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Training Tip Trail Challenge: Stop on Whoa

Goal: To get the horse to stop from all three gaits when you say the word “whoa” without having to use the reins. You want your horse to act like there’s an imaginary cliff in front of him and if he takes one more step after you say “whoa,” he’s going to fall off the edge of it. When you say “whoa,” you want all forward movement to stop NOW.

Why it’s important: Most horses will stop when you pull on the reins, but a lot of them won’t stop if you just say “whoa.” I want my horses to be able to stop different ways: When I pull on the reins (one or two), when I sit down and relax in the saddle, and when I say “whoa.” You can never have too many ways to stop a horse. Whether you are in the arena or out on the trail, a good stop is important for your safety and overall control.

When you’re on the trail: Trot your horse down the trail on a big, loose rein. Say “whoa” and sit down deep in the saddle. Your horse should come to an immediate stop.

If the horse doesn’t stop by the time you’ve counted “one thousand one, one thousand two,” bend him in a circle, hustling his feet. Then trot him off in the opposite direction on a loose rein and ask him to stop again.

You’re trying to find a starting point. Even though you’ve taught your horse the exercise in the arena, when you take him on the trail, you’re changing the situation. He’s likely to be distracted and not entirely focused on you initially. (If you haven’t yet taught your horse the exercise in the arena, you can do so by studying the lesson in the Intermediate Kit.)

Your first order of business is to establish a starting point. Once you have a starting point established, you can expect the horse to stop quicker every time until he stops as soon as you say “whoa” and sit deep in the saddle. Initially, your horse may take four steps after you say “whoa” before he stops. That means that from now on, he must stop within four steps every time you say whoa or there will be a consequence. Every time he improves, he creates a new standard for himself.

When your horse is stopping immediately when you say whoa at the trot, practice the exercise at the canter.