Friday, September 13, 2013

Stop Fix #15: Longer Sliding Stops

The problem: The horse stops correctly but does not slide far.

Why does this problem happen?
1. The horse does not possess the conformation to hold a slide for a distance.
2. The horse "vees" and therefore has to pick up his feet. (See Stop Fix #10: Correct a "Vee" Slide)
3. The horse slides crooked (to the side) and therefore has to pick up is feet. (See Stop fix #9: Correct a Crooked Stop)
4. The horse is not confident enough to stay in the slide for a distance.
5. The ground is not conducive to long slides.
6. The horse is not shod correctly.
7. The rider is not assisting the horse to slide a distance.
8. The horse is not running fast enough to the stop to slide a distance.

 How to correct this problem:
1. If my horse is not built to stop long distances, I cannot expect him to.
2. If my horse "vees" when he stops, I correct that problem before I ask him to slide any great distance.
3. If my horse slides crooked, I correct the crookedness before I ask for long slides.
4. If my horse is frightened about stopping, I know I must re-establish trust before I ask for long slides.
5. I do not ask my horse to stop on poor ground. I go to good ground or correct the ground in my arena.
6. If there is a problem with my horse's sliders, I call my farrier.
7. I check myself (body posture, hands, etc) to make sure I am helping, not hindering my horse's stop.
8. If all of the above are correct, I will ask for more accelerated speed in the rundown to the stop. If my horse is not accustomed to stopping from a faster rundown, he may need time to adapt.

 Note: It is important to understand that the horse must learn to stop correctly and at slow speeds before he is asked to stop with the speed required to slide 30 feet or more!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Stop Fix #14: Correct "Scotching"

The problem: The horse anticipates a stop and "scotches" (repeatedly tries to stop) on the rundown. This results in a poor stop because the horse has slowed down before the stop and has lost the frame – his balance has shifted from back to front and he has lost the momentum for a nice slide.
Why does this problem happen? If my horse is trying to shut down all the way to the stop, it's for one of two reasons:
1. He has been stopped in the same spot too many times.
2. He has become sour about the rundown.
How to correct this problem: I lope a lot of straight lines end to end of the arena without stopping in schooling sessions, even more if I know my horse wants to scotch in the rundown to the stop. When he is running freely without thinking about stopping, then (and only then) I ask for a nice stop.
Another valuable exercise to correct this problem is fencing (See Exercise 2 in Stop Fix #1: Straighten the Rundown because "scotching" is a rundown problem and fencing fixes rundowns. This is how I do it: I run my horse all the way to the fence and let the fence stop him. If he tries to slow down in the rundown, I keep him running with my voice ("cluck"), body (ride!) and legs (bump) - firm but never harsh correction. (If I am too harsh, he will become afraid to stop.) Then I let him rest at the fence a minute, facing the fence. I repeat this, back and forth to the fence, until he goes all the way to the fence without trying to stop. Then I either let him rest a long time at the fence and repeat or I quit for the day.
Note: The value of a horse willingly increasing speed to a rundown is enormous. If he anticipates the stop and tries to stop on his own or if he slows down before a stop, his stop will be rough. When he accelerates, his balance is on his hind quarters and he is already in stopping position before he is asked to stop; if he scotches (slows down) his balance shifts to the front, he loses the momentum he needs for a nice slide and the stop will be bracey.
Note: It's important in schooling to find different places in the arena to stop because the horse remembers where he has stopped. Then he may anticipate and try to stop early.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Stop Fix #13: Accelerate to the Stop

The problem: The horse resists the rider's request to increase speed into the stop.
Why does this problem happen? Unless there is some physical reason the horse cannot accelerate to the stop, the only reason he doesn't is because he doesn't want to and doesn't respond when his rider asks. This happens because the horse has not been taught to accelerate when the rider asks or possibly because he has been stopped hard too much (he is sour).
How to correct this problem: If my horse does not accelerate in the rundown, the stop will be compromised. His stride will flatten and his weight will be more on the front, which means he will hit the ground hard when he stops. Although I don't want him running like a race horse (he might be thinking more of running than of stopping and ignore me), he must have some acceleration so his shoulders are elevated and his hind legs are well under him. In this position, he is capable of a nice long slide.
Exercise: Since the key to acceleration is to increase speed just a little every two or three strides in the rundown, I want to school my horse that way so that he responds when I ask in the show pen. One of the best ways to do this is to lope lots of straight lines with no stops in training sessions, sometimes asking for accelerated speed, sometimes not. I want my horse to begin to accelerate just a few strides into the rundown but I make sure he is collected and straight before I ask. Then I start riding deeper and deeper in the saddle all the way down the pen and let him run. (This is important – I must allow my horse to run if I am asking him to run!) If he does not increase speed with my body rhythm, I "cluck" to him and back it up with a bump with both legs if he does not respond to the "cluck". Of course I don't want my horse simply running with no collection and his head in the air. If that happens I will fix that first, asking him to give to the bridle and drive with his hind quarters (basic collection). If my horse has been well schooled, I can accomplish that in the first few strides of the rundown.
If I am consistent about this program, it will only take a "cluck" to remind him in the show pen. The object is for him to 1. Wait for me to ask and 2. Believe me when I ask.
Note: Every horse has an optimum acceleration at which he can stop. It's important to know how fast my horse should be running for a smooth, controlled stop. If the horse is not strong enough to stop from a powerful, fast rundown, asking him to do so will surely result in a trashed stop.
A good seat is important to a controlled, accelerated rundown. If I sit on "on my pockets" (not forward), with my shoulders squared and my rein hand forward riding every stride deeper and deeper, I will not only encourage a great rundown but will also be in a great position for the stop.
Note: One thing I see happen is the rider waiting too long to ask for acceleration into the stop. Half way down the pen is too far! As soon as my horse is collected and straight I ask him to increase speed – gradually! (See Stop Fix #3: Correct Break and Run Rundown if increasing speed gradually is a problem).

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stop Fix #12: Wait to be Asked

The problem: The horse executes a sliding stop but anticipates and initiates a rollback, which results in a downgraded maneuver score or even a zero score.
Why does this problem happen? If the horse rolls back after a stop without being asked once, I can attribute it to mental error. If he makes a habit of anticipating a rollback after a stop, it's time to correct the problem.
Note: A horse can catch a rider by surprise with an uncalled-for rollback. It's happened to me! Sometimes that happens because the rider has schooled stop/rollback too much just prior to the performance.
How to correct this problem: I do not want my horse to ever anticipate a rollback. From the beginning I train my horse to wait for me to ask – whatever the next maneuver is. That way I am always in control. I do not "practice" rollbacks much either. He knows all the parts anyway and if he is responding only to my requests, he will have no difficulty executing pretty rollbacks in the pen.
Exercise: If my horse is a little too anxious to roll back after I stop him, I school him like this: Anywhere in the arena (up and down the arena or diagonal), I run him down and stop him. After he stops, I don’t release my body aid. That tells him to be prepared for something else and that he should wait to hear what I want! (My hands will clear that up for him.) I might back him up and then rollback either left or right (not necessarily the direction my horse thinks it will be). Then I switch it up – lots! Sometimes I stop, back up and rollback to right: sometimes I stop, back up and rollback to the left; sometimes I stop, hesitate a long time, rollback; sometimes I stop back up and relax; sometimes I just stop and rest.
Note: Stop/back up/rollback is never included in a pattern but that doesn't matter – this is about schooling my horse to wait to be asked. Backing up before a rollback (in schooling) gives me a chance to align his body if it is not aligned in the stop as well. I can make sure everything is correct before I ask for a rollback.
My horses pick this up very fast. When they do, it's a great feeling – almost a game – mixing it up and feeling my horse waiting for my signal for the next maneuver after the stop.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Stop Fix #11: No Skipping!

The problem: The horse begins stop correctly, but does not stay in the slide. He picks hind legs up and puts them down again like a stone skipping on water.
Why does this problem happen? Probably the number one reason a horse skips in the slide is the rider. If the rider's timing is not good or unsure, the horse's timing will not be either. The horse feels "stop, don't stop, stop, don't stop, etc" and so that's how he slides – in the ground, out of the ground, etc. If the rider gets ahead of his horse and then throws his shoulders back with one sudden movement for the stop, the horse may skip as well.
Skipping may occur if the horse is not confident enough to commit to the ground or if he is not capable of staying in the ground when the stop is approached with great speed. (I once saw a "longest slide" contest at a reining show and many of the horses skipped because the riders, trying to win the contest, had asked with maximum speed.)
How to correct this problem: If I, the rider, am causing the problem, I can correct that. I don't want to ride forward in the rundown and suddenly throw my shoulders back when I want to stop. I do want my shoulders to be behind the motion in the rundown and when I prepare to stop so my horse is running out ahead of me. If I ride every stride, getting deeper and deeper in the saddle in the rundown, then all I need to do is push into the stirrups, sit down, lock my back and say "whoa".
If I can find nothing wrong with my position and my horse still skips, I must slow things down and review his basic training. All the basic requirements for a correct rundown and a correct approach to the stop come into play – straight and soft in the rundown, wants to stop, will stop without rein pressure, will accept rein pressure if needed – to achieve a sliding stop with no skipping. If these things are not solid, I school my horse until they are. Then my job, as the rider, is to deliver a very clear, consistent message to my horse for the stop. If I believe, he will.
Another exercise that may help is fencing (See explanation of fencing in Stop Fix #1: Straighten the Rundown) because it can teach the horse to break at the loin and become more committed to the stop.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Stop Fix #10: Correct a "Vee" Slide

The problem: The horse's hind legs spread wider as he slides, creating a “vee” until he picks up one foot to regain balance.
Why does this problem happen? The reasons a horse's hind legs spread when he slides are:
1. Conformation
2. Shoeing
3. The horse stops too hard.
Example of "Vee" Slide
How to correct this problem: The first thing I consider if a horse slides a "vee" is his conformation. If his hind legs/feet point to the outside (toe out) then that is surely where his legs will go in a slide. They will start to spread as soon as he sits down for the slide and the longer the slide, the more they will spread until he has to come out of the slide to bring them back together. This kind of horse can be helped by a good farrier turning the sliding plate a little to the inside on the foot (straight with the world). Corrective shoeing may be all it takes to correct the problem!
The other thing to consider if a horse "vees" in the slide is the inside muscle of the hind legs. Good inside muscling holds the horse straight in the slide; conversely, poor muscling in that area can allow the legs to spread.
If the horse's conformation is all right and the sliders are properly positioned and he still slides a "vee", I work on getting the horse to 'soften' his stop. He may be going to the ground so hard that his hind legs spread.
Exercise: I don't stop at speed until I correct the problem at slower speeds. I may not go back to a trot/stop (depending on how deviated the mistake is), but I need to at least go back to stopping at a collected lope and then work up to big stops with speed.
As a rider, I must also be very aware of the signals I give to my horse when I want him to stop. Am I possibly sitting down too hard?
Is the ground good? If it is too slippery or too deep, it could make the problem worse.
There is a mental aspect to this problem, too, so if the horse is not relaxed about his work, I work on that. I must be relaxed as well if I want him to soften his approach to the ground, and very consistent with my rider aids. If he is a good stopping horse (wants to stop, built to stop and tries hard), he already likes his work. I just want him to mellow a bit. This horse (as opposed to the one who doesn't want to stop) has the confidence to stop. I don't want to take that away but I want to encourage him to "enjoy the slide". I want to show him that he does not have to complete the stop in ten feet.
Note: A horse will not ever be able to slide 30 feet if he "vees" and even if he picks up a foot and goes back into the slide, the maneuver will be downgraded.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stop Fix #9: Correct a Crooked Stop

The problem: The horse’s hind quarters slide to the side when he stops.
Why does this problem happen? This is an alignment problem originating in the horse's shoulder. If his shoulder bulges, his hind quarters may slide to the side when he stops because he is trying to compensate. He swings his hips off the straight line in the slide, often picking up the outside hind leg as the weight comes off of it. Also, if a horse stops crooked like this, it's going to affect the next maneuver as well – the roll back or back up. He is not in a good position to execute either one well.
A horse is more likely to be out of alignment in the stop and to stop crooked if his withers are lower than his hips, a problem often seen in immature horses i.e. three year olds. Sometimes a horse will not even try to stop if he is built like this because he is hurting!
A crooked stop can also be a confidence thing going to the fence. If the horse is worried about hitting the fence, he might come out of alignment, push his shoulder out and stop crooked.
How to correct this problem: If my horse swings his hind quarters to one side or the other when he stops (as opposed to his whole body being crooked), I check him first for soreness or alignment problems. (A good equine therapist can help me here.)
If my horse is well-schooled in all the basics, I can help him, too, by riding him straight (correcting any alignment problems) and riding him into position. The more correct my horse is in the rundown and the stop, the less likely he is to slide crooked. I want his neck to be low (because if he raises it, his back will hollow and he will not be able to use his hind quarters effectively) and every part of his body in a line (because if it isn't, the crookedness is magnified when he stops!
Exercise: I review the basic stop at a trot and lope, paying particular attention to what he does with his hind quarters. If he slides to the side, I wait until he is completely stopped and then I correct him. Example: He stops and throws his hip to the right (his shoulder may be to the left). When he has ceased all motion, I re-align his left shoulder and push his hip back to center with my left leg so he is aligned; then I rest. I must do that every time he stops and swings a hip out. This simple exercise may help the problem although it does not substitute for a perfectly aligned rundown to a perfectly aligned stop. I had a chance to test this correction many years ago. A gelding came to me who moved his hindquarters to the side every time he stopped. Every time he did, I moved the hindquarters back and rested. I knew I was winning when he stopped with his hindquarters to the side but moved back to straight before I corrected. I showed him for a few years and he never did it again.
If the problem surfaces while fencing the horse (Stop Fix #1: Straighten the Rundown), I lope back and forth to the fence many, many times until he relaxes and his hips align with the rest of his body.
The crooked stop probably starts in the rundown if the horse is "crabbing" – running straight but with a crooked body (right hind falling on left front). If he approaches a stop like this, the stop is going to be crooked.
Note: If the horse is young, he may grow out of this problem as his body matures and he grows more withers.
Example of horse stopping crooked.
Example of crooked stop. Note the right shoulder pushing out.
Example of a nice, straight sliding stop.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stop Fix #8: Commit to the Ground

The problem: The horse does not "commit" to the stop (ground). He’s tentative about locking his hind legs in a stop position, sliding, and staying in the slide.
Why does this problem happen? A horse may not commit to the ground for any one (or all) of the following reasons:
  1. He does not have the conformation to stop.
  2. He is sore.
  3. He is not confident.
 How to correct this problem: This problem is similar to, but not the same as Stop Fix #4: Instill the Desire to Stop, which deals with the horse that shows no interest in stopping. In this case, though, the horse tries to stop but is not committed and therefore the slightest thing can cause him to come out of the slide. If I am training a horse with this problem, I consider the following factors:
  1. Is the horse built to do the job? (See notes on conformation in Stop Fix #4: Instill the Desire to Stop). If he is not, it will be hard for him and in fact may hurt him. I do not try to make a reiner out of this horse and ask for only easy stops from slow gaits.
  2. Is the horse sore? If he is, then I know why he won’t commit himself to a hard stop – because it hurts! I postpone schooling until he is sound.
  3. Is the horse frightened in some way – a bad stop (Example: Hind quarters sliding out of control on ground that is too slick) or an abusive rider. Maybe he is just not "brave". If either of these two issues is the problem, I can help him a great deal by establishing trust and confidence.
It’s absolutely necessary to return to basic training with a horse like this. He needs a slow, step-by-step program to relax, re-focus and trust. Every basic exercise – lateral and vertical flexion, leg yielding and collection at all gaits – will increase his confidence just because he relaxes. I review these exercises thoroughly, at all times building relaxation and confidence in the program. Then I re-introduce the stop.
The two elements of success if I am to “fix” a horse that does not commit to the ground are:
  1. Good sliding ground (See notes in Stop Fix #4: Instill the Desire to Stop)
  2. Keeping the horse’s confidence at a high level.
Exercise 1: I start right at the beginning of stop training with trot/stop as in Stop Fix #5: Stop Without Rein Contact with one exception. After he tries to stop, however badly, I back him up a few steps, thereby transferring his weight over his hind legs. After many repetitions, he will think he's going to be backed up and will begin to back voluntarily, which transfers his weight over his hind quarters putting him in a great position to for stops. So much of this problem is mental (he does not trust himself to lock those hind legs and stay there for whatever reason) that schooling exercises must be under the guidance of a wise and patient trainer. It’s more about the training program than anything else (providing he has the conformation and is not sore). With some horses, especially young ones, one incident can destroy confidence and it can be a long time getting it back.

Exercise 2: Fencing (See Stop Fix #1: Straighten the Rundown) Although fencing is primarily a rundown exercise, it can be useful to help a horse break at the loins and stop deeper. For the exercise to be effective, I lope as "long" as I possibly can to the fence, building speed, so the fence stops him. A word of caution though. If the horse's confidence is at low level, he may not be comfortable going in to the fence OR he may be more comfortable with no pressure from the rider.  It's up to me to make the right decision for schooling.
It’s vitally important to be super consistent with my aids if I am to help this horse commit to the ground, to be confident in my program (so he will be!) and to be assertive (but never aggressive) with my hands. If he is scared, I will only be reinforcing what he believes already – that he does not want to commit to the ground.
Note: I don’t underestimate the value of positive thinking as well. As a rider, I can certainly help him with his problem. I want to ride to the stop with confidence, and then sit down like I believe he is going to. Chances are, if we have done our homework, he will drop his butt in the ground and commit!

Example of horse fully committed to the ground.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stop Fix #7: Keep Front Legs Active

The problem: The horse braces with his front legs when he stops instead of trotting in the front, creating a rough, unattractive stop.
Why does this problem happen? The reason a horse does not keep his front end active when he stops is either because he has not learned to stop that way or he has just not had enough basic training before being asked for big stops. If he is not soft in the bridle (See Stay Soft in Bridle in Rundown and Stay Soft in Bridle in Stop), he may open his mouth and brace everything in his body – front legs, neck, shoulders and back. He straightens his front legs instead of allowing himself to stay loose and trot while the hind quarters are sliding. This may also happen if the rider does not allow the horse much, if any, forward motion in the stop by pulling him down hard or if the horse is scared.
How to correct this problem: If the horse has been frightened, he must regain confidence to perform. He is probably also not soft and giving in the bridle and basic, consistent, kind training is the only tool to establish relaxation and trust and begin the long road back to mental health. The surest way to trash good stops are to scare the horse.
If the horse is not worried about stopping but still jars his rider with straight, stiff front legs, he can learn a better way but the problem cannot be fixed at speed. Because the front legs are actually trotting when the hind quarters are sliding, re-schooling should begin at a trot to encourage the horse to allow himself to trot in to and through the slide.
Exercise: All the preparation rules apply – a straight, soft-in-the-bridle approach to the stop. If he is not straight or giving to my hands or legs, then I must correct that first with basic exercises before I school the stop.
I trot my horse off in a straight line anywhere in the arena and ask him to stop in the usual way – first with body aid, then voice aid – but then, with one rein, I bend him in a circle (basic lateral flexion), until he is soft and giving. I settle him, trot off again and repeat the exercise but this time I turn him in the opposite direction. I repeat several times, alternating reins every time. Finally, I just ask him to stop. If his front legs keep trotting, I rest him; if he stops with stiff front legs, I turn him with one rein. When he’s consistent and relaxed trotting to the stop and through the stop, I repeat the exercise at a lope and finally with speed.
Note: I am not concerned with a slide at this point, especially at a trot.
The rider can help free up his horse's front end considerably by:
1. Allowing forward motion (not pulling).
2. Looking up and way beyond the point he wants to stop in the rundown.
3. “Fixing” any straightness or softness problems in the rundown.
An excellent example of a horse staying active in front.
Note: I do not throw my body back to stop, which will surely cause a sudden reaction and possibly stiff front legs. Instead, I step into the stirrups, sit down rather than back, and “square” my shoulders. In this way, I can keep riding my horse’s hind quarters into the stop, which allows his front end to keep moving.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stop Fix #6: Stay Soft in Bridle in Stop

The problem: The horse stiffens his jaw going in to and throughout the stop.
Why does this problem happen? The horse is not soft in the bridle while stopping because he has not learned to respect the bridle or he braces because he is scared.
How to correct this problem: A horse can be stiff in the jaw whether the rider has contact with his mouth or not. Either way, it affects the stop – negatively. When he is not soft and giving in the bridle, his poll, neck, shoulders and front end are stiff as well, which results in hollowing the back so he cannot use his loins, stifles and hocks to stop. It can look quite ugly and will not score well.
The first thing I would check if my horse is not soft in the bridle is the bit. Is it too much bit and he is scared? I might change bits for a while, even go back to a snaffle to help him get his confidence back. If it is a matter of respecting the bit and the training program, I will have to school, beginning at a basic level and working my up.
Staying soft in the bridle in the stop begins in the rundown. If the horse is bracey in the rundown (See Stop Fix #2: Stay Soft in Bridle in Rundown), he will still be that way when he stops. Even if there’s no contact with his mouth, the stiffness in his body will result in a heavy, bouncy stop. The heaviness that begins in his mouth runs all the way back. He won’t be able to use his back, loins, stifles or hocks to achieve an effortless, smooth stop. If it’s necessary to apply rein pressure to help him stop, the problem gets worse because he will have something to brace against.
The only way to fix this problem is to re-school basics, concentrating on establishing true lateral and vertical flexion and collection in circles and straight lines and establishing confidence (the horse’s) at those levels. I break it right down to one rein (lateral flexion), checking that my horse is truly ‘giving’ to rein pressure and that I am releasing that rein pressure when he gives – very important! I can do this at a walk and at a jog until I am confident that he is willing and relaxed. Then I can ask for vertical flexion (both reins) and collection at a jog, trot and lope. At first I do this exercise in a circle, then straight lines, repeatedly asking my horse to collect, first with leg pressure then rein pressure. My responsibility is to reward him when he complies – with release of pressure. Soon he will be soft in the bridle and I can go back to rundowns and stops. If he has a déjà vous moment in the rundown or stop (and he probably will!), I may have to re-enforce the lesson. When I school though, it is important that I always fix the problem when it happens. If that means dropping back down to basic level, then that’s what I will do. Eventually he will understand that he needs to stay soft all the time – warm-ups, rundowns and stops – if I am consistent with my corrections.
Example of horse soft in bridle without contact
Example horse soft in bridle with contact
When a horse goes in to a stop with his jaw relaxed (soft in the bridle) with no rein contact, he presents a pretty picture to the judge. If the rider must pick up the reins (because of deep ground or other) to finish the stop and the horse stays soft in the bridle, there is no harm done at all. He still presents that pretty picture.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Stop Fix #5: Stop Without Rein Contact

The problem: The horse will stop only if rider applies rein pressure.
Why does this problem happen? The reason a horse needs rein contact to stop (anything from firm contact to a hard pull) is simple – he has not been taught anything different!
How to correct this problem:
Ideally, for the stop that looks the best to the judge, the horse should stop with the rider’s hand low (no rein contact). In other words, he should respond to rider aids other than rein pressure for a deep, sliding stop. This can only be accomplished if he has been trained that way – by asking first with seat and voice and using reins only for a back-up plan.
From the very beginning of training, I use a sequence of aids to teach my horses to stop without any contact with their mouth. I re-enforce this every day with every horse and if I encounter a problem at a higher level or with a damaged horse, I spend even more time teaching this sequence of aids. The exercise is the same whether the horse is young and learning to stop or seasoned with problems that need correcting.

Exercise: At a long trot, I head out in straight line anywhere in the arena (diagonal is good) with my hands low. When I am confident the horse is straight (See Stop Fix #1: Straighten the Rundown), I ask him to stop, first by changing my body position from the center of balance to behind the center of balance (step forward in to the stirrups, sit down and lock the small of my back, square shoulders) without moving my hands from the low position. Still with hands low, I say “whoa” (a nice long, low “whoa”). Whether he stops or not (and he probably won’t if he’s waiting for my hands to move), I wait (count to ‘two’) with my body still in stop position. Then I slowly pick up both reins and apply pressure until he gives to the bridle and backs up a step or two, at which time I release rein pressure, relax my body and allow him to rest for a few seconds or longer. Note: Backing off the bridle accomplishes two things – asking him to give to the bridle (which is part of the stop) and a correction if he does not stop. If he does not give to the bridle when I back him, I turn him off one rein instead of resting, straighten him, trot off in a new direction and repeat. When he does not resist the exercise, I ask for a stop with only my body and voice and if he does (the ultimate goal – stop with no rein contact), I don’t back him. If rider’s aids are consistent, almost every horse will stop without rein contact in only a few repetitions.
Although I prefer that my horses stop without rein contact, I school my horses to stop with any one of the stop signals – body, voice or hands. It changes up the exercise and insures that he is tuned to any one of the aids.
Note: Ground conditions vary from show to show and sometimes it’s necessary to pick up on the reins to help a horse stay in the ground (If the ground is very heavy or deep). If that happens, I want him to respond willingly to the pressure on the bit. I always ask for the stop with body and voice but am prepared to add rein pressure if needed.
Example of horse stopping without rein contact

Monday, February 18, 2013

Stop Fix #4: Instill the Desire to Stop

The problem: The horse makes no effort to stop when asked – he does not want to stop.
Why does this problem happen? If a horse does not mentally ‘want’ to stop, he will not try to stop. There are several reasons this might happen.
Note: Although all horses are not capable of long, deep sliding stops, all horses can learn to want to stop correctly and even slide two or three feet.
If horse will not try to stop from a trot or slow lope:
1. He is sore.
2. He is scared to stop.
3. The ground is “sticky” (This applies more to harder stops)
4. He is not asked to stop with clear, consistent signals.
If horse is willing to slow-lope stop but will not try long, sliding stops:
1. He is sore.
2. He does not have the ability to perform hard stops.
3. He is scared.
4. He is not shod correctly.
5. The ground is poor.
6. He is not asked to stop with clear, consistent signals from his rider.
How to correct this problem: 
1. Is he sore?
Yes? If the horse is sore, he won’t want to stop. Abort training until he is sound.
No? Look for another reason.
2. Does he have the conformation to stop?
No? If the horse is not built to stop, he can’t do the job! Consider another discipline.
Yes? Look for another reason.
Note: Conformation for good stops: 1. Strong back (short) and loins. 2. Strong hind quarters with feet that point straight ahead 3. Long sloped hip 4. Low hocks 5. Good withers (not lower than hip) 6. Balanced 7. Athletic
3. Is he mentally prepared to be schooled to stop? If the horse is mentally prepared, he has been trained by slow step-by-step progressive training prior to intense stop training. He has not been frightened by abusive training methods. Forcing a horse to stop simply does not work to achieve the ultimate goal - long, correct, pretty stops that score well in the show pen.
4. Is he shod correctly? A horse must have sliding plates to learn to slide – tempered flat bar iron at least one inch wide. Nail heads should be countersunk or filed off to reduce friction and the toe rolled (front quarter of shoe curved up). The sides of the sliding plate should come almost straight back to allow dirt to flow out the back and the trailers should extend back to the bulbs of the foot to protect the bulbs when he slides.
Note: I ask my farrier to trim the foot naturally (same angle as pastern). When I start my horses stopping, I usually use a narrower sliding plate until he gets used to the feel. I might also let him wear the nails down himself on his first set of sliders so he doesn’t scare himself.
5. Is the ground suitable for sliding stops?
No? If the ground is wet, sticky or too deep, postpone hard stops until another day and better ground.
Note: Although I can school my horse to stop at a walk and jog on ground unsuitable for true “sliding stops”, deep, hard stops should not be tried on anything but good stopping ground.
Yes? If the ground is good (firm base with 2-3 inches of light sand on top) and the horse has passed all of the above criteria but still does not ‘want’ to stop, the rider can help with some simple exercises and a lot of time and patience.
6. Clear, consistent rider aids – There are two categories of horses that do not ‘want’ to stop – horses that have not been trained with clear, consistent rider aids and horses that are scared to stop (poor ground, soreness, rider abuse). Both need the same thing – basic training to build confidence. If the horse is sound, is built to stop, is not scared, has correct sliding plates on and good ground to slide on, I can start building his confidence and hopefully, his desire to stop.
Exercise: If I encourage my horse to like to stop, he will try to stop. Everything about stop training is about making it a pleasant experience (even more important if the horse has already learned to hate stopping).
From the beginning, I teach my horses that “whoa” is a very nice word. The way I do that is to rest him after he stops. If he doesn’t stop, the only correction he gets is to repeat the exercise. If the horse has been “punished” for not stopping or not stopping correctly, he learns to hate “whoa” and the exercise. Naturally, all stops are not good but when my horse does not stop well, the correction is “no reward (i.e. rest)”. Instead, I do it again. If necessary, I lower the level of the maneuver to get a good stop so I can reward him. I do the same thing with a scared horse that doesn’t try to stop (prior abuse, poor ground or sore) but with that horse, there is a huge trust issue. I must teach him to trust himself and me so that he wants to stop again. Almost certainly this will have to be done at a lower level, a trot even. A horse will not want to stop if the task has become unpleasant or hurtful. It can be very difficult, but not impossible with a good rider, to rehabilitate a horse that has been mentally hurt.
I prefer horses that are born with a desire to stop and most of the horses I train now fit in this category.  It’s up to me not to damage that desire.
This horse is demonstrating how much she loves to stop!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stop Fix #3: Correct 'Break and Run' Rundown

The problem: Instead of gradually building speed in the rundown to the stop, the horse goes from collected lope to flat out run in a couple of strides.

Why does this problem happen? This sudden burst of speed into the stop may be caused by one of two things:
1. The rider initiates the sudden acceleration.
2. The horse, because he knows he will be running hard to the stop, ‘breaks and runs’ on his own.

How to correct this problem:
1. If it is a rider problem: If the horse’s burst of speed is only in response to the rider asking that way, it will be easier to correct but the rider must first be “aware” of how he asks his horse to run to the stop. He may be thinking too much about running hard instead of gradually building speed. Running too fast doesn’t necessarily make for a great stop anyway. It’s more about the quality of the speed than the speed itself. The judge wants to see a controlled rundown with a gradual increase in speed, which in fact will lead to a nice stop and will earn a nice score.

When I round the corner for a stop in the show pen, I think first about two things – straightening my horse for the rundown and checking that he is soft in the bridle. (If I schooled him well, my horse will readily comply.) With that established, I ask for a little more speed every two or three strides (not all at once!) to the stop. If I slow lope until the center then ask for a big burst of speed to the stop, I have lost control of the rundown. He may flatten out because he is no longer building speed and the stop is not good. Worse than that, I will have created a problem for my horse who will now think that it’s the way it’s done.

2. If the horse has learned to break and run: This can be a difficult habit to correct and the work starts at home with lots and lots of schooling on the problem.

Any time my horse feels like he’s making the decisions in a rundown, I correct. If he speeds up and I haven’t asked him to, I bring him back down to a walk. I don’t jerk him or scare him in any way. I just ask him to give to the rein pressure and as soon as he does, I release the pressure and try again. If he does not give to the bridle at a walk, I keep the pressure on (changing my body aids) until he backs up and gives. A variation of this exercise is half-passing to a walk when I feel that burst of energy by slowly increasing rein contact and leg pressure into a half-pass position (head and hindquarters yielding the same way) until he walks. When he walks and relaxes into the half-pass, I release hand and leg aids. Then I ask for a lope and a rundown again, repeating the correction if necessary. This exercise works very well but the rider must be able to execute the half-pass to be effective.

Sometimes I might lope slow all the way down and not stop, sometimes I might build speed and not stop, sometimes I lope slow and stop, sometimes I build speed and stop. It’s important to vary to keep my horses guessing and avoid anticipation.

If ‘breaking and running’ is a show pen problem only, I take him to schooling shows and school or blow a class to correct him in competition. It’s very important to get the control back in the rider’s court.

This is an example of a horse running to the stop under control and building speed, not ‘breaking and running’ to the stop.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Stop Fix #2: Stay Soft in the Bridle in Rundown

The problem: Horse raises his head and pulls on the bit in the rundown to the stop or when the rider applies rein pressure for control in the rundown.

Why does this problem happen? There are two reasons a horse raises his head running down to the stop:
1. The rider has not asked him to collect and give to the bridle.
2. The horse is not accepting aids for collection.

A rundown should begin with a horse in a collected, balanced, straight frame in complete control and stay that way when the rider asks for speed and to the stop. That speed should be initiated by the rider, not the horse! In order to do that, the horse needs to be soft and giving in the bridle from the beginning of the rundown to the stop. If his head is too high, his back will be hollow and he will not be able to use his hind quarters effectively for either the rundown or the stop. If he resists rein pressure when the rider asks for collection, the problem gets worse.

How to correct this problem: A horse must stay soft in the bridle in a rundown to achieve a nice sliding stop even though the rider may not be applying rein pressure. In other words, even though there is no rein contact with the horse’s mouth, the horse stays soft as if there is. I check often when schooling – Is my horse there for me? Is he listening? Is he soft? I know it's all correct when my horse is light in my hands and between the reins (straight). Then there's nothing left to do but drive him forward with my legs to the stop.

If my horse raises his head into the bridle in a rundown, I know the next step is a runaway. If, when I ask him to come back (give to rein aid) to me, he pulls on my hands and doesn’t give to the pressure, I know I have to go back to basics, especially vertical flexion and collection. I go back to circles until he consistently collects at a lope and then incorporate straight lines into the program as in Stop Fix #1: Straighten the Rundown.  Finally, I go back to rundowns into stops. If I have done my homework, my horse will have learned to stay soft in the bridle as he runs to the stops.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stop Fix #1: Straighten the Rundown

The problem: Horse does not run straight to the stop (rundown).

Why does this problem happen? If a horse is not staying straight running to his stops, he has not learned to align his body or the rider is not sending him down straight.

How to correct this problem: If my horse is weaving down the arena when I’m asking him to run straight, I don’t do much stopping until I fix that because stops are all about the rundown. Straight rundown, straight stop. Crooked rundown, crooked stop.

First I want to be confident that my horse is well schooled in basics – give to the reins, give to the legs – so I know I can correct his mistakes. If he is responsive to leg and rein aids, I can fix the rundown.

Exercise 1: I lope straight down one side of the arena (off the rail), around the end, straight down the other side of the arena (off the rail), around the end, etc several times, collecting around the ends and encouraging my horse to run straight lines down the sides. I will probably have two hands on the reins at first with my hands low, wide and in front of the saddle to run the straight lines. If he veers right or left, I correct him like this: When I feel him pushing a shoulder and/or rib out, I lift (not pull) the rein on that side and back it up with leg pressure (or a bump) on the same side until he aligns again. Then I put my hand down. Every time he lets his body drift to one side or the other, I correct but I don’t hold him in line. I want him to be between my reins while I push him forward with my legs and seat.

Note: I would not do this exercise loping around the ends of the arena with a horse that anticipates a stop every time he lopes around the end. Instead, I use the next exercise, correcting alignment mistakes as above.

Exercise 2: Fencing! There is probably no better exercise for straightening the rundown than fencing but the exercise and its purpose is often misunderstood. Read on…

What is fencing? "Fencing" is an exercise whereby the rider lopes his horse in a straight line from one end fence of the arena to the other end fence of the arena.

Why fence a reining horse? I fence my reining horses to improve the rundown – for straightness, gradual acceleration and to teach them to wait for cues.

How I "fence" a reining horse: I stand my horse at the fence on one end of the arena with his hindquarters at the fence. He should be absolutely straight and I should be looking straight down the arena at a point the same distance from the wall on the other end that I am on this end. If he is not relaxed, I stay there until he is. Next, I ask him to lower his neck, depart at a lope in the lead of my choice (another topic) and lope in a straight line all the way to the other end, at all times staying aware of his body alignment. If he veers right or left, I correct him as in the previous exercise.  I want to have all the correcting done by the time I near the fence so I can lower my hand to his neck, sit down for the stop and let the fence stop him. I don't wait until my horse is right at the fence to ask for the stop but I don't want to be too far away either (a mistake that many new reiners make). If I am a long way back from the fence, I have partially defeated the purpose of the exercise – to run all the way to the fence!

I do not usually say "whoa" at the fence – I want the fence to stop him. (The exception to that is if I have added a lot of speed to the rundown and therefore ask for the stop earlier.) If my horse stops crooked at the fence, I straighten him (with legs and/or hands) and then let him rest a few seconds or longer facing the fence. If he stops straight, I rest him. Then I turn him around, straighten him if needed, collect him and lope off (in the lead of my choice again…) to the fence at the other end.

My horse should never crash into the fence – that is not good fencing!

Note: If my horse has not been fenced before, I start the fencing exercise at a trot until he is comfortable with the fence stopping him at that gait. At a lope, his rundown may be quite crooked the first times, especially as I near the fence. I understand – he is a little confused – so I might allow him to break down to a trot. I still try to keep him straight but I don't want to scare him. It doesn't take long at all until he is comfortable loping to the fence if I don't force the issue at first and let him find out that there is a rest (reward) at the fence.

After my horse has learned to lope a straight line fence to fence, I add speed to the rundown. The added speed may magnify little problems, like crookedness or anticipation, so I can correct. I also switch it up lots – sometimes I lope to the fence, sometimes I build speed to the fence, sometimes I pull him down to a walk and walk to the fence and sometimes I just walk the entire line. It's important, too, to alternate leads in the rundown.

Note: I don't overdo fencing or any stopping exercise for that matter. Although my reining horses need to stop enough to build up their muscles, repeatedly stopping often results in the horse making mistakes. I quit on a nice stop (for the level of training) and go back to the barn with a happy horse.

Exercise 3: If the horse is persistent about running crooked, I try this: When his shoulder bulges (causing him to be out of alignment), I steer him in the opposite direction with both reins and outside leg. Example: If he is veering right, I steer him to the left with both reins to the left and right leg pressure – an exaggeration of the correction.

Any time I feel my horse running crooked to a stop in a schooling session, I fix it, even if I have planned a big stop! If I fix the crooked rundown problem, the stop will improve a whole bunch – just because the rundown did!

The goal of a good rundown is a good stop and the best stops are those where the horse’s body is perfectly aligned and in balance; therefore his body must be aligned and balanced in the rundown. A sliding stop is only as good as the rundown to the stop.

Note: When a horse can stay straight, he is better in all maneuvers! A straight horse is a balanced horse!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Spin Fixes is an EBook!

Just released! Spin Fixes in Kindle format for computer, smart phones, pads and Kindle readers! Two day introductory offer - download free January 12-13, 2013 at This link is for If you live in another country, find the Amazon site in your country to purchase.
( You will need the reader for this. If you don't already have the Kindle reader for your device of choice you can download free on Amazon Kindle)

Spin Fixes is a reference manual for riders of reining horses. Fifteen common spin problems are listed with a clear explanation of each problem and detailed solutions. It is the goal of the author to give riders the tools to help their horses achieve a higher level of  performance. If a rider does not have access to or cannot afford a coach, the Kindle edition of Spin Fixes can offer immediate help - in the arena, at the show or at home. If his horse having a problem with a spin, he can bring up Spin Fixes on his smart phone or pad, find on the appropriate chapter, read the exercise (possibly while still sitting on his horse) and improve the maneuver.

Several photos are included and a quick reference included for ease of use.

Spin Fixes is the first of a series of Handbooks for Reiners. The second in the series is Stop Fixes, to be released spring 2013.

Amazon requires that the content of this book not be made available in digital format while enrolled in KDP Select. Therefore I have removed most of the previous posts titled, "Spin Fixes" until this book is out of KDP program. I have left the last post, Spin Fix #14: Eliminate Freeze Up, as a sample of what is in the book.

The good news is that you can get all the information and it will be at your finger tips any where, any time by downloading this ebook. It's free until Sunday at midnight at the above link. Happy spinning!