The Brakes

Did you wish your horse would slam on the brakes right when you ask? Do you make it halfway around the arena before he finally halts? Or worse, do you reach the barbed wire fence a little too soon? Retraining the stop response is fairly easy — here’s how.

Get a halter and lead rope and your horse. Ask him to walk forward by putting forward pressure on the lead rope. Once he starts moving, you can too. Walk forward about four steps, and then apply light backward pressure to the lead rope for three steps of his forelegs. What does he do?

  • He stops immediately. You don’t really need to keep reading this post.
  • He doesn’t even seem to notice! Read on.
  • There is a slight deceleration. That’s not what you asked for. Read on.
  • He accelerates. You’ve got a problem—he perceives stop as go!
  • He rears. You’ve really got a problem…in case you didn’t notice.

Any of the last four options require retraining of the stop response.

Now, repeat the ‘lead forward four steps and stop’ sequence. This time, apply the same light pressure but increase the pressure steadily after 1 step until he stops. Your aim is to have him stopped in three steps, so make that happen. Now, remember the amount of pressure it took to motivate him to stop. Lead him forward again.

When you ask him to stop this time, you are going to wait that one step at the light pressure, and when he gives no improved response you will rapidly increase pressure to the same point, so that he stops in the target three steps.

Your goal is to remove the increasing pressure so that your stop signal is just a light touch, held for two strides until he stops.

Are you remembering to release pressure as soon as the last foot comes into place?

Repeat this exercise in sets of three to seven, insisting on three improved responses in a row before you move on to a different exercise. After a couple of minutes, you can come back to stopping. If he is doing really well in the first session, you can increase the challenge by asking him to do trot to walk to halt transitions, each stage being completed within three steps of his forelegs.

This is also the precursor to learning how to stand still, so practice this up for next week!

The Horsegentler

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