So imagine, it’s a beautiful October day. You are riding your horse quietly down the road along a corn field. Suddenly, without warning, a couple of deer run out of the field in front of you. Which spooks your horse. His spins around and takes off in a dead run. Of coarse you want your horse to stop, but no matter how hard you pull back on the reins your horse won’t stop. Now what are you going to do? In an instance like this, it is important that you know how to perform an emergency stop or one rein stop with your horse.
The one rein stop is a fairly simple idea. You use one rein to stop your horse while disengaging your horses hind quarters. This is one of the most important maneuvers you should learn how to do with your horse for the simple reason that any horse can spook or buck, no matter how broke they are.
There are basically two parts of the one rein stop: lateral flexion and disengaging the hindquarters.
By lateral flexion I mean, bending your horse’s head to the left or right with a single rein. By being able to do this you can control what his body does. So how do you teach your horse to flex? First, I found it is easiest for your horse to learn to flex in a snaffle bit. Snaffle bits work off of direct pull on the corners of your horse’s mouth making it easier for them to follow pressure. While sitting on your horse pick up one rein, making sure the other rein will be loose enough for him to bend his head around. Pull the rein back toward your hip till there is pressure on the bit and hold. Now this is important: you don’t want to try to pull your horse’s head around. You just want pressure on the bit. At first your horse may move around or pull against your hand. It is important to not release any pressure until he stops and tips his nose slightly to you. If you do you will teach him to pulling against you will get you to release pressure. Be patient, eventually he will quit moving and tip his nose. When teaching your horse to flex you have to have good timing. The second your horse tips his nose toward you, no matter how little, release all pressure. That is his reward for doing the correct thing. Now you pick up the rein and repeat, repeat, repeat. As your horse figures out what you want, he will get better about not moving around or pulling against you. After his is flexing well to one side, work on the other. If you notice in the picture, Dollars head comes around and down. This is what you want in a good flex. Flexing is one of the things I make my horses do ever time I ride.
Disengaging the hindquarters
The second part of your one rein stop is the disengaging of the hindquarters or yielding the hindquarters. This simply means your horse moves his hind end around and crosses his back legs. Your horse’s power to run or buck comes from its back legs. Making your horse cross his hind legs you take away that power to run or buck. To get your horse to yield his hindquarters you must first tip your horse’s nose one direction. Then with your foot on the same side as his nose is tipped, cue him in foot position three. When you first start working on this, you only want to flex his nose over slightly, then cue with your foot hard enough to get him to move. To start I walk my horse in a big circle. Slightly turn his nose in and cue with my foot. As soon as he turns and crosses his hind legs once, I release him and let him walk forward. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. After he is taking one step well, move him up to two. Then three, four, five, ect. Pretty much till you can get him to turn in a couple of circle for you without any problems. When one side is going good, work on the other.
Now that your horse is flexing and yielding his hind quarters well we can put it together. Walk your horse forward. Slide your hand down the rein (around 18 inches to two feet from the bit depending on the horse), and pull back to your hip while cuing your horse with your foot (remember rein and foot on same side of horse). Hold until your horse flexes, disengages his hindquarters and stops. Repeat at a walk till you are comfortable, then move up to a trot. After you are comfortable at a trot, work on stopping at a lope or canter.
Practicing and mastering the one rein stop can be a life saver. I know that there are many times I’ve been out on the trail and have had a horse spook, and the one rein stop has proven very useful and effective. Knowing your horse has emergency brakes can give you peace of mind as you ride. The more you practice the one rein stop, the better your horse will respond if he becomes frightened. Also practicing will help you become familiar with the movement it takes to cue the stop.