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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Other Way of Stopping

Not all horses are slow off the leg. Others are too quick. In this situation it’s your arms not your legs that need the break. Your horse can only pull if he has something to pull against so you need to teach him that there are other ways of stopping.
So much is written about your lower leg but how often do you read about your upper leg? Pushed into the saddle your knee and thigh restrict the muscles that work the shoulder, automatically slowing your horse down. This means you depend less on your reins.
Warm up and try this exercise.
Start in walk.  Choose a marker to make a transition to halt. Think of your thighs and knees as a clothes peg and squeeze into your horse as hard as you can.
At first you might find he’s a bit confused by your change of style. He’ll slow down but may not be sure whether to stop. Use your reins initially just to make it clear.  When he halts be quick to praise him. It’s too easy to forget and only criticise.
Walk and halt until you can stop with just the pressure from your knee and thigh. Don’t release the pressure until you want to move on. This works on all horses and results can be instant. If you have no reaction you just need to squeeze harder.
Once you’ve mastered walk to halt try trot to walk and canter to trot. Release the pressure the second you feel the new pace. It takes some practice to be able to create smooth transitions but when you’ve really got the hang of it you can try direct transitions from trot to halt or canter to walk. Just squeeze with your upper leg until you reach the pace that you want.
Practice until it becomes second nature. Every time you want to slow down use your knee before your hand. Your horse’s mouth will appreciate it and so will your arms. In time you’ll be able to collect and lengthen just by changing the pressure from your knee but that’s something to think about another day.


  1. Thanks, it's one of the best things I've ever been taught.

  2. Hi Lorraine,

    I too was taught this technique many years ago - I used to get told off for doing it in college lessons, however, for training youngters at home and even for the older more 'established' horses it is the best way to steady and slow pace.

    My query to you is - what is the best way to teach a very long legged 5 year old T.B (Ex. race horse)to canter in the school without feeling the need to rush when he becomes unbalanced? He is very good at cantering on the lunge (he lunges in a de-gogue) but in the school we find it hard to create a balanced canter. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

    Thanks, Claire

  3. Hi Claire, thanks for your question. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few ex racehorses over the years and I love them. They’re not without their difficulties of course but that’s TBs for you!

    It sounds to me as if your horse needs to find his confidence with a rider on top. The quicker he finds it the sooner he’ll establish some sense of balance. It might help if you do your canter work slightly up off his back just until he settles down a bit. He’ll be used to that position so it’s one less thing for him to worry about.

    With any young or green horse I tend to cut off the corners on the short sides to make it easier to get round and I circle in the middle of the school which allows me to make the circle that bit wider if I need to. I’ll ride a circle and then go once large, then circle again to keep things simple but varied.

    Race horses, especially flat racers, depend a lot on the bit to balance. Watch any finish and you’ll see that the best way to stop one is to drop your reins and drop the horse onto its forehand. I’ve found this can work in your favour as you re-school.

    With other types you’d be pushing them to take more weight on their hocks but I’ve always allowed an ex-racehorse to become fairly heavy in my hand until I gain their trust. As they start to get more confident the rushing tends to disappear and then you can work on moving more weight back to the hocks.

    You may well throw your hands up in horror but I’ve always ridden mine in a straight bar snaffle with flash to actively encourage them to ‘sit’ on the bit. (A standing martingale also works wonders if you are still at the upside down head stage.) I can honestly say it was the quickest way I found to get a horse settled and in my hand. There’s nothing worse than a nervous, unbalanced horse which is capable of 40mph!

    Race horses are used to spending hours in canter. That’s far more normal than short bursts. Get off his back, keep a firm contact on his mouth so he can lean on you if he feels unbalanced and set your stop watch for five minutes. As you’re cantering count strides from 1 to 4 and keep at it. It’s a strange thing to do but somehow it sets up a rhythm for you without you having to think about it. You keep counting and the rest sorts itself out. (It has to be 4 - 3 or 5 don’t work!)

    I hope something here helps, Claire, but it’s an interesting question with a whole load of answers. These are things I’ve had success with but all horses are different. Feel free to come back and discuss.

  4. Now this is genius. I've been using this on my 6yo for a week now & all tension is starting to disappear. He's no longer spooking at nothing & working much better & more consistently. THANK YOU!!!

    I have a similar question as the comment above. When we practise dressage tests, simple things like cantering on a circle, my horse tends to bend to the outside & fall in a bit, and even in trot he occasionally goes a bit bridle lame. Am I hanging onto his mouth too much? He's a sensitive horse, but does often ignore my leg or lean on it (hence him falling in), would you have any suggestions to correct this?

    Thank you again!! Tor x

  5. Hi Tor, I'm so glad you're getting results. Here's my theory on falling in. It's worth looking at In Your Hands and Keep in Touch too.

    if a horse falls in or out it's because you haven't kept their shoulders together. So put simply you're doing something in the hand department to allow them to move apart.

    Horses that look to the outside tend to be heavy in the outside rein or so we say. Someone once told me to look at it another way. Instead of thinking they're heavy in one rein, think they're light in the other!

    Seriously try this because it's amazing.Take up your reins so you have even weight in each - even if it feels too much. Ride your horse straight in his head and neck and ride from a strong inside heel to your outside leg.

    Circle at E or B so you have to use your outside leg. If you don't your horse can do whatever he likes with his body.

    The most important thing to remember is a horse will copy whatever you do with your hands with their head, neck and shoulders. Lift, drop or move your hands apart and the same will happen in front of your saddle! Fascinating and true.

    I hope this helps. Let me know how you go. :) Lorraine

  6. I've not had the confidence to try this as I'm still learning and on school horses but was on a horse I trust a lot and decided to give it a shot. One squeeze on the upper legs and he stopped. It was amazing.

  7. I'm so excited that you tried this :) Not only will it make a huge difference to your brakes it also makes you realise how much you might be stopping your horse go forward if your leg is tight on the saddle. (Something else for you to think about! :) )