward a bit. If you are lucky your horse’s head will follow. Don’t expect too much in the beginning and give him lots of praise when he gets it! Rinse and repeat until you can position his head and neck wherever you want it. It is important to not throw away the reins, you need enough of a connection to instantly go back to the shortened position if he thinks the extra freedom means he can hollow or dump his head on the ground. If you have to gather up the reins first, your moment of opportunity will be past and he will not be able to connect the dots. So, if his head goes where you don’t want it, shorten him back up and start over. Horses love the freedom of the stretch and once he understands what you are asking, he will be eager to do it. If you’re consistent in your cues, he will know he has to go back to work (shortened position) if he doesn’t do it right, so the easier choice for him is to stretch!
There, now you’re half way there! What? You thought we are done? Judging by how much I’ve written, we should be, but we are still missing an important part of the movement. Yes, the lengthening of the stride. Phew, there is a reason this movement is not as easy as it sounds!
Again, you should start at the walk and then work your way up to the jog and lope. Gather up your reins and slowly shorten your horse’s neck and stride. Go through the corners at the short end of the court and make sure your horse is bend adequately, this should help him to step underneath himself more, generating the extra power needed to lengthen his stride. This is the key! If you just let him plod along there will be no stored up energy to take from and it will be physically impossible for your horse to actually lengthen his stride. When you come out of the corner make the sharp turn, let’s say at H, to point him across the diagonal, squeeze release, left/right and slowly give your reins. Again, use the turn to get him more under himself. If you have prepared him correctly, he should stretch his neck and frame and eagerly step out. If you have trouble recognizing the right rhythm, play some marching music in your head, just make sure it’s not a funeral march!
The photos above (click to enlarge) show a free walk and a free jog. Notice how the reins are soft but with enough connection to influence the horse immediately should it become necessary. Lots to practice, report back to me with your success stories or questions and don’t forget to share with your friends. As always,