Stop a Runaway Horse!

There are a lot of misconceptions about what the “one-rein stop” is, and when and how to use it, much less how to teach it.

If you’re on a racy horse, as John Lyons is with Preacher here, think about moving the hip over rather than bending the neck. Many times a runaway horse will continue to move forward even if his nose is turned back all the way to your stirrup. | Photo by Betsy Lynch

Some say that it’s just circling, so you can’t do it on a narrow trail. Others will tell you that it’ll flip your horse over if you are going faster than a slow jog.

And quite a few folks seem quite sure that all you have to do is haul your horse’s head around to stop him.

The first statement is wrong. The second is incomplete. The third can be downright dangerous.

Circling is Futile
Simply circling your horse won’t necessarily slow him down. Racehorses and tornadoes move in circles. There’s no stop or end in a circle. You might eventually tire your horse out by circling, but that could take a while.

Sometimes, your horse will get frustrated by circling and simply give it up. In the meantime, he’s not listening to you.

In fact, bending your horse’s neck isn’t really even enough to slow him down, much less stop him. Given practice, some horses can become limber enough to touch your stirrup with their nose and still keep plowing straight ahead. Don’t encourage this maneuver. It causes your horse to become over-supple and disconnects the rein from his feet.

Every time you touch that rein, you want your horse to know that he’s going to have to change what his feet are doing. This is one reason why you never want to have him stand still while you bend his neck.

If the horse’s head is bent around on his neck while his body continues to move forward, you have no control. Your horse’s balance is completely off, and his legs can get tangled up. It’s like having the steering wheel of a vehicle that isn’t connected to the front wheels.

If you do this at a gallop, it’s like you’re in that vehicle going 100 miles per hour when you spin the steering wheel sharply to one side to turn it. The car is going to flip end over end. That’s exactly what can happen if you yank your horse’s head around attempting to immediately go to a full stop from high speed on an untrained horse. You might just “roll the vehicle.”

The One-Rein Stop

John Lyons points to Preacher’s hip, showing you the part of the horse that you’re trying to move with a one-rein stop. He holds the left rein shorter than the right rein, as you can see, but he’s not trying to bend Preacher’s head back to his stirrup to slow him down. Instead, it’s the hip stepping over that causes Preacher to slow. Photos by Betsy Lynch

The “one-rein stop” is also known as “hips over” or “connecting the rein to the hip.” This is?a fine stop, but it’s notthe only way to stop your horse and ? in some circumstances ? it may not be the best way.

However, it’s a vital exercise. I begin teaching it in the form of “hips over” from the ground on the very first day I work with an unbroken horse. Then I reinforce it every time I ride.

To perform this maneuver, the rider uses one rein to control the hindquarters so that one hind leg steps to the side. The other leg reaches underneath the belly, crossing in front of the leg that moved over. The horse’s hips swing over, and he pivots on one front foot.

All of this very effectively stops all forward motion, giving us a tremendously useful tool for our horseman’s workbox, but the situation must be right for it. The rider must know what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, and he must prepare the horse with solid training.

In any emergency, what you do at the time may not be as important as what you did to prepare for it ahead of time.

Before You Begin
Start these exercises in an enclosed area. You will start working with your horse from the ground, but will progress to the saddle.

Your horse must know the “go forward” cue. He must also know how to yield to pressure on his halter or bit. If he’s not solid on these cues, work with him until he is light and responsive.

Have a very clear picture in your head of every sequence you’ll be asking of the horse before you ask him to do any part of any exercise. Aside from giving yourself a mental checklist to follow, how else will you know if he’s responding correctly?

Step 1: Perform Ground Work
Stand by your horse’s left shoulder. This keeps you in a good spot to cue and also safely out of the way of his hindquarters. Hold the left rein about six inches from the bit, and ask him to go forward in small circles around you as you maintain your position.

As your moves briskly forward, ask his hindquarters to move two steps away from you to the right. To do this, slowly pick up the rein, take out the slack, and hold steady.

Your horse will need to figure out which part of his body you want him to move with this signal, so be patient while he tries different things. If he backs up or moves his whole body sideways, just get him moving forward again, stay quietly at his shoulder, and keep that pressure steady.

At first, you may have to use significant pressure to cue his nose inward enough to get the response you want, but don’t just pull his head around. Keep moving him forward around you, staying at his shoulder and holding the steady pressure on the rein.

Eventually, your horse may just give with his jaw and step away. That’s a fine start. As soon as he steps his hind legs away from you, release the rein.

Step 2: Use Lighter Cues

As seen from this rear view, it’s obvious how Preacher’s hips move, with his left hind leg stepping across in front of his right hind, then his right hind leg stepping out, then the left hind crossing again. Preacher’s head is tipped left, but it’s not this bend in the neck that slows the runaway. Instead it’s the

Send your horse forward again, and ask for bigger steps of the hind legs out of the circle with lighter cues. Look for the right hind foot to step toward 2 o’clock. The left hind will step in front of the right hind, also toward 2 o’clock.

When your horse’s hindquarters have moved over enough, his front legs will stop moving and his left front leg will pivot in place. Release the pressure.

Ask your horse to go forward again. Repeat the above steps many times to be sure he understands.

Then switch sides. Teach your horse the lesson from the beginning on this side. Be patient, rewarding any effort on the horse’s part.

As you practice, you’ll find that you need less and less pressure. When your horse responds well to moving his hips over, don’t release the pressure until he gives with his jaw, as well as moving his hips over. This helps keep him light and responsive.

Watch your horse’s hip closely. It’ll move before his legs do. As soon as you see his hip move, give your release. His legs will still step over and you will have lightened your horse’s response to the cue.

All horses are stronger and more flexible on one side than they are on the other. Work on the “weak” side more often and be patient as those muscles learn to stretch and get stronger.

Step 3: Mount Up
When your horse is solid on both sides with you on the ground, mount up, and begin from the basics again, reinforcing that the signal means the same thing when you’re on his back.

Start building your stop at the walk, then work on the jog. You can move up to the extended trot as your horse understands what you’re asking him to do. This will give you control in most circumstances.

John Lyonsis known as “America’s Most Trusted Horseman.” His ideas and concepts in horse training have influenced every performance level, riding style, and horse breed throughout the world.

Lyons is one of the most sought-after trainers, speakers, demonstrators, and clinicians in the United States and abroad. His certified trainer program has graduated almost 300 trainers. Lyons and his wife, Jody, live and work in Parachute, Colorado.

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