Finding the Gallop

Henry is not what you would call a naturally talented galloper. That beautiful, fluid, effortless gait that thoroughbreds have been bred for, selectively, for centuries… he does not have it. He’s naturally a bit high-highed, and the faster he goes, the more it looks like a wild flinging of legs that’s mostly just going in circles instead of forward. Bless him, because in his mind he is SO FAST.


He also doesn’t have much desire to gallop. It’s not at all surprising that he never made it past the training track to a real race. Not long after I got him I managed to track down his breeder to see if she remembered him… her words were “Oh yeah, that portly little bay colt. The only damn thing he ever ran to was the feed bucket.”. Yep, she was definitely thinking of the right colt. Henry is generally a quiet horse, but when he does have some excess energy to expel, he tends to get stuck going up and down instead of forward. He may have taken after his stakes-winning sire in mannerisms, but definitely not in gallop.

Apple did not fall far from the tree in the derp department.

This hasn’t been a problem in his eventing career, since we’re at the lower levels. When we moved up to Training we both kind of had to learn how to hustle a bit… 470mpm is fast enough to require some conscious effort on my part. I’ve learned to be very aware of the path I take and the ground I cover, not taking any more steps than I absolutely have to. We land and we turn, or we land and immediately go forward again… no dawdling or taking a scenic route.

Thus far he’s had no problem making the time at Training, except for Texas Rose where we took a long route option. Prelim speed would definitely be a lot harder for him though. His stride is shorter and relatively bouncy… not the long, efficient, ground covering gallop that you’d look for in an upper level horse. Luckily we have no upper level aspirations, so it’s not a problem.

Land and GO

One of the unexpected side effects from our foxhunting adventure is a marked improvement in Henry’s gallop. We spent most of the beginning of that day hustling our butts off to stay in the middle of the pack. Henry would go just as fast as needed to in order to keep up with the other horses, but he never really settled into a nice smooth open gallop. Finally on one of the longer stretches, about an hour and half into the hunt, Trainer’s horse went blowing past Henry like he was standing still (um yes, her horse was actually a real racehorse) and another little mare came up quickly beside him. I don’t know exactly what triggered it in that moment, but Henry decided to dig in.

His stride suddenly felt like it doubled in length, and it seemed like his belly got lower to the ground. He decided he was done getting passed, and he started moving those little legs like he’s never done before. He finally found a real gallop.

*cue clouds parting and angels singing

At the end of all of our conditioning rides I usually let him have a short little gallop stretch if the ground isn’t too hard. Before that foxhunting day, he would definitely speed up and go for a little breeze, but it was still mostly just a lot of leg flinging. Since that foxhunting day, every time I let him out he lengthens his stride and those little legs start flying like a quarter horse in an all out sprint. Something finally clicked in Henry, whether it was simply the desire to go faster or just figuring out how to do so. He’s still not FAST, but he’s definitely faster, and his gallop is a lot more fluid.

At almost 11 years old, guess he’s a wee bit late for his racing career, but I’m interested to see if I feel any difference next time we come out of the start box.

16 thoughts on “Finding the Gallop

  1. That’s awesome!

    You do wonder sometimes why some TBs seem to just… miss… the whole speed thing they were bred for….


  2. We’re not looking for a literal gallop (hello tight turns and medium-sized rings), but we definitely had to teach Frankie how to open up into the next gear. Heck, we’re still teaching him that hes 17.1 and I don’t believe him that the striding is set too long. Maybe once the ground softens a bit, a few good gallops will help him stretch out!

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  3. One of my favorite foxhunting memories is from a few years ago when I was still riding in the field. We were galloping across a crop pasture (I don’t remember the crop, but it was fallow at this time) and my friend Rebecca and I let our horses RUN! I was riding my (at the time) 19yo Appendix Quarter Horse (who took me to the AQHYA Youth World Championships in REINING!) and she was on one of her TB polo ponies. I’ve never felt a horse run like that in my life! It was amazeballs! We both had tears streaming down our faces at the end of the field from the wind in our eyes and the sheer joy of the gallop. You often hear how good foxhunting can be for the eventing horses so I’m glad you’ve gotten to go out and hope you do so again!


  4. It’s funny how something simple but different can have such an affect on horses so that they just…get it. I remember a little reining colt with maybe a month or 2 of riding, and it was the pits to get him to move forward. So I took him into the field next door, kicked him into a canter and it was like lightbulb for him lol. I love it when they start to get things! I’m sure you and Henny will feel different leaving the startbox 🙂


  5. Love! One of my favorite memories foxhunting is taking my eventing mare out in the country post-hunt and letting ‘er rip. Once they find their stride it’s such a neat sensation to feel them kick it into a gear they didn’t know they had!


  6. That is so great! I love foxhunting, and that your “cross-training” with Henny has helped him develop a GO FAST gear! All hail the mighty thoroughbred!


  7. well you have seen Remus gallop (I mean lope) SIGH. I think i could have a thousand zombies chase Remus and we still would not produce a gallop. ANYWAY, glad Henry found some extra gears! He still looks fast to me when he zooms by!!


  8. I adopted a 10-ish year old mare last October from Bluebonnet at their annual Expo, who had spent the previous three months with a professional trainer in preparation for their trainer’s challenge competition. She was evaluated at the trainer’s and it was determined that may have been ridden before, but just barely and didn’t know much, if anything. So an excellent candidate to showcase the trainer’s skill and talent, to see what they could accomplish in 90 days. I kept up with the mare’s progress while she was in training and the comment was made more than once that Lucy (the mare) had a weird canter. She’s butt-high, so the trainer decided that’s why it felt funny. At the Expo, I watched her being ridden, and the mare’s canter looked fine to me, but the trainer said it still felt off – not lame off, just uncoordinated off. And she took second place in the Challenge, performing, of all things, a bareback and bridleless spin! Not bad for a previously unbroke, older gal. Once I got the mare home, I started riding but we needed some time to figure each other out – in spite of her awesome performance she was in fact, still very green and used to one rider only. I haven’t cantered her yet, because I discovered that she has no clue what to with herself at the TROT! It has to be hysterical to watch, it’s slow, it’s fast, legs everywhere, going every which way but straight – like trying to ride a gushing fire hose. Even her transition is wonky – she starts with a huge lift of her forehand, almost like a canter step, but no, it’s just a transition from a walk to a trot. If she has no control of her legs and body at that gait , I’m sure not going to try a faster one. So maybe ten is the magical age where they learn how to carry themselves? I’m sure some of it is her very limited riding, and still baby green under saddle – but still, she should move a little better than this? I’ve somewhat hampered any progress she might make because I haven’t had the time to ride regularly, but I’m thinking of going back to square one and working her in driving lines, just to see if it helps. Get her to give to the bit some and pull her self together just a tad. I figure it’s worth a try.


  9. Probably his reluctance to go forward is why you’ve never had time faults… people seem to get them more when they’re arguing with their horse to slow down for a jump!!

    It’s nice he learned something it foxhunting. Oh the joys of cross training!


  10. I think it is awesome that Henry has found his gallop, I think horses are much like us humans, perhaps he is just a jogger rather than a sprinter! 🙂
    Either way it is all coming together fabulously which I love, congrats mate.
    and I love the pic of Henry’s Sire and his similar faces. Hilarious stuff
    Mel x


  11. Griffin has that same “leg flinging” nowheresville gallop so your description of Henry’s hits close to home for me. I hope Grif will figure out how to stretch out with a bit of time. …though I know for that to happen I’m also going to have to trust him a little more because right now I’m still concerned he’s going to give some celebratory gallop bucks because he loves it so much and I have zero desire to hit the turf at any speed!


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