I was recently asked to describe a maneuver I call the “emergency brake.”
It is fundamentally a two-handed stop which is used in a variety of disciplines for a variety of training reasons.
I am describing it here for that use, as well as for the safety of everyone.
It can be used as a stopping maneuver (training or emergency.)
When someone asks this question, it’s never an easy one to answer.
“How do I know if this is the right horse for me? I feel frustrated. I’m not sure if it’s him or if it’s me. I’m losing confidence. I’m not having fun. I just might quit.
It’s not an easy answer because there are a lot of variables involved.
My first response is, “What do you think?”
You’ve heard it before. Someone shouts, “Stop leaning!” Immediately it feels like someone put your finger in a light socket. Your eyes bug out and your back goes stiff in an effort to get upright in the saddle! Ugh! That’s not exactly what you wanted instead!
Without realizing it, it’s so easy to develop the habit of leaning in lots of directions. Maybe you lean and kind of pump your upper body forward to try to get your horse to go (instead of using leg/feet cues only.)
Have you ever said, “Well, moving forward, let’s __________ .”
You let go of anything that holds you back. You look to what you want to create next. You focus on progress, a move in a positive direction. Roadblocks are released and all is right in your world once again.
Don’t you love that feeling?
Sometimes the most profound truisms are the simplest. I LOVE that because the simpler things are the better we can make the wisdom part of our riding.
The idea that our body parts are directly related to a horse’s body parts is really profound if you think about it …
What you focus on with your eyes is where your horse will focus … and move toward.
I’ve always considered myself to be VERY safety conscious.
When I walk into a barn, my eyes are always scanning for safety. I’m just wired that way. As if I’m on autopilot, I look to see if the horses are tied high and short enough (so they don’t get a leg through the leadrope) … the horses are tied far enough apart (so they don’t kick each other) … the saddle cinches are snug before getting on and then checked again before working a cow, etc.
If you’re like me I bet you want your horse to stand still when you get on. Of course you do. You would like to think you ride a well mannered horse, right? Plus, it’s super comfortable to have a horse that stands still as you throw your leg over the saddle.
Ideally you want to know that your horse would stand there all day if you didn’t ask him to move. He should be truly relaxed and content to be motionless. There’s a big difference between that attitude and a token five seconds of standing still all the while with ants in his pants!!
When a horse truly remains motionless and stays relaxed as you get on, there is a lot of benefit to starting your ride this way. Here are three additional reasons why it’s important for your horse to stay quiet as you mount up:
1. The number one reason is for your safety and for the safety of everyone around you. A horse who stands perfectly still and patiently waits for you to tell him what to do next is predictable … and predictability spells safety for you.
It’s a natural instinct.
When your horse gets nervous and starts “antsing” around, you try and calm him by looking down at him, petting him on the neck and loosening the reins. A loving look, a pat on the neck and a release of the reins are three responses that would seem to take the pressure off of him, right?
Factors to Consider When Preparing Your Horse
Horses emerge from a stall or a pasture in a very specific state of mind, body and emotion. Just like us, every day is a new day. You can never take for granted that your horse comes out in a particular way on any given day. Your job is to tune into your horse so you can get him ready for the day’s task at hand.
Have you ever had someone tap you on the arm to get your attention? Your response was probably to turn and see what was going on.
But sometimes, we are in the middle of something and we can’t respond right away. Most people stop tapping if we don’t respond.
But let’s pretend like they didn’t stop. They just kept tapping. Let’s also pretend like we absolutely could not give that person attention for a couple of minutes, but they kept tapping anyway. What would happen? Chances are we would grow numb to the tap.
What does flexing your horse mean to you?
There are lots of ways people apply this idea of flexing to their personal style of riding. I’m going to talk specifically about doing an exercise after you mount your horse and before you take your first step.
This exercise is best for a horse that has some time on him (i.e. I am not talking about when you first start a horse).
When a horse walks off as you get on, it’s annoying! It’s also a cross between poor manners and unsafe behavior. And of course, the horse is on his own program … not yours.
On the reverse side of things, it’s such a sweet, simple pleasure to get on a horse who stands quietly. He knows his job is to stand still and he remains patient and relaxed until you ask him for the next step.