Sit and Slide Your Way to Prettier Stops

Sit and Slide Your Way to Prettier Stops

Shane Brown explains how to ride your horse to a perfect sliding stop in reining and rein work patterns.

Double Loaded Gun performs a sliding stop (Credit: Journal)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Breanne Hill

Sliding stops – they are thrilling for audiences and tricky for riders. As trainer Shane Brown describes, this iconic element of the reining or rein work pattern can make even the most confident competitors doubt their abilities.

“It’s funny,” he says. “Sometimes, I’ll do a clinic and say, ‘OK, it’s time to practice sliding stops,’ and I’ll hear people go, ‘Oh no. Do we have to?’ And it’s not that riders don’t like to stop, it’s just that it’s so challenging physically. It’s harder to develop a feel for sliding stops than for other parts of the reining pattern.”

Shane believes the best way to master the sliding stop is to take it step by step. Learn what every part of your body, including your hands and feet, should be doing throughout the stopping process, and then leave the rest up to your horse.

“When you’re riding a good reining horse, it really comes down to letting him do his job, not making him do his job,” Shane says. “So, the good news is, almost anybody can learn to ride a reining horse, and therefore, almost anybody can experience what it’s like to ride a beautiful sliding stop.”

Body Position for Sliding Stops

When it’s time to perform a sliding stop, the rider’s body should work like a tipping stack of dominoes, with the movement of one part causing the movement of another.

The first domino in that line is your torso. Shane says basic body position during the sliding stop is a challenge for many riders because they believe leaning in one direction or another helps their horses perform better. This isn’t true – at least not when it comes to modern reining horses. Today, it’s about getting into the correct position to ask the equine athlete to do his job instead of trying to force the maneuver.

“There was a time when we were taught, for example, that leaning forward would help our horses go faster,” Shane says, “or that throwing our body weight back into the saddle would help them tuck their hindquarters and stop. But the horses we have now are bred specifically to perform all the elements of the reining pattern. They’re so athletic. Our riding has had to evolve along with their abilities.”

The rider’s body should already be properly set up on the approach to the stop – before making the request.

Reining horses naturally want to slide to a stop. Shane claims you can see evidence of this while working 2-year-olds in a round pen, or even while watching weanlings in a pasture, when they break in the loin and balance on their hindquarters while putting on the brakes and changing direction.

The shift in equine ability has made it necessary for riders to be more subtle and steady in the way they guide their horses, including keeping bodies straight in the saddle during rundowns and stops, staying centered, not leaning to one side or the other.

“Body position is so important,” Shane says, “but riders skip over it in favor of worrying about their hands or legs. Meanwhile, your body position determines what happens with your hands and legs. Most people don’t think of it in that way.”

Proper body position during the sliding stop involves rolling your hips and bottom backward into the saddle and allowing your upper body to “melt” or “cave” toward your pelvis.

“What we want is to sit back and get our weight transferred back onto our pockets,” he explains, “kind of roll our tailbone underneath our hips. This helps your horse drive from behind and tucks his hindquarters, even though it feels like you’re not adding that much impact because you’re not throwing yourself back.”

A lot of amateur riders don’t fully commit to this body position, and that robs them of a smooth ride and deep slide, says Shane. He stresses the importance of tipping the first domino by tucking your tailbone and shifting rearward from your base.

“I’ve made the mistake of telling my students to sit back more. A lot of times, they interpret that as just bringing their neck and shoulders back,” Shane says. “Really, what we need to do is roll the pelvis back and sit on our tailbones.”

Shane Brown and Double Loaded Gun demonstrate how to ride to a sliding stop

Sliding requires momentum, but Shane doesn’t lean forward when asking "Timmy" to gather speed in the rundown. That’s old-school, he says.

Shane Brown and Double Loaded Gun demonstrate how to ride to a sliding stop

Tipping the first domino requires sitting on your pockets and shifting your torso rearward from the base of your spine before saying “Whoa.”

Shane Brown and Double Loaded Gun demonstrate how to ride to a sliding stop

Rein pressure is the last cue to come into play. Some horses benefit from continuous contact, but Shane is slow with his hand movement. Strong, abrupt bit pressure never makes a stop prettier.

Leg Position During Sliding Stops

Rolling your hips backward in the saddle has the added value of causing your legs and feet to move forward – which is where you want them to be for the stop.

During the stop, you’ll also need to keep your feet and lower legs from having contact with your horse’s body. Because reining horses are taught to go forward when a rider squeezes his legs, removing leg pressure has the opposite effect. It lets the horse know it’s time to stop.

“Those legs have got to come off of that horse,” Shane confirms. “The lower part of our leg has got to come all the way off.

“When our lower leg comes off, a lot of times our thighs will take hold, and that’s OK, as long as we don’t overdo it – as long as we don’t let that tension of hanging on with our thighs end up in our torso – because we don’t want our torso to get stiff.”

Having your legs in a forward position will keep you from being bounced forward in the saddle. You don’t want to end up on your horse’s neck as it stops.

Emily Esterson and Winder Up Wimps demonstrate how to ride to a sliding stop

Leg pressure means “Go”; removing leg pressure means “Whoa.” Emily Esterson takes her lower legs completely off Winder Up Wimps’ sides as another signal to apply the brakes.

Emily Esterson and Winder Up Wimps demonstrate how to ride to a sliding stop

A rider’s body position affects her rein and leg position. As Winder Up Wimp, aka “Denny,” builds speed, Emily looks straight ahead, and sits on her pockets, and keeps her body centered in the saddle.

Emily Esterson and Winder Up Wimps demonstrate how to ride to a sliding stop

Emily’s legs come forward during the slide, which is where they need to be to keep her from being bounced onto the horse’s neck. But once she says “Whoa,” she doesn’t change her basic seat or body position. She lets her horse and gravity do the work.

Saying "Whoa"

It may seem like riding 101, but Shane advises his students to always say “Whoa” during sliding stops. The mere sound of this common command can soothe any anxiety you or your horse may be feeling, and it reassures the horse that he is doing the right thing.

“Horses learn from the time they’re babies in the round pen that we say ‘Whoa’ when we want them to stop,” Shane reminds.

“So, when I’m showing, I’m always going to say ‘Whoa’ for this reason. It is an established part of our relationship, and it works.”

The word is such an important part of Shane’s reining routine that he even says ‘Whoa’ when riding his deaf horse.

“That’s one of those examples of acknowledging that the way we ride is just as important to us as it is to our horses,” Shane asserts. “With my deaf horse, I know I say ‘Whoa’ for me, not for him. My body is just so conditioned to do that when I show. If I don’t take it it messes with my timing.”

Speaking of timing, Shane stresses that the way you say “Whoa” is vital to your success. You can’t whisper it. You want to say it loud enough that your horse can hear it in a crowded arena.

And you want to draw the word out, saying it slowly –“Whoooooooa”– so it promotes a long, calm sliding stop. 

“Your stop isn’t short, so the word shouldn’t be short either,” Shane explains. “Draw it out. Don’t do it abruptly. Saying ‘Whoooooooa’ reminds us to slow our whole body down.”

Using Hands During Sliding Stops

The majority of riders will do something, anything, with their hands when they are nervous. They might pull to the left. They might give their horses slack and quickly take it back. They might even prematurely take their horses out of a sliding stop.

“As humans, we are hand-eye coordinated animals,” Shane says. “And we are quick to pull that handle when things don’t feel exactly right to us. On a horse, the handle is, obviously, the reins. It’s a safety mechanism.”

Shane admits that he uses the reins as his emergency brake during his sliding stops – but he waits for other cues to fail before he does.

“I’m going to roll my body back, starting in my seat, peel my legs off and say ‘whoa,’ ” Shane says. “Then, if my horse isn’t responding or needs some help, that’s when my hands do something besides remaining neutral. My hands and use of reins are my final aid – depending on what my individual horse requires.

“It becomes a method of correction. That way, if I do lose my horse’s attention, or question what he’s doing, when my hand picks up on that bridle, my horse takes notice.”

If you need to use your hands, Shane advises keeping your actions smooth and steady. Horses tend to mirror their riders’ jerky movements, and there is no room for that in a sliding stop.

“You know, I’ve been doing this practically my whole life,” Shane says, “and before I walk into that arena, I have to remind myself to keep my hands slow.”

Using consistently abrupt hand movements can actually damage a reining horse’s career. Horses tend to react to a sudden pull of the reins by locking their jaws. In turn, the jaw muscles are connected to every other part of their bodies, and any tension they take on will quickly spread.

“The jaw goes to the poll, which goes to the neck, which goes to the shoulders, and into the back and hips,” Shane says. 

“If I cause too much sudden tension on the reins and bit, and the horses grit their teeth, that’s not going to be good. Then they’re going to start associating the word ‘Whoa’ with pain in their mouths, and that is not what we’re trying to accomplish.

“You want your stop to be a positive experience, so they will continue to want to do it,” he confirms.

Put It All Together: Riding the Sliding Stop

The sliding stop is often compared to gliding across ice. It should be that fluid and graceful. And that’s what makes it so difficult. However, if riders can remember to slow themselves down and take sitting the stop one step at a time, they can enhance their horses’ natural talents and have some fun doing it.

“The power with which these horses perform is incredible,” Shane says. “I think one of the things that makes reining so popular is just the exhilaration of running down there with speed and executing a nice, smooth, long stop.

“It’s just a wonderful tribute to our horses’ abilities, and as competitors, we should enjoy being a part of that.”

About the Source: Shane Brown

Shane Brown was raised on a Colorado cattle ranch and saw his first reining class when he was still a youth in 4-H. He was immediately interested in the sport. He later worked for trainer Troy Heikes and took his first horse to the National Reining Horse Association Futurity at the age of 16.

Today, Shane and his wife, Stacey, own a thriving business, Shane Brown Performance Horses, near Elbert, Colorado. He is a sought-after youth and non-pro coach who is known for his caring approach to educating both horses and riders. Shane also shows open horses and is an NRHA Futurity and Derby and AQHA World Show finalist.