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Horse Problem - One Rein Stop - How to do it and why it's important









QUESTION:  Problem #1: Hello Sylvia. I have a problem that I am hoping you will be able to help me with. I have a 7-year-old quarter horse gelding that is the son of a VERY dominant mare in our barn of 8 animals. He is a wonderful ride when alone, or when I ride with my children (their horses are further down in the pecking order) as long as he is up front. My husband has recently purchased a mule that has a longer gait and faster walk than my gelding. This last weekend we were riding with a group and the mule was in front. My gelding spent 95% of the time on the trail jigging, side passing, tossing his head and snorting. He responds well to the bit so isn't pulling on my arm all the time (I have the lead mare for that) but 4-5 hours of bouncing does get tiring. I have tried to keep him at the back of the pack and making him walk, but this mostly gets him more wound up. I have tried going into the woods and running a parallel course with the others while zig zagging in the trees with the hopes that I can get his mind off the lead animal, but mostly he trots through the woods and hollers his head off. I have tried to stay up front, but the minute one of his herd passes by even a nose we are back at it. ANY suggestions you can give would be much appreciated. Thank you very much.

Problem #2: I have an 11-year-old Polish Arabian gelding that used to barrel race and was a stud up to 5 years. He's gentle and great with kids and other horses, but when you gallop him, he just wants to go, and stopping is the last thing he wants to do. Could you give any advice or have a book out that I could get too? Your help would be great. Thanks.

REPLY: You are definitely missing some stuff there in his foundation (both of the above), I can see from here & my Whispering Way 12-Step Total Training System DVD set will definitely show you visually more details what's missing there. First, you need to get the "safety zone" down on the ground thoroughly and here you need to be using deeper bonding techniques, some of which are here:

Return to ground work, teaching the horse via pressure/release, baby steps, to yield the head from side to side (all the way over to the side). First using your hand on the muzzle (release for every inch try in the right direction), then with the natural horsemanship halter/12' lead rope, and once the horse can do it softly, compliantly, every time, then repeat the exercise with bridle/bit (full cheek snaffle bit). Let me direct you to some links on my site for you to get some visuals for this head yielding lesson exercise:

If your horse cannot do this well, yield the head, when you first start, then you've found your foundation hole (one of them) that needs to be plugged up - safely on the ground first - before riding again. Stick with the ground work until the horse consistently, easily, yields the head from side to side automatically when asked with the lead rope and the bridle/bit.

The trick is to teach the head yielding really well on the ground first, using pressure/release until the tiniest rein pressure (or lead rope pressure to begin with, or just your hand on the muzzle to REALLY begin with) brings the head all the way over instantly. If you don't have that going perfectly well there on the ground, there's no way you are going to get it up in saddle. Has to be built from the ground up like that. And once the head is over to the side on the ground like that, you are going to bond deeply with the horse there, keeping the head there, so the horse learns this is a safe, loving place to turn to. Breathe into the horse's nose there with your nose (on the ground - secure his head carefully there!) when his head is in that "safety zone," stroke his favorite spots there, scratch the inside cheek (because you will do that later in saddle), love on him! Pretty soon he can't wait to bring his head in there!

Once that's well in his foundation on the ground...then in saddle, without taking any steps, just at a standstill, you want to ask for the head all the way over to you on one side and it comes easily. And the horse can hold it there as you stroke on the face, scratch the inside cheek, etc., until you give the head back. Don't move on until you get that, both sides. The neck should be that loose to you and yielding well. Use pressure/release to get the head there (my DVD set will show you all that in more detail).

Then take a few steps at a walk and ask for the head over again, this time simultaneously bumping your inside leg back, asking for the inside hind quarters to step over. That's the disengagement of the hind quarters. A well-executed one-rein stop is not just about the head coming over, but also about disengaging the hind quarters as well. All forward impulsion in a horse comes from the hind quarters (the front legs just keep up with the impulsion of the hind quarters). Disengaging the horse's hind quarters, bumping them over so that the inside back leg steps in front of the outside back leg, completely puts the brakes on all forward impulsion in the horse. (My DVD set shows more of this visually & in more detail.) You take your legs off the horse once he's stepped over there (don't keep bumping there once the horse has stepped under himself in the rear or the horse will keep circling and not know to stop after disengagement). Keep the head turned to the inside (you can lock the rein braced on your hip or thigh), stroke the outside of the neck with your outside hand if the horse keeps circling, and this helps the horse to wind down to a stop. But break it down into baby steps for the horse to understand at first when needed. But if the horse is only bringing the head over and not disengaging the hind quarters when stopping, bump them over!

When bumping the hind quarters over like this while also asking for the head to the inside bend there, the horse can go absolutely nowhere except in a circle. This is the horse version of pulling the "emergency brake" like you do in a car. A one-rein stop can stop a runaway horse, rearing horse and bucking horse, so, it is very important to have in every horse's foundation before ever riding them off. Horses don't like going in circles and will wind down to a stop (especially if you stroke the outside neck as they wind down). Once they've made the stop, keep the head over still & stroke & scratch the face (just like you did on the ground earlier) to help them emotionally to come back to paying attention to ONLY you. That's the "safety zone" we've created earlier on the ground, the safe, loving place we take them back to, to get rational again. I personally think there's nothing more important to build into a horse's foundation, from the ground up, than the properly executed one-rein stop. Riding a horse without that in their foundation deeply is like driving a car on black ice. I.E., just an accident waiting to happen!

After you get it down really well at the walk, ask for only one or two steps into the trot, then wind down to a one rein stop. Take turns doing both sides evenly. Then a couple more steps into the trot and wind down to one-rein stop, and so on. Not until the horse has it down really well at the trot do you then ask for a few steps into the canter, then wind down to a one-rein stop.

Caution: the faster the horse is going, the wider the circle you make to perform the one-rein stop. Don't just pull the head over suddenly at the higher gaits or the horse can fall (that's how Hollywood stuntmen bring down a trick horse to appear to have been "shot."). Make your circles wider and snail down to the one-rein stop the faster you are going. But do remember to disengage the hind quarters as you make that snail-down.

And once you get it all down in a contained area like a round pen or arena, then step outside the arena and ask for it at the walk again. Both sides. Then at the trot, both sides. Then at the canter, both sides, so that the horse learns: we do this everywhere now, not just inside the confines of the "classroom." Pretty soon just picking up that one rein and bumping the hind quarter over and they know this means: stop. And start again more rationally after that maneuver.

Once you've got this deeply planted in his foundation (for question #1) return to the trail ride with the other horses. The second he tries to charge forward to the lead position, wind him down to the one-rein stop and this will get him focused back on you and also halt his impulsion. Do as many as needed when needed, and he'll quickly realize: the right thing to do there is listen to you and go the speed and line position you ask for. The wrong and harder thing for him to do there is to take over. He'll quickly choose the easier route.

For question #2 above, practice the one-rein stop dozens of times at all gaits and in varying situations until it is an automatic response in your horse, and you will have placed the emergency brakes securely in place so he'll stop being a runaway.


One-Rein Stop Testimonial

Hi Syl. Went out today, once again just planning on ground and arena work. As I was leading my horse to the outdoor arena, someone saddling up their appy asked if I was a trail rider. I said absolutely! She asked if I wanted to go out. I told her I needed to spend 5-10 minutes on my pre-flight check (like you taught me) in the arena, and if all systems were a go, I'd be delighted to go with her. Since I had already done my ground work indoors (smaller arena space), I expected my horse to be fine under saddle, but I am making the bigger outdoor arena check part of my routine, just like saddling up.

I can't tell you how wonderful and confident my horse was on the trail ride, passing his first cows up close and personal, and the goats, too.

We were out for 2 hrs. On the return, my horse got a little excited about heading home, so we just did a couple of circles and one-rein stops. With the stops I asked him to just stand there for a minute and gave him his scratches and let him relax. He was fine after that. It got his head back into focusing on me and what I was asking. You could almost see his head gears switch to neutral the second we did the one-rein stop and he got his scratches.

I can't say enough about the one-rein stop. I've been riding years without it and didn't know what I was missing. It is an absolute miracle worker to calm a horse down. It really is an incredible tool any rider should not be without! Knowing his response to it also gives me confidence not only in him, but in my riding skills.

Every riding instructor, no matter what discipline, should teach this one-rein stop tool to the rider. I don't know how I survived all these years without it. Even my former horse, old Polar Bear, would have been a better partner with it.

I didn't appreciate the importance of it until today. I have a feeling my horse's anxiety could have exploded if I hadn't been into his head and had just pushed him forward without first calming him down (via the one-rein stop/bonding in the safety zone). And it only takes moments if you catch the horse's anxiety when it starts and before it becomes full-blown fear. But that also means a rider has to be 100% into their horse's head at all times. You have taught me so very much and I feel I am becoming a better partner/rider using your NH tools. It is in the times of anxiety that my horse is REALLY, REALLY depending on me to be his leader and to use my head to control his head and his feet. It is all so clear to me now.

I have to admit in our first few lessons I didn't appreciate the magnitude of it's effect, but since I was paying you, the expert, to guide me, I took everything you told me to heart. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for drilling that into me over and over again. You really know your stuff!!!!!!!!!!

J. L. - Blacksburg, Virginia


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