How do I get my standardbred to stop pacing?
Firstly, we want you to know that if you’re wondering how to get your standardbred to stop pacing, you’re not alone 🤜🤛
Standardbred pacing is a topic we discuss with the majority of riders who reach out to Raising the Standards for help.
In fact, it’s one of the most common questions we get asked, along with ‘how do I get my standardbred to canter?’
To get your standardbred to stop pacing, you need to start by having a clear understanding of what exactly pacing is and why standardbreds can hang onto this habit years after retiring from racing.
So, what is pacing?
Put simply, pacing is the action where the horse moves both legs on each side of the body together.
A great example of this is to take a walk and watch your arms.
As you step your left leg forward, your right arm should swing.
Likewise, your left arm will move with your right leg.
This diagonal pairing is the human equivalent of trotting.
Now try to step your right leg and right arm forward at the same time. Followed by the left arm and leg.
Congratulations; you’re now a pacer!
Here’s a demo by our little friend, who’s less than a week old 👇 (yep, some standardbreds have been pacing their whole lives!)
It’s likely your standardbred paces because of one of the following reasons:
- Pacing is something standardbreds have been bred to find natural.
- Your standardbred may have been pacing for years; possibly since they were a foal.
- Some gear worn during harness racing and training makes pacing feel comfortable.
- Through race training, pacing becomes familiar and a bit like second nature!
Let’s expand on this…
Why does my standardbred pace when being ridden?
Your standardbred may have been pacing for a long time
As our little buddy demonstrated so well in the foal clip above, some standardbreds have been pacing their whole lives.
Many standardbreds then go on to train and race for several years.
This adds up to a lot of practice pacing and developing the muscles to find the pacing action efficient and easy.
Therefore, it’ll take steady, consistent retraining to introduce new aids and different way of moving to your standardbred.
Teaching a pacer to trot under saddle takes time, practice and patience, as there’s a lot of change to process!
As outlined in our Standardbred Body & Mind Workshop, it can take up to 90 days for a new habit to develop.
That’s 3 months of consistent practice to allow neural pathways in the brain to develop so that new skills become second nature.
A great way to think about retraining a pacer is to imagine having to ‘de-train’ a lot of the familiar behaviours (by removing them from the daily routine and allowing new skills to take over), before you can ‘re-train’ new ones.
This will take time; retraining a pacer is all about the long-game.
Pacing is a ‘default’ setting
If we think about how long our standardbreds may have been pacing, then it makes sense that this gait comes naturally.
Therefore, when the world gets scary or confusing, our standardbreds will turn to comforting, familiar habits.
When a standardbred becomes nervous, unbalanced, anxious or frightened, often they fall back into the pace.
This is simply because pacing is a bit of a ‘default’ setting.
Like a security blanket of familiarity and comfort.
Knowing this, it’s easy to understand why punishing the pace – which often upsets the horse – can actually cause more pacing.
The more confused your standardbred becomes, the more likely they are to revert back to pacing!
How do I stop my standardbred from pacing?
Standardbreds are big people-pleasers and what has kept the humans happy for many years has been pulling a sulky and pacing really fast!
Unfortunately for us, telling our standardbred to stop pacing because that the rules have changed isn’t as easy as sitting down and having a quick chat over a cuppa (despite what Mr Ed would have us believe!)
You’ll need to establish good communication and foundation skills with your standardbred, to kickstart your retraining journey off on the right path.
Also, understanding the ‘what, why and how’ of retraining a pacer can be invaluable.
So too is getting some advice from someone who’s experienced with the breed in particular.
Knowing exactly which exercises are the most effective at teaching a standardbred to trot, whilst minimising stress and confusion for horse and rider, makes the process far more enjoyable and likely to be successful.
The value of patience, practice and praise
The best piece of advice we can give standy riders when it comes to training your standardbred to stop pacing is to be patient.
The standardbred retraining journey is a bit like a dance: 2 steps forward, a shimmy to the side and a ball-change back 💃
Yes, it can be totally frustrating to keep having this random 5th gait pop up in the middle of your workout!
But your standardbred may have a long history with pacing and this gait is something that needs to be ‘detrained’ before ‘retraining’ can begin.
The transformation from harness racehorse to riding partner not only pushes your standardbred physically, but the process can be quite the mental marathon.
It helps to focus on being consistent with how you respond to your standardbred pacing.
Your standardbred should be corrected each and every time they slip into pace when being ridden.
Otherwise, how will they know they’re doing the ‘wrong’ thing?
And, as much as you’ll want to be on top of any incorrect responses, you should also be equally focused on providing positive feedback to your standardbred when they’re getting things right.
Standardbreds are notorious ‘praise junkies’ and LOVE to be told they’re doing a good job!
The key to successfully retraining a pacer
Remember: it doesn’t really matter whether you follow the Stop-Reset or the Roll-Through Method (as outlined in our Retraining the Pacer mini course), the best way to successfully retrain a standardbred to trot is to be very clear and consistent with your corrections, support your horse through the learning process and understand that it may take your standardbred time to get the hang of things.
If there’s one thing we know about these incredible horses, it’s that they will be trying their heart out for you ❤🐴
So, are you ready to dive into some practical activities to teach your standardbred to stop pacing?
Click here to learn more about our standardbred pacing mini course (just $29!):