Rhythm is often a funny thing when riding. The reason for this is that rhythm, in the true sense of the word, is any beat that is on repeat… And, most horses tend to have a beat or two that they repeat. This leads many riders to struggle with rhythm. Their question is “if there already is a rhythm, why is it something to work and develop?”. And that is a mighty fine question…
All rhythm is not made equal when it comes to horses, riding, and a general way of going. As riders, we need to find the correct rhythm that we want to repeat; and then make that happen regardless of what questions we ask…
What is ‘Good Rhythm’?
I often find that it is easier to begin explaining what ‘good rhythm’ is not. Have you ever been on a horse that feels like they are ‘sliding’ rather than walking? It kinda feels like their legs are moving so quickly, that they might be moving together? But they’re not jig-jogging or trotting? They are also not gaited…
The challenge here is that instead of being able to clearly identify a distinct 4 beat rhythm in each stride of the walk, the ‘beats’ are overlapping a little. The left legs feel like they are almost moving together, and then the right legs. Resulting in that ‘sliding’ feeling we just spoke about.
Any rhythm is not a good rhythm when working your horse. The indistinguishable beat produced by the horse ‘sliding’, while it is a rhythm – it continuously repeats itself – is not the rhythm we want in the walk.
A ‘good rhythm’ in the walk will have a clear one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, on repeat. Clear, distinctive beats that repeat consistently over a period of time. This applies to the one-two, one, two, one-two, one-two, of the trot. And the one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three, of the canter.
Can Rhythm Be Improved?
Okay, so once we can see what a basic ‘good rhythm’ sounds like in walk, trot, and canter, the next question often divides people. Some riders believe that no, we cannot improve rhythm. Doing so, or trying to do so, is asking the horse to do something unnatural for their unique abilities and as a unique individual.
Similarly, there are other riders who believe the exact opposite; yes, you can totally change and ‘reform’ your horse’s rhythm to be different and better. I’m not a huge fan of absolutes and ‘cookie cutter’ approaches when it comes to horses. I tend to land somewhere in the middle of this debate…
I believe that we can ‘enhance’ the rhythm each horse naturally has, particularly when it comes to helping them develop balance and strength through correct training methods, consistency, and time.
This means that, yes, each horse has their unique way of going. However, through correct training, riders can ‘polish’ what is already there so that it becomes both more apparent and more beneficial to the horse’s way of going in general.
How Do You ‘Develop’ Rhythm?
I think that it is first of all important to understand the essential relationship that exists between rhythm and relaxation. In my experience, when one is lost, the other will follow suit very quickly soon afterward! In fact, many times the reason the rhythm is not ‘good’ to begin with is because of a lack of true relaxation in the horse and rider. I have written and spoken a lot about relaxation previously HERE, HERE & HERE (with more links at the bottom of each of those posts).
Relaxation, in horse riding, is a word we use to describe how well the tension is being managed in both horse and rider in direct relation to the movement or task being performed at that point in the ride.
This means that the relaxation involved in walking to the arena and while warming up will look very different from the relaxation required to jump a 1.4m jump. Neither is better, neither is more correct. They are different based on the question begin asked.
To begin working on developing rhythm, it is first essential to identify if there is true relaxation present. From there, depending on what you are doing (the question you are asking), simply allow your horse to move forward. As he moves forward, a pattern or beat will become noticeable.
The rhythm that you experience when your horse is walking, trotting, or cantering while relaxed is the rhythm you can begin working with to enhance as you move forward.
And What is Tempo?
Now, this is where I need you to pay close attention…! So many riders think that rhythm and tempo as the same thing. And that those words can be used interchangeably. They are not and they shouldn’t! Rhythm and tempo are related to each other, but they are different.
Tempo is how often a single rhythm occurs in a given measured space. This can be measured using time or distance.
How often did the one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, of the walk occur between two set poles for example or two points in the arena. Or how often it repeated in a 15-second duration of time.
When the tempo increases, or decreases, the rhythm remains the same. It will just happen more or less often in a given time or space.
Maintaining as You’re Working
Once you have a baseline, the next part of really developing your horse’s rhythm is to notice how this baseline changes when you ask different questions. For many riders, they may notice that the beat remains the same, however the tempo increases or decreases.
An example of rhythm remaining the same but tempo increasing is often seen when a rider asks their horse to transition into canter through trot. The one-two, one-two, one-two, of the trot begins to repeat itself far more quickly.
Similarly, this can go the other way when a rider rides through a corner or bend. The one-two, one-two, one-two rhythm of the trot decrease in how often it repeats. The pattern or beat itself remains, but the tempo (how often that rhythm occurs) becomes less.
I think that noticing where there are changes to both rhythm and tempo when you ask different basic questions of your horse is where you can begin when it comes to working on this.
Putting All the Pieces Together
Again, the true rhythm will only really be there when there is also true relaxation and forwardness. As you begin working with your horse, look for where any of these are being lost and really notice the effect it has on the rhythm.
Many horses will become unbalanced, literally taking an ‘odd step’ that feels different to the others. This will cause the one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, to change. Maybe it will feel like one-two—-threefour, or something else.
Also keep in mind that the bigger the questions, the more likely it will be that this basic will be lost.
However, coming back to the basics again of relaxation, forwardness, and rhythm will allow you to begin working on developing the necessary strength in your horse to sustain a truly consistent beat throughout the ride.
Find in the Gaps In Your Horse’s Training
If you are interested in learning more about where you might be missing pieces in your riding, sign up for my new free training “ FIND THE GAPS IN YOUR HORSE’S TRAINING“. This audio training can be listened to, via podcast app, to help you figure out where to begin working with your horse.
You can sign up and get it, for free, HERE
More, More, More… To Help You :)
- Find the Gaps in Your Horse’s Training
- The Training Scale for You And Your Horse
- Relaxation; Buiding It Before You Get Into the Saddle
- Relaxation when Riding a Hot Horse
- Rhythm; Learning to Identify and Develop it in the Canter
- Online Community for Equestrian focusing on Planning and Mindset
- Equestrian Virtual Lounge Online Community
- FREE 2021 Equestrian Fitness Challenge – What You Can Do While You Ride
- Daily Strides Premium Newsletter