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Preparation Concepts


Eric Hought

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More—How Slow

It is easy for a person to assume they use and apply ‘slow hands’ while signaling their horse. If a person has an interest in the ‘slow hand’ concept, the analogy of crescendo, decrescendo and tempo discussed earlier can be a great aid. It helped my horse’s reception and execution of cues.

We will examine the stop of a horse that is cantering in a slow collected manner. You, the rider, are sitting still and centered. Now “let the horse take you for a ride.”
To ride through the stop, begin by taking slack from the reins. Remember the tempo: one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four. There is no body English in your legs or upper torso. Assume the volume had to be raised to 10 to accomplish the stop. Not acceptable. Reduce the horses speed to a rate that he can properly perform the maneuver in a soft smooth manner. As a rule, it is best to begin the exercise at the speed which a horse can correctly responde, then build from there. Remember, we are building the horse’s self confidence and preparing him to be successful. Rider consistency combined with correct body position is extremely important when sending the cue. Executing the stop from the canter could take 2-4 weeks, even longer, depending on rider consistency, his feel and the individual horse.
A horse might miss the cue for stop, if he is ignoring it, or if the cue is too soft for him to hear. His degree of refinement may be at a lower level. If he is listening, the cues can be soft, subtle and everything will go smoothly.

Here is the stop sequence from start to finish resulting in the final release. Your horse is in a collected canter. Check your body position: you are perfectly balanced and sitting perfectly still. Begin to cue for the stop by increasing the volume to one. On two, the horse begins to soften in the face. Three, he is more flexed and begins to drop his hips. At four, he is starting to stop in front with relaxed knees and trots as he begins to push on the ground in front to stop. Hold at four because he is trying to stop. Stay relaxed. You may be able to slightly release the reins because you can tell he is committed to the stop. Simply give him support by letting him know you are with him and he has the correct answer. Once stopped, maintain the lightest contact possible. Wait for the back accompanied by a soft face-now release. To back correctly a horse has to give his body. He should exhibit a good cadence, be soft in the face and flexed at the poll. He should back straight as he pushes with his hind feet. Does your horse back by pushing with his hind feet and trail with his front? Humm, I never thought about it.

His hips must drop, his poll higher than his wethers and his shoulders elevated. A simple technique I use is backing up hill. Combining this with lifting of his shoulders with your hands really accentuates this body position., It establishes the base of support upon the hind quarters which is the driving force of all movement.
We always steer the front feet and its the same when backing. Yes, we can adjust by moving the hips laterally to straighten also. Adjustment with the hips usually occurs when the horse is bent in the barrel which we want to remain straight.

How do you get him to back up hill, he just raises his head and won’t move his feet when I pull on the reins? Simple. The impulsion comes not from the reins. Remember open door closed door? We close the front door with feel and use our legs to generate momentum from his feet. The only pull on the reins occurrs when he chooses the wrong answer to go forward. Early in the maneuver speed is not important only correctness. Stay lite in your hands as long as he is not attempting to move forward. Bump him on his shoulders with the inside of your foot and ankle. Don’t use the spurs because we only want to make him uncomfortable and search for the correct answer which is back. Spurs cause pain. Yes, it means the rider has to work when using his legs. All momentum is generated with the riders legs and feet. Rider body position can also be used but that is more advanced. Once he is trained, he can be tuned just by leaning backward and pushing your feet forward slightly. It will take study and consistancy from the rider. Be satisfied with 2-3 steps at first and gradually increase. Backing in this manner forces the horse to push from behind in order to back up hill. It also forces him into the body position described earlier and the position is assumed by the horse naturally in order to execute the manuver. Follow your release with relaxed legs and sit still. If the horse steps forward, pull that foot backward with the same rein. Right foot, right rein, and so on. Once he is committed to standing still on a slack rein, rub him on the hip or neck. I usually choose the hip because I can keep my legs relaxed and my weight towards the rear. Forward lean means go forward. Sit still for up to 30 seconds. This re-enforces the idea of no motion. It also teaches him to wait for you. “Stop” means stop! He will look forward to the chance to relax and catch some air. This IS the ‘comfort zone.’

The volume of response will vary from one stop to the next. Horses are creatures who make mistakes just as we do. There will be other stops, not all are instant. Sometimes they just have to collect and come to a smooth soft stop.

I use the word “whoa” infrequently. My mare Plenty is tuned into the word. I don’t talk during the trot or canter because if she were to hear me clear my throat, she would stop. I use the word just after the rein movement to re-enforce it. She is very sensitive to the reins; therefore, I have to be very careful to be slow with my hands.
I have to keep her squeezed up to maintain speed. Here is the sequence: I think to myself, I am going to stop. I check to see if I’m relaxed and my body position is centered. I release my legs and begin taking slack from the reins an instant after my leg release. Now the ‘whoa.’ Plenty needs to be desensitized on these cues until she responds softly and smoothly. She should be extremely smooth and able to melt into the ground once she ceases trying to respond so quickly. I will merely take time with her and let it come naturally. Her time line might be 6-8 months because I will continue working on turn arounds, leads, speed changes and roll backs. The smaller pieces we have been building are turning into larger parts.

The stop many times is misunderstood and poorly executed by the rider. It takes feel, timing, balance and rider consistency. Slow hands may help both horse and rider be successful.

Distance riding for the most part does not require a sliding stop, merely a slow controlled drop in gait. However, all the pieces of the complete stop should be learned and maintained for times when a complete stop is necessary. This maneuver is one of many that prepares the horse for success in numerous disciplines.

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