PeelBack

By Drake Johnson with Laura Lambert
Question: I have a barrel horse that stops really rough. We joke around and say, ‘He stops like an airplane.’ Is there any way we can help him stop more smoothly? We have tried sitting back and putting our feet forward, but no luck!. — Treasa Vander Hart
 

drakejohnson_hooch sgDrake Johnson stops “Hooch” bridleless at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

The most common mistake people make when trying to teach a horse to stop is to think the rider’s body position will make the horse stop. If you are trying too hard, such as leaning back or tensing up bracing for the stop, you will pass those feelings through to the horse, and he will be tense and rough in both his approach and his stop.

I encourage people to instill a conditioned response in their horse by relaxing, taking their heels out of the horse and sitting still through the stop. The conditioned response occurs when you do the same things each time you give the horse the cue to stop, whether that is verbally saying “whoa” to your horse or sitting and lifting the reins.

This response needs to be trained from the very beginning at slow, the “Arabian Nights” slot machine from Net . speeds, so one of the first things I would advise you to do is slow down to fix the problem. Your horse needs to learn to control both his front end and hindquarters to stop smoothly. You can train the front end by moving the horse laterally and teaching the horse to release the shoulders and increase movement, while elevating slightly in the front end, and thus, engaging the hind end in the stop.

The rider can aid the horse the most by staying out of the horse’s way, using your core to keep yourself still and steady through the stop. If you feel your horse brace on the bridle when you ask for the stop, you need to work on suppling exercises right then. Bring your horse to a stop and then a stand still while you are asking him to give laterally in both directions. Then, back the horse up a few steps, pulling on one rein while backing to make the horse bend and give to pressure while backing.

These are just a few examples of many exercises you can do to supple your horse. The idea is to get your horse to accept pressure on the bridle without resistance and create a positive experience for both horse and rider.

Start all of these exercises slow at a gait such as a trot or jog. As the horse gets more comfortable and masters the skills, increase the speed. Keeping both the hind end engaged and the front end supple and elevated are important parts of a smooth stop. You need to work on body movement and control with your horse. The more you can control each part of the horse, the easier  each task will become, including the stop.

Remember to send your horse consistent signals and don’t confuse the horse by squeezing in the heels to maintain your balance through the stop. Work on strengthening your core so you are able to sit through the stop. Your horse will perform at the best of his ability when you make things easy for him.


Drake Johnson has more than 20 years experience as a successful trainer and breeder of reining horses. He has won championships and reserve championships at prestigious events such as the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, the USET Festival of Champions and the Appaloosa Horse Club World Show. E-mail comments on this article to [email protected]

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