The One-Rein-Stop: from subtle signs to emergency brake
This is a widely misunderstood exercise, and while it appears in some form in most natural horsemanship programmes, it is rarely fully explained and important points are sometimes missed. The one-rein stop, done correctly, is a powerful and effective way to control the horse safely, and to help it to relax and focus on the rider.
Firstly, it’s for safety
When the horse’s head is held around to the side, its neck is bent and can no longer act as a balancing pole. This means the horse cannot buck or rear. If it tries to run forwards, the hindquarters will simply run in a small circle around the forehand, so it cannot bolt. This is like putting your car in neutral – the engine has been disengaged from the wheels. The horse realizes that it cannot flee – and therefore it is extremely important at this moment to reassure it. This is a position that will represent safety to both horse and rider, and could save both your lives in a crisis! It’s the emergency brake, if you like!
Secondly, it focuses the horse’s attention on the rider
This is one of the reasons why it is important to get the eye turing to you, not just the head or nose. If you just get the tip of the nose, you’ll still be able to stop the horse in an emergency – but you are not really getting the mind. It’s then a mechanical process, not a psychological one. It’s important to teach this exercise as yielding to your request so that you are engaging with the horse’s mind, and not lure the head around with food treats, for example, as in the “carrot stretch”.
Thirdly, the more you do it, the less you need it
A curious phenomenon about the one-rein-stop is that the more you practise it when you don’t need it, the less the situations arise when you DO need it. This is an exercise that cannot really be practised too often.
Prepare the exercise on the ground, then transfer the exercise to the saddle.