Does your horse go everywhere at speed? Is it difficult to persuade him to trot calmly or approach a fence sensibly?
Horses will rush their work for a variety of reasons. A common one is pain or discomfort, another reason is insensitive riding, while unbalanced horses may also tend to use speed to get their particular exercise done and out of the way!
If your horse rushes everywhere it would be worth getting him checked by an appropriate professional. There are, however, a couple of checks you can make yourself.
Have a look at your horse from behind - if he appears to be lower on one side then his pelvis may be misaligned and you should contact a chiropractor. Sometimes horses' muscles are built up differently from side to side - this may be as a result of, for example, the pelvis not being correctly aligned, or maybe, if it is the withers that are affected, the saddle is tighter on one side than the other.
You will need to get to the root of the problem and call in various professionals as required. For instance, if your horse needs the attention of a chiropractor then he should also have the attention of a muscle specialist, such as an Equine Muscle Release Therapist, to ensure that the corrective work done has the best chance of long term success.
If your horse is suffering from a saddle that is too tight it's vital that you consult a reputable saddler and get the equipment adjusted or replaced. Trying to work a horse in a saddle that does not fit well is not sensible - all you will do is create more issues for the horse and for yourself. (Read more saddle fitting)
If you are sure that your horse is comfortable in his tack and doesn't have any skeletal or muscular problems, why else might he rush everywhere? Is he a tense, uptight kind of horse? If so, how do you handle him? Do you add to the pressures on him or are you able to be calm and confident around him? Horses will react to their surroundings and their owners - and it's not unknown for a fiery type to be difficult for one owner but calm and sensible with a different person.
Think about how you handle and ride your horse - if he is difficult are there different approaches you could take? Ask a reputable instructor for help if you are feeling a little overwhelmed.
Some horses rush because they are unbalanced so if that's your horse you need to improve him. Here are a few thoughts on how you could make the best use of your schooling sessions:
Schooling Aim: To slow down a rushing horse and establish his rhythm and balance.
How to achieve this: Set things up to help you ie instead of riding the horse around the whole of your schooling area, work on a 20 metre circle. This will make it easier for you to control your horse and your horse will have to work harder, bringing his inside hindleg further under him on a circle in order to maintain his balance. - see pic below
Ride a series of transitions, eg. Trot, walk, trot to improve your horse's response and obedience to your aids. When you are riding these transitions, remember not to pull back on the reins continually as the horse will just pull against you.
You will need to be relaxed physically and mentally and you must remember to use half halts and to slow down your rising trot.
Set yourself targets, such as three strides of walk in between your trot sessions, perhaps trotting for six strides before walking for three again.
Horses that rush tend to be on their forehands and riding lots of transitions helps to bring the hindlegs underneath them. You might find that it takes a few sessions before you can get to the point where, for example, you trot, take one stride of walk and then trot again with the exercise being smooth, with you in control!
Riding transitions in this structured way is also a good exercise for any horse when you want to engage their hindquarters.
Horses that rush tend to also be overbent and behind the bit - if your horse is like this you need to encourage him to lengthen his neck and take the contact forward.
A common problem with riding horses that rush is that the riders tend not to use their legs - but you definitely need to use your legs so that you ride the horse from your legs into your hands and then control the energy.
Your legs need to encourage the horse forward into the contact - so make sure you have a good but sympathetic contact. Do not be tempted to give away the contact on your reins as your horse needs something to work into. (see pic B below)
You can check your horse's balance by encouraging him to take the rein and stretch down, still maintaining and taking the contact forwards. If your horse comes above the bit, doesn't stretch down or tries to rush, you need to go back a few steps eg to the transition work and get this better established. For more great schooling exercises and tips click here