Thursday, July 9, 2009


Perhaps one of the most common complaints about a horse is that he is hard to stop. A horse that is reluctant to stop is not only an annoying ride, it is unsafe. I find it interesting that aside from a few sprightly dances and a little cavorting in the pasture, horses are generally sedentary animals. They will quietly saunter across the pasture until they find the perfect spot for grazing. Then they will often stand, graze, and do little else for hours. But as soon as you put a rider on its back, the horse becomes a careening maniac. A logical examination of this phenomenon will tell us that the urge to run at dangerous speeds must therefore come from the rider. This leads us to understand that getting a horse to stop must first begin by learning how to NOT make him go. When you are able to sit quietly on a horse without the unintentional delivery of cues, you can begin working on stopping. There are many drills that can teach us to sit quietly on a horse but they are not the subject of this post. Suffice it to say that although they may seem tedious, they are worthwhile.

Once you are able to ride your horse without unintentionally asking him to go, the next ingredient for a safe and reliable stop is a good rein back. The rein back, or back up, I speak of is not a reluctant, ambling, backward shuffle above the bit in response to a constant jerk on the rein. What is called for is a Back up with Impulsion and Collection in response to subtle cues. Therefore it is imperative that whatever method you may use to school the backup, its objective should be to be able to ask a horse to backup while it is in a forward gallop, WITHOUT pulling on the reins. If possible, start schooling the horse in the round pen, before moving to the arena. Then school the horse in the arena before taking him on the trail. You will use the reins to aid in the schooling process, but remember that you will NOT have achieved your true objective until they are no longer necessary.

Another important step in training a horse to stop is to teach the horse to go forward properly. Although forward may seem like the one thing a runaway horse already knows, nothing could be further from the truth. These horses have not really been taught how to move forward on cue, and in a proper manner. So either the horse has not been schooled in the proper cues for forward movement, or the rider does not know what the proper cues are. Of course, the problem could be even worse if neither the horse nor the rider knows the proper cues. This situation will quickly prove the saying that “green on green makes black and blue.”

To be a horse that stops easily, it is imperative that he be schooled in the proper cues for forward movement. Proper schooling will result in a horse that is considered in front of the leg .

A horse that does not go forward properly will not stop properly.

The cues for forward movement must include separate and distinctly different cues for the walk, the trot, the canter, and the gallop. The horse should be expected to be able to go from any gait to any other gait without the need to transition through any intermediate gaits. In other words, a horse should be able to go from a standing position, straight to a canter without the need to transition through the walk and the trot first. This is important because until the horse learns this, he will not know the difference between the cues to change gait, and the cues to change speed.

Train your horse to move forward into specific gaits and at specified speeds. This can be done in a round pen or small arena. When the horse will move forward properly into any gait you ask for, and willingly stop and back up without the use of reins, you will find that you will have transformed your runaway horse into a much safer and more enjoyable mount. And in the process, you will also have transformed yourself into the kind of enlightened rider that every horse will enjoy carrying.


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