Training for the Stop

Building a good stop

Although This was written from a Cowboy Challenge perspective it applies to every discipline and is the system I use on every horse I train. Believe it or not- even dressage.

The stop is one of the most important CC obstacles -why? Even if there is no stop obstacle in a challenge there are at least 12 stops on the challenge course. All of these stops will be within the judging zone of an obstacle. It may not be a complete stop it may merely be a downward transition, but even so, a downward transition is simply a stop requiring less energy.

Every stop you perform is going to affect your mark for each obstacle. Every stop you perform is especially going to affect your overall horsemanship score. The reason I say this is because it’s usually the stop or downward transition that us judges get to see the horse gaping its mouth and hollowing, thus losing points.

 How to train for the stop.

Stopping is something the horse does naturally. Stopping is something they love to do. Once a horse has had a couple of rides and is accepting the rider, once they are relaxed hand happy with this new situation, they would prefer to stand still than to go. In fact, what I find – breaking in young horses is, making them go is the hard part – stopping is the easy part. After you have done a few laps of the round pen at a trot, the horse will be looking to stop, teaching them to stop at this point is simply a matter of relaxing into the saddle and waiting….. soon they will slow down and stop.

The rider may need to slow the horse a little with whatever headgear he or she is using, once stopped, however, the key is to let them rest for a few moments. So that they really see some value in stopping.

The key to building a good stop is simple- let the horse rest after stopping. Also maybe have them working a little before the stop so they value the rest when they get it. No point going out there and asking for a stop when the horse is fresh and active and wanting to run. If they are in this frame of mind you will have to make them stop, you will need to use the bit to stop them, the head will come up they will gape their mouth, hollow their back and look terrible. The philosophy for creating a good stop is creating the desire for the horse to stop, a rider should feel when the horse is relaxed and ready for a rest, at this point ask him gently to slow down and stop, when stopped let him rest. He will learn to love stopping and learn to love you for letting him rest. 

Rein Back and the stop.

The mechanics of how I teach the stop are as follows. Pre-signal is the key to a good stop. The best stops are those that require no contact on the head at all, the horse simply responds to signal from the rider’s body, brings his hind legs under him and stops!!!. My pre-signal is the rein back. My rein back seat is to slide my legs forward, turn my toes in, hunker down in the saddle then walk my horse backward with my legs, only touching the mouth when necessary. Every time I stop I rein back- EVERY TIME – EVERY TIME. Okay got that? every time I stop I rein back – why? Because the rein back done correctly rounds the horse up, brings the hind legs underneath it and collects the horse. I want my horse to think that the moment I slide into my rein back position he should be bringing his hind legs under him ready to rein back.

This is a key aspect of training a horse to work on a loose rein or one-handed. As soon as the horse gets his cue from the rider’s body to “rein back’ he should bring his hind legs underneath him in preparation for a rein back. This needs to become automatic, it needs to become instilled in the horse’s right brain, so he doesn’t think – he just does it. Reason? – as soon as I give the pre-signal to rein back, my horse collects, then I can ask him for turns, transitions, side pass, shoulder in, rollbacks, spins, half pass and stops. Basically, anything that requires collection. 

You can see that the stop is a really important part of your horse’s training, not simply so you can stop but as a tool to collect your horse seamlessly with no apparent use of the reins. To be truthful I don’t really teach the stop, I teach the rein back – the rein back is my stop. If I am galloping and ask for a rein back, the result should be a slide stop.

The key to all this is when teaching the stop , don’t ask for it till your horse is ready to stop, when stopped -rest him . If you stick to this simple plan you will find in a surprisingly short period of time that your horse will be offering you the stop. You will be riding him in canter circles and he will be offering to slow and stop, its quite amusing when this happens its kind of like- “ Can we stop now ? I am ready boss , can we do it now ?” when your horse gets to this point give him half a circle more of canter then give him your rein back pre signal and bam!! He will stop. Warning , if at this point you are not ready you may end up going over the handle bars…….

So you see the whole philosophy about stopping, is not simply about the stop, but a major asset to riding, especially if you want to form a soft willing partnership with your horse. Which is what will gain you more points on a Cowboy Challenge than anything else.

There is a lot more technical information I could give to producing a good stop, not all horses take to it as easily as I have described , however I think I have given riders a good overview of the importance of the stop in Cowboy Challenge and its place in the whole scheme of things. Thankyou for taking the time to read .