Q&A with Trainer Dana Hokana: How Do I Fix My Mare’s Western Pleasure Jog?
I am having a little trouble with my mares jog. I feel like she is jogging true and up with cadence. However, when my friend watches me, she says my mare is jogging long and she isn’t under herself. Can you please recommend a “fix” as well as which DVDs would help me?
A: Hi Monica,
That is such a good question and I have some tips that will help you! I have seen many show horses that were really good lopers but were not great joggers. Often I see a horse like yours that jogs in a true one-two beat, but leaves their hocks out behind him or just takes too long of a step. I have seen others that just can’t jog a true two beat gait, meaning that their opposite diagonal legs don’t land on the ground and come off of the ground at the same time. These horses are a lot harder to deal with. They are what I call gait deficient and this is a lot harder to fix. Although there are exercises that can help horses like that, horses like yours are a lot easier to fix!
With your mare, the first thing I would do is to have a vet look at her and see if she is sore somewhere. Often horses that are sore in the hocks or stifles will trail or leave their hocks out behind them. It can become a habit and is a way they compensate and don’t have to really use themselves. She may need treatment on her hocks or stifles to become more comfortable. But if you do find that she is a little sore behind and needs treating make sure that when you put her back to work you really drive her up behind and make her work. Some horses just get lazy behind and develop a bad habit of trailing their hocks. Once you know your mare is sound, either by treating her or out ruling any lameness. I would recommend that you devote a good amount of time to developing and making them maintaining a good strong jog. It would be a good idea to have someone be eyes for you while you ride and make sure that she is stepping up when you think she is.
I would start my workout with making sure she is warmed up, then I would medium trot her in hand (or in a collected manner). I would really make her drive up behind and step up underneath herself. Don’t focus on speed only, it’s not just about asking her to trot fast. I want you to ask her to trot strong. I will often take hold of my horses in the face and really require them to step up in a slow, strong rhythm, with a lot of air time or lift in their step. A horse can trot fast and sloppy, not giving their all or really working as much as one can trot slow doing the same thing! Also, I want to stress to you that the rider plays a big part in the fixing the problem or improving the gait of the horse. You need to ride mindfully, not mindlessly and become very aware of your horses gait under you! The whole time you are trotting count one-two in your mind. Hook up your body with his movement and it will help you and her make the trot a definite crisp clear gait! Also, I have noticed that many riders get so accustomed to going slow that they become so focused on the speed and staying slow that they forget to keep that beat strong and powerful. I have to remind myself of this. Make sure your horse trots a powerful strong one-two.
The next exercise I do with all my horses is the two-track. For example, pick up the trot and start at the lower left hand corner of your arena and trot diagonally to the upper right hand corner of the arena. I often do this both at a slow jog and a medium trot with more power and step. As you are trotting see if the shoulder or front half of the horse is leading but ideally you want your horse’s body straight like she is side passing while moving forward at the trot. This exercise will improve her reach and strengthen her. You will see where she is weak such as if she has difficulty keeping her hindquarters up even with her front end. You will definitely find out where she is resisting your cues. Make sure you switch sides and two track her to the right as well as the left. Give more attention to your weak areas and use a strong definite counting beat in your mind or if it helps you, count out loud.
The next exercise is to drive your horse to her face at a medium trot while counting, keeping her collected and driven up from behind. So many times our trotting problems are stemmed from our horse being lazy, weak or out of condition I want to remind you that your horse is an athlete and needs a good workout. Picture her reaching up strongly behind and firing her legs with cadence and strength. I do this also at the slow jog basically demanding cadence.
The next exercise is my favorite. It is a little more difficult and may take you weeks to master correctly but it will really teach your horse to slow jog and will greatly improve her lift. You will also see a big difference in her lope. What you will do is trot her hindquarters around her front end and when you master that you will switch her to where she trots her front end around her hindquarters. This has some difficulty and demands your horse to really work on acceptance of your cues. You will always work each direction or side. Let’s start by moving your horse off of your right leg. Take a rein in each hand and ride two handed and pull your horse’s head to the right and mash or push with your right leg pushing him up to the trot. Your goal is that she trots almost in place and her hindquarters swing out and trot around her front end. Your horse may want to travel or move around almost as if in a big circle. You will get a lot more out of the exercise and it is a higher level of difficulty if she doesn’t move around, but isolates her front end from her hindquarters and literally trots her hindquarters around her front end. Continue counting until you find her footfalls match your count. When I teach this exercise I often draw a square or circle in the ground and ask that my rider stay in that area. This builds your awareness as to where her feet are. Once you have his acceptance and she moves freely off your right leg you can think about switching to her front end. I want to build your awareness of where your horse’s body weight is and when her hindquarters are moving around her front end her body weight is on her front end, when you switch to moving her front end around her hindquarters you are redistributing her body weight to her hindquarters. Be patient with your horse and yourself. If you’ve never had this much body control this will take time to develop. It is a complicated exercise but it does wonders for her trot.
Next, draw back lightly on your reins and ask her front end to trot around her hindquarters, you will ask her front end to make a turn to the right, try to keep her trotting and continue counting. It’s like you trotted a turn on the forehand in the first part of the exercise and you are now trotting a turn on the haunches. Try to stay in your square or circle and keep her trotting. Your natural inclination will be to turn to the left with his front end after pushing her hip over off your right leg but you will get better results to trot her front end over to the right off of your left leg. When she gets really good at switching her body weight back and forth from the front end to the back end and it is so easy for her that he never quits trotting or loses cadence, you will find her trot will be greatly improved. So to review, you will trot her hip in the direction to the left off of your right leg then smoothly transition while still trotting to moving her front end over in the direction to the right off of your left leg. Then give him a break trot her in a straight line without contact and see how long she can carry himself. As long as she is trotting good leave her alone. When she falls apart, go back to the exercise, she will soon realize it is easier to carry herself and stay trotting nice and crisp. To switch sides you will move her hip over off of your left leg in the direction to the right then transfer the body weight back on the hindquarters and trot herv front end over in the direction to the left off of your right leg. Work equally on both sides unless you find an area of weakness or resistance in which case work through your tough spot until it becomes easier. This will really give you more lift at the lope also.
I know of many world champion pleasure horses who were slightly longer joggers and they became super stars. It just takes maintence and a determination on your part to demand more out of your horse! I wish you the best of luck and please let me know if I can help you anymore!
I highly recommend Maximizing Your Western Pleasure Horse Vol. 1-3, and Vol. 2 for your problem. It goes into great detail describing and showing these exercises as well as others. It also helps you to develop a workout program for you and your horse. As well as I really go into training or retraining the (I couldn’t read her writing “furdanerfact”) which make your horse into a long term show horse and partner! This set is also on sale right now!
Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.
Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.
Now is your chance to have your questions answered by Dana! Just submit your question using the comment section below or the email link, and she will respond to select questions in future posts.