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Preparation Concepts


Eric Hought

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The reining clinic instructed by Worwick Schiller turned out to be a valuable event for me not to mention lots of fun. He defined the speed of my hands, when asking for the stop, as too fast. He then demonstrated how to move them at a better rate.

I have been struggling with how best to describe “slow hands.” A bass fisherman friend would describe slow something like this. “When you retrieve a worm on the bottom of the pond, do it so slow you can feel yourself age.” That might be a little too slow for this discipline. “Slow hands” might better be described in musical terms using crescendo, a gradually swelling of loudness, decrescendo, a gradual decrease in loudness or intensity and tempo, the rhythm.

In “slow hands,” the crescendo or pull begins at zero and increases in volume to 10. Tempo is the time it takes to reach the highest volume or maximum pull. Now we have volume and speed. The tempo tells your horse to get ready, get ready, get ready followed by the promise. The promise is the judicious execution of the pull to the stop. The crescendo, is the degree of pull you will exert until he hears your request at a lower volume. The decrescendo is the back. The stop requires the horse to be soft in the face, relaxed in the shoulders and knees and yielding with his body.

Without using your own body language, begin the crescendo at a level of zero, increase the volume of feel in the horses face using the tempo, one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four. I always ride with zero contact so Plenty can feel any movement from my hand or reins immediately. Your horse will become sensitive too because the feel is clear, no mistake. They might ignore you but that’s a mistake from which they can learn. Always rememaber black or white, no gray.
Their choice to ignore you results in the crescendo of the judicious pull to the stop. No jerking or pain just keeping the promise which only causes discomfort. He wants to be comfortable so use that to achieve the goal of the stop. Don’t overlook or become frustrated, time and your consistancy are what make well prepared horses. It may take two or three months to realize the reward for your work. He only has the mental maturity of a three year old child. How long are you willing to wait? He may not hear you at first, but be patient and consistent. The timeline for response varies from horse to horse. Eventually, he will respond as soon as he feels the reins move, remember no body language from you. He will break at the poll, flex his neck, elevate his shoulders round his back and drop his hips, then begin giving his body and backing. The length of time in the decrescendo is from the moment of stop until everything is soft and he is backing with very lite feet and face. Early in the exercise it could take up to 10, 20 or more seconds.

At first he will be upset and pushing forward with his face, body and his feet will not be moving backward. Maintain the pull because he is ignoring you. He is choosing to retain his old habit. A two year old colt only understands to move into pressure so be patient. I wouldn’t try this drill until a two year old has three to four months riding. True, some are ready sooner, just listen to him, he will tell you. Just wait on the more mature horse, he too will come to you. His reward is the release followed by the rub on the neck or hips. Sit and wait for him to work his lips, give a deep sigh to demonstrate he is waiting for you . Bingo!! Who’s the leader now?

What if he steps forward? Simple, right foot right rein etc. You may have to repeat several times. No problem. No forward movement is allowed unless you ask. He can adjust his feet if he adjusts backward. Nothing goes forward until you ask.
Eventually when he accepts you as the leader you will be able to send him forward and he will go straight with no micro managing from you until you signal him to turn or stop. Are you liking it yet?

The back is a decrescendo of about one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three-no speed, only feel, everything is soft. Ask for only 4-5 steps back then release. After 4 or 5 times he will feel the reins move and begin stopping before all the slack is gone. The speed is slow allowing the horse to be correct. When the horse understands and is secure with the skill then gradual additional speed can be added to the exercise.
Sit as still as possible without giving him any clues. The key preparation for the stop is in the “slow hands.” We want the horse’s focus to be on your slow, soft hands and the slight movement of the reins. Continue working until he has complete feel and response while standing still, now progress to the walk. Everything must be exactly the same each time you ask. Relax, let him listen to the reins, not your body language. Remember, as speed increases, resistance increases! As your speed increases, he will make mistakes by not hearing you and fail to respond with the correct answer. Stay cool, remember the crescendo and tempo. Let him know he can trust you to be consistent. He then, will relax and begin to choose the correct answer more often. Here is a visual:


 The addition of a visual and numbers establishes concrete points of reference rather than an intellecual attempt to describe the tactal sense of feel. If a person finds “slow hands” useful , it will take constant practice, thought and evaluation. This skill requires feel, timing and balance without these success will be limited. Each rider will make adaptations to fit his own feel, timing and balance and changes will develop within the riders feel, timing and balance. It all comes down to simple and clear communication with the horse. My crescendo sequence is 0-4 suggest, 4-8 ask and 8-10 the judicious promise. Consistancy is extremely important.

Horse temperment will dictate how long it will take to accomplish the control we seek. Generally a hot horse will take longer than a cooler horse. But, an intellegent horse will usually come sooner than one of less intellegence. The link between horse execution and technique rests solely upon the rider. All the rider’s skills are called upon to achieve the communication necessary between the horse and rider.
It becomes very important to learn how to ride through a stop. This means not bracing your feet or legs and not stopping your body movement. You will probably bounce and slide forward slightly. Once the horse is locked up behind, loose in his shoulders and knees, you will find a balance point. While the horse is in this relaxed stopping position, you will settle into the pocket of the seat and push your legs and feet into the stirrups only enough as needed. At this point your horse is riding softer, more relaxed and you are beginning to trust his stops. A rider who has not used this method before will go through a frustration period as skills are developed. The natural tendency is to brace oneself. Riding through the stop , the rider’s back relaxes which also helps the horse to relax. Keep the faith and don’t give up the ship. This technique takes a lot of work because it is not something we seem to practice naturally.

“Slow hands” will prove to be important in other skill areas such as turns, lead changes, circles, and guiding. Practice this skill diligently and you will be amazed at the difference in your horse’s responses.

I haven’t said anything about the word—Whoa! The only time I talk on my horse is while I’m standing still or walking. Why so? The horse will become sound sensitive because the only thing she hears from me is the cluck for increased speed and the word. That is it, black or white…no gray area where the horse has to decide, “did he mean this or that?”

I like to use the word as accent to the reins and my body language. It doesn’t take much for the horse to associate the word with stop, if he only hears it with the stop. Think about it, it’s simple. Slow hands are important in all disciplines whether arena, pleasure riding or distance riding.

As I ride along, I think about different maneuvers being asked of my horse and question if my cues are clear and simple. My get ready signals are I suggest, ask and keep the promise. The tempo for Plenty is about 4 beats for the crescendo and 1-2 for the back and release. The time span of the crescendo is variable because the situation may require a quicker reaction. Other situations may allow a longer period of time for the crescendo. It is difficult to decrease tempo because the gait at which you may be traveling can vary.

Compare the canter to the walk. The simplest method of preparing the horse is to begin by standing still. This will allow the horse to feel it coming and he will not have to differentiate from other movements. Once he feels it standing still, proceed to the walk and so on. Anytime there is confusion at a higher gait, reduce speed to the gait at which the horse can execute the cue correctly. Review as needed and progress to the next higher gait. Keep the horse in the range at which he can be successful. Rider’s skill, consistency and patience are the keys to a horse’s success. Watch and wait for him to show learning and progress. All horses are sensitive, quickly learn the cues but time is necessary for pure refinement and execution of the cue. It took almost a week for Plenty to show good response early in the crescendo. It has been two months since I began to use the technique and now I can carefully increase the tempo. Her stop is becoming precise.

Here is how she responds. She gives in the face, flexes her neck, her shoulders begin lifting, her back rounds, her hips drop and she stays loose in her knees and shoulders. The entire time I am relaxed and riding through the stop. That is why she remains relaxed in front. I do slide forward in the seat and my knees are bent. The knees seem to be key to riding and sliding forward in the seat.

How does one know when to assume a better stopping position in the saddle? It takes feel, consistency and timing, but when you feel the horse is going to stop, allow yourself to slip into the pocket of the seat that has now dropped with the hips of the horse. You can then take a firmer position in the seat with your legs. It won’t interfere with the horse’s stop. He will be locked up behind and you will feel the front end loose and softness in the face. If this stop is from a canter, it may take 4 beats or 4 seconds from start to finish including the back and release. That is not very long for all these things to take place.

One way to simplify this from the canter is to retrieve the reins, staying loose in the saddle and wait for him to drop down into the trot, release. I do this because the horse relates the pickup of the reins with reduction of speed. Trot along for a couple hundred feet, repeat the action and let him drop into the walk. Walk along a few feet, repeat the action and let him stop. Sit still a few moments. Perfect!! Yes, this takes a lot of time now, but it will take much longer in the future if you don’t take a little time right now. Challenge: Forget all previous mental thoughts and body language of the stop. Think to yourself slow, slow, slow and ride through, ride through, ride through. Can you hear him now?

Keep It Simple

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