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.

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