angle-left Horse Training for the Sliding Stop

Horse Training for the Sliding Stop

Avoid common mistakes and master the perfect sliding stop for your next reining pattern.
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There are few events more exciting than a horse barreling down the arena before effortlessly dropping his hips and sliding 20 feet with the dirt flying behind him. It can take your breath away.

But if you’re not sitting properly during that stop, your horse’s slide can go from a plus to a minus.

There’s a lot involved in stopping your horse – the run, the approach, the stop – and if you’re not in the right position, you can really mess up a great-stopping horse. Learning to ride a sliding stop is very much training yourself how to do it right.

There are several mistakes I see people make in sliding stops:


A skip is created when the rider throws his/her shoulders back. If your timing isn’t perfect when you make that big move, that’s signal one. The horse will start to make a movement to the ground, come back up and then go back to the ground again when you say “whoa.”

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If your horse has tight brakes or is a big stopper and you don’t get your shoulders back before you say the magic word, you are going to go up over the front of the horse. Also, if your feet are underneath you or slightly behind you, your upper body is going to go forward, as well.

Bad Timing

Many times in the stop, a rider will pick up his hand before he says “whoa.” When that happens, the horse will react to the hand before the cue word, and a lot of times, the front end will end up hitting first, and you’ll bounce up out of the saddle.

Good timing comes with practice. When you stop a lot, you get a feel for when to say “whoa.”

The Solution

I have my students practice big, straight-line ovals. I have them accelerate but not stop. Instead, they will decelerate, turn and then accelerate again.

Each turn needs to be a square corner. The square corners are very important, because if you come around the end and bulge out around, then you’re going to be trying to steer back in to find your line. Learn to come around that turn at 90 degrees so the horse’s shoulders are square and ready for a straight approach.

You need to have your shoulders behind the motion and let the horse gallop out in front of you. In doing this, you have to also loosen your hip and your pelvis as if it is separate from your upper body.

When you make the rundown to stop, try not to have an exact plan of where you will stop. When you plan, that horse reads you, and things start to shut off. Instead, stay behind the horse, work that pelvis, push that horse forward and then just say the word. Don’t pick a spot and go there, let it occur naturally.

If a run doesn’t work out don’t be afraid to go back to the tape. It’s pretty humbling, sometimes because in real-life motion, it doesn’t look nearly as bad as when you view it frame-by frame. You want to see functionally what’s happening in the stop.

In AQHA’s “Reining Basics With Craig Johnson,” Craig demonstrates how the working relationship between horse and rider softens, gets smoother and becomes increasingly responsive, until the cues are nearly invisible. Visit the AQHA Store to order yours today!

Go watch the video. Study it, take it home, and watch it over and over again. Watch it with your trainer so that you can start to visualize.

Don’t always study the runs that don’t go right. Spend as much time watching good runs and great stops. If you’re not to a point where that’s you, then don’t be embarrassed to watch runs of people who have accomplished what you seek to do and visualize those runs. It is surprising how much emulation can improve your technique.

Troy Heikes is a professional trainer. He has made the finals of every major National Reining Horse Association Category 2 event. He also specializes in non-pro instruction, and many of his non-pros have taken honors such as world championships and NRHA titles. Troy and his wife, Andrea, own and operate Heikes Quarter horses LLC in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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