Stop the Runaway the Right Way

It's a general misconception that bending the horse's neck using one rein will cause him to stop. Learn to do the one-rein stop the right way!

Dooziebelle knew perfectly well which of the two of them was in control, and it sure wasn’t Janie. It wasn’t that Janie was weak or inexperienced. Doozie was just a whole lot stronger and knew a whole lot more. When the little mare decided it was time to head home-fast-Janie’s cues intensified as Doozie’s speed increased.

“No! Stop! Turn! Slow down! Omigosh, here comes the drop off!”

Bracing her feet in the stirrups, Janie grabbed the left rein in both hands, leaned back in the saddle and hauled on the curb with all her strength.

Two good things came from this action. First, it gave Janie something to balance against as they actually accelerated, barreling down a very steep hill. Secondly, that particular curb bit had been kept at the barn as a teaching tool for other riders for a long time. The left shank literally bent outward from the force of a pull that did nothing whatsoever to slow Doozie down.

Just Pull the Head Around and He’ll Stop, Right?
There are a lot of misconceptions on websites, in barn aisles, in Internet chat rooms, and in training pens about what the “one-rein stop” is and when and how to use it, much less how to teach it. Some say that it’s just circling, so you can’t do it on a narrow trail. Others will tell you that a “one-rein stop” will flip your horse over if you are going faster than a slow jog. There are a surprising number of folks who seem quite sure that all you have to do is haul your horse’s head around and he’s going to stop.

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

Simply circling a horse will not necessarily slow him down. Remember that racetrack horses and tornadoes move in circles. There is 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 the horse’s neck is not 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-at a walk, at a trot, at a canter, or at a dead run. This maneuver is not something you want to encourage. It causes your horse to become over-supple and disconnects the rein from his feet. Every time we touch that rein, we want the horse to know that he’s going to have to change what his feet are doing. This is one reason why we never want to have the horse stand still while we bend his neck.

The Endless Circle

• Keep in mind that racetrack traffic and tornadoes move in circles-but this doesn’t slow them down.
• One-rein stops are about moving the hips over, not bending the neck back.
• Release the pressure only when the horse gives with his jaw as well as moving his hips over.

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 mph 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.”

So What Exactly Is a One-Rein Stop?
The “one-rein stop” is also known as “hips over” or “connecting the rein to the hip.” This is a fine stop, but it is not the only way to stop a horse and-in some circumstances-it may not be the best way. It is, however, such a vital exercise that we begin teaching the “one-rein stop” in the form of “hips over” from the ground on the very first day we work with an unbroken horse, then we repeat it on that same unbroken horse when we first climb on his back. After that, we reinforce it every time we ride.

Using one rein, the rider controls the hindquarters so that one hind leg steps to the side. The other leg reaches underneath the horse’s 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 is doing, he must know why he is doing it, and he must have prepared the horse with solid training.

Remember, 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.


It’s always safest to 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.

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

Get Moving
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 your horse to go forward in small circles around you as you maintain your position.

As he moves briskly forward, ask his hindquarters to move two steps away from you to the right by picking up the rein slowly, taking out the slack, and holding steady.

Your horse is going to have 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 he 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.

Send him 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 his hindquarters have moved over enough, his front legs will stop moving and his left front leg will pivot in place. Release the pressure.

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

Practice Makes Perfect Horses

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.

When your horse is solid on both sides with you on the ground, mount into the saddle 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.

“Hips over” (or the “one-rein stop”) is a good exercise, but you have to know its limitations, and you and your horse have to practice it before there is any possibility of the horse running away with you.

Another Way of Looking at Things
Let’s say you’re having trouble getting your horse to stop. You’re not dying or in imminent danger of dying, you’re just having problems getting him to stop and stand still. It’s not an emergency, just an annoyance.

You can get any horse to stop by having him continually look at a particular object. For example, if your horse’s head is at 12 o’clock-straight forward-and the object is at 8 o’clock, you can use your “hips over” cue to turn him around to 8 o’clock. Or, better yet, keep his tail pointed away from 8 o’clock and he will stop. The important thing is to have him move his whole body, not just bend his head and neck.

Practice having him look at a specific object: a tree, a rock, a piece of paper on the ground. He’ll eventually stop. He might step over that piece of paper, but when that paper is behind you, just bring him around and take him back to look at that piece of paper or that rock on the ground. Keep your horse’s nose pointed directly ahead no matter where he goes. He’ll stop. It’s actually kind of fun to practice this. Enjoy the opportunity!

Keep in mind these key points as you begin to work one-rein stops with your horse:

• Don’t bend your horse’s head around to the side and stand still.
• Don’t bend your horse’s head around to the side and keep moving in the same direction.
• If you pick up on the rein, every single time move the hip a little or a lot to the side.
• Start at a walk. Build your stop at the walk. Then build it at the trot and the extended trot so the horse understands what you are asking him to do.

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