Improving My Horse’s Stop Logo

Question: I enjoy your presentations and I have a question that I hope you can help me with my horse, Rocky. During groundwork he does not respond to the verbal command “Whoa.” What would you suggest I do while longeing? While under saddle? (Note: when I hand walk him, he responds excellently). Details: Rocky is new to me, a green 12 yr old Fjord, (He’s only had 1 owner before myself), and before I got him, he’s had only 50 rides-within his 12 years of life. I have only owned him for 2 months. On the longe line, when the verbal command “Whoa” is given, he does not stop immediately, and when he decides to stop, it’s only after he takes an additional 7 -10 steps. I am worried about taking him out on the trail. What do you think? (Note: under saddle, he responds fairly well to the bit when stopping) Is he safe? Please advise.
Answer: I wouldn’t worry about taking him out on the trail as long as he responds to your stop cues while riding. Since the cues from the ground and from the saddle are different physically and the context is quite different for the horse, you’ll have to teach these cues separately. But since you are teaching primarily a voice cue from the ground, once he learns it, he should stop better under saddle too.
Your horse isn’t built to stop like a reiner but he should respond abruptly to the whoa command by coming immediately and promptly to a halt, shifting his weight back on his haunches. The Norwegian Fjords are draft type horses that are bred to be pullers and thus tend to be heavy on the forehand. It’s really easy, especially when riding in a snaffle to inadvertently teach this type horse to lean into your hands when you try to stop him with the reins, since their tendency is to want to pull anyway. If you teach the whoa cue from the ground, it will be much easier to teach the horse to hard-stop from the saddle without using the reins.

I like to teach the voice cue to stop while I am circling (driving) the horse in a rope halter and on the long training lead (12 or 15 feet). The first thing you’ll do is make sure the horse will move out at an energetic trot in a circle around you in each direction; then you can start teaching the whoa command.

To teach the voice cue to stop, you will give the horse a verbal cue at the same time you give a body-language cue to stop—by saying “whoa” and at the same time, take one step toward the front of the horse (as if to block his forward motion) and plant your feet in a stop. If he does not stop promptly (within a second or two), you’ll snap the lead, sending a wave of rope toward the horse so that he gets bumped in the chin. Keep bumping, with increasing pressure, until he stops.

By giving the voice and body language cues first, then applying pressure from the rope if he does not stop, your horse will quickly learn to stop on the voice cue instead of waiting for the rope to bump him. This process is demonstrated in detail in my groundwork video called Lead Line Leadership.

It sounds like your horse is stopping when you say whoa, but on his own time frame and he is not putting any effort to the stop or giving much respect for the voice cue. It takes a lot more energy for your horse to stop suddenly on his hindquarters than it does for him to drag his feet slowly into the stop, heavy on his forehand (especially since he is not built to stop hard on his haunches like a Quarter Horse might be). Because it takes more effort for the horse to comply (stop the way you want him to) you’ll likely have to use more pressure to motivate him to try a little harder. Both horses and humans are this way—you have to find the amount of pressure that motivates them to change (to try harder).

By the way, “whoa” can only mean one thing to your horse: stop dead in your tracks now! It cannot also mean slow down or quit spooking or stop and then walk four more strides. So use the word sparingly and always reinforce what you mean. Say “whoa” once, give the horse a brief opportunity to respond, and then reinforce the cue firmly with your other aids. From the ground, your only other aid is your rope; from the saddle, you reinforce the voice cue with your weight and reins.

If your horse “wanders” when you tell him to stop (stops but then continues at a walk for a few steps), you’ll have to issue a correction with the rope, in a timely fashion—as he first steps out of the stop—and with enough pressure that he reacts to the bump of the rope and begins to look for a way to avoid the pressure of the rope. The answer is easy to find for the horse (if your timing is good), that when he hears you utter the magic word, if he stops hard enough, there will be no bump from the rope (and he will get some praise and a nice rest).

You would use the same principles to train the horse to hard-stop from the voice cue when you are riding him. This time you’ll use the voice cue first, followed immediately by your weight cue (sit down on his back and drive your seat bones in); if he does not stop suddenly and with effort, then use your reins as reinforcement, backing him up abruptly. If you give him a second or two to respond to your voice and seat before the pressure from the reins is applied, he will quickly learn to stop to avoid bit pressure.

Sadly, most riders pull back on the reins as the very first part of their stop cue under saddle, so the horse is not motivated to try harder and learns to stiffen and brace when he feels a pull instead of dropping his head, rounding his back and stopping on his haunches.

Remember, you must always reinforce the whoa cue, whether you are doing groundwork, riding or just routine handling. Always be willing to reinforce with your other aids if the horse does not listen or stop adequately; that way, he’ll learn to pay attention and try harder. If you make the horse back up a step or two every time you say whoa, it will improve his stop. Be sure to watch a video clip of the Horse Master episode we did on this topic and check out the full set of Goodnight’s Principles of Riding DVDs at, and

Good luck!

–Julie Goodnight Trainer and Clinician

Emergency Stops Logo

Emergency Stops
Question Category: Riding Skills
Question: Dear Julie,

My husband and I went to your seminar on fear of horses at your horse Expo in Denver and I can’t thank you enough!! I thought we would be the only ones there. I was just amazed at how many people showed up! I have never been afraid of horses (or so I thought), until I bought my own. I always rode lesson horses or horses on ranches that had trail rides. Those horses don’t seem to have a mind of their own. I would get terrible butterflies in my stomach when I would get on my horse and couldn’t wait to get off. I hated the fact that I loved my horse but didn’t want to ride him. I didn’t realize I was doing this to myself, I am one of the “what if’-ers”. After seeing you in person and listening to your CD and reading your book Ride with Confidence, my fear has gone away! I am still riding him in the round pen, but hope to soon feel good enough to ride him in the arena and then beyond! I was wondering if you have a video or a little more of an explanation on the “pulley rein stop”. I do the one rein stop but have often wondered about them falling while being turned if they are running fast. I would like to know more about it. Thanks again! I don’t know if I would have ever gotten over my fear. Just knowing that it was ok to feel that way and how to deal with it made all the difference. Diana and Grizzly

Answer: Diana,

I am thrilled to hear of your success and I really appreciate you letting me know about it. Stay in the round pen as long as you want. Venture out only when you’re ready; it doesn’t matter how long that takes. The more you ride there, the better prepared you will be to venture out. The pulley rein is difficult to teach in an article because it’s really helpful to have visual input, but perhaps this will help.

The pulley rein is an emergency stopping rein, used when your horse is running away from you or taking off bucking. At this time, you do not want to turn your horse, because the turn may cause him to lose his footing and fall down. The pulley rein is executed by shortening one rein as tight as you can and bracing that hand over your horse’s neck, bending your horse’s nose slightly in that direction and pushing your knuckles into your horse’s neck, with your arm braced and centered over its neck. It’s important that this hand is pressed into the neck and not floating free, centered right over the top of your horse’s neck, not to the side. Then slide your other hand down the other rein as far forward as you can and pull that rein straight back and up with all your weight (you’re only pulling with one rein, the other rein is locked and braced against your horse’s neck).

Since the first rein is locked, it’s preventing your horse’s head from turning and he is pulling against his own neck, so the pull on the second rein creates a lot of leverage on his mouth, but keeps him going straight. If the pulley rein is executed correctly, you can stop a runaway horse abruptly, without turning him. This is far more preferable to pulling the out-of-control horse into a turn, since that may cause him to lose his footing and fall down.

Proper execution of the pulley rein requires some practice, which can be very hard on your horse; so many instructors do not like to teach this emergency stopping technique. However, when you’re out of control, it’s a great tool to have in your bag of tricks and it can be very useful for slowing down a strong horse, with a little pulley action every few strides then a release (use it with your half-halt).

One of the very worst things you can do, when trying to slow down or stop a horse, is pull back on both reins at the same time. This will almost always make your horse stiffen its neck and lock its jaw and may also pull you up and out of the saddle, or even right over your horse’s ears. Pulling on both reins continuously will often cause your horse to “run through the bridle,” and the harder you pull the faster he goes. Horses are way more responsive to an alternating use of the reins, which is far more likely to keep them soft in the neck and flexing in the poll. Ironically, most people have been taught to pull back on both reins at the same time to stop, when using one rein can be much more effective. Therefore, the other technique I would teach for better control is a one-rein stop or a disengagement of the hindquarters.

The one-rein stop is very useful for stopping or slowing your horse, if he is not running away from you or bucking. It’s not an emergency rein aid, but one you would use routinely. To execute the one-rein stop, simply lift ONE rein from the normal hand position, up and diagonal toward your opposite hip, as you shift your weight back into the saddle. This will cause your horse to yield his hip as he turns and to disengage his hindquarters (cross his hind legs).

Disengagement of the hindquarters simultaneously causes your horse to stop his forward motion (putting the engine in neutral, so to speak) and become submissive. The instant you feel a change in your horse (well before he actually comes to a stop) drop your hand dramatically to his neck in a clear and meaningful release. You can pick up the rein again if he does not come to a complete halt, but it’s critical to release your horse when he first makes an effort to do the right thing. Timing is everything in horse training and the sooner the release comes, the better.

At first, you may end up turning your horse as he disengages and stops but soon he will stop on the straightaway when you slightly lift one rein. Make no mistake about it, your horse wants to stop; if he isn’t stopping, he just doesn’t understand what is expected of him and his mouth hurts. When a horse doesn’t stop right away, the rider tends to pull steadily harder. A horse’s natural reaction to pain and discomfort is to run away from it. Therefore sometimes your horse inadvertently is taught to speed up when the rider is asking for the stop with two reins.

For more information on using your aids correctly and effectively on your horse, refer to my video series, Goodnight’s Principles of Riding. Good luck and congratulations on your progress. I love to hear success stories and it’s important for others to know it can be done!
Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician

Emergency Stopping Rein Aids That Keep You Safe Logo

Riding Right with Julie Goodnight

Emergency! The rein aids that keep you safe

Dear Julie,
I’ve been taking riding lessons every week for a few months (I used to ride when I was younger). The school I go to is very good—your horses are very fit and mostly well behaved. My class of 4-5 riders is working in an arena. In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that the horses are getting a bit excitable and fast. I can control my horse at the beginning, but when it comes to cantering my horse is difficult to control. He raises his neck and is ready to take off—especially when other horses are excited. I am reluctant to canter at all now. I feel nervous and out of control and my horse knows it. What’s the best way control my horse at the canter?
Signed, Speed No More

Dear Speed No More,
Feeling out of control is no fun. I believe it’s important to give all riders the tools they need to feel in control and capable of stopping at any speed. I teach riders two get-in-control and stopping techniques–one for everyday use and one that’s purely for emergencies. Let’s learn about the one-rein stop and the pulley rein. You’ll need to know both—and when it’s time to use each.
Let’s first make sure you know what to do in an all-out emergency. The pulley rein is the emergency stop to use. It’s a rather abrupt motion that will stop any horse (when done correctly). When you apply this rein aid, you’ll apply a significant amount of leverage to your horse’s mouth. I don’t want riders to pull on their horses’ mouths often—that’s why this cue is used only in an emergency. To make sure the cue isn’t abused, I usually only teach the technique at jumping clinics (when riders are on open courses where horses often get strong and can easily run off) and at fear-management clinics (when you need the confidence to know you can stop—come Hell or high water).

Executing the Pulley Rein
As you practice this move, keep in mind you’ll only use your ultimate strength when there’s an actual emergency. In practice, you’ll only use a portion of your available strength. Begin by shortening one rein (let’s choose the left for teaching purposes) so there’s tight contact with your horse’s mouth. Keeping the rein pulled tightly, center and brace your left hand on your horse’s neck, at your horse’s midline. Push your knuckles—still working with your left hand–into your horse’s neck. With your right hand, slide your fingers down the right rein, grasp and pull straight back and up. In a real emergency, you’ll use all your weight to create leverage. Your left rein is locked in place, preventing your horse’s head from turning. The pull on the second rein creates significant pressure and to avoid the constant pressure, your horse will choose to stop.

When executed correctly, you can stop a runaway horse on a dime by using the pulley rein. This is far preferable to pulling the out-of-control horse into a circle–which may cause him to lose his footing and fall down. The pulley rein technique requires some practice. It can also be very useful for slowing down a big, strong horse—use a little of the pulley action every few strides then release (similar to a half-halt).
One of the very worst things you can do, when trying to slow down or stop a horse, is pull back on both reins at the same time. This will almost always make your horse stiffen its neck and lock its jaw and may also pull you up and out of the saddle–or even right over your horse’s ears. Pulling on both reins continuously will often cause your horse to “run through the bridle,” and the harder you pull the faster he goes. Horses are much more responsive when you use the reins alternately. Alternate action is far more likely to keep your horse soft in the neck and flexing in the poll.

When to One-Rein
The other technique I teach for better control is a one-rein stop—also known as disengagement of the hindquarters. You must train your horse (while working at a walk then a trot) to know what response you’re requesting before using this move at high speeds or when he seems out of control. To execute the one-rein stop, pick up one rein and lift it up toward your belly button or toward your opposite shoulder (it’s an upward, diagonal pull on the rein). It’s critical that the other rein is completely loose.
This rein aid will turn your horse’s nose up and toward you; as he arcs throughout the length of his body, the turn will cause him to disengage, or cross his hind legs. You’ll be able to feel your horse’s hips bend as he begins to disengage his hindquarters.
Disengagement will help you control your horse in two ways: speed and subordinance. When your horse crosses his hind legs in disengagement, it ceases all forward motion. As you pick up slowly on the one rein, wait until you feel your horse’s back and hip get crooked (that’s when he’s crossing his hind legs) then release the rein suddenly and completely and he should stop. If not, just reapply the aid but be sure to release as soon as you feel your horse even begin to slow down. Since crossing the hind legs takes away your horse’s ability for forward motion (or flight), it puts him in a frame of mind to have to be submissive. Fleeing is not an option.
A few more tips about the one-rein stop: Make sure to lift your rein slowly and steadily and be ready for an instantaneous release when you feel your horse’s momentum affected. You should alternate between the right and left reins, or the inside and outside rein, so you’re not affecting just one side of your horse or getting him into a habit. The one-rein stop will cause your horse to turn at first, but with practice and a timely release, he’ll go straight and stop. Practice the one-rein stop at walk and trot until your horse stops when you just begin to lift one hand–before much pressure is actually applied to his mouth.

Of course, you should be using your seat aid as well; for more information on how to use your aids effectively, see the article on “Gears of the Seat” on and check out volume two in my riding series, Communication and Control from the Saddle.
Enjoy the ride!
Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician

Riding Skills: Connecting And Coordinating The Natural Aids Logo

Question Category: Riding Skills

Question: How do you teach riders to use all the natural aids together–leg and rein aids?

Answer: The natural aids are the best tools the rider has to communicate with the horse. Traditionally, there are four natural aids, the seat (weight), the legs, the hands and the voice of the rider. I prefer to teach seven natural aids, which in addition to the traditional four aids includes the rider’s eyes, the rider’s breathing and the rider’s brain. When all of these aids are used together, it gives a clear and consistent communication to the horse of what you want him to do and sets your body up to naturally give the correct cue. All of the natural aids should be used in unison and should always originate, or be connected to, the use of the seat. No one aid gives a cue to the horse (you do not stop by pulling on the reins or go by kicking), but all the aids working together will guide the horse toward the appropriate response.

For instance, asking the horse to stop or slow down is not simply a matter of pulling back on the reins. To ask the horse to stop using all of the aids in a connected fashion, first the rider must drop her weight onto the horse’s back by opening and relaxing the pelvis and plugging her seatbones into the saddle. As the seat of the rider drops down on the horse’s back, a connection is made between the rider’s elbows and hip, thus the shift of the rider’s weight and opening of the rider’s pelvis will cause an increase on the pressure of the horse’s mouth through the rider’s arms, hands and reins. In other words, the pressure the horse feels on his mouth is connected to the increased weight on his back and the pull comes from the rider’s entire body, not just from the hands.

You can see how this feels by sitting in a chair pulled up to a table. With both feet flat on the floor and sitting up straight, put both hands on the edge of the table. As you exhale and rotate the seatbones forward (opening the pelvis and plugging the seatbones into the chair), pull on the edge of the table so that your seatbones get even heavier on the chair. This is how you cue the horse for a stop or to slow down by using your weight aid first. You should feel a connection from your arms to your seat bones, as they press into the chair. If your seat bones lighten and your upper body moves forward when you pull back on the reins, your aids are not connected. Practice this exercise until you feel the connection between your seat and hands, and then try to feel the connection on a horse.

To use all of the aids in a connected fashion to ask the horse to turn, the rider must first look in the direction of the turn and use her eyes and body to initiate the turn. As the rider’s head turns slightly in the direction of the turn, the body will follow, swiveling slightly in the saddle and shifting the rider’s weight to her outside seat bone. Again, the legs and hands will follow the movement of the rider’s seat and not act independently. The outside leg will sink down and close on the horse’s side, shutting the door to the outside. Conversely, the rider’s inside leg will lift up slightly as the inside seatbone lightens, opening the door to the inside and keeping the horse’s inside shoulder elevated in an arcing turn. As the seat swivels slightly on the horse’s back, the elbows, arms and shoulders of the rider will follow (make sure your upper arms are in contact with your ribcage), giving a release with the outside rein and increased pressure to the inside rein, thus supporting the horse’s head, neck and shoulders in the turn.

Using your whole body to communicate with the horse and having all of the aids give the same signal to the horse, is a very effective way to communicate with the horse and results in invisible cues and seamless transitions.

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