The joys of being a horse owner, enthusiast, and trainer...it's a full time job requiring daily work and attention! But Chad and I love every part of it! (Ok, let's be honest, some days cleaning stalls can get a bit tedious. Doctoring horses who seem to hurt themselves on purpose gets old. And dumping manure out of a full water trough when there was perfectly good ground for him to poop on is frustrating to say the least. But these are all things we put up with for the love of the horse, necessary evils as Ken would tell us!) Since the physical work seems to take up every possible free moment we have, my blogs have been at a halt. I'm sorry! But I wanted to say thank you to everyone who read my last entry and sent me many encouraging words to keep writing more! I do thoroughly enjoy writing, especially when it is about all things horses! Some days the entries will be quick tips and thoughts, others might be more elaborate experiences. Either way, I hope you will find them helpful, useful, and entertaining in some way or another to add to your quiver of horse knowledge! With that being said, I came across this topic and thought it'd be a good one to share.
I receive a weekly newsletter from Keith Hosman at Horsemanship101 with quick tips and training techniques. I try to gather as many fresh ideas from all sorts of horsemen and women that I can. There is always room to grow, and ways to keep learning. This week's subject read: "If your horse doesn't stop, do you pull harder?" Whoa. (Literally). That is such a good one. Raise your hand if you cringe whenever you see this happen? Better yet, do you find yourself doing this? I wanted to share the exact article Keith wrote because it's short and to the point...
"When you ask your horse to stop, do you pull on the reins—and then pull really hard when he doesn't stop? Uh... don't. Why do you think racing jockeys hold those reins tightly and rock back and forth the way they do? Answer: It's because their weight acts as a counterweight for the horse. The horse thrusts his neck forward and along with it comes the jockey. The jockey then rocks back pulling the horse's head and neck. The two help pull each other around the track like a giant kids' toy. Don't be a counterweight. If your horse needs to be taught to stop, then you need plenty of work with a single rein. He can't brace as well against that single rein."
* The preceding was inspired by the book "What I'd Teach Your Horse," the chapter entitled "Reins Tell Direction, Legs Tell Speed." It is not an exact extraction.
Well there you have it! Pretty simple, you pull and your horse pulls even harder. Basically, you had no control to begin with. Soo, how do we fix this? Well if your horse feels like a ton of bricks in your hands, or like trying to pull down a cement wall when you ask him to stop, then you should go back to some basic one rein exercises. Forget about your outside rein for a bit and gather up your inside rein because we are about to get dizzy. Suppling exercises, circle-s's, softening circles, circles of self-carriage, disengaging the hindquarters, one rein backup... you most likely know what they all are, they are one rein exercises. Probably the most well-known, age-old one rein move is the one rein stop. Every kid when they are learning to ride is taught this. I always teach this one to my beginner lesson students because it gives them confidence in their control of the horse until they can understand what true softness and body control is. By bending their head around into a tight circle, your horse can no longer go forward and it will either slow them down or stop them by disengaging their hindquarters and will momentarily stop forward movement. There you have it, the one-rein stop. Just beware you do not teach your horse to run through his shoulder by doing this!! (Now that's a whole other topic that sooo many people don't understand about! We will have to give that one its own blog entry one of these days.)
If we were getting a little more technical about stopping, we'd look at the softness of our horse, our body position, and our hands and legs. These are all key points in the control of your horse. Now we aren't talking big ol' Reining sliding stops here, just simply asking your horse to change his speed or simply stop moving. (And don't forget trying to shut down that runaway pony that gets away with anything because he can't feel his tiny rider who is probably about 80 pounds..... you know the one I mean.) Anyway, by having your horse soft, your seat steady and centered, your hands light, and your leg cues clear; you can add all these elements together, along with a verbal cue, to develop the responsiveness needed to control and stop your horse even when you might be in trouble. Practice makes perfect! Try practicing your stops with your horse from each gait. Get him soft and responsive. Develop your control now before encountering the problems you could face with run away horses. Eventually you might be able to achieve that beautiful 20 ft. sliding stop! ;) You never know. Until then let's focus on not pulling harder and not riding like a jockey. Teach your horse to stop using whatever exercise mentioned necessary. Go back to one rein for a little bit. Don't be your horse's counterweight! You might be amazed at the difference in the way you ride and the way your horse responds!
Happy (controlled) Riding!