How you approach slowing down and stopping depends on your horse. On a colt, or a horse that is not always wanting to go faster than you are asking, tipping the nose is an effective teaching tool. For a horse that is hot and goey, use the redirecting exercise as a prerequisite.
When a horse stops, he is simply slowing down rapidly. So he must first be good at slowing down.
Prepare To Slow Down And Stop
Before a horse does anything, he has to get ready to do it. So you always want to prepare your horse to slow down or stop. The goal is to make it the horse’s idea. Many people make the mistake of asking the horse to slow down or stop before the horse is thinking in that same direction. That causes conflicts and creates problems.
A Stopping Mindset
Riders often have the mindset of allowing the horse to go and causing him to stop. But the better way is to cause him to go and allow him to stop. This means that we are always riding with life and energy. That encourages the horse to take one more step and have a ‘go somewhere’ mentality. Then when we sit down deep and stop riding, that change will mean something to the horse. It will help cause him to have the thought of slowing down and stopping.
Redirect A Horse That Has Excess Energy
For a horse that has excess speed, you will do multiple circles and figure eights that are no more than ten feet in diameter. The effectiveness is in the constant, smooth direction changes. Never go more than a few seconds without changing direction. Pulling the rein outward, keep the neck bent at all times except for when you feel his feet slow down a little bit. That is when you release the bend.
Does your horse always want to go faster than you are asking? Find out how to fix that here: How To Calm Down A Hot Horse
As you’re doing the direction changes, make sure not to use any leg pressure. Sit down on the pockets of your seat and keep an “I’m not asking you to move” type of position. As you continually redirect him, he will eventually decide, “The heck with this. I think I’m just going to shut down and stand”.
For more info about the importance of standing still go here: Standing Still
The key is to really be paying attention and feeling for when he’s getting faster and slower. After doing this for several minutes, depending on the horse, you will start feeling him move a little bit slower. It’s very important that you immediately give him a little slack and let him straighten out his body for a stride or two. Then start redirecting again until he decides (all on his own) to stop and stand.
This is what you want. The end goal is that after some repetition, you can be walking, trotting, or loping around and right when you start to pick up a rein, before you even take the slack out of it, he will immediately come down to a standstill all on his own without needing to be pulled.
Listen to my podcast: Slowing Down A Hot Horse
Tip The Nose Of A Neutral Horse
If your horse is neutral and doesn’t constantly gain speed on his own, slow him down by decreasing the life in your body, sliding your hand down one rein, and slightly tipping the nose. You are getting in his way. The instant the feet slow, get out of his way by giving him back his head and allowing him to travel freely.
When you pull back using both reins, it’s much easier for the horse to dump down on his front end and brace against the pressure. Using one rein and tipping the nose causes the horse to break in his neck and loin and helps eliminate the brace.
For example, if the horse wants to trot when you want to walk, make trotting more difficult by slightly tipping his nose to put him in a little bind. When he decides to slow to a walk, make that feel good by eliminating the bind. You are not trying to make him walk. You are making it difficult to trot.
Continue to do that until the horse’s speed stays in sync with you. If you habitually ride your horse with life in your body, then slowing down will come much easier.
Ready To Stop Your Horse
When your horse can slow down proficiently using only a suggestion from the rider, it’s time to work on the stop.
Now that your horse can slow down without a fight, transitions can be extremely beneficial. Change the gait and the speed of each gait often. Bring them up and then bring them down. Get your horse accustomed to changing speeds and staying ‘with’ you.
For a horse that is dull or lazy, watch this video: How to Create Life And Energy In Your Horse
Begin The Stop
You definitely want to work on stops at all different speeds. But before that can happen, it’s essential that the stop is pretty near perfect at a walk. This means he cleanly stops within one second of your suggestion using no more than one ounce of pressure on the reins. Once you achieve this, then move up to a trot and then a lope.
It’s important to be particular. You want him to get stopped quickly when you hint to him by sitting deep and using only one or two ounces of pressure.
This is how you fix a horse that pushes through your hand. If he does push through that one ounce of pressure, take a firm hold of the reins and show him what it was you wanted. Don’t ever jerk on the reins. But smoothly come in there with 10 lbs of pressure. This is much more fair to your horse than to keep him guessing about what you are asking.
Of course, reward any positive change by releasing all pressure. You should see a drastic change after doing this only a few times. Repeat as needed.
Progressing The Stop
Then do the exact same thing at a trot. Since you have taught the horse to respond to a suggestion to slow down and stop, that should carry over to doing the same thing at an increased speed.
To progress at and trot and lope, ride the horse forward into your hand, and then stop riding and pick up your reins. If the horse ignores your suggestion to stop, or braces against the pressure, again come in with 10 lbs of pressure to give him a reason to try a little harder to get it done before you have a chance to pull on him. This will also help your horse know how to handle pressure in the right kind of way.
Remember we are causing him to go and allowing him to stop. Think of a gas pedal in a car. We keep the pedal pressed to keep the tires moving. But when we let off the gas, the car automatically slows down and would eventually stop. In the same way, we ride our horse with life and energy to cause him to go. When we shut that life and energy down, the horse’s default should be to slow down, stop, and stand.
Advancing The Stop
For a more advanced and balanced stop, your horse needs to be soft through his poll, body, and back when you ride him up into your hand. He also needs to be able to immediately go back to a natural gait when you stop asking him to collect. The horse needs to be able to carry that softness in all gaits so he will be positioned to stop.
For more details about collection, go here: Collection
You will begin advancing the stop by riding your horse in a collected frame at a walk. Your body will be lively asking him to take another step, take another step. When you sit down and stop riding, the horse should immediately execute a balanced stop as he learns to rate your seat.
Only after your horse can do this consistently at a walk, would you progress to doing the same process at a trot and lope.
Every rider wants their horse to have a good stop. The only way for that to become a consistent reality is if you go through the process required to cause that to happen. Squash the temptation to skip the prep work which will create a dull and pushy horse. Take the time and effort to build a good stop into your horse. It’s sure worth it when it all comes together.