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  • Writer's pictureHelms Hill Farms

Suggest, Ask, Tell

Someone recently asked me what to do when a finished horse won’t yield to a stop when asked. I figured I’d share my response with the class in case it benefits someone else. First thing you have to do is realize your horse isn’t finished. Something as basic as a stop should be taught before anything else more complicated. My motto is “Suggest, Ask, Tell”. When starting a horse, we incorporate seat cues for almost everything. When we ask for a trot to canter transition from our horse, we transition ourselves from a rising trot to a sitting trot. This puts us deeper in our seat, and we urge a forward movement with our legs and hips. When we ask for a stop, we sit deeper in our seat and move our legs forward. Put the pressure of your seat in the back of the saddle and hold it steady. If this doesn’t work, we try a vocal cue of “whoa”, which should transfer over from groundwork sessions. When you ask for a “whoa” on a lunge line, you try to settle your body language and make it easy for the horse to understand what you’re asking. No waving of arms, or frantic yelling. A calm, low, steady “whoa” is key. If your vocal cue doesn’t work under saddle, then we tell a horse to stop. By telling, we apply a light pressure to the reins while still incorporating our other cues. The key to all of this is not getting frustrated or panicked and giving your horse mixed signals. A lot of riders will have a moment of panic when a horse won’t stop and their bodies curl up and forward in the saddle, which can translate to a “go fast” button in a horse’s mind. Our “Suggest, Ask, Tell” policy is something we work with on every horse with everything we train. A horse should never feel forced to do anything. Like a toddler (or your husband), you have to make the horse think it’s their idea to do something. A suggestion, like a seat cue, takes pressure off the forward movement. Suddenly it’s less pressure to keep going and “oh hey, I can stop now”. If none of this works, we back a horse up quickly and then release the pressure. Usually a horse will stop on their own. This goes back to “making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard”. Also, don’t start with the big stuff. Work on stopping from the walk. Once you have that mastered, move to the trot and then the canter. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your horse won’t be finished in a day. And as always, contact us if we can help!

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