Does your horse get offended when you pull on the reins to stop? Does he pin his ears, shake his head, hollow his back and keep going?
Maybe he's trying to tell you something: stop pulling on the reins! 🙂
There is a way to get your horse to stop without pulling on the reins.
But first, you both have to be "in sync" together, working in tandem instead of against each other.
If you haven't done this before, it may take a few tries to convince your horse that you want to work with him. Horses that are regularly pulled on seem to accept that the pressure has to be there before they should respond. They might learn to lean on the bit, pulling against you while you pull backward, hoping for the legs to stop.
Some horses are generous and eventually slow their feet, stop/starting until finally, all four legs come to a halt. Other horses might not be quite as forgiving and just keep going until you have to put more and more pressure on the mouth. Eventually, one of you wins but it's never pretty!
We all dream of finding the halt that looks like we are in complete harmony with our horse. You know - the one that feels like the horse's legs are your legs, and your mind is so coordinated with the horse that it looks like you are reading each other's thoughts.
It does happen. The secret: ride from your seat.
I'm perfectly aware of the fact that we've talked about the seat many times already, but there is no other answer. Everything in horseback riding begins and ends with the seat.
The instructions below might sound quite complicated. Initially, developing the timing and coordination of aids should be! Learning correct aids should be a lifelong quest for most of us, and if we have old, ingrained habits (like pulling on the reins), these changes may take even longer.
But in the long run, you won't have to think anything through and the aids will happen together on their own.
Setup for a Correct Halt
Prepare several strides ahead of the intended location. Your reins should be a good length - not too long and not too short. There should be a steady enough contact on the bit to be able to communicate very subtle changes of pressure.
2. Begin a series of half-halts.
Power up the trot before starting with the half-halts. Two legs "on"!
The half-halts start at the seat. In rhythm with the horse's movement, resist with your lower back. Be sure to resist in rhythm. In other words, your lower back and seat will feel something like this: resist... flow... resist... flow... resist... flow.
2a. Use your legs.
During each flow moment, squeeze lightly with your lower legs. This helps the horse engage his hind end deeper underneath the body in preparation with the halt.
2b. Use the hands.
During each resist moment, squeeze the reins with your hands. You might squeeze both reins or just one rein (the outside rein being the usual rein) but in any case, do your best to use the hands after the leg aids. The rein pressure should occur in tandem with the resisting seat aid.
3.When you are ready for the halt, simply stop your seat.
Maintain contact with your legs and reins, but stop the activity. Don't keep pulling on the reins.
If the horse is truly with you, his legs will stop lightly and in balance.
Horses that have been trained to respond to the half-halt will sigh in relief when you lighten up on your aids and use your seat in the halt. You might be surprised at how easily the legs will stop if you can improve your timing and releases.
Horses that have always been pulled on might not respond at all. They might be expecting to be hauled backward, thrown to the forehand, and dragged to a stop. If this is the case, be patient. If you haven't done this before, it may take a few tries to convince your horse that you want to work with him.
You might have to bridge the learning gap by applying the half-halts several times, stopping your seat and then pulling to stop. In the end though, the pull should disappear completely from your vocabulary (exception: in an emergency stop).
Regardless of how you get there, the goal is to stop all four legs in a light, balanced manner that allows the horse to use his hind end when he takes that last step. Your horse might walk a few strides and then halt.
If you feel your horse’s front end lighten into the halt, you know you are on the right track. If you discover the four legs stopped square and parallel to each other, pet and gush over him, and call it a day!
What do you think? How do you halt your horse?
Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!
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If you enjoyed the above post, you might also like to check these out:
Interpreting the Half-Halt: This topic is a tricky one but here is a shot at it.
Do A “Forward” Back-Up! Tricks to developing an easy and rhythmical back-up.
Top 10 Ways to Reward Your Horse: A happy horse is a willing partner, and many horses will give everything they have if they feel your acknowledgement and generosity of spirit.
Demystifying “Contact” in Horseback Riding: Does “contact” have other-wordly connotations? Here is why effective contact is within reach of the average rider.
From a Whisper to a Scream: How Loud Should Our Aids Really Be? Should we be “loud” in our aids, or should we be working as softly as we can in hopes that our horse can respond to lighter and more refined aids?