Get Your Rundown Right

Fix yourself and your horse for the perfect rundown so you can nail your stop.

A rundown might seem like it’s just a means of getting from Point A to Point B—the end of the arena to the sliding stop—but that oversimplifies its importance to your pattern. A great sliding stop can only happen with a solid rundown that builds steadily in speed and exhibits willingness, obedience, and correct form from the horse and excellent timing from the rider.

A perfect rundown is a lot like shifting gears in a manual-transmission vehicle. You start off with a smooth departure from a stoplight (from the end of the arena) in first gear. Then, speed up a little as you get past the light and shift into second gear. You add a little speed and shift into third gear as you keep driving (the middle third of the arena, with your hand down and legs on your horse), and then you hit fourth gear and maintain your speed (the final approach to the stop). Finally, you sit deep, say “whoa,” and lift your hand.

But, as we all know, problems can arise that keep you from achieving that perfect rundown. Here are a couple issues I regularly see riders encounter and how to remedy them to get the most out of a rundown.

A great sliding stop comes from a great rundown. Your horse must exhibit willingness, obedience, and speed control in the rundown. Photo by Nichole Chirico

Problem 1: The Runaway

This is probably the most prevalent issue I see with rundowns as a trainer, a coach, and judge. Riders get excited. Horses get excited. In that excitement, the rundown goes from first to fourth gear in mere steps. You might think, “The faster I go, the better he’ll stop!” But the opposite is true. Your horse must build controlled speed, keeping his body in position, to achieve a good stop. Additionally, when he goes to top speed immediately, he’ll begin to slow down before the stop, which leads to scotching.

This is when I implement fencing, a training technique many don’t understand, but all riders should learn about. Fencing is when you let the horse go all the way to the fence, in a controlled manner, and let him stop on his own. You don’t push him to the fence, as if you’ll run through it—that can build fear and anxiety in your horse. Doing this correctly can help you better understand where and how to build speed, and it helps your horse learn to look for those cues instead of running off on his own.

Pro Tip: If your horse is anxious when fencing, allow him to break to the trot as he approaches the end of the arena instead of jamming him into the fence. This will help him gain confidence in the approach to the stop. There’s no sense building on his fear/anxiety by working at a higher rate of speed than his brain is able to process in that moment.

Problem 2: The Lean

Straightness can make or break your rundown. If your horse leans toward the gate or away from something that makes him anxious, his body isn’t in position, so his stop won’t be as successful. Leaning to one side or the other means his weight isn’t evenly distributed, which means he can’t achieve a square, correct stop.

First, check your position. Are you centered in the saddle? Do you apply even leg pressure? Do you focus your eyes on a target, helping to keep your head and torso squarely aimed at the end of the arena? Your own body position can greatly influence your horse’s tendency to lean.

If you’re square in the saddle, looking ahead, and he still tries to lean away from something or toward the gate, try this. Let’s assume the fence is on your right. When your horse leans left, break him down to a trot and circle to the right. Then return to your rundown. You can also continue loping when you break off into a circle in the opposite direction of his lean. Try implementing this technique when loping diagonally across the pen, as well as how you’d execute a rundown parallel with the fence.

If your horse is leaning during the rundown, try breaking your horse down to a trot and circle him in the opposite direction. Once he straightens back out, you can go back to your straight line. A great sliding stop comes from a great rundown. Your horse must exhibit willingness, obedience, and speed control in the rundown. Photo by Nichole Chirico

Key Tips

As you go about this, there are a few important things to keep in mind. In fact, these can apply to all your riding and training, not just fixing your rundowns.

First, stay calm. Keep all your corrections quiet and methodical instead of getting angry or losing patience and jerking on your horse. When you let your emotions get the best of you, it scares or angers your horse and causes anxiety. For the short term, this kind of reaction can wreck the rest of your ride. Even worse, in the long term, it leads him to resent the work and anticipate “getting in trouble,” which can cause even bigger issues.

Second, let him make a mistake. It might be tempting to correct your horse before he commits to bolting or leaning. But this only allows you to become a crutch for him. Soon you won’t be able to cover up for him. Instead, allow him to make a mistake, and calmly correct it. He’ll soon learn it’s more work to do it his way than it is to go along with your direction.

Third, let him run. As long as you’re safe in the confines of an arena, where can he go? Whether in rundowns or in circling, sometimes allowing the horse to act on his impulse can help him understand that rating his speed is better than total exertion. Let him run and see that your way is much less work than his way.

[Read: Why Patience Matters]

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