The Emergency Stop: Horseback Riding How-To

The Emergency Stop: Horseback Riding How-To

Learn how to do an emergency stop, or pulley rein, on a horse with the help of horseman Curt Pate.

horse bridle close up (Credit: Mischel Yosick)

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By Curt Pate

Unless you truly have a bombproof horse, you’ve probably had a horse spook underneath you.

When a horse spooks, his survival instincts kick in, and I don’t think any type of “emergency stop” is effective then. For one thing, horses’ reaction times are so much faster than humans’.

So when a horse spooks with me, my first priority isn’t to stop him; it’s to center myself and stay on.

Then when you get your thoughts collected, you can do the emergency stop.

How to Do an Emergency Stop

The emergency stop is a simple technique: With the reins in both hands, use one hand to stabilize the neck, to keep it from bending. Lift the other hand up, toward the horse’s middle line, to elevate the horse’s chin.

Curt Pate demonstrates an emergency stop

At first, I exaggerate the movement, and I really lift the horse’s head up like a bronc rider. Then you can start making it more refined and subtle.

I use this for a lot of things besides emergencies, though. It helps a horse stop straight. I’ll also use it on a horse that jigs back to the barn. You can do it gently with your fingertips, and he’ll stop jigging.

Typically, if a horse is jigging back to the barn and you’re circling or pulling back and using your big muscles, it’s a big pull, then it’s a big release. It’s kind of like bad driving – you over-correct one way, then you overcorrect the other way and it becomes like a fishtail.

It’s better to gently slow a horse with your fingertips, make sure he relaxes mentally and physically, then gently release the pressure. Throwing the reins away in a big release would encourage him to start jigging again.

As a side note, with jigging horses, I also try to fight my human sensibilities that say: “Horse, you will stop and stand still!” That might be too much to ask. He didn’t learn to jig in one day, so why would I think he’d be cured in one day.

I’d be happy if instead of a jig, I got a fast walk, or maybe even three or four steps of jigging and then three or four steps of walking. I’ll keep my hands in close, where I can support him with gentle “emergency stops,” and I’ll try to keep him mentally with me.

What I don’t want to do is start a fight. I’ve seen people who were determined that their horse would stop and stand, and they get in a big fight. When that happens, you have failed your horse mentally. It’s much better to be happy with small changes and then build on those.

More Training Tips From Curt Pate

Horseman Curt Pate outlines his top 10 training tips: spook proofing, catching a horse, calming a nervous horse, proper flexion, ground work, appropriate tack and much more in this free e-book from AQHA: Training Your Horse for a Better Relationship with Curt Pate

Video: Emergency Stop While Horseback Riding

Are you a visual learner? The Certified Horsemanship Association demonstrates how to do an emergency stop from horseback.