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Magic feeling: A good collected stop

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - November 21st, 2013 - More with Les

55th in a series
After Les broke down the components of a collected stop in last issue, here he presents keys to remember.

When should you be satisfied? When it is perfect. You should not have to be satisfied with anything less. That’s why we like riding; we can have it our way. Now can it be perfect at speed? Not necessarily. In the long run it will be. But now we are riding him up to the bit, we are kicking, kicking, kicking with our boot tops, and when he feels just right, we keep our hands moving and let our legs out. So we are loading him up behind, putting all his weight on his hindquarters.

What to Be Ready For
There are a few problems that can happen as you do this exercise, and you have to be ready for them. First, you might find that your horse is resistant to this much collection. If he even starts to bully you with his head, if he even starts to dream about it, then you need to get after him to relax his poll and give to the bit – get assertive and let him know who’s in charge. Not aggressive – assertive means you’re motivated to achieve something and you go after it with a program, you don’t just get mad. Up until this point we really haven’t put much pressure on these horses, and if you’re dealing with one who’s a little spoiled, this is where it might come out and you’ll need to address it before you try to do much with the stop.

So as you are collecting your horse for the stop, if he even thinks about lifting his head, you need to go to work with your legs and hands. Keep your horse straight and move those hands to get the head down. You can’t let your horse stop or even slow down until his neck is soft and flexed. We don’t need him to stay over-flexed in the neck, but he has to have a little flexion in order to lift his back.

So he’s soft in the poll and you’re ready to stop. At this point there are two things that are likely to happen, and you have to be ready for both of them. The first is that instead of stopping in the rounded, collected form you had him in while he was moving forward, he’ll try to lift his head and hollow his back to stop. If he starts to raise his head at all, I want you to get more aggressive with your hands and push him forward with your legs – don’t even let him stop. Only when he feels soft and round can you think about letting him stop again.

What we are really trying to teach with this exercise is position, round neck, round back and transference of weight to the back legs. If the horse starts to raise his head, the stop will not be in the correct position, so you’re putting bad information in his muscle memory, and he’s likely to repeat it again. Make him keep his neck perfect.

If he consistently raises his head every time you try to stop, you also need to make double sure that you didn’t stop moving your hands when you let go with your legs. The biggest problem I see with this exercise is that a rider’s hands will die during the stop, and that will cause the horse’s head to come up. Don’t get me wrong, some horses will lift even if your hands keep moving, but just make sure you check yourself – even have someone watch you do the exercise if the horse’s head keeps coming up. If you have to repeat it a hundred times, who cares? If you find you have to work on yourself more than your horse, who cares? Do it until it’s perfect.

“So,” you ask, “if my hands keep moving won’t the horse start backing up?” That’s exactly what we want. Odds are the horse will not stop with much commitment when you first take off your legs, so you’ll want to keep moving your hands and to kick him back a few steps, keeping him soft in the poll, to make him wish he had tried a little harder. If the horse’s poll stays nice and relaxed don’t overdo the backing. If there is resistance in the body or neck I’ll bring him back until he rounds up and relaxes.

If you feel like he gave you his best, still take him back easy for a few steps to reinforce the concept, and then stop and pet him. But be aware that the perfect stop can be followed by a horrible back-up, and then you have to throw it all away and start again. The whole thing has to be perfect.

Since you’ll have some choices to make in the middle of this exercise, give some thought to how you’re going to respond in advance. Visualize the experience a few times in your mind before you try it on the horse, and see yourself correcting him right away – either driving him forward if he lifts his head or going right into the back, especially if he just doesn’t commit. By rehearsing mentally ahead of time you are far more likely to react seamlessly and experience success much earlier. If you have to stop and think about what to do next, your corrections will be delayed and not nearly as effective.

Also, at this point in the process, we aren’t even thinking about a high-impact, high-performance stop. That’s not what we’re looking for at all. We’re looking for form. Get the right form, just work on that form, and the stop will happen, and it will thrill you.

It’s a magic feeling when you finally get the collected stop right. I really can’t say any different words than there is magic in the feeling; the energy just starts from the bit, goes through the neck, through the back, and the back just drops down. That one sensation at the slow jog is worth more thrills to me than running back and forth at the gallop for two days when the form’s not right. And when you get that feeling, you’ll know you can always come back to this level and get this beautiful slow, round stop. Stay here for a while and get it solid.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More with Les is a regular California Horsetrader column. Les Vogt has won more than 15 World Championships, including two wins at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. Although Les still rides and occasionally shows, his focus is giving clinics around the world and developing products for the performance horseman. To learn more about Les and to see his clinic schedule, visit: www.lesvogt.com

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