Title: Discipline and training
Subtitle: My horse tries to trot when I want her to walk.

Case: An amateur rider learning to school her horse.

Question: When I am trying to keep my horse at the walk and she wants to trot forward, how would you recommend disciplining her? I have had one person say that I should halt her and back her up a few steps. My trainer has me halt her. I'm just not sure what is the best way to teach her that she ONLY goes forward when I ask.


First of all, try not to think of it as disciplining your horse. You are schooling her, teaching her to rely on your consistent aids and respond to them. Discipline somehow has the connotation of punishment for doing something wrong. This has no place with horses unless they buck or rear, kick or bite, or do some other terrible deed which endangers a human. Reward is the other half of the training. As soon as she complies, sit quietly maintaining your balance and allow her to walk without being fussed at.

What the mare is doing is evading the aids. Evasions are her way of telling you she's not comfortable or she's not understanding; she's bored; she's not in the mood; you are communicating with shouts instead of whispers; something is upsetting her; something hurts; etc. In other words, she is using her nature and her natural abilities to make "excuses" in horse language.

The first thing to do is make sure the evasion is not being caused by ill-fitting tack, a dental problem with the bit or any health-related issue causing pain or discomfort. Once you have ascertained that the behavior is not being caused by something such as tack fitting improperly or a health problem, these excuses are not to be tolerated and the behavior must be modified. This is a matter of schooling not punishing. Thus the aids stay consistent (but insistent) and the appropriate exercises are repeated.

Personally, for this particular evasion, I agree with your trainer and recommend the full halt. Then walk on. Full halt. Walk on. Full halt. Walk on. EVERY time. You stay calmly insistent but you never allow the evasion of trot (a bad trot is much less work than a good walk and your horse knows this) when you ask for walk. Neither do you fuss and nag when she is walking. It won't take her long to realize she's happier going forward in the nice walk with no nagging aids, than she is stopping every 5 seconds and then being asked to walk again. For this retraining to work, you must be consistent, even if you are bored out of your mind. You must reward the good behavior instantly and consistently with good balance and softness until you request a gait change. Generally, once a horse has learned the lesson that she can walk forward in comfort or be forced to walk/halt/walk/halt/walk/halt, the evasion is seldom repeated.