The One-Rein Stop Explained
For those of you who are new to the one-rein halt, it is an exercise performed whenever the horse is heavy on the bit, locked up in his jaw and/or body, leaning into a turn instead of bending, going faster than you desire, or has his attention focused on something other than you. It is also an emergency stopping device.
It is extremely important when doing this exercise that you remember to sit in the middle of your horse, and look at his ears. If you lean to the inside, which most people are prone to do, you run the risk of overbalancing your horse. In addition, you will block his inside hind leg with your weight, and keep it from coming up under him to support both of you. You can tell if you are in the middle by glancing at his neck - it should bisect the middle of your chest. Looking at his ears will keep you from getting dizzy. Keeping your buttocks relaxed in the saddle will allow your horse to soften his back and begin to use it as a suspension system, instead of holding it rigidly and landing heavily on his feet. In the beginning, always do the turn to inside; later you can do it to whichever side needs the work.
The one-rein stop performed correctly begins with you reaching down the mecate (or inside rein if you don't have a rope halter) until the rein is quite short. You then bring that hand upward while dropping your elbow towards your hip on the same side, and place your same leg on the horse's side with just enough pressure to get him crossing his hind legs on the tiny circle you will be describing. It is extremely important that you don't cross your hand in front of your body. Not only will the horse bend in his neck instead of his withers, but if done suddenly, you run the risk of flipping the horse over. It is never a good idea to make sudden moves on or around a horse.
Once you are circling, and are certain that your horse is crossing his hind legs (get a friend to watch and tell you when this is happening if you're not sure what this feels like), keep the pressure with leg and rope on until the horse yields to the rope. You will feel like the rope is suddenly light, or it will have slack in it. IMMEDIATELY take your leg off the horse. Hopefully, the horse will stop circling and end up standing balanced with a soft back. If he just keeps circling, try saying "whoa" to help him understand what you want. If he just keeps going on and on, put your leg back on, then remove it again and repeat "whoa". DO NOT pull on the rope. He must stop from the removal of pressure from your leg, and the balance of your seat. Horses that have been trained with the use of dressage to stop from leg pressure are not confused by this at all. This exercise makes total sense to the horse.
Most horses at this point will stop, but will go back to leaning on the rope. There are two yielding motions that the horse must make. The first is in the head and neck. When he makes the first motion to give to your hand, you reward him by removing the pressure of your leg. He must give his head again at the halt to earn the reward of your totally giving that rope a lot of slack. Once he understands this, you must make sure that he doesn't just bend his neck around and still stay braced somewhere in his body. You can tell if he's doing this if he feels rigid anywhere. If that happens, no matter if he has his nose on your knee, use that inside leg to get those hind legs crossing again until he softens that rigid part. Then repeat removing the leg, waiting for the halt and the give of head, and immediately give that rein freely. The timing of your release is very important, as he will remember what he was doing at the precise moment you gave. Doing this at the walk is fairly simple, but can take a lot of trust to do at the trot and canter. I promise that the horse will drop to a walk as soon as you bring his head around and put your leg on, and from there the exercise remains the same. Resist the impulse to slow the horse first, then do the turn. The whole idea is that the horse must balance himself.
The first day you do the one rein halt, you may have to do it a lot to correct the horse every time he isn't soft. But the next day will see quite a bit of progress, and each day will see less frequent repetitions. Once he can do the halt well and balance easily, you can just turn him in the circle until he becomes light in his mouth and body, and then continue what you were doing before he needed balancing. Eventually the circle will transmute to a bend, and then a flexion to remind the horse to stay with you mentally and physically. Remember that the horse will be using a lot of new muscles, and keep your sessions short in the beginning. That way he will feel good about using those hew muscles and finding this new balance that allows you two to dance together. He will begin to look forward to being ridden. This even works with seasoned school horses and hardened school ponies. Remember that consistency is the name of the game.
About the author:
Kim Walnes is a renowned equestrian, instructor and coach whose natural horsemanship expertise includes everything from dressage and jumping to endurance riding and barrel racing. A former member of the USET, Kim focuses on creating an atmosphere of trust, which builds the self-confidence and self-esteem of both horse and rider. She travels all over the country giving clinics and lessons to teach perfect balance and communication between horse and rider. She can be reached at 215-529-7493.