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.

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