Since many of our riders here at Rising K Ranch are quite new to horseback riding, we often find ourselves answering many of the same questions. Here is my answer to the question, "How do I stop my Horse?"
I hear this all the time: "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!" in a panicked voice while the horse continues to walk or trot along.
Some of my horses- particularly my reiners and cowhorses, will stop as soon as you say, "Whoa." However, some of our horses that are better suited for beginners have grown quite accustomed to the idea that "Whoa" doesn't really mean much at all. This is becasue they hear it so much from their riders without it being followed by the proper steps. The horse basically becomes desensitized to the word. All our beginner experience level horses are still easy to stop and they're very safe to ride; they just aren't going to respond to voice cues alone.
First of all, about the only time I ever say "Whoa" is if I am running down in a well maintained arena and I want the horse to slide to a stop. And even then, 95% of the stop cue is coming from the fact that I sat down deep in the saddle and put my feet forward. If I am not performing this kind of reining horse sliding stop from a pretty fast run, then I won't use the "Whoa" cue at all. That is, if I am simply on a mountain trail at a fast trot, lope, or fast run, I will stop the horse by silently sitting down a little deeper in the saddle and, if needed, I will lightly pull on the reins. Once the horse is down to a slow trot or a walk, I will finish the stop by sitting down even deeper in the saddle and putting my feet a couple inches further forward.
The reason I don't say "Whoa" out on the trail is that I want to reserve "Whoa" for a time when it's really needed- like for a sliding stop from a run. If I use "Whoa" all the time it will become a little less meaningful.
Since I reserve "Whoa" for a sliding stop, it simply is not fair or right of me to say "Whoa" out on the trail because out in nature the ground has not been worked or dragged with a tractor. If the ground is not worked properly, a sliding stop could actually injure a horse, or at least be very uncomfortable for him, so I don't want to make my horse think that I am asking him for a sliding stop in such rough, unworked ground.
Now, if you are new to horseback riding, we will not be putting you on a reining horse with the training to perform a sliding stop like I've just been describing. Instead, we will put you on a horse that matches your experience level. The horse you ride will be one that is safe to ride on the trail at any speed, but will not be quite so sensitively trained. You can think of it like driving an Oldsmobile as compared to driving a Ferrari. Because your horse will not be quite so finely tuned into your every movement, you will be able to get away with more mistakes in your riding. (If you keep returning to Rising K Ranch for lessons, you will progress until you can ride some of our more "Ferrari" type horses.)
For beginners to horseback riding then, the stop will be performed like this:
First, sit down a little deeper in the saddle and put your feet a couple inches forward. This will prepare your body for the coming stop so that you are not propelled forward when the horse stops.
Second, pull on the reins until the horse comes to a complete stop.
Third, loosen the reins after the horse has come to a complete stop (if you don't loosen the reins after you stop, your horse will back up or will learn to pull on your hands.)
I hope to be able to have a great day of horseback riding with you whenever you come visit the Zion or Bryce Canyon National Park area!