We all want it; that butt-tucking, tail-dragging, foot-reaching stop in our horses. The ideas of how to achieve it are many and varied, and reasons to not ask your horse for this stop are also becoming common, according to conversations on many horsemanship groups.
For me, I feel like most horses learn to stop hard or instantly brace before a human ever climbs on their back. If I can lead my colt by his feet (with his feet roped), tail, and his back cinch area with the least amount of pressure, that awareness to pressure is going to translate to the first time I pull on the reins and ask for a stop. On the other hand, if I’ve never given back the pressure when he’s responded, I’m not aware of my body weight and language on the ground, that’s going to translate to that colt’s stop as well when I eventually ask for it by bracing, becoming stiff all through his back, and getting frustrated.
When I start asking a horse to stop, I want him collected first. I don’t mean giving at his head with one of those awful, bendy, chicken necks…I mean collected all through his body. When a horse is properly collected his hind legs reach further forward and his whole body rounds up….preparing him to succeed at stopping nicely.
As soon as that horse gives his head, I sit down, say “whoa” (not hoe, that’s who stands on a street corner!!) and pull back evenly on my reins. I don’t increase the pressure, just hold it steady, and as soon as he stops I give the reins back to him. I also always ask my colts to back up after stopping, because I feel that teaches them to keep their weight shifted to the back, freeing them up to jump side to side in order to stop a cow if needed, or jump ahead to get in front of something.
I believe as the rider my body language is incredibly important, especially when asking for a stop. If I’m stiff through my arms, down my shoulders and back and bracing my feet in the stirrups…that’s just going to translate to my horse. He’ll be wondering what in the heck is so awful to make me feel so uncomfortable on him, and he’ll usually mimic me with a brace and stiffness of his own.
The key to anything in life is doing things consistently. If you’re experimenting with something different each week to try and get a good stop on your horse, he’s just going to end up confused and you’re going to end up frustrated.
I used to feel my horses footfalls in order to know when to ask for a stop from my older horses, but since I got Lyme disease my sense of timing feels really off. To hopefully avoid that and not confuse my horses as much as possible, now I kind of tell them I’m going to ask for a stop before I actually do it. The same time I sit down in the saddle I touch my hands to my horse’s neck and say “whoa.” Then I begin to ask for a stop. Since I do that consistently, now when I start to sit down and as soon as my hands touch their neck, my horse puts the breaks on.
Disclaimer: Adrian and I do not consider ourselves to be an authority on making nice horses, makeup, fashion, or life; we just share what works for us.
xo xo Liz