Article Archive: Improve Your Sliding Stops: Tips from Pete Kyle

Use this training technique to boost your show-ring performance


If you've been around reiners or reining enthusiasts, you've probbly heard them talk about "fencing" a horse. This training technique involves teaching a horse to run and stop right at a fence or wall and then, right at the wall, put in a sliding stop. It's part of the training program for most horses, but it has advantages for any horse in any discipline. It teaches horses to:
--travel straight
--stay between the rider's hands and legs
--steer easily
--accelerate gradually in response to the rider's cues

For reining horses, it accomplishes important skill-specific objectives. It helps teach horses to
--stop in the ground and break in the loins for a smooth slide
--wait for your cues, rather than anticipating in the rundowns
-- think that, if he's asked to stop, it'll be far down the arena--all the way to the fence. In the show pen, he'll be more likely to increase speed slowly--and make it past the designated marker (failure to do so will earn penalties.
--run true and correct and straight every time he stops.

It helps any rider to
-- feel when their horse is straight vs crooked
--be more confident and have more control at fast gaits
--develop increased trust in your horse (it also helps him to gain trust in you)

And it helps non pro reiners to
--develop the timing they need as they accelerate for the rundown and stop
--create the smooth, controlled rundowns that give you pretty stops and "plus" scores

Kyle fences by taking his horses (in a slow lope) in a straight line from one end of the arena to the other (Tip: focus on one point, perhaps a certain fence post or tree in the distance, so that you keep your head up and try to ride straight to it.) Sounds simple? Think again.

Even at a slow lope, says Kyle, "the first time or two you do this--especially on a young horse--your horse won't go in a straight line. He'll weave from side to side because he's not sure what's going on." To avoid scaring the horse, Kyle lets him break down a little and maybe walk or trot the last few strides before the fence until he becomes comfortable. "We just keep going slowly up and back the arena--just getting to the fence, turning around, and going back the way we came--until the horse quietly lopes right up to the fence and stops."

This also offers a key opportunity to teach horses (and their non pro riders) what straight means. Most of the time, when a horse is crooked, the rider tries to use the reins, moving the horse to the right or to the left to get him straight. It works better if you keep your hand still--and forward, both directing the horse and letting him go forward--and straighten him with your leg. For a horse to appear to travel straight at a lope, he's actually carrying his hip a little to the inside. In the stop, people get into trouble when they try to help the horse too much with the hand. Often, if you pick up a little more speed, the horse will tend to travel straighter.


Tip: as you go back and forth up and down your arena, feel that your horse is between the reins--look down, if you have to--riding one-handed, both reins should be near his neck. If one rein is touching the neck and the other is away from the neck, he's buldging in one direction. Try to feel what's happening and cue with your leg for straightness.

This skill is critical in the sliding stop: "If he's leaning in one direction or the other, his body parts are out of position and won't give you the stops you want. Ths part of fencing also teaches the horse to stay between your reins and legs," says Kyle.

Dear to every reiner's heart is the word "whoa," an essential cue to help initiate the sliding stop. Kyle reinforces that command as he approaches the fence, saying the word early enough to give his horse time to stop. As he increases speed later on, he says it a little earlier--"I don't want a hose to worry about crashing into the fence," he says.

This basic work might take a little while. But a horse learns to go in a straight line, impotant because in the run down to a sliding stop, he needs to be really straight.

It's also good practice for non pros and helps them focus on where they're going, thus helping to develop steering skills (and to know when the steering isn't working as well as it should)." I have them look at an object in the distance, maybe a fence post or a pole beyond the arena and ride straight toward it," he says. "I'll have them do the same thing when they show. A lot of the time, non pros think that their horse is running straight, but it's fading to one side or the other. If you try to ride staright toward an object, and suddenly you're no longer going straight to it, you know your horse isn't traveling straight."

This work paves the way for yet another important lesson. "If a horse starts to pick up speed, I softly pick up on the face and break to the walk. I don't say "whoa" when I do because I don't want him to think that this is just an easy stop--if I do, he'll want to do it again. When my horse gives with his face, I lope slow to the fence." This correction pevents anticipation and it also gives you an important tool in the show ring--if a horse starts to build into the stop on his own, you can pick up slighty. He'll feel that, remember that you've asked him to come back at home, and he'll come back to you. You'll be able to stay in contraol of your rundown and not have the problem of your horse taking control.

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Tips for non pros

The biggest mistake that I see non pros make is that they don't have faith in their horses--they don't believe that if they gradually ask for an increase in speed, they'll get it. They're often worried that their horses will break and run, so they start off too slow and stay slow for too long. Then they realize that they need to accelerate and take off too fast. They actually teach the horse to break and run.

Non pros also need to work to develop thelr timing as they increase speed, sing both legs to ask for speed as the horses front leg hits the ground. That helps bring the horses hind end up, so that he won't flatten out and helps him keep his weight on his hindquarters so that he'll give you a better stop when you ask for it.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Kyle focuses on fencing, in part, to avoid duplicating the types of stops horses often encounter in show-ring patterns. "We don't run a horse around the arena and stop him like we do in some of our reining patterns," he says. These types of run downs--which basically include loping down one long side of the arena, making a turn around the short side, and then heading for a sliding stop on the second long side will just tire your horse out faster. Plus, you'd risk building anticipation and creating problems in the showpen. If you go around the top side of the arena repeatedly, you actualIy teach a horse to come around the short side of the arena and then speed up for the stop.

Fencing also contributes to a horse's show-pen performance because horses stop repeatedlv at the far end of the arena--something they don't do at shows. If, instead, you just go 3/4 of the way down and stop over and over again (just like vou d do at a show), your horse would start to slow down earlier and earlier in preparation for the stop. In a class, you'd be likely to get a poor stop (because your horse is slowing down instead of accelerating) or hit a marker because YOU began the stop too early.

ADDING SPEED

"Once my horse is going up and down the arena and staying slow and relaxed, I'll incrase speed--gradually." For non pros in particular, this helps establish an important concept: you don't have to run hard. A nice, controlled rundown in which you incrase speed gradually is very attractive to the judge. This kind of approach allows you to get a nice, soft stop anda clean rollback. This--not an all-out burst of speed--will make a pretty picture and will be more likely to get you a plus score in your stop.

The key to acceleration is to incrase speed just a little bit every two to three strides. Ask for a little more speed with a cluck. Remember to start to build just a few srides after you get started. (A lot of non pros make the mistake of loping slow until they reach the middle of the arena and then building speed too quickly. If you do this, you'll encourage a horse to "break and run," taking off and taking control of the rundown.) Do this several times, gradually increasing speed all the way to the fence. I'm careful to give my horse enough rest in between stops to get his air back.

Your horse will learn to "run uphill," into his stop, balanced on his hindquarters--and he can only do this if he's accelerating when vou ask for the stop. If he's not accelerating, his stride will flatten out and he'll shift his weight to his front end. When he stops, he'll hit the ground hard. You'll probably come up out of the saddle, and the overall picture won't be smooth.

Any time in this process that he speeds up on his own, pick up his face and break hlm back down to a walk. As in the earlier slow work, I don't want to scare him, I just want him to respond to my pick-up by giving his head and letting me get back in control. In the pen, if I pick up, I want him to think about rating his speed and coming back to me. If he doesn't give, I'll back him for a few steps until he does give. Then, I'll lope off and go to the fence. If he's good accelerates gradually, I'll let him stand and relax.

Periodically, I'll also stop him in the approach (without saving "whoa") and back him a couple of steps. This helps him learn to break in the loin as he stops and keeps him from leaning out with his face in the stop. If he does this, he'll shift his weight on his front end and could start to pull against the bridle.

After he's running nice, I'll let him stand and rest for a few minutes. If the stops aren't good, we'll just turn around and go back and forth until we get it right.

Then, I may vary the run downs. I'll build speed one time, then go slow all the way to the fence the next time. I may increase speed just a little. I want him to know that we're not going to just Iine up and run. This underscores the idea that he doesn't know what I'm going to ask him to do, so he might as well relax. I might ask him to run, or we might just take a casual stroll down the arena. Once everything feels good, I'll ask for a couple of stops, going about 3/4 of the way down the arena.

I finish up a fencing session by slowly Ioping around the ends of the arena and then coming down as if I was going to stop, but not increasing speed. This helps prevent anticipation when he comes around the ends of the arena to his run downs in a class. It also allows me to finish up in a very relaxed mode.

How much time I spend on fencing depends on where a horse is in his training. If a horse has had time off, I start to work on fencing about a month before his first show, doing a little bit every day, but no more than 10 to 15 minutes a session. lnto the season, if a horse is stopping good, I fence them mainly just to teach them to keep straight, working about 20 minutes every other day. And when a horse is doing everything I ask, I quit him for the day. If you over do it and keep stopping over and over, he'll make mistakes. And then you'll have to correct mistakes--even though you created them. I'm careful not to over-do fencing. I don't stop my horses every day. Still, it's important to remember that this is physically demanding work, so you have to stop some just so the muscles stay strong and to help build up a horse's wind.




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