Why do new riders pull their horse back to stop?

April Reeves

Clinician, Instructor, Trainer

Question: My new coach does not want me to pull straight back to stop. My old coach only used this method. I will learn both methods (as in one of your older posts you suggest we learn other ways of doing things and find the best one that works for us). My question to you is why do we do this? Why do we need to learn so many things when we start riding?

Answer from April Reeves: Great question! This deals with our attitudes and mindset as a HUMAN, and how we have to alter OUR behaviors to work with the horse.

Yes, work with your new coach and find new ways to do things. There are often many ways to train a horse, and not all horses respond to the same methods. I have 5 methods to teaching the flying change. One is better than all the others, but it depends on the horse I’m working with. Take in all that you can, try it, apply it, and if it works, keep it in the back of your mind. If you don’t see results after a length of time, the method may not be complete. I find many good trainers have difficulty explaining what they do, but are very effective doing it.

Why do humans automatically pull back to stop? I see it with every new rider. I wrote an article on this that may shed some light on our ‘human-ness’.

The Guide to Connection
Part 1

Pulling on the Reins – Why We Resist Learning New Methods

We’ve all done it at some point; our horse doesn’t stop at exactly the time and place we want, so we resort to the ‘classic’ two-hand ‘yard’ on his face.

Although it felt like the appropriate thing to do at the time, there is a better way.

Why is it that we instinctively use both hands to stop a horse? It’s a gut reaction for everyone who has not had the training otherwise. It is the first thing a new rider will do when they sit on a horse for the first time.

Good horse training methods require us to drop our instinctive reactions in trade for a purposeful, thoughtful proactive response. I believe this is one of the biggest barriers for riders learning new training skills. At first, it feels like you are losing control, as it doesn’t always make sense, especially in the process of learning how to stop a horse. A runaway horse is one of the biggest dangers riders face, and it’s on the top of every new riders mind as they mount for the first few times.

What eventually happens, (if you listen to the theories of trainers who have made a name for themselves by teaching and delivering quality results), is a pattern consistent in all learning. The brain takes in new information logically first. As the new pattern of learning is introduced, the brain absorbs, and after a while, moves into the creative part of your brain. This is where all learning and mechanics (movements) become ‘intrinsic’, or where the human no longer needs to ponder or think through the learning.

Have you ever watched a good skier coming down a mogul hill? It’s poetry, and their bodies just intuitively understand the reaction to obtaining the fluidity needed. Or the show jumper, whose rider flows with him, jump after jump, never hindering the horse.

This is the response to practicing training methods that work. It is simply NOT about practicing. It’s about practicing the correct way, every time. So for us mortals, it’s important to understand not just the lesson, but HOW we take in a lesson. Knowing and understanding the mechanics behind learning often comfort us when we are first faced with the challenge of accepting new information as a truth. It’s not about us being too stupid to learn new things, but allowing the time necessary for our brains to shift gears and learn how to learn.

In order to work with horses, it takes a reversal or shift in thinking. For older beginners, this can be a bigger challenge. There are reasons why ‘learning to learn’ when you are young pays off (so get the kids off the couch NOW). It’s not just about the single subject, but also the ability to ‘learn how to learn’ that you carry with you through life.

It’s teaching your brain to absorb things that don’t make sense at first. It’s the ability to accept the introduction of new methods. And it’s the time necessary for the body to intrinsically respond.

Mind, soul and body – working together.

This is how we grow.

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