Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Let's Ride! How to Stop a Horse

Last time I talked about walking a horse. I think before moving on to the fast gaits, it is time to talk about stopping the horse. I probably should've talked about this earlier...but need to have forward movement in order to stop.

Before getting on the horse and starting to ride, riders must wear a helmet and protective footwear. Safety is paramount when combining horses and individuals in activities. Riding horses is an inherently dangerous activity and participants in the activities assume the risk of being injured. You, as the rider, may not always be in control of the horse, but can help to prevent injury by wearing an ASTM/SEI certified helmet and protective footwear (along with clothes, obviously!!). If at all possible, have an equine professional (preferably an instructor) with you during your first couple rides.

1. First things first, maintain your posture!!
  • When you are sitting on the horse, do not slouch or tense up, as there will be more of a propensity for you to fall off. Maintaining good posture will also help communicate your cues to the horse.
  • Make sure you are sitting square in the saddle and that your balance has not shifted to one side.
  • Keep your legs under you (with feet preferably in the stirrups), not too far forward but not too far back. Do not let your legs move forward as if you are sitting in a chair, and do not allow them to swing. Keep your legs still and "quiet".
  • About a third of your boot should be in the stirrup, with the balls of your feet on the bar of the stirrup. Your feet should be parallel to the horse with your heels down. And toes should not point outward.
  • There should be an imaginary straight line from your shoulders, down to your hips and through your feet, but you shouldn't be able to see your toes if you look down.
  • Arms, wrists, and fingers need to be relaxed but steady. Your hands should maintain steady contact (or tightness) with the reins, meaning you should feel contact between your hands and the bit (the big metal thing in the horse's mouth).
  • And finally look ahead of you or where you are going to be moving to.

2. Ask your horse to pick up the walk. If you do not know how to do this, please see this post. The walk has to be a nice, steady forward moving gait.

3. When you are ready to stop, you will need to, in essence, stop riding with your body. When riding a horse, you have a light seat in order to follow the movement and rhythm of the horse. In order to stop, you will want to add more weight to, deepen, and stop the movement in your seat. You make yourself heavier by rolling your hips slightly more under yourself thus slightly moving your body backward, and pushing down in your seat.

4. While stopping with your body and deepening the seat, make sure to keep your leg still. Next find your belly button. (easiest step ever!!)

5.  Pull the reins GENTLY back toward your belly button. This is more of a squeeze than a pull. One squeeze to slow down and another to stop. This brings the bit, if it is a jointed bit (such as a snaffle), back in the horse's mouth, creating pressure on the bars of the mouth, tongue and sides of the mouth. If it is a leverage bit (such as the curb bit), it will create pressure on the poll and in the horse's mouth. Please do not pull the reins sharply as that is pretty much like punching your horse in the mouth. And I'm pretty sure you wouldn''t want to get punched in the mouth, so why do that to the horse. Another thing, and I have seen this a lot. When pulling back, always, always pull back toward the belly button. Do not pull them up toward your shoulder as you aren't putting the correct pressure in the correct places and the horse might evade the bit. One more thing. Do not wrap the reins around your body, ever.

6. If you really need to, also use your voice. Everyone knows of the word "whoa!" Use it if need be, but know that it really isn't something you should use as your aids for riding and stopping should be body, seat, leg, then hand.

7. Once the horse has stopped, release the pressure on the bit, thus rewarding the horse.  If pressure is not released, the horse may get mixed signals and do something that is not what you want.

If the horse does not stop, check the length of your reins, and body positioning. Get rid of excess slack in the reins, if needed, and try the above steps again.

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