PACING (chapter 12)
Pacing is the most common problem we are confronted with in training the Tennessee Walking Horses. There are three distinct factors that are responsible for a horse pacing, pain, lack of collection or stiffness.
Pain can be caused by a physical problem as well as by improperly fitted tack. Start by looking for sweat cracks in the pasterns, thrush, improper shoeing and resultant contracted heels, bruising of the soles or wall, damaged hocks, lumbar bruising, or swollen tendons. Finally, check the mouth for cuts on the tongue or raw corners of the mouth.
Sweat cracks can be remedied in less than a week by applying Vaseline or Corona Hoof Dressing to the pastern area every day or applying Hydrocortisone-Velerate 2% cream to the pastern and wrapping the leg for 2 days.
Thrush is a major problem and can be healed quickly by cutting away all dead and tunneled frog and heel tissue. Spray out all the blackened sand and clay leaving a clean frog. Oxygen kills thrush so it is important to open up all affected areas. Apply Thrush-Buster or bleach, hydrogen-peroxide or iodine to further kill off bacteria. Apply antibacterial every other day for a week and your horse should become sound. When you clean out your horse’s hooves be sure to also spray them out with high pressure water. This will prevent thrush from getting started. Stay away from oily thrush medications as they tend to help create the oxygen seal that starts thrush growing. The hoof should be dry but it is OK to use a light oil hoof dressing like Feebings or mineral oil.
Contracted heels cause pain and are the result of improper shoeing with a shoe that is too small. The frog becomes narrow and shrunken and the heel of the foot is drawn together. The foot may become smaller at the ground surface than at the coronary band. It is very important to fit the shoe fully to allow the heel support and the natural spreading of the hoof as it contacts the ground. If the shoe is not wide enough, the hoof will pop over the shoe at the heel and will cause pieces of the heel to break off. Slowly over time, this will produce under slung heels. A frog that has narrowed or is not healthy predisposes the horse to thrush and seedy toe. A contracted heel can be improved by taking a shoe spreader and spreading the shoe open at the heel every two weeks. This should also be done when the shoe is first put on by the Farrier. It is also important to cure all thrush by clearing away diseased frog tissue and keeping the area clean. It is essential that the frog be healthy so that is can support the foot and keep the heels apart.
A bruised sole or wall should be treated by applying a ¼ inch thick leather pad to the foot. This will protect the sole from rocks or gravel and keep moisture in the hoof. Mineral oil or a product similar to Feebings hoof dressing should be used to soften the hoof but should only be used when the periople or hoof wall is white or chalky. Using hoof dressings too often will soften the hoof making it difficult to hold a shoe. Petroleum based dressing will rot the hoof.
Damaged or dry hocks will stiffen up the rear leg action and will result in pacing as will a sore back especially the lumbar area. A vet can treat the hocks or you can try a supplement and a horse chiropractor or acupuncturist can help readjust the horse’s spine to alleviate any back pain.
Swollen tendons need rest. Wrap the legs with a poultice according to directions and lay the horse off for 4 to 7 days. If you find a lump in the tendon and it is new, call a vet. This needs medical care. Swollen tendons should feel soft or mush not lumpy and a normal tendon is hard like wire.
Finally, check the mouth. It is best to hold the tongue to the side out of the corner of the mouth. If you have ever seen a red tint in the saliva, there is a cut somewhere. The bit is not always responsible for producing a cut. Cubes, coarse hay or weeds in the hay are also likely suspects. Look into the mouth. A cut tongue is obvious but the bars also need to be checked. Look at the molars, the space of gum showing should be clean and smooth. Look at the inside of the cheeks where the noseband travels over the molars. It should also be free of cuts. Tongue or bars injuries take at least a month to heal. Use a hackamore during this time. Horses should be examined by an equine dentist a minimum of once a year to keep the teeth from developing sharp edges which can cause cuts in the skin lying against the teeth.
Once you have assured yourself that there are no physical problems that might be causing your horse to pace, check the saddle for proper fit and the horse’s back for any sensitive areas, saddle sores, girth galls or bruised vertebrae. Run your fingers down either side of your horse’s spine, pressing hard. If he flinches or steps away, he has a sore back. Rest the horse for several days and change to a thicker pad or consider using a gel pad. Saddle sores and girth galls can take up to two weeks to heal.
To check your saddle fit, put baby powder on the horse’s back, covering the area where the saddle sits. Place the saddle on the back, pressing firmly down. When the saddle is removed, there should be an even covering of powder, not spots. If you have spots, the saddle does not fit. If you have noticed that your saddle pad only gets wet in some areas, your saddle does not fit. Get a new saddle; it is not worth using poor fighting tack.
An improperly fitted bridle can cause discomfort and distract the horse from performing correctly. The noseband should fit snugly and the bit should be set high enough in the mouth to create a wrinkle in the corner. Tighten your curb chain. This is the fulcrum to the lever. A curb bit cannot function without the curb chain being tight. When rein pressure is applied, the shank of the bit should point straight to the ground, not back at the horse’s chest. Soften your hands and lessen the pull on the rein. The tighter curb chain doubles the communication to the horse so he is better able to feel your commands and is not left guessing. A dry mouth can cause pacing because the bit will stick to the thin layer of skin on the bars. Tightening the curb chain will help because the friction of the bit turning in the mouth is reduced, which reduces irritation to the sensitive area.
Check the chin grove. If this is sensitive use a high curb chain bit with the same mouthpiece that the horse is accustomed too. The higher curb chain should be ½” higher than the old placement. This can be accomplished by using a bit with a ½” longer purchase (this is the part of the bit above the mouthpiece). There are numerous pressure points in the mouth, i.e. the tongue, bars, palate, corners of the mouth and the chin grove. It is a good idea to change bits once in awhile to eliminate the possibility of irritation in a specific area. If the corners of the mouth are injured use bit guards or try a solid bar bit eliminating all joints in the mouthpiece and shanks. This will remove any possibility of pinching.
Now that you have finished troubleshooting all of the physical and mechanical problems, you will need a set of blunt spurs and a riding whip then mount up. You should be sitting in the middle of the saddle, letting your weight fall deep into the horse’s back taking your weight off of his shoulders. Try collecting the neck by drawing the face of the horse back toward you which will create the proper collective arch in the horse’s neck. Then raise the belly using leg pressure behind the girth which combined with the collected neck will lower the pelvis allowing the horse to stride under his body which will change the timing of his foot fall back to a proper gait. If needed, use the spurs to coax the belly upward and the riding whip to help lower the pelvis by tapping the whip on the dock of the tail. Sit deep in the saddle putting your weight down into the horse’s back and ask him to move forward. The horse should compress and round all parts of his spine.
The levade is the maximum form of this type of collection. If this occurs, slowly turn him loose to a normal riding pressure on the reins and legs. Keep in mind that the horse should stay collected as he moves off at a flat walk. At first the horse swill be stiff but he will soon loosen up and start taking longer strides as he accepts his new position. The rein and leg cues should be soft enough to allow freedom of movement but should not be so loose as to allow the horse to uncollected himself. Take plenty of time at this exercise (weeks/months/years) it is a life long development. If you go too fast and the horse becomes confused or stiff relax the collection and go slower but head toward the goal of collection a little at a time. Rushing in this process will freeze the horse’s back and aggression is never necessary. Try to coax the proper behavior out of the horse and reward him for any effort.
You can reshape the horse’s neck and back through the use of draw reins or a German martingale. The idea is to round the neck and roll the pelvis downward, this is collection. Draw reins used in conjunction with a Kineton noseband and a bar mouthpiece
snaffle or a German Martingale also using a Kineton noseband to protect the bars while using a bar mouthpiece curb bit are both two very good examples of equipment used to achieve collection.
Draw reins are long reins that go from the rider’s hands through the bit and attach back to the saddle or girth on either side. Their purpose is to produce collection. Used incorrectly draw reins can damage the mouth by causing excessive pressure to the tongue, bars and chin groove. The Kineton noseband protects the horse from the torque of the draw reins by lifting the bit, preventing it from coming in heavy contact with the bars.
The Kineton noseband should be adjusted tight enough to create a wrinkle in the skin of the horse’s mouth above the bit. Note in the first picture above that the mouthpiece is off the bars and resting in the cups of the noseband. Using the Kineton noseband and a bar mouthpiece bit it is not possible to put excessive pressure on the bars and no damage will occur when using it while properly adjusted. There is an adjusting strap on the bridge of the nose for this purpose. Make sure that the metal cups on the noseband have contact with and are cradling the bit. Adjust the bridle to raise the bit so that there is also a wrinkle in the corner of the mouth. The bridle strap traveling across the poll needs to be tight enough to hold the bit in place and equal in tightness to the noseband strap going over the poll. Check this tension by pulling out on the straps as they run up the side of the cheek by the eye to be sure both straps are equal in tightness. Only use a bar mouthpiece with this bridle. Using a jointed or broken bit will cause the bit and the cheek cups to collapse inward pinching the cheeks of the horse and causing cheek ulcers in the mouth. If a curb bit is used it is also important to use a tight curb chain so that the bit will not over rotate which will cause pinching between the curb chain and the cups of the Kineton noseband.
Hook a set of long draw reins through the bit placing the ends of the draw reins high on the saddle; 8 to 12 inches below your normal hand position. The bits that I use with this noseband are a bar snaffle or a 6 inch shank Walking Horse bit with an interchangeable crescent shaped bar mouthpiece. There is no port. By choosing this bit, I can move the placement of the draw reins to the end of the shank where the reins usually attach or to the holes next to the mouthpiece, creating a snaffle by eliminating the shank. Also, I can choose to not hook up the draw reins and hold both loops of the reins in my hands, creating a direct or normal rein. The whole point of this bridle is to round the horse’s neck. The lower the draw rein is attached to the saddle, the lower the downward pull will be to the horse’s head.
The German Martingale creates a framework that prevents the horse from lifting his head too high or his nose to be thrust too far forward. A strap comes from the girth between the front legs, splitting into two separate reins at the chest. From here each rein travels through each of the two rein rings on the bit and then attach to D rings which have been sewn on the reins going to the rider’s hands. The strap between the legs should be tight enough to hold the neck and head in an arched and broken over at the poll position. Proper adjustment of the German Martingale is essential. The lower reins running through the front legs should only affect the horse when his head is not in the proper position. If he is compliant, which puts his head in the proper headset with a rounded neck; the lower reins stop pulling and allow the rider to ride with pressure only on the riding reins in the hands. This is an extremely good set up because if the horse does the right action, the bridle feels quite normal to the horse. If he stiffens or resists, the lower reins hold the head in place and the horse soon learns where his head belongs. Again, it is important to use a tight curb chain so as not to allow the bit to over rotate. I usually use a 6 inch shank with a double twisted wire bit with this bridle, because the mouthpiece means business yet it is jointed so as to conform to the shape of the mouth. A solid or port bit should not be used with this set up because of the risk of cutting the tongue. If the horse thrusts his head against the martingale in a quick jerk, the bit may press the tongue against the molars, causing a laceration on the side of the tongue. With a twisted wire bit, this action is absorbed by the joints in the mouthpiece. For a milder option try a jointed snaffle or a double twisted snaffle for a medium impact.
Pacing is the result of a horse locking his neck into a straight line, bracing with the lower muscles of the neck and locking the jaw. The lumbar region of the back is also locked into a stiff position which produces a rear high carriage of the pelvis. With these two areas locked, the horses can lumbar along in a hard pace. The equipment I have described can produce the arch in the neck but the rider must produce the arch in the back. You need to picture a horse as an arched bridge. The nose, front legs and rear legs are support poles. Between these poles are two arches, the neck and back. If the arches are flat the bridge is weak but if the arches are curved, the bridge is strong.
There are a number of exercises that you can do with your horse that will help improve his flexibility and will help break the pace. If he canters, try working in a Figure 8. Start by facing a wall, rail or fence. In your mind create two 50 foot circles, one to your right and one to your left. Begin walking these circles, always stopping at the center or where you began. As your horse memorizes this pattern, begin to flatwalk. Two circles to the left. Stop. Two circles to the right. Stop. Now canter in the same pattern, always stopping in the center. As you stop, try to get him to roll his haunches under. When you begin cantering, try to pick up the canter in one step. You are simply trying to get maximum collection. As you come to a stop for the last time, move directly out of the pattern, down the straight line of the rail in a flatwalk using the same collection that you just had in the canter. You should feel a much deeper stride and be able to maintain it as you move down the straight line of the rail.
Rollbacks can also be used but you need a long wall or fence. Canter. Stop. Rollback. Canter, etc. Then begin a new exercise by flatwalking down the rail, come off the rail 10 feet, turn directly toward the rail and stop. You are now facing the rail that you were riding next to. The horse’s nose should be within inches of the rail. Back 4 to 5 steps, stop, and immediately increase your leg pressure forcing him forward. Keep your collection you used to back as you are pressing him forward, release slowly as you are turning back to the rail in the opposite direction. This is a back and forth exercises along the rail. You should feel a lowered pelvis and longer strides.
Uneven ground will break a pace. As the horse balances up and down shallow hills, he will collect himself up. This of course assumes that the rider is not letting his horse daisy clip along the way. Ride the horse up the hills with normal contact on the reins; your legs should be mildly driving. Collect the horse down the hill and place your weight deep into the saddle. Your legs should be under the horse lifting the belly and rounding the pelvis gently. Again, uphill normal seat, driving legs and downhill deep seat, gentle lifting legs. This is a learning technique so let your horse learn slowly and give him lots of praise.
Racking can also be used to break the pace. Once your horse’s neck and back are in the correct position, he may choose to rack instead of walk. This is OK at first; let him establish a four beat gait in the rack. The horse is only racking because he has not relaxed. Constantly aid pelvis rotation downward by now and then tapping a riding whip to the rear most buttock area. The horse will, over time, haunch under. He may still be racking but he is developing muscles that will later be used to walk. After he has established a four beat gait, then concentrate on relaxation and longer strides.
Another technique is to take your horse out onto the street. Ride down the street in a flatwalk. If the horse slips, slow down until he gets his balance. The idea is to force him to balance by compromising his footing. The horse may become frustrated, so be brief. Also, as a warning, it is a bad idea to ride asphalt for more than 5 to 10 minutes. You will crack or road founder the hooves. The recommendation should not be a standard training practice. It should only be a lesson used once or twice a month to stimulate proper balance.
As you improve your horse’s balance, collection and relaxation, you will break the pace. These are not quick fix solutions but ways to develop both correct movement and proper muscle. If your horse is in perfect form and still paces, x-ray his knees and hocks, the problem is internal.