Mental and Physical Keys to a Better Stop
by Allison Trimble, Willfully Guided Horsemanship
It’s no secret, I can’t stop my horse. I have Crohns disease and some of my guts had welded themselves to each other. It was very painful so I was guarded when trying to stop. Anyway, when I rundown, I get tense. My horse knows this. He runs fine but hits on the front end because he can and I can’t fix it. I am about to start riding again after a recent surgery and want to know when and how to get after my horse. Also, how do you retrain your mind and body to relax?
Thanks, Salina Bailey
Even without a physical limitation such as yours apprehension can come with maneuvers, especially stopping, and you can’t force relaxation. There are 3 components to your situation: The first is the mental block. I believe that in order to feel confident, one must first feel competent. If you better address your horse’s training and his stop, and your philosophy on the stop, you will improve the situation and build confidence.
Next is the issue of your horse hitting his front end. You need to go back to basics with him and soften his stop at the walk, trot and lope. When a horse hits his front end it has a lot to do with resistance in his shoulders and his face. Rather than halting at speed, he should be going from forward motion to backward motion. That is the essence of a good stop. I find that most people do not finish their stop completely. You need to go back to saying the word “whoa” as you draw on him in your stop, be sure to continue your pull and body motion until you feel him come back into a backup, then release. As you increase your speed, you will have a horse that is hunting the release that comes with the draw-back, and this will help keep his shoulders up and free and his feet moving through the stop. There is a video on my youtube channel that illustrates this concept.
Finally there is your body position in the stop. I have little success with instructing a rider how to sit, or what to do with their body. It often results in mechanical and inconsistent results. Instead, I encourage people to develop a feel for what their horse is doing with his body when he stops properly and to mimic and compliment that task. I think that the notion of a reining stop—leaning back with legs thrust forward with weight in the stirrups causes a lot of issues. The people running and stopping like that in photos have a lot of softness and feel in their body that gets lost in translation. When most people mimic that body position, it results in a rigid body. Leaning back is not proper, nor is rigidity in your legs. Bracing in the rider’s body is what contributes to the stiffness in the horse’s stop. If you want him to be soft you have to be, too. You will not be leaning back, but because you are behind the drive point of your horse, your shoulders will be behind your hips. When you initiate the stop, allow your horse’s body to begin the stop and think of yourself as going to the ground with him. Draw your stomach in, round your back and tuck your pelvis. Keep your shoulders loose and free and think of opening your knees as you put subtle weight into your stirrups. Continue this position into the draw-back. When I ask my horse to stop, I hold a vision of what I want my horse’s body to be like and seek it in my own body. You can practice this position at the draw-back instead of always working on the stop at speed. By picturing it in your mind you will solidify the motion both mentally and in muscle memory.
There is no race to perfection. Build up your muscles, your understanding and your confidence before you go running down the pen at top speed. Small, consistent, clear steps are key for both horse and rider.
“Dear Allison” is a feature on Allison’s blogspot. Visit www.willfullyguided.com for more and/or to submit your own letter.
Published December 2012 Issue