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Inconsistent Stops

16 August 2011 No Comment

Inconsistent Stops
Laura Phelps-Bell has over 25 years experience in the equine industry as a trainer and instructor. Her background includes successfully competing in dressage, on the “A” Open circuit in hunter/jumpers, showing in many western events, management of several large training/boarding facilities and teaching equine management courses at the college level. More about Laura

Question
I have a hard time getting my horse to stop at times. I ride mostly at the walk and a little at the trot, bareback until I can develop my seat. I most usually ride him in an arena with a hackamore or asnaffle bit. He tends to kinda “cruise” right through the aids I use such as “sitting up straighter”, sinking more weight into my heels and exhaling. I also have tried this with a steady pull on one rein and a take and give with the other. These things work sometimes but neither of them work consistently. My seat is not very stable which I am working on by riding bareback most of the time especially in the arena and I think he realizes he has the advantage. Can you give me a tip on what might work consistently?
Thanks, Charles
Answer
Hi Charles, I know I tend to sound like a broken-record, but I will advise once again that I believe you need to go back to the ground -level training with your horse and then proceed forward again. Your horse may not be as educated as you think he is and/or you may be also dealing with a simple lack-of-respect for you and your requests. Many people that I speak with are having problems that can be easily corrected if they return to the ground level and fundamentals of training and then proceed forward again. Too often, the horse and the human both have never received what I feel is the all-important training at the ground level. It’s the foundation on which we will build the educational structure of the horse. If the foundation is faulty, or is a “false foundation”, meaning really not there hardly at all, then when “problems” start to appear, they are like cracks in the foundation that just get bigger and bigger as you continue to try and build a structure upon the faulty or false foundation.

Much to the surprise of many people, going back to the ground level can be a lot of fun because it will help develop a much better understanding, mutual trust and respect between you and your horse and will also establish, or re-establish, education for both horse and human. When you have a solid bond of respect and trust at the ground-level and also teach your horse certain cues, both physical and verbal, at that level, when you are mounted, it is just a transference to that level of the cues that the horse already understands and clearly knows. I would begin by just working on simple leading exercises with a halter and lead rope with walking/stopping, trotting/stopping, backing-up and then walking forward again, etc. I would apply my hand on the horse’s sides about where your leg hangs and teach the horse to move their haunches away, with minimal pressure, from your hand. I would get your horse used to the sound cues for various maneuvers, with a follow-up of physical cues, such as applying pressure with the lead rope if the horse walks through when asked to stop. After you have the leading down pat, then you can either just tie your leadrope up to form reins, or you can put your horses bridle on with his snaffle bit. I suggest that you don’t use the hackamore at this point (I’m assuming that its a mechanical hackamore) because that type of hackamore requires more ability from the rider to know when to release so that the horse’s chin groove is not being pressed with the chain constantly and pressure is not being exerted on the horses nose when there shouldn’t be any. As you create better communication with your horse, you can switch back to the hackamore if you want and you will be in more harmony with your horse at that point so that you won’t be pulling on him, and using the shanks on the hackamore, all the time. So, with either a halter and a lead rope as reins, or a bridle with snaffle bit, I will walk on the horses left side, about even with the horses girth area, with my right hand over their withers holding the right rein and my left hand on the left side holding the left rein. I also carry a dressage whip in my right hand that can either touch the horse on his left side or his right depending on what side I am wanting to influence. Now we work on walking straight, making turns, stopping, backing, slow trotting (this will depend on what kind of condition you are in and how coordinated you feel!) etc. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn about your horse, and any previous education they (and you) have received, when you interact at this level. Next, you can progress to ground driving and work on the same things. Either ground drive with a surcingle, or if with a saddle, you can tie the stirrups to the girth/cinch and run your driving lines through them. Work on the same things of walk, stop, walk, trot, back to walk, or stop completely. You’re trying to refine your requests to your horse to the most light and subtle possible.

Once you and your horse are “on the same page” at the ground level and you both have a clear understanding of what you expect from one another, then you are ready for the mounted training again. I would advise that you ride with a saddle at first to create more stability for yourself. If you are more stable when mounted, you will be in a better position to sit correctly, influence your horse and apply the aids and cues clearly, consistently and correctly. Now you will begin working on the same things that you have mastered at the ground-level.

Start off slow. You must walk and stop proficiently before you will trot and stop correctly. Certainly cantering should be a goal that you set for yourself once you have mastered all the maneuvers at the walk and then the trot. Training is a systematic, step-by-step process that is geared toward the individuals involved in the training together. It sounds like you are a “thinking” rider and are trying to apply the aids that you have been taught.

The addition of the saddle will make you more stable on your horse until such time that he consistently responds to your requests. Sometimes riding bareback will also cause a horse to “hollow” their back, which disconnects them from their haunches, they raise and brace their neck and tighten their poll and jaw and then a good stop will become much more difficult. When riding bareback, we’re sitting directly on the horses spine, so hollowing, bracing and tightening by the horse can be an issue which then creates barriers in our training between us and our horses.

Once the mounted training is progressing smoothly and you can do all of the things that you were doing at the ground-level with your horse, then beginning to ride bareback again would be fine to then continue to cultivate a more secure, stable seat. You might also read the article that I wrote titled “Rating the Speed of Your Horse” that is in the TodaysHorse article library under “Training”. It addresses the mechanics of effectively going forward, stopping, backing, etc. Try what I’ve suggested and I bet you will see that going back to the beginning at the ground-level and coming forward to the mounted-level again will work wonders in regard to good communication, understanding, respect and trust between you and your horse.

Sincerely,
Laura Phelps-Bell

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