Good Horsemanship

Good Horsemanship

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Before going into the one-rein stop, it may be helpful to know that clicker training can put a superb "whoa" on a horse! ClickRyder Website, ClickRyder Email List.

One-Rein Stop

Everything a horse does, or will do, is pre-cued in the horses body language. They are very honest and 'liar' isn't in their vocabulary. This is VERY important knowledge in the use of the ORS, or any training/working/playing with your horse. In the words of the clinician Pat Parelli, "Horses are experts at learning what happens, before what happens happens." Because it is in their language to each other.

You should start getting your horse accustomed to the one rein stop by practicing some lateral flexion on the ground after you have gone through your saddling routine. Actually, lateral flexion on the ground is a part of my pre-flight check of my horse before I ask him to accept me in the saddle and check his mood.

I stand to the side of my horse about even with the saddle horn [my shoulders parallel with the horses] with my close arm maybe up on the saddle resting my hand on the horn. I take one step forward with my outside leg toward the horses head, and gently cup the bridge of his nose, and step back again with my outside leg and bring his head around close to my belly. [Be sure there is no conflicting pressure with the reins or halter/lead rope anywhere.] When his head is back by my belly, I show him I am relaxed for him by bowing my head to his and letting go with a big *sigh* and limp body when our heads are together. With your hand on his nose, you can feel his resistance level. Be it a lean on your hand, slightly or more forceful. But at some point you will feel your horse soften and give to your hand on his nose. The milli-moment you feel him soften and give, you release your hand on his nose. Then love him up with rubs on his neck/ top of his mane and forehead.

Do the other side the same way. You will be suprised how they catch on to this. Soon you will be able to keep him in your little huddle with just the lightest of suggestion. It is a position that teaches him acceptance and patience.

First starting with the ground lateral flexion, the horse will do a good job at getting you out of position by stepping sideways away from you, but you step with him and keep your position along side the saddle and your hand on the bridge of his nose. He will settle and stand still when he knows you're on to him and in further sessions the sidestepping will diminish. That's another trait perfected by the equine. They know how to get the human in a position that is adequate to them. And the sooner you realize that, and understand what they are trying to do, it gets much easier to stay with them.

The reason for so much dwelling on the lateral flexion on the ground, is because it is a twin brother to the One Rein Stop under saddle. After I am mounted I like to sit for sometimes up to thirty seconds, again teaching him patience and change his way of thinking.

My horse, for some reason thought, that as soon as I was mounted I wanted to go somewhere [at first it was back to the barn!]. So I began to implement the One Rein stop. The instant he started to move off without cue, [I use one piece reins] I center my off side hand [right hand] on the reins above his withers, and with the left hand start a trombone motion [with a firm OK symbol with just my thumb and index finger around the rein]. Go down the rein about 18" from the bit, and back up aprox. 2 or 3 times as a preparation cue as to what's coming. Then after your trombone imitation, tighten your 'OK' symbol [Thumb and index finger] around the rein and lock your elbow on the peak of the downstroke [aprox. 18" from the bit] and extend your arm out a bit.

Now, in order, close your other fingers [middle, then ring, and pinkie] around the rein, so your rein is running through your fist. Move your fist with the rein assertively to your mid thigh and hold. Hold it there, with his head around as in the ground lateral flexion exercise. Stare at your stirrup on that side and go limp maybe even letting a big *sigh* go. [Holding your firm grip of the rein to your thigh though.] Hold his head around until he relaxes. Don't look at him, just stay limp and relaxed starring down at your stirrup.

This teaches him that you DO have control over his actions, and we will go when YOU are ready to go. [Patience and acceptance again.] When he relaxes, he will give a soft feel and produce slack in the rein. Your timing here is crucial, because it is the release that teaches him. The milli-moment you feel him give, or start to give, drop the rein as if it were on fire and burnt your hand, love him up.

A good way to practice this, is to ride with a halter and lead rope to begin. Switch the lead to different sides and practice equally. When one rein is all you have, it soon becomes the natural way for you to stop.

That is the way I started the ORS. Now, although I ride with an O-ring SI snaffle and one piece reins with a lead rope, I use the "OK" trombone motion to transition to lower gaits. And in the walk, he knows the ol' trombone means stop. The milli-moment he lowers to the gait desired, I release instantly.

But the key is to be as honest with your horse as they are with you. He knows after just a couple sessions that following the trombone is the head around. So don't break your pattern unless you are satisfied. If you start the trombone, wanting a stop, follow through with it, and bring his head around until you get the stop and relaxation. We started riding alot of trails this past summer, with a couple groups, and I have a problem with alot of strangers in the first few minutes. Although I present myself as 'cool and collected' on the outside to the other riders, I don't fool him, and he responds by breaking into a trot on his own.

Horses sense your nervousness, doubt and all your emotions. But that's a problem of mine I'm dealing with and he is helping me. When he moves off without cue, he's telling me "Would you just settle back and enjoy this buddy??" I do our one rein stop, and it actually helps me relax as well. He will stay as long as I hold him and we BOTH reach our relaxed state. And funny thing, minutes into the ride, as soon as " I " relax, wouldn't you know, that there are NO more uncued transitions?? Funny thing, isn't it?!? ; ] Not really, if you stop and think. He feels me settle in, and responds accordingly, settling into our ride.

Anyway, I'll get up off the couch and continue. When you release sooner than your intended goal, that rewards him for whatever he is doing at the point of release. [Buck Branamann states; "You get what you reward.."] Your horse WANTS to please and understand you more than we realize, and receive comfort for that. And releasing too late, moments after he has given a soft feel [that's why I use the term 'milli-moment'], leaves him with the question mark of what you actually were asking of him.

This is the "emergency brake" on your horse. Every horse has one, you just have to make sure they know itís there. If you have ever seen a horse run away with someone and they didnít know what to do, this would have saved the situation. I never get on a horse without testing to see if the horse can do a one rein stop.

This is so simple, that itís amazing more people donít teach it. Use your rope halter and lead rope. You can do this with the lead rope alone or with the lead rope as a set of reins.

Bend the horse to the left and plant your hand on your thigh. Look down at the ground. Your horse will probably move itís hind end. Keep your hand planted on your thigh until the horse quits moving. When the horse stopís, immediately reward the horse. Now do this to the right. It's important to remember not to bring your hand behind your thigh. If you do this, your balance and center of gravity are behind your body -- if your horse did something foolish you may be on the ground. Also, make sure you donít have any leg on the horse. You donít want to confuse this with a balanced turn or leg yield at first.

As an exercise, you should try the one rein stop 60 times (30 on each side of the horse) alternating sides. No this is not a misprint! Your goal is to get the horse to reliably stop moving when you ask for the one rein stop. Oh, did I forget to tell you Ė if the horse fails, you have to start over at 1.


You really need to be able to disengage a horse's hindquarters if you are to ride him safely. The hindquarters are where the power comes from, so to be able to stop that, you can regain control if he spooks, bolts, rears, otherwise.

I like to, as with everything, teach it from the ground first. I know some horses that if you just got on them & put one foot back on their side, they'd scoot sideways or take off.

Get them used to moving from pressure on the ground, so that they learn to yield, not escape. As long as you start friendly, rubbing the spot, then apply steadily growing pressure, then instantly release & rub the spot again, he should learn to move whatever part of his body when you push and stop when you rub. Pretty soon, you'll be able to lightly ask him to move in any direction and he'll respect it & won't escape away. You can ask him to move one foot or more, be able to position and direct him wherever you wish, in any direction.

This will all translate to when you ride, where you put your weight, hands & legs. When you put your foot back on his side, he'll know to move his hindquarters over, as he was taught on the ground, so you can disengage that power.

I also like to ask for a bend when I need to disengage the quarters. This gives even more control in an unexpected situation. If you can bend them without bracing & disengage their back end, then you can start circling, so they can't run away with you or rear.

From the ground, I taught my horse to 'smell his tail'. I stand beside him, holding the end of his tail, so he knows not to turn his body, then with my other hand I draw his head around till he's sniffing his tail. I draw his head without force, because I want him to learn to do this without bracing & fighting. If he fights it, I don't keep pulling, but hold the pressure & his head there until he softens, then INSTANTLY release to reward him. Next time, I'll get past that point before he gets too uncomfortable with it. I use my hand & also the lead on the halter, to show him how I'd ask with the rein. This exercise needs to be done in baby steps, slowly, PATIENTLY, PATIENTLY!

On his back, I drop my focus down to my inside thigh, reach down for one rein, bring it steadily up to my thigh & hold it there to get him to bend his neck around. To disengage the quarters, I focus at his rear, that I want to push around & put that inside leg back to disengage the quarters. I always want to start with the focussing, because eventually one day, I want to be good enough so that he responds to that, without me having to use my legs or reins.

The one rein stop is about preparation and follow through. It is about connecting the reins to the feet. It is about releasing the topline of the horse to allow the underline to do its job. It is about removing the braces, not building them. It is about helping the horse follow a feel, not dragging the head and feet against a rein. And, it is also about stopping a horse. Feel free to find other ways to do this that do all of the above. The young horse being ridden for the first time may struggle with understanding some things that are different, because of the different feel he's getting from the rider.

Is there another way to get all of the above mentioned things done, on that first ride? It is easy for a horse to push against two reins, if he does not understand what they ask. It is difficult to push against one rein alone, if he does not understand it. Would you expect him to understand it the first time you asked? He will experiment with things. He will try things that won't work and discover something that does. When he finds what works, he also finds he can bring his hindquarters underneath him, that he can balance the rider better that way, that he can relax and not need to push against the rein, that he can yield those hindquarters in any direction needed, and use them to keep himself straight.

Ride as if you have no legs, or ride as if you have no reins, each by themselves to create the softness you need, then there is much less confusion when the reins and legs begin to work together. Human beings find limitations, but human beings can also find freedom and beauty. If a human being would not apply limitations, the freedom would not be restricted and the beauty defeated. Why would you not want to stop your horse with one rein? Why would you not want to stop with two? Or none? Each has its value, and its place. Each has its purpose. There should be no limitations.

You create what you choose to create, by the way you present your idea. You are holding a conversation with your horse, and it goes both ways. The braces are confusion. The tension is misunderstanding mixed with demanding. A rein breaks, and the freedom returns. Will it bring you good fortune, or a wreck?

A one rein stop does not create problems. Poor presentation, poor timing, poor feel - these will cause problems. I have heard the one rein stop criticized for being the cause of much misunderstanding in the horse. If there is to be criticism, it should be in the presentation of the rider, but that is only due to misunderstanding by the person as to the purpose and use for stopping on one rein.

A person can ride a one rein stop to the exclusion of feel, timing and balance, for the purpose of perceived safety or control, and it can be a help to that person for that time. When the person can successfully attain self-control, the person can tune in to the missing feel better, and follow through on the presentation more clearly.

There are plenty of folks out there who can close a finger around the rein, and the feel would be the same to the horse as it would for someone else who must close the whole fist. For the meaning to be clear to the horse as to how the rein connects to the feet, a horse who has learned to find release from pushing through the fist of the latter person, would need the closed fist of the former to come back to the feel of one finger closing. If the horse found release from pushing through the fist of the first person, the second person would have no chance to recover.

I bring this up more for the person who can easily close a finger around the rein than the person who needs to use the whole fist. The finger person could help by understanding the fist person's physical limits. It is unlikely the fist person would ever cause a horse to throw its head sharply back without a violent pull on the rein, where the finger person could do it with a flick of the wrist. Again, this is for the finger person to understand more about the fist person, since neither person would want the horse to do that.

That finger person might get by all his life without ever using a one rein stop, but there wouldn't be as much freedom or beauty as there might be. The fist person would probably not survive a young horse well without it. Both of these people would benefit from stopping the horse with one rein. This won't make sense to everyone, yet.


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