Category: Training

Prepare Horse for Lose Dog Encounter

Most people love dogs, but horses can easily be spooked by them. Nothing worse than encountering a lose dog with a history of aggression, chasing joggers or bicyclers, or going out hunting other animals on their own, they can easily turn on a horse. Chasing is in a dog’s instinct, just like flight is instinctive to horses. The horse's natural reaction is to balk, look, turn and flee, or react aggressively (fight or flight), which in turn may encourage the dog to pursue and chase the horse even more persistently. Staying in control over such a situation can be a true lifesaver.

The best horses are trained and prepared for dangerous and unfamiliar situations BEFORE they go out on the trails. Every trail horse should be desensitized and familiar with running and barking dogs. So any time you have the chance to practice with a GOOD dog in a safe environment don't pass up the opportunity, but be careful and aware of any reactions by either the horse or dog to prevent accidental injuries to either animal.

"Canine man" Hector Hernandez, USPS Dog Trainer teaches dog bite prevention tactics. He makes it very clear: "Some dog bite prevention training is an all positive approach from an attacking dog. In some cases, the training places too much emphasis on the welfare of the attacking dog instead of the person. Some dogs will cause great bodily harm, even death, and you must protect yourself with the necessary force. Most encounters last only seconds, it is vital to convey to the dog, within the first few seconds, that you are not weak."

Ensure the safety of your horse and yourself. After taking a moment to assess the situation, if possible and safe, distance yourself from the dog. If the dog is aggressive and approaching the horse, remain calm and keep the horse pointed toward the barking dog; most, being a bit of a coward when approached, will stop, back up, and hopefully retreat, however, this tactic is trained and must be practiced with caution! If the horse can’t escape from the threat, they very likely will attempt to defend themselves with their hooves, which may have steel shoes attached. If a dog receives a powerful kick, they could be seriously injured, or killed. Some people carry pepper spray, but it would be better to only use it AFTER dismounting if it is safe to do so, since you could accidentally spray your horse or yourself in the chaos, and the hissing sound of the can could potentially spook your horse even more.

Standardbred Horse Gait Training: Flat Walk

Begin riding at the normal walk. After your horse is supple and moves off easily from your leg, move him up to the flat walk. The flat walk is more energetic; it has more collection and a prominent head nod that originates from the base of the neck.  The horse should be able to move with ease at about 3-5 mph. The footfall remains a distinct four-beat rhythm. To advance the gait, maintain light contact on the bit while pushing your horse forward with your legs.

From Flat Walk to Running Walk

Refining the skill takes time and practice. Keep your horse straight and when ready, ask for more tempo elevate the gait into the running walk. The running walk has the same basic footfall and carriage as the flat walk, is a smooth, efficient and ground covering at an average speed of 7-10 mph. Should your horse decide to transition to the side-to-side pace instead, use half halts to immediately slow it back down to the proper 4-beat gait and keep practicing over various different terrain until the horse understands what your are asking.

Read WORKING The WALK Using The Walk To Improve All Gaits by Beverly Whittington.


Disclaimer: I am a horse owner who occasionally trains an outside  horse.
I’ve studied various horse training methods extensively, but do not claim
to be an expert in the field.

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Standardbred Horse Gait Training: Stepping it Up to the Rack

Gaited horses are popular amongst casual riders who seek smooth moving, comfortable horses for pleasure riding. Some ambling, or walking and running gaits are lateral, where the feet on the same side move forward, but one after the other, usually in a footfall pattern of right rear, right front, left rear, left front. Others are diagonal, meaning that the feet on opposite sides of the horse move forward in sequence, usually right rear, left front, left rear, right front. A common trait of these gaits is that usually only one foot is completely off the ground at any one time, except for the single-foot rack.

Stepping it up to the Rack

There are many simple variations of the rack.The flat walk, running walk and saddle rack can be achieved by slightly restraining the horse. The running walk has the same footfall pattern as the flat walk, with a strong neck and head nod, but is significantly faster. While the rider asks the horse to alter its balance to break up the strides in a manner that maintains a four-beat footfall, the strides are kept long, appearing as if "trotting in front and walking behind"

  1. When moving from a flat walk into the rack there will be no more up and down head and neck motion. The head swings slightly from side to side in a V motion, the front hoof oversteps the hind, sometimes as much as one length of a hoof, there will be the same foot fall as at the walk, but longer steps with moderate action.
  2. Some breeds, in this case a Standardbred mare has hardly any high knee action, other breeds will have lots, and exaggerated knee action at the rack.
  3. The rider notices a "leaping" weight transfer from leg to leg, or side-to-side and hear four equal beats in a 1-2-3-4 rhythm; or a non-isochronous 1-2, 3-4 rhythm where there is a slight pause between the ground strike of the forefoot on one side to the rear foot on the other, creating the typical bock-a, bock-a, bock-a sound.

Some horses are so smooth they appear to float. There's lots of animation and only one foot on the ground at certain points of the footfalls. Smaller horses with blocky body types may tend toward the step-rack, or stepping pace with little, with little or no over stride.

Brenda Imus, renowned gaited horse trainer and author gives the following advice: "Until the gaited horse is well conditioned to perform it’s own best 4-beat gait in good form, a correct 4-beat walk, with impulsion, is more difficult to maintain than a stiff, incorrect gait. Therefore, after the horse has picked up speed it’s likely he/she will initially stiffen up and break to trot, pace, or inappropriate gait. Use your rein to check the horse out of the wrong action, and your leg/riding aid to encourage continued active forward motion. At this point you must persistently insist on forward action. After you’ve asked twice, and insisted once don’t drop back to merely ‘asking.’ Persistently use your crop or other aid to insist on continued active walking. The horse should be moving at a correct 4-beat walk as fast as possible without breaking to another gait. Every time the horse stiffens up and breaks from a loose, flowing walk, check him in the bridle and at the same time use your ("ask, Ask, INSIST") aids to demand continued active forward motion.

Disclaimer: I am a horse owner, but not a trainer.
I train my own horses to gait but only occasionally
ride an outside horse.  I’ve studied Brenda Imus's
gaited horse training methods (Gaits from God, and
Gaited Horse Bible) extensively, but do not claim
to be an expert in the field.

Related Images: