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

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