Dom Schramm, in his latest Evention video on training off track Thoroughbreds, says of jigging: “We’ve all been there — we all hate it!”
I’d like to give you my thoughts on jigging. Not to brag but I have been very successful with breaking this habit in most of my OTTB’s. Probably because I take forever to get them right (I ride one horse for years before I can get them really broke, unfortunately). But anyways, here’s a few details on breaking the jigging habit. First, jigging is a two beat gait, a mini trot, which is often slower than a walk — because the horse is anxious and being held back by its rider. They cover little ground, they lift the feet in the pattern of the trot (diagonal pairs) but the stride is short. Thus, a “jig” up and down, almost in place. It’s an anxious horse’s way to speed up a walk and get ready to go faster. Jigging for the horse is not very much work so they can do it for long distances and periods of time. Nervous horses do it when alone, or when in with a group of horses and they want to keep up with everyone else. There are other causes, but its the same annoying habit.
First of all, a young horse or untrained horse is the best candidate for breaking this habit. Older horses that have been doing it a while are difficult to change and you have to be used to it. Some people don’t care about jigging, and let their horses do it so much the horse doesn’t have a flatfooted walk any more. Jigging is annoying to me because it tires my seat and upper body and leads me to bad equitation habits, so I’m against letting a horse do it constantly.
The key to breaking the jigging habit is to train the horse to walk, trot and canter. I’m not being snotty here — what you want to do is the ALWAYS, NEVER training principle. Always encourage three good gaits with no mixtures of gaits or creative gaits in between. Never allow variations from three good gaits. In other words, correct every deviance; leave alone every correct gait. When the horse gives you a walk, anywhere, anytime, a good three beat walk, even if its just a few steps, praise.
Second to the Always, Never principle is to teach the horse to relax. This means paying attention pretty carefully to his state while on his back. Are his ears pricked or flicking back and forth? Is he paying attention to you or something else. Is he breathing slowly, or fast? Is his head high, or low? Encourage relaxation by speaking to him in a calm, direct, low voice, and pet him gently. See the big picture with your eyes, lift your chin, look around you and soften your diaphragm. Breathe – three deep breaths — and encourage your horse if he does the same. You can teach a horse to do darn near everything, so why not teach it to relax?
Your posture is important. Wendy Murdoch once, in a short seminar, showed how your seat bones affect the horse. In your hard chair right now tip forward with your shoulders. Your seat bones leave the chair. Now, sit straight up – your seat bones contact the chair. By tipping forward we release the horse’s back to go forward. But then we grab their mouths and say, “no. stop.” It’s clashing the aids that makes a horse anxious. Soften your back, point your belly button to the sky. Push your shoulders back. Soften and noodle your elbows and make your hands buttery. Lift your chin and push the back of your head towards your spine. If you sit UP and breathe, then soften your hips, a jigging horse will not at first respond, but eventually they will if you are consistent.
Along with your equitation, it’s important to THINK SLOW. Put the walk rhythm in your head. One, two, three, four. Slow everything down. Patiently correct your busy jigging horse with first one hand, then the other, avoid pulling on the mouth with both hands. Occasionally, gently halt, release one rein if you can, and pet. Speak to them. Walk forward, with a gentle aid, and encourage any walk steps with praise. It is important, as Clinton Anderson says, to “reward the try”. The way horses learn is by absence of punishment. Remove the incentive to jig — nerves, the tipped-forward rider, the restraining hands – and the walk becomes more natural and the jig less forced. Encourage forward but in rhythm.
While asking for the walk, move the haunches around, yielding left and right, or ask for flexion right, and left. Concentrate on your connection, the softest you can achieve. Put the flatfooted walk rhythm in your head and look for it. If you are soft and tall in the saddle you will also notice when the horse is attempting the walk because his back will soften a bit. If you are tipped forward it’s harder to feel this.
I hope this helps with the jiggers. Train three gaits; reward relaxation; soft seat, upright posture, think rhythm; don’t pull with both hands; ‘think slow’; reward the try; move haunches or ask for flexion to break the pattern; concentrate on connection. Good luck!