Monday, February 20, 2012

Teaching the Sliding Stop

National Reining Horse Association defines the sliding stop as “the act of slowing a horse from a lope to a stop position by bringing the hind legs under the horse in a locked position sliding on the hind feet. The horse should enter the stop position by bending the back, bringing the hind legs under the body while maintaining forward motion and ground contact and cadence with front legs. Throughout the stop the horse should continue in a straight line while maintaining contact with the hind feet.”

This definition is a correct stop – no more, no less. Forget stops that slide thirty feet but with “skips” in the tracks; forget stops where the horse’s front legs are not active; forget stops that are not straight. A correct stop is when the horse goes to the ground and stays in the ground – body straight and front legs trotting. For me, the stop doesn’t have to be long to be correct – if he goes six feet correct, I’m a lot happier than if he slides thirty feet but picks a hind leg up or slides crooked. I train for a correct stop. The rest will take care of itself.

The sliding stop is the hallmark maneuver of the reining horse. It's music to my ears to hear the szzzzzst… of a long, correct slide when I ask my horse to stop! But a stop like that doesn’t happen overnight – it’s the result of two things: a horse bred to do the job and months and months of training.

  • I don’t try to teach a horse to stop that’s not bred or built for the job.
  • I much prefer to teach a horse that wants to stop. I have probably figured that out long before I ride him. Does he naturally use his hind quarters? Does he stop (and maybe even slide) just for fun? My good mare Tamarac used to run up and down the arena directly at the fence and stop squarely into the fence instead of turning. She naturally locked her hind legs and slid (slid really well on ice!).
The part that I can’t know for sure is his mental attitude to training and that will make the difference. However, a step-by-step method of training will go a long way to instill confidence, which in turn will allow my horse to relax and therefore learn. A confused or scared horse is not going to be a willing partner in one of those long, melt-in-the-ground stops.

My horses are learning the stop almost from the first ride. The basic exercise, Vertical Flexion, teaches, from my rider aids, how to stop and instills in them a willingness as well. They must know this exercise first.

Note: I almost always end each schooling session with this exercise because the stop is so important that I want it to be the last thing my horse remembers from the session and also because I can “fix” any problems that have arose during the session.

As training progresses, (through all previous exercises in this blog), I incorporate the stop in to almost every exercise so that he is always reminded... I have still not done any specific sliding stop work and he probably does not have sliding plates on yet.

Note: Sliding plates are flat shoesfor the reining horse’s hind feet that support him in the slide and enable him to slide without friction. I do not stop any horse hard without sliding plates!

The Exercise
To take the stop training to the next level, I ask my horse to trot (strong posting trot, not a jog) in a straight line anywhere in the arena.  I want him to be straight and to give to the bridle should I ask but my hands will always before I ask for a stop. All the previous exercises I have done  should make this easy to do but if he resists in any way, I try to correct as I trot. If he won’t correct, I drop back down to correct the problem. When he is trotting in a straight line, I ask him to stop with exactly the same signals I used in Vertical Flexion – hands down, change my body, say “whoa”. He’ll probably make an attempt to stop. If he stops very well, I rest him. If he does something I don’t like, I will not rest him but I won’t punish him either. There are several things I can do if I don’t like his stop (after he had come to a complete stop):
  1. Turn him off of one rein until he is soft and giving, then walk, then trot him off in a straight line again and repeat.
  2. Back him up until he gives to rein pressure. Then walk forward, trot off in a straight line and repeat.
  3. Correct the part of his body that is stiff e.g If he threw his hip to the right, I push it back inline or even exaggerate the correction!  
I do a lot of trot stops before I advance to a lope. The reasons for this are to keep his front end active and to perfect his body position.

Everyone who starts to rein can’t wait to experience the sliding stop – and with good reason! But, like the horse, the maneuver should be performed at a basic level at the beginning and advance slowly and gradually to that run-down-the-arena-as-fast-as-the-horse-can-go slide. That can take time but it's well worth the effort!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Finding the Postion of Comfort: Exercise Three

I have already talked about the importance of my horse responding to the outside rein – the “neck” rein. Although I do a major portion of early training with two hands on the reins, I never lose sight of the ultimate goal – a horse that is comfortable and can be guided with one hand. This exercise is another step toward that goal – it refines signals from the outside rein while continuing to tap into the horse’s comfort zone, thereby encouraging him to work for me.

My horse must already be thoroughly schooled in basic exercises and must be willing to be schooled before I introduce him to this exercise. The object is to ride a small square with square corners, the size of the square determined by the level of training of the horse. Beginner riders and green horses may have to ride a larger square just to give them time to accomplish each step.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Counter Canter to Lead Change

Definition of Lead: A lope is a three-beat gait. When the horse is loping in the right lead, the footfall pattern is left hind (beat one), right hind and left fore almost simultaneously (beat two), right fore (beat three). The right legs will be reaching the farthest forward and the horse is loping in the right lead.

Definition of Lead Change: A horse changes leads when he changes from one lead to the other lead between two strides in the air at a lope. That is, from right lead to left lead or vice-versa.

The counter canter is an excellent tool for teaching a horse to change leads because, again, I take advantage of his desire to be comfortable. He already knows how to lope in the lead of my choice but the counter canter is not as comfortable – a lead change will put him the lead that is most comfortable on a circle. Note: I do not practice counter canter forever and ever or he may learn it so well that he becomes too comfortable and doesn’t want to change!)