Things You'll Need
4 inch by 10 foot ground poles
Pacing is a common problem among gaited horses, including Tennessee Walking Horses. When pacing, a horse moves both legs on the same side in unison, creating a side-to-side, two-beat gait. Pacing places too much weight on the horse’s front end and results in a lack of balance and collection, leading to excessive strain on the hocks and stifle joints. A horse may pace for any several reasons, including conformation, body condition, attitude or pain from stiffness, poorly fitting tack, thrush, cracks in the pastern, contracted heels, bruising of the soles or lumbar, swollen tendons or improper shoeing. Although it's a challenging task, you can stop your horse from pacing. Analyze your horse’s gait and perform specific groundwork exercises to resolve the problem.
Determine the Gait
Ask an assistant to record your horse’s gait as you ride. Analyze the video, watching for specific characteristics that need correction and paying particular attention to the lateral movements of its legs. A pacing horse will swing its head from side to side as opposed to up and down.
Mount your horse and correlate what you saw on the video with how you feel in the saddle.
Use these indicators to make corrections as you ride, and request your assistant to tell you as soon as they see the horse begin pacing. That will indicate at what point to alter the horse’s movement to prevent pacing.
Perform a working walk and the instant you feel your horse begin to pace, execute a half-halt by maintaining reign contact and asking your horse to continue moving forward with your seat and legs.
Repeat the half-halt exercise, ensuring that your horse rebalances its weight over the hindquarters.
Create a rounder and more balanced horse by generating its energy upwards and without changing rhythm.
Ground Pole Work
Arrange poles that are approximately 4 inches high and 10 feet long, spaced three feet apart, in a series of two to three poles at various intervals around the arena.
Ask your horse for a working walk, traversing it in a large oval at least 80 feet in diameter.
Continue until your horse begins to increase its pace and move into the poles, performing a half-halt just before you reach them.
Push your horse forward over the poles as quickly as possible, encouraging it to stretch its neck forward and down. Allow the horse to see the poles and ride over them at a walk.
Continue riding over the poles and gradually increase your horse’s speed.
Ride your horse over the poles in the opposite direction if it bangs its feet on them and say “Quit!” Realize horses have different strides. If your horse is unable to clear the poles, adjust the distance.
Persist until your horse is able to go over the poles successfully and without banging its feet, and praise it.
Transition to a working walk to keep your horse from pacing and take it out of the circle. Practice the ground pole exercise until your horse picks up its feet over the poles and performs a well-balanced, four-beat gait.
Fit your horse with a snaffle bit the encourages adequate side-to-side action.
Ride forward at an energetic walk while maintaining contact with the horse’s mouth, and encouraging your horse’s head to stay at a moderate height.
Push your horse into the curve of the arena as you reach it, forcing the horse to bend into the corners.
Maintain pressure from your inside leg and toward the horse’s girth while lowering your inside hand, and gathering stronger contact with the bit. Move your outside hand forward slightly as you exert gentle pressure behind your horse’s girth with your outside leg.
Continue in both directions until your horse can move into the rails easily, and the bend of its body increases while moving deeper into the curves.
Ride your horse uphill, cantering it to the top. Gradually transition to a walk before the horse begins to pace.
Maintain soft contact with your horse’s mouth to sustain an equally weighted balance over the hindquarters.
Practice the canter exercise until your horse learns to break up its lateral gaits. One set of diagonals should be working together, while the other set moves in opposition.
Consult your veterinarian and rule out any underlying health issues that may be causing your horse to pace before beginning a training program.
A horse that has issues related to bone structure, has sore or stiff muscles or is poorly conditioned in its back or hindquarters is likely to pace because it’s uncomfortable or in pain.
A horse that paces may have difficulty performing a canter and result in crossfiring (hitting the front foot with the hind foot). Crossfiring can result in the horse's falling and becoming seriously injured. If you feel your horse pushing you out of the seat forcefully with each canter stride, bring your horse to a walk immediately.
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Based in Colorado, Charmaine Jens began her writing career as an editor and technical writer. Her professional experience includes work in executive administration and serving as a resume editor, specializing in military transition clients. Jens holds a Master of Business Administration from Colorado Mesa University.