Question Category: Issues from the Saddle
Question: Ms. Goodnight,
I have a 16 y/o quarter horse gelding who is a finished heading horse. Here recently he has been trying to stop on his front end. I have never had this problem before and was wondering what you thought. He does have some arthritic problems, but I have him on a good supplement and he seems to be doing much better. I ride him with a simple long shank bit. He can be ridden with just about anything as he is very well mannered and he has never been hard to whoa. I would appreciate any input you might have for me as I’m 61 y/o myself and this stopping hard on his front end is hard on me!! Thank you so much for any advice you might have.
St. Johns, FL
Poor stops can likely have a physical cause or a training issue, or both! Considering how often we stop horses and that they really do want to stop (because they are lazy), it shouldn’t really be as hard as it is to stop correctly.
There are many articles on my website about riding better and cueing the horse correctly to stop — so be sure to check that out. I am glad you got your horse on a good joint supplement. All of the Western performance sports, like roping, reining, cutting, etc., are very hard on your horse’s joints. That’s why all our performance horses, no matter how young, are on Cosequin ASU.
When a horse’s normal performance declines for no apparent reason, you’ll generally look to a joint issue. The fact that his performance improved after the supplement validates this theory. You may want to also consider some injections—talk to your vet about it.
It’s also very easy for the rider to slip into poor technique, causing the horse to stop improperly. Which came first, the chicken or the egg, is sometimes hard to determine, but you have to fix both the horse and the rider to get a good stop. The horse can only perform at the level of the rider.
Basically, the horse will mirror in his body, whatever the rider does in his. The most common cause of the ‘bracey’ jarring stop is the rider bracing his legs and stiffening in his back and pulling on the reins before the horse has had a chance to stop.
Make sure when you cue him to stop that you give a voice cue first, then roll back on your seat pockets (exhaling and rounding your lower back) as you relax your legs forward, sinking into your heels without bracing or stiffening your legs. You may have to get someone to watch you because you may not know you are bracing. If you have a real problem with stiffening your back and legs, try lifting your knees up when you cue your horse to stop.
Finally, make sure you give your horse a cue to stop before the pull on his mouth comes. It’s not possible for him to make a fluid smooth relaxed stop if you are pulling on him. The reins should come only as reinforcement after the cue, if your horse did not stop right.
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