The sliding stop is a hallmark of the reining horse. A well-developed stop is also important if you compete in horsemanship and equitation classes. If you're fortunate enough to have a horse with a good stop, riding that stop correctly is essential not only to scoring well, but also to maintaining your horse's good form and willingness over time.
I'm going to coach you on the correct way to ride the four key parts of the stop: the approach, the cue, the actual stop, and the follow-through.
Breaking It Down
First, I'll define each of these four parts in detail. Then I'll tell you how to ride them with the photos that follow.
The approach. This is the gallop up to the place where you give the cue for the stop. Without a correct approach, your horse won't be balanced, which means he won't stop with power and relaxation.
The cue. This is the precise point at which you ask your horse for the stop—using a combination of hand, body, and voice—and your horse begins to respond.
The stop. This is the moment when most classic stop photos are taken. Your horse is in the process of rounding his back and engaging his hindquarters into the ground. Ideally, his front end stays loose throughout the stop so he can remain fluid with his front legs. All this enables the classic deep-in-the- ground stop where the front legs "walk."
The follow-through. This is everything that follows until the stop is complete. As in golf, the follow-through is as important as everything that comes before. It's also a place where many amateurs come to grief. I've seen many good-stopping horses become bad stoppers because of their riders' poor follow-through.
Now let's look at two different stop sequences. The first shows correct rider form and a smooth-stopping horse; the second shows rider errors and the resulting poor form of the horse.
Ride the stop like this…
1. Approach: My mare is straight, relaxed, and running freely forward, pushing with her hindquarters. I'm sitting deep in the saddle. My arms are straightened at the elbows to push my hands forward and give my mare plenty of rein while allowing me to sit back and drive with my seat and body. My legs, in concert with my hands, keep my mare straight.
2. Cue: I'm saying "whoa" and pushing my seat down; this drops my heels and allows my lower legs to swing forward and slightly away from my horse's sides. I'm also taking a light feel of her mouth with the reins, keeping my hands even. All this encourages my mare to round her back, engage her hind legs under her, and stay soft in the bridle.
3. Stop: My mare responds beautifully, with a well-rounded topline and hocks deep in the ground. She's staying fluid in the front end—note her "walking" left front leg. My legs remain away from her sides, and my hands stay soft and supportive.
4a. Follow-Through A: My body position hasn't changed, and my hands remain soft and even, giving my mare a loose rein. As a result, she stays round, relaxed, and walking forward as she completes her stop.
4b. Follow-Through B: On a loose rein and still soft and round, my mare is beginning to stand up after a complete stop. My body and hands remain basically the same; from here, I could roll back, back up, or simply let my mare stand. We're both ready for anything.
…Not Like This…
1. Approach: It's hard to see, but I'm not pushing with my seat, which causes my mare to run with less collection, her hocks trailing out behind her. I'm basically just sitting there, rather than supporting and encouraging my horse.
2. Cue: My left hand is up and out of position. This causes my mare to begin to brace against the reins. I've thrown my body back, which causes her to become rigid in her body, rather than relaxing and rounding.
3. Stop: I'm pulling my mare to a stop, rather than allowing her to stop. She's stiff in her body, her back is hollow, her front end is tight (no "walking"), her head is high, and her mouth is open. My hands are rigid, and my body is stiff overall.
4a. Follow-Through A: My hands are still pulling even as my upper body has begun to come forward and my legs are beginning to swing back. In the extreme of this "tipping" error, the rider can inadvertently spur the horse out of the stop, a serious fault that can quickly ruin a good stopper. Here, my mare continues to be stiff, hollow, and head-high.
4b. Follow-Through B: Note how tense, stiff, and braced my mare is here compared to the ideal image, above. Her neck is up and her front end is hollow. I still haven't put any slack in the reins (bad hands always make a bad stop). It would be hard to have my mare back up or roll back from this tense, rigid position.
From West to East
Recently relocated to Princeton, Kentucky, Mike Boyle is now the head trainer at Darling 888 Ranch, overseeing all the horses in training for the ranch and for outside customers. Darling 888 specializes in National Reining Horse Association open and non-pro futurity and derby horses.
Mike grew up competing in stock horse events in California's San Joaquin Valley. After graduating from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in animal science, he attended the University of California, Davis, where he managed the Western riding program and coached UCD's equestrian team.
With wife Barbi, he began training for the public in 1984. After excelling in many disciplines, he began specializing in reining in the late '90s. Since then he's coached many non-pros from rookie status to major-event wins.
In 2009, Mike won over $88,000 on the Quarter Horse gelding Hick A Shine (including a finals berth in the NRHA Futurity), and was on NRHA's Top Twenty Open Riders list. Mike served on the NRHA board of directors for eight years and was the 2007 president.
The Boyles' daughter Brooke, 17, won the 2011 Youth Non-Pro Derby in Oklahoma City. Son Brandon, a 21-year-old now attending school at UC, Santa Barbara, has shown successfully all his life and is a former NRHA youth president.
Editor's Note: Thanks to Kim and Pat Yancey of Ione, California, for the use of Starbright Tag for this article. Pat made the finals of the non-pro division of the 2010 National Reining Horse Association Futurity with this nice mare.