By Al Dunning
|photo credit Charles Brooks|
My five basics are go forward willingly, turn both directions smoothly, develop stops, the importance of backing and true collection. It was simple to develop my five basics when I thought of when a foal is born. They are gathered up and haltered and led to go forward. When forward motion is accomplished, usually we teach them to turn and follow our direction of the pull. Through this process, we are always working on stopping when requested. As horses are advanced, the back up builds in collection, aids in correct frame with the horse giving to the bridle properly, and reinforces many other maneuvers we do on a daily basis. Collection was my fifth factor, encompassing leg control, lateral movement, isolating parts to help functionality of maneuvers and many other things.
After your horse goes forward willingly and turns in both directions smoothly, it’s time to work on the stop. We begin to reinforce the stop with colts by pulling the head around to teach the horse to relinquish its forward motion. As we advance into preparations for riding the word “whoa” becomes a necessary aspect of stopping.
It’s important that the process of teaching a horse to stop begins early for your colt. They should learn to give and stop while listening to the command “whoa”. If this process was too rough or missed, it is much more difficult to reclaim the mental aspect of these commands. I know for a fact that without the proper foundation, the task of molding a horse into a very utilitarian individual with a high degree of “reinablilty” is much more difficult. Thus, when you start a horse from the very beginning, teach the word “whoa” even with a halter on a baby. Don’t be rough; release when the request is granted and reward by letting them stand. This process should continue all the way through a horse’s training, even as a finished horse. If you do it right, you won’t have problems. If you do it wrong or miss that part, your task will be much more trying.
I do a lot of groundwork to teach my stops properly. Bending, backing on the ground, ground driving, supplementing the word “whoa”, combined are all components of what is to come. One of my methods is to lunge horses in the round pen as pre-saddling conditioning, saying “whoa” each time I request them to stop or reverse directions. When we finally ride the horse, we do the same using the word “whoa” and pulling one rein to avert forward motion. Many years ago, I learned from my mentors about how important it was to pull a single rein to stop the horse’s forward motion. This made sense because it never gave the horse a chance to brace, throw their head or stiffen their body to run off. It also seems to develop a smooth pull that is consistent with a good mouth on your horse. The process of teaching your horse to stop goes on and on through the process until the horse’s career direction is determined, whether he should stop like a rope horse, slide like a reiner, or merely rate his speed as many other jobs call for.
Most of the time when I work on the stop I initially work with a snaffle bit – either a ring or D ring with a smooth mouthpiece. I’ve always had the concept that using less bit and more technique is more successful than more bit and intimidation. This develops consistency and willingness with your horse. When on their back, I do a lot of bending to direct their feet out of a straight line into a thought of no more forward motion. You can use the fence as a barrier to help aid your pull or you can do what is called “doubling” which is reach down the rein and smoothly pull to your hip until forward motion is ceased. A factor not to be discounted is the amount of pressure and quickness of your pull. You should reach down the rein, get the slack out and pull smoothly with some jiggle or feel to your hand telling the neck to bend, the poll to flex, and the jaw to give. If you pull quick or with a long rein, the horse has a tendency to brace, stiffening all the way from the occipital crest down the entire spine to the dock of the tail. Horses that stiffen then will ignite the fight or flight instinct and will set your training back rather than moving it forward. The key to a stop is getting a horse to give their jaw, poll, and lift their shoulders while using a shift of weight to the hind end to accomplish the task. Good horses will stop like an accordion - giving their poll, lifting their withers, rounding their loin, and driving their hindquarters into the ground. To finish my idea on pulling the reins, initially I pick up one to balance that side of the mouth and then I pull the other rein, in what I call an offset pull, not allowing the horse to root their jaw forward into the bridle or throw their head. If I have any difficulty I pull the horse in a circle smoothly, again working on their flexibility.
One talent that you must develop to be a good “stopper” is to feel the down stride of the horse and allow your hands to go with it slightly. I initiate the stop when the front feet come to the ground. To allow the horse the proper timing to hit, lift and be able to drive their hindquarters. Timing needs to be impeccable to derive an outstanding stop. Mistiming causes a horse to land on their front, hit and skip, or jam their front feet into the ground.
My body sequence during the stop is I go forward in the determined consistent motion, whether it is trotting, loping or running. On the downstride, I sink my body straight down into the saddle, drop my heels slightly to do what I call “stop riding”, then I say “whoa”. The last thing in the sequence is pick up your reins smoothly, never letting the horse pull you by being too quick. Any reprimand should come after the stop or in the lightening process of the mouth. It is so important that the horse remains confident and comfortable in the stop. A horse that runs should run freely and smoothly, so when you sit down, quit riding and say “whoa” the horse should start learning you requesting the stop. If you start jerking the reins or brace up your body, it will be rough. This makes it uncomfortable for the horse to stop. A great horse stops because they love it, not because you force them into it.
•ride forward smoothly and consistently with a proper stride
•feel the stride and initiate on the downstride
•stop riding by sinking into the saddle and dropping your heels off the horse
•draw your reins to assist the horse in getting round into the stop
One of the techniques that I have found works well for me is to either gallop, quit riding and draw the reins back without the word “whoa”; or to gallop off, leave my hands down and say the word “whoa” with no pull. It is imperative that the horse takes the pull properly. This helps me develop a willing stop with no resistance.
The sliding stop is an extension of the run itself. A horse should be running smooth and relaxed, not gaining or loosing stride, and have a bit of collection but with a mindset of having his taillights on, allowing you to rate him. In judged events, the stop is judged on the approach, the stop itself, straightness, quality of form and dynamics. If you start slow and think 1% a day for 100 days, you will reach that 100% goal.
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