More Than One Way to Stop a Horse!
(Information for this article provided by Cindy Morehead, instructor, UF western riding program.)
So there you are loping along, when you attempt to have your horse come to a smooth stop. You pull back lightly on the reins. . . and that’s when it all falls apart. Your horse not only
continues loping, but lopes faster. He leans into the bit and chugs along until you’re finally able to “encourage” him to walk and then come to an awkward halt. Stopping turns into a wrestling match and it’s definitely NOT smooth.
At The University of Findlay, we actually teach four kinds of stops. They do take some time to teach, but the result is a safer ride and a horse that looks smooth in the show ring.
The “Whoa” Stop
This is a basic stop that our students learn in their freshman year. (Like all stops, we start teaching at a walk and work our way up through the other gaits.) To stop your horse, say “whoa” and release your legs. Don’t pull on the reins. If your horse doesn’t stop, take the slack out of the reins and back him up. Once you’ve mastered the walk, move on to the trot, and then canter. If your horse doesn’t respond at the faster gaits, return to the walk and start over.
The Pull Stop
This is used on a horse that may not be paying attention and feels especially heavy in the rider’s hands. While the horse is moving forward, take the slack out of the reins and release your legs. As soon as the horse stops, back him up. Let the horse “sit” for a minute after backing before asking him to move forward again.
The Leg Release Stop
While the horse is moving forward (start with the walk), just take your leg pressure off. Don’t say, “whoa” and don’t pull slack out of the reins. The horse should learn to respond to just the leg release. If you find that your horse is not responding, go through the other stops again.
The Spur Stop
Since many of us see spurs as a way to make a horse move, it’s surprising to see them used as a means of getting a horse to stop. We teach this stop mainly to seniors and advanced riders as it takes a good rider and well-broke horse. Basically, you close your leg and push your spur in to get the horse to stop. Horses can learn to stop quickly when trained using spurs. It just takes practice!
New riders, especially, make mistakes when learning to stop a horse. Many are too quick to use their hands, pulling before saying, “whoa” when the horse doesn’t respond. Sometimes, the rider’s timing can be wrong, or they continue to work when the horse is obviously tired.
At The University of Findlay, we always stress “back to the basics.” Horses learn by repetition and reward. We must always remember that there’s a difference between teaching and punishing. Teaching a horse to stop by voice or body commands can make your ride more enjoyable.