"Reining Horse Training for Longer Sliding Stops!"
A pro’s advice about what it takes for a reining horse or reined cow horse to perform big-time sliding stops.
By Cutting & Reining Trainer, Larry Trocha
Do you own a reining horse or young reining horse prospect?
If so, you know how critical a good stop is to your horse’s success in the show arena.
In this discussion, I’m going to talk about reining horse sliding stops. And specifically, ways you can improve your horse’s sliding stop.
We have a lot of ground to cover so let’s get started.
There are several factors that influence the length of a horse’s slide. They are:
- The horse’s natural ability and aptitude for stopping.
- The ground the horse is stopping on.
- The way the horse is shod.
- The horse’s rate of speed when going into the stop.
- The way the rider cues the horse for the stop (how the reins are worked, rider’s posture, etc.).
I’d like to talk about each of these factors and explain how they affect your horse’s slide.
First, let me make it clear that just about any horse can do a nice little two foot slide on good ground. It’s another thing altogether for a horse to slide 15 or 20 feet. If you want big time stops you need a horse that has the ability and desire to stop.
You’re not going to get the job done on just a so-so kind of horse. And if you try to force a non-stopper into becoming a big-time stopper you’ll find your training sessions becoming too harsh.
How do you know if your horse has the aptitude to be a good stopper? If it was relatively easy to get him to stop well at the trot or slow lope, chances are you won’t have much of a problem advancing the stop. (Providing you do it gradually and the horse has the necessary strength to hold a hard stop).
On the other hand, if you had hell getting him to stop at the trot or slow lope, you’re going to have more hell trying to get him to stop from a faster pace. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it to put yourself or the horse through that kind of ordeal.
Let’s talk about how the ground affects a horse’s slide. It never ceases to amaze me how normally intelligent people can’t figure out that a long slide ain’t gonna happen on bad ground. So, for the sake of clarity let me describe what good sliding ground is. Good sliding ground consists of a hard, packed base that is smooth with two or three inches of loose, fluffy dirt on top.
The advantages of this kind of ground are obvious. The hard packed base gives the horse something solid to slide on. Without it the horse’s feet would dig in the ground too deep thus shortening the slide. The base must also be smooth. If there are any ruts in it a horse’s feet will catch in the rut.
Again this will shorten the slide or worse, injure the horse. It’s important the ground on top of the base be fluffy and loose. Here’s why. This top ground needs to soften the concussion of the feet entering the ground and hitting the hard base. Without a soft cushion to absorb the shock the horse will get sore.
Another reason you want the ground loose and fluffy is so the horse can easily plow through it while sliding. If this top ground is too deep or too heavy it makes it too difficult for the horse to slide very far. He’ll need to be awfully strong to hold a slide in deep, heavy ground. Here’s a tip for improving your sliding ground.
Add rice hulls or shavings to the dirt. This will really fluff it up and make it light.
The way your horse’s hind feet are shod will have a lot to do with how well he slides. Sliding shoes are advised. They are made of tempered, flat bar iron, one to one and a half inches wide. The wider the shoe the less friction (or grab) on the ground and the longer the slide. There are limits though. I prefer not to go wider than one inch wide shoes.
Again, for less grab. The toe of the shoe is rocked up a quarter inch like the front of a ski. This prevents the toe from jamming in the ground while sliding. The quarters of the shoe should come almost straight back from the toe to allow dirt to easily flow out the back of the shoe.
The trailers should extend all the way back to the bulbs of the foot, but no farther. You also should have the horse’s hind feet trimmed with a little longer toe and a little lower heel than normal. (Normal means the angle of the hoof is the same as the angle of the pastern).
This creates more surface area and makes for a more effective ski. Do not go to extremes with this. The idea is to have the angle of the foot so there is no danger of the horse stubbing his toe in the dirt, knuckling over and hurting himself.
If he’s trimmed at too steep of an angle (heels too high) he’ll knuckle over while stopping and pull a tendon. Trim the heel too low and he’ll strain his ham strings while stopping.
Horses whose hind legs are straight with feet pointing straight ahead, have an easier time of sliding far. Their hind feet will stay together while sliding and make a nice set of long, straight “11”s. A horse whose hind feet toe out will have a difficult time sliding far.
Because he toes out, his hind feet will start to spread as he slides. The farther the slide the more he spreads until he’s forced to come out of the slide to bring his feet back together in a more comfortable position.
This horse’s slide tracks will look like a “V”. You can help this by turning the shoe on the foot so it’s pointing more straight ahead. And it sometimes helps to rock the toe a little to the inside of the foot.
The speed your horse is running when going into the stop is one of the major factors dictating the length of the slide. In other words, if he’s not going fast, he’s not going to slide far.
Let’s say you are going to run down the length of the arena and ask for a sliding stop about ¾ of the way down. It’s important to start the run-down real slow. Then, very gradually build speed as you go down the arena and reach the point where you ask for the stop. Do not lope slow almost to the end then bust him into a run.
Gradually means to increase speed a little with each stride. It’s critical to ask for the sliding stop while the horse is accelerating. Why? Because his shoulders are more elevated and his hind legs reach farther under him when he’s building speed (necessary elements for a sliding stop).
Just make sure you time the rate of acceleration so he’s not going too fast when you reach the ¾ mark. Otherwise he may run right through the stop. All horses have an optimum running speed where they will still try to stop.
If you run him faster than that optimum speed he just thinks about running and forgets about stopping. Or maybe he’s not strong enough to hold a stop past his optimum speed and refuses to try. You’ll have to experiment to find out just how fast you can run him and still get a stop.
Another thing. Don’t ask your horse to stop from top speed very often. You’ll sour him if you do. And remember to put skid boots on him so his fetlocks are protected.
A lot of riders build speed too quickly, then start to slow down as they near the end of the run-down. They ask the horse to stop while he’s decelerating. The result is usually a disappointing stop. It’s also important for the horse to be running straight when you ask for the stop.
His body should be straight from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. If he’s crooked he’ll stop out of balance. Also, his path down the arena must be straight. If he is zigzagging or trying to veer off while making the run-down, his stop will suffer.
The way you cue your horse to stop is vitally important. Using the reins correctly, proper horse riding posture and timing is what enables your horse to perform a long slide. But before I explain the right way, let me tell you what not to do. Contrary to popular belief, pulling the reins harder does not make for a longer slide. It actually shortens the slide.
Why? Because the hard pull makes the horse jam his feet in the ground too deep. It also causes his hind legs to spread out too much to slide far. And maybe worst of all, a horse can’t keep his balance for a long slide when he’s being pulled on.
OK, that takes care of what not to do. Now let’s talk about how to do it right. On a reining horse there are three different techniques I’ll use to handle the reins. The techniques are different but the principle of why they work is similar.
Why do I use different techniques? Because different horses respond differently. I’ll use the technique that works the best on that particular horse. Let me give you a brief description of the three techniques of using the reins. Then I’ll go into more detail on the one that works on the majority of horses.
The ultimate way of stopping your horse is to just say whoa, slack the reins, then sit there and let him slide. This technique will often times produce the longest slides. Why? Because you’re not interfering with him.
With no pressure in his mouth, he feels free to slide as far as he can. The only problem with this technique is that your horse has to be the kind that really wants to stop. It’s pretty hard to get the average horse to consistently stop this way.
Another technique I’ll use is to say whoa, tighten the reins to apply light pressure, then sit there and let him slide. It’s important to note that the pressure is light, only a pound or two. It’s also important not to pull the reins. Once the pressure is applied, your hand is set solid with no pulling or slacking.
This method works fairly well on horses that don’t want to stay in the slide. The down side is horses usually won’t slide very far with this technique unless you can get away with using very light pressure. Also, if you pull on him instead of setting your hand, he’s going to pull on you and dump on his front end.
Here’s the method I use on the majority of horses I ride. As I’m galloping the horse down the arena I’ll say whoa, wait a split second, then apply rein pressure and set my hand. The horse will go into the stop. My hand is set for only a fraction of a second, then I slack the reins. The horse will continue to hold the slide.
As he’s sliding, if I feel him start to come out of the stop, I’ll set my hand again. Then immediately slack the reins again. This process of setting and slacking the reins goes on throughout the whole slide until the horse is completely stopped. It should be noted that when I slack the reins I don’t give a lot of slack.
Only an inch or two.
Let me explain step by step why this sequence of cues works so well. After I say whoa, giving the horse a split second before the reins are set gives him a chance to go into the stop on his own. This lets him enter the ground more softly and smoothly. (If the reins were used at the same time I said whoa, this would startle the horse causing him to abruptly jam his hind feet in the ground too deep for a long slide).
Once the horse enters the ground, I give him a short, little set with the reins just to remind him to stay in the stop. I immediately slack. Slacking the reins lets him know he’s allowed to slide as far as he wants. (Without the slack he’d get too deep and stop much more abruptly. He also might pull on me or get rigid).
If he tries to come out of the slide I’ll set and slack the reins again. As long as the horse is sliding, I won’t set the reins again unless he starts to come out of the stop. Considering a 20 foot slide takes only a couple seconds to complete, this set and slack sequence is happening pretty rapid. It takes concentration and feel to get it just right.
There is one more element in this stopping sequence I want to talk about. Your body. As you’re loping down the arena, you’re using your body to generate energy to keep the horse moving forward. When it’s time to stop the horse, your body also has to stop it’s energy. In other words, you have to completely stop riding and sit down in the saddle relaxed.
Let your back, shoulders and thighs go limp. This is a major stopping cue all horses instinctively respond to. But make darn sure you keep riding until you say the word whoa, otherwise the horse will start the stop prematurely and ruin the slide. This body stuff is extremely important and your horse will never stop as good as he could until you get it.
I know I’ve probably made this sound too complicated and difficult. But, you can do it. It just takes some concentration and practice. If you don’t get it immediately don’t get discouraged and give up. Relax, be patient and you’ll get it.
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