WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #98
TO GET A GREAT LOPE - LOPE!
If a slow, easy lope is your goal, then lots of time spent loping
is your prescription for success.
BY CLINTON ANDERSON,
"Clinton, when I try to get my gelding to lope slowly, it just
seems to make him resistant and want to go faster. How can I get
a slow, relaxed lope on a draped rein?"
If you want your horse to lope the way my horses Mindy and Diez
do on my DVDs - that is, slowly, easily, rhythmically on a loose
rein - then you have to be willing to put some steady miles under
your horse's feet. That gets him completely comfortable, mentally
and physically, with loping, and that's what needs to happen in
order for him to lope slowly and consistently.
This is especially true for young horses. Remember when you got
your first bike? You probably had training wheels and big, wide
tires. When you first got on, your balance was iffy, you didn't
stop well, and your turns were wobbly. Sometimes you'd go too
fast, sometimes too slow, and you didn't have rhythm or
So - how did you develop that rhythm and balance and consistency?
You rode that bike and rode it and rode it. Then you rode it some
more. And eventually, all those things just became second nature.
LIKE BIKE, LIKE HORSE
The principle holds true for your horse. If you want him to get
good at loping, you must give him a chance to do enough of it,
with you on him, to get comfortable at it-mentally and
When I first start loping a young horse or even an older horse
with loping problems, I don't care what lead he's on. I don't
care where his head is. I don't care if he drops his shoulder.
All I care about is if he travels on a loose rein and stays at
that gait consistently.
If he's rushy, I don't fight to hold him in, I just let him keep
going. When he eventually wants to slow down on his own, I lope
him for a few more minutes. When he's begging to go slower,
that's when I'll let him come to a stop.
Most people, by contrast, don't lope their horses nearly enough.
They go for about three or four minutes, then say, "Oh, my
goodness, he's tired and needs to quit."
What this really means is, "I'm tired and I need to quit." The
horse is just getting started.
You have to keep going until your horse genuinely loses his
eagerness to go. Obviously, a large arena or other enclosed space
with secure fencing is the safest place to practice loping. When
you feel comfortable loping there (and if you have a suitable
area, such as a large open field or a long dirt road with good
footing), then loping outside is also helpful and will speed your
The first few times you ask your horse to lope for an extended
period, he probably won't slow down as much as you'd like. That's
OK - just keep going until you feel as if he wants to slow down
at least a little. If the way he feels under you is, "Yippee-this
is fun! Let's go-go-go!," he's saying you haven't put enough
miles under his feet.
(Note: If you don't feel up to trying this approach yourself,
have a trainer or a more experienced friend demonstrate it for
you a few times first. That way, you can feel confident that it
works plus see how to deal with your horse's individual
This lope-it-out method is what I call "going through a horse's
lungs to get to his feet." It means you have to take away some of
your horse's air to get his feet to do what you want them to.
Then his feet relay the message to his brain, which is ultimately
your goal. You want your horse to lope slowly whether he's fresh
or tired. Making him physically tired gives him that desire.
(Note: There are some types of horses that get more excited -
rather than less - the more they lope. For those horses, see
"Slowing a Hot-Head.")
WHERE TO STOP
OK, you know to keep going until your horse is begging to stop,
but where exactly should you stop? The short answer is, anywhere
other than where your horse most wants to be. If you're in an
arena, for example, don't stop at the gate or anywhere near it,
or you'll encourage your horse to become gate-sour. (He probably
already likes the gate; this just makes him want to go there all
Instead, I usually stop in the middle of the arena. Or, if
there's one particular section or corner of the arena that
frightens my horse, I'll go there to let him rest so he'll learn
it's not such a bad place, after all.
Once your horse has caught his air, go back to loping. Over time,
he'll get the message - and learn to conserve his energy!
For more on the concept of getting miles under your horse's feet,
go to HorseandRider.com this month.
This series is adapted with permission from Clinton's latest
book, "Lessons Well Learned: Why My Method Works for Any Horse."
For more information on the book, or to learn about Clinton's
clinics, appearances, educational materials, training gear, and
horses for sale, go to DownunderHorsemanship.com. Catch his
"Downunder Horsemanship" program (filmed at his ranch in
Stephenville, Texas) on RFD-TV.
NOVEMBER 2010 HORSE AND RIDER
To be continued from time to time