Building a Partnership with your Horse “On-Trail Training, Part 8”

July 31, 2013
Lynn Palm
Lynn Palm
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Ride! & Western Times – Article #58
About 1100 Words

Palm Partnership Training™
Building a Partnership with your Horse
“On-Trail Training, Part 8”
by Lynn Palm

This month we will continue on with the on-trail training series by discussing the very important issues of stopping correctly and standing.

Stopping Correctly

The main thing to remember when asking your horse to come to a stop is not to instinctively rely on using your hands and pulling back on the reins. This action sets off a chain reaction in your riding position. The more you pull your hands back towards your stomach, the more your upper body goes forward which tends to make your legs move too far back. You are then unbalanced in the saddle; and, in an effort to regain balance, riders often brace themselves by pushing their legs forward in the stirrups. This actually pushes you back and up out of the saddle; and, if you’re moving faster than a walk, it will cause you to bounce in the saddle, making you even more unbalanced.

You also put tension in the reins when you brace in the stirrups, and this tension transfers to the horse’s sensitive mouth. The horse usually reacts to the tension by bracing back against the rider. The horse stiffens his neck and tightens his jaw and mouth or opens his mouth in an effort to avoid the pressure. The horse also may toss his head, pull against the bit, or duck his head behind the vertical.

The first cue for stopping your horse should be with your seat by stopping your back-and-forth hip movement. You do this by tightening your lower stomach and buttocks muscles. Your legs should support your seat by lightly touching both sides of the horse. This will also keep the horse straight and his hind legs underneath him.

The rein cue also is used to offer support for the halt. Shorten both reins in an upward motion (rather than a pulling back) before asking for the stop with you seat. Your hands should only be three to four inches above the saddle horn; and, if they are any higher, your hands are either too long or you have too much slack in them. The slight upward motion encourages the horse to transfer his weight off his front end and onto his hind end where his power is centered.

The rein cue should be used in a give-and-take motion and not in a steady pulling motion. If you maintain a constant pull on the reins, the horse will instinctive move away from the pressure and become frustrated and confused about what you want. You also should use a slightly vibrating pressure on the reins along with the give-and-take motion.

Obviously, the best way to perfect your halts is by practicing walk-to-halt transitions, using the stopping of your hip motion as the primary cue supported by your legs and hands. It is easiest to practice this along a fence line to keep your horse moving in a straight line which helps him maintain a steady pace. If you keep your horse’s body straight as well, it will be easier for him to balance himself and work off his hind end.

Standing actually is part of stopping because your horse always should stand quietly after a halt until you ask him to move off again. Many horses will come to a halt easily but will not stand quietly and instead start jigging and dancing around.

If your horse does this, first check to make sure you are not continuing to put pressure on the reins. When you halt, you immediately should loosen rein pressure. Then, let him relax, look around, and “slow down his mind” before asking him to move off again.

If rein pressure is not the reason for your horse dancing around, it simply may be that he still has too much energy to release. If this is the case, I either continue to work him under saddle or on the longe line before I ask him to stop and stand again.

If you are on the trail and your horse refuses to stand, dismount and make him stand still from the ground. To do this you need to control his head. Usually, the horse will turn his head to the left towards you and then lean on you or walk on top of you. Move his head to the right by pushing on the side of his head. By making the horse move in the opposite direction from where he is trying to go, you put yourself in charge again.

Your horse always should stand still when you mount and dismount. This is basic respect and obedience. I am surprised, however, at how many riders do not demand this basic obedience from their horse. If you are guilty of letting your horse get away with this bad behavior, now is the time to take charge. Stand your horse facing into the corner of a fence, parallel to the fence and with his legs squarely underneath himself. Hold the reins and a handful of mane in your left hand and swing into the saddle lightly and in one smooth motion. Make sure your reins are even and not too tight or too loose, and give the command “whoa” as you swing into the saddle.

If you have done all the above things and your horse still refuses to stand still while you are mounting, do not complete your mount. Step back down, have the horse stand again, and start over even if you have to do it a dozen times. If you mount while your horse is moving, not only is it unsafe, but it also teaching him that movement is acceptable.

If your horse still continues to move, put him on the longe line and exercise him before you try to mount again. He simply may have excess energy that needs to be burned off before you ride him.

If you drag yourself up into the saddle or plop down into the saddle, you may be the cause of your horse not standing still when mounting. If you have difficulty mounting for any reason, use a mounting block to make it easier on yourself and your horse. There are plenty of lightweight plastic steps and mounting blocks on the market, and it certainly is no reflection on riding ability if you need to use a mounting block. If fact, many instructors insist that their students use a mounting block for the sake of their school horses.

The material is taken from a series of articles I did for Trail Rider Magazine with writer Cynthia McFarland. Many trail-training lessons can be found in my book, Training Outside the Box. Find this, and other helpful training materials, at or call 800-503-2824.