Ask the Expert: Smoother Stops


Q: When I try to halt my horse from any gait faster than a walk, she stops abruptly on her front end and I’m thrown forward. What should I do?

A: Let’s begin with the core principles of safe and balanced riding.

  1. Remember to have relaxed and soft eyes. This means that you can keep an upward and outward view with a clear, forward intent. You can see with a distant focus and be aware of your surroundings at the same time.
  2. Make sure that you are breathing deeply and relaxing and softening your body when you exhale. This will send a message to your horse that life is good and she has nothing to worry about.
  3. Check that you have good skeletal alignment: ear, shoulder, hip and ankle all in a straight line from top to bottom. This balance is what makes it easier for your horse to carry you and keeps you in the saddle, especially if your horse spooks. 4) Feel your seat bones and imagine that they are actually two holes through which you can breathe, as if you were responsible for filling up your horse’s lungs. This will help prevent you from getting “thrown forward.”

Now for the stop: Think of the stop as a forward motion and the culmination of a forward maneuver. Horses learn really well when a sequence of cues is presented to them. The most important thing about the sequence is that it’s the same every time you present it to the horse.

The first cue in the sequence is always your thought. Your thought must be as specific as possible. For example, think to yourself: “I want you to be straight and to stop at that particular spot in the arena.”

Next, you might square up in the saddle and then take a deep breath and as you exhale, sink into the middle of the saddle, and stop moving your body.

Then you might say “whoa,” raise your reins, make contact and release. Note that the reins are the last thing to be used. It sounds like your mare will stop at some point in this sequence, and when you are balanced and grounded, you will enable her to stop with her hind end under herself while you stay solid in the saddle and stop with your horse.

Liked this article? Here are others you’ll enjoy:
How to Improve Your Horse’s Halts
Three Exercises to Master the Halt

JIM McDONALD is an American Quarter Horse Association Professional Horseman and a Certified Horsemanship Association and Centered Riding instructor.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!


  1. sit deep in the sadlle, heels deep down, stop using legs in sence not having them super tight against your horse,..and reins at the end…if needed.


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