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.