In order to fix your stop, you need to take a few steps back and focus on making sure your horse is soft, relaxed, and responsive to your hand and leg when you’re in the rundown. There are three phases to this drill, and you must be able to complete each step before moving onto the next one. If you don’t, it’ll be harder to fully diagnose what’s causing your stopping problems.
Depending on the level of experience you and your horse are at, you might need to spend more time on the first or second part of this drill before going onto the next step. And you might spend multiple days, or even weeks, working on the first two parts of this drill before going to the third and final phase.
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Phase one begins before you even approach the rundown. To start, I pick up a lope and go around the end of the arena, like I would if I were showing. I make sure I’m able to steer my horse around the corner with my rein and outside leg, and that she moves her whole body over when I ask her to. I want her to almost swing around the corner like a gate rather than bent like a merry-go-round.
If I feel that she’s leaning to the inside or outside of the corner, I go to my hand and squeeze with both legs to get her to straighten back out and stop leaning. If she’s bent coming out of the corner, she’s more likely to be bent when I ask for more speed and won’t be able to straighten out as easily.
The next phase is the build of the rundown from the corner all the way to where you would pull the trigger to stop on the opposite end of the arena. To ask for an increase in speed, I bump on her sides with both legs evenly to push her forward. However, it’s important to remember to use your legs and not necessarily your spurs when you’re pushing your horse forward to ensure you’re properly cueing him.
My horse should continue to be relaxed and stay in a straight line even with the build of speed. If she starts to build speed but also begins to lean, I’ll steer her in the opposite direction on a new line and continue going forward and straight.
The other problem that can happen when you add speed to your rundown is having your horse start to flatten out or get tight. This is why most people run into issues when they stop. If my horse is tight or flat when I ask for the stop, she’s not lifting up her shoulders or staying round, and is more likely to jam up on her front end and throw me forward and out of position.
If my horse is getting tight during the rundown I’ll softly break her down to a trot and work on rounding her body back up. It’s very important that I stay slow with my hand and leg when I ask for this transition. If I’m too fast when I ask for the trot breakdown, I’m only going to cause her to get tense and possibly even create anxiousness.
I go to two hands when I break my horse to the trot and use my legs to push her up into the trot to round her back and lift her shoulders up. If I run into some tightness or resistance, whether she’s not wanting to round up or if she’s leaning into my leg, I keep pushing her forward until she softens and straightens out underneath me again. I’ll trot circles both ways for as long as I need to, and once she’s soft, I’ll ask her to lope off again. When she starts to get tight again, I’ll transition her back down to the trot and do the same thing all over.
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Once I can run my horse down (going both directions) with increased speed while staying soft, relaxed, and straight, it’s time for phase three, which is where I pull the trigger and ask for the actual stop. This should be a positive experience for your horse—something to let him know he’s doing everything else right. If you ask your horse to stop and he’s not as soft as you need him to be, go back to the first two steps of this drill before trying it again to avoid creating any bad stopping habits.