Anticipation is a common problem in horses in all disciplines, particularly those that are advancing rapidly in their training and learning new things. All horses may anticipate cues, but hot-blooded breeds and high-energy horses are most likely to do so. Anticipation is generally a function of horse with little confidence, combined with a rider who has not yet learned to direct the horse’s energy appropriately. Riders can use a variety of techniques to combat this problem.
Establish a Routine
A “green” horse (a horse with little training) may anticipate cues because he lacks confidence. The horse is nervous about doing something wrong and tries to respond to cues before they have even been given.
If this is the case, establishing a firm routine for schooling sessions may stop the horse from anticipating cues. If the horse knows something like, “We’ll walk the arena once each direction, then work at the trot for 15 minutes while alternating directions, then we will canter one lap on each lead with a simple change across the diagonal in between,” he may develop enough confidence in his ability to respond to cues when they are given that he will wait for them instead of anticipating.
Improve Rider Response Time
In more seasoned horses, anticipation is often the fault of an inexperienced rider or a rider who is not accustomed to a “hot” horse. Riders having difficulty with a horse who anticipates cues should arrange to take several lessons from a reputable instructor in their discipline. Lessons should focus on responding immediately to anticipation.
For example, if the horse begins to lengthen her trotting stride toward a canter without being asked to do so, the rider needs to respond with a strong half-halt on the first lengthened stride. If the horse has trotted three or four long strides before the rider responds, the horse has already self-rewarded for anticipating a cue, and the rider will be punishing a long stride (something that is often desirable) instead of a change in stride length. Anticipation needs to be corrected and redirected instantly.
Transition, Transition, Transition
Another successful strategy: Continual transitions. This obviously isn’t something that should be done every ride, but sometimes an experienced horse that suddenly begins to anticipate can be redirected by an intense schooling session in which a transition is cued every three or four strides. Halt, back, walk, trot, walk, canter, halt, walk, halt, back…. You get the picture. A horse continually performing cued transitions must direct all his mental energy to waiting for and responding to cues given by the rider, rather than anticipating future cues.