‘Now’ Exercise Makes Safety a Habit

Practice the one-rein stop this way to maximize its effectiveness—and your safety.
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Draw on one rein to bring your horse’s head to one side (left), holding the rein pressure until he disengages his hindquarters by stepping a hind leg to the side (right). Continue to hold until he stops, stands still, and waits for your cue before moving.

Draw on one rein to bring your horse’s head to one side (left), holding the rein pressure until he disengages his hindquarters by stepping a hind leg to the side (right). Continue to hold until he stops, stands still, and waits for your cue before moving.

You’re likely familiar with the one-rein stop, as it’s a trusted horsemanship basic taught by most clinicians. But do you know the best way to practice it to make sure it’s truly “there” for you when you need it, in a real emergency? I’m going to explain that way to you; it involves enlisting a helper to prompt you to perform the stop on his or her command. First, though, I’ll explain why this maneuver is so important, and review its basics.

Ready? Let’s go.

Why you need this. Horses are unpreditable animals. With a well-practiced one-rein stop in place, however, you can predict how your horse will act in an emergency, because you can control it. If you’ve trained yourself to perform a one-rein stop the instant something starts to go wrong—because of a spook or disobedience or whatever—you can bring your horse back under your control almost automatically. You’ll override your instinct to pull back on both reins, which is how we otherwise respond in an emergency. Instead, you’ll react the correct way, using one rein, without having to stop and think.

One-rein-stop basics. What is a one-rein stop? A maneuver to halt your horse’s forward movement and disengage his hind end so he stays stopped until you cue him otherwise. You accomplish this by drawing on one rein to bring your horse’s head around until he steps laterally underneath himself with a hind leg. For example, you draw on the left rein, leaving slack in the right rein, until he stops and disengages his hindquarters to the right. (Keep your legs away from his sides as you do this, as leg pressure means, “Go forward!”—exactly what you don’t want.)

Once your horse stops his forward movement completely and steps his hind end to the side, release the rein and let him stand quietly for three to five seconds. If he tries to walk off before you ask him to, cue for the stop again immediately, using the same rein. Repeat until he waits patiently for your go-forward cue.

Be sure to practice equally on both reins, stopping sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right.

Advance to a trot. When you’ve mastered it at a walk, move up to a trot. Ask your horse to trot about 15 strides, then reach down slowly, pick up either rein, and ask him to disengage and then stop completely. Practice this for about 10 minutes each riding session, being sure to work both sides.

Now, on command. Here’s the key finishing part. When your horse is fluent performing a one-rein stop from a trot, recruit a friend to drill you on the maneuver. Ride with purpose in your arena, executing a pattern or doing anything to keep your mind focused and not thinking about your friend. Then, at intervals of his or her choosing, your friend will call out “Now!”—at which point you’ll instantly perform a one-rein stop.

The beauty of this exercise is it simulates a feeling of emergency, as your friend’s command, coming suddenly and unexpectedly out of the blue, can give you the same jolt of adrenaline that a real emergency does. So as you practice responding to the sudden call, you’re conditioning your body to react correctly in the event of a real emergency.

This not only boosts your confidence, it also enables you to build a stronger partnership with your horse.

Brandi Lyons teaches the respect-based training philosophy pioneered by her father, John Lyons, decades ago. She presents her No Limits Horsemanship through clinics, educational DVDs, and her Trainers’ Program. Learn more about the Scottsdale, Arizona, horsewoman and her offerings at lyonsnolimits.com.

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