Photos courtesy of Darrell Dodds
A good stop is important for your safety and overall control. Using the Stop on Whoa exercise, you can teach your horse to stop off a voice command and your seat without having to pull on his mouth with the reins. Most horses will stop when you pull on the reins, but very few will stop if you just say, “Whoa.” You want your horse to act like there’s an imaginary cliff in front of him, and if he takes one more step after you say, “Whoa,” he’s going to fall off the edge. When you say, “Whoa,” all forward movement should stop NOW!
1) Follow the fence at the trot.
Following the fence gives you and the horse a straight line to work off and you won’t have to focus on trying to steer.
2) When you’re ready to ask the horse to stop, say the word “whoa” in a very assertive voice and sit down deep in the saddle. Count to yourself, “One thousand one, one thousand two.”
3) If the horse doesn’t stop by the time you’ve reached “one thousand two,” bend him into the fence by picking up on the rein closest to the fence and using your outside leg to drive him through the turn. Then bend the horse around in several circles at the walk, using your inside leg to encourage him to soften his ribcage, hustle his feet and really put some effort into the bending circle. Then trot him off in the opposite direction.
Hustling the horse’s feet in a circle gives him a reason to want to stop. Horses are basically lazy creatures – they’d prefer to rest over having to move their feet and work hard. Use your horse’s natural tendency to your benefit.
4) If the horse does stop, let him rest for a minute and then gently bend him in a couple of circles toward the fence to reinforce softness before taking him off in the opposite direction.
Horses are motivated by rest so if you give your horse a rest when you say, “whoa,” it will build an incentive for him to want to stop.
5) Trot the horse 40 feet on a loose rein, and then ask him to stop again.
You don’t want to go too far before you ask the horse to stop again, especially if he has “go” on his mind. The longer distance you give him before you ask him to stop, the bigger tendency he’ll have to ignore you. As the horse gets better, you can start to lengthen the distance between stops.
6) Once you have a starting point established, then expect the horse to stop quicker every time you ask.
Let’s say that the first time the horse actually stops on his own, it was within five steps of when you said “whoa.” That means that for the rest of the horse’s life, he must stop within five steps of the word “whoa” or there will be a consequence. Every time he improves, he creates a new standard for himself. So if he stops within three steps during the next session, that’s the new standard. He must stop within three steps of the word “whoa” for the rest of his life, or there will be a consequence. Horses will only do what you enforce, so if you allow them to become lazy and unresponsive, that’s what they will become. It’s your job to uphold the standard.
7) Once the horse understands the concept of the exercise at the trot, do the same thing at the canter.
8) When the horse can do the exercise really well on the fence at both gaits, mix it up by doing the exercise off the fence. Say the word “whoa” at different times throughout your ride just to make sure he’s paying attention.
When you first practice the exercise off the fence, don’t be surprised if the horse tries to chump you and acts like he doesn’t know what the word “whoa” means. If he doesn’t stop, bend him around and hustle his feet just like you did when you were on the fence. Which way you bend the horse (right or left) will depend on him. If he was veering off to the right, bend him to the left. If he was leaning to the left, bend him to the right. Always do the opposite of what the horse wants to do.
Author note: Clinton Anderson is a clinician, horse trainer and competitor. He’s dedicated his life to helping others realize their horsemanship dreams. Learn more about the Downunder Horsemanship Method at www.downunderhorsemanship.com.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 2