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Training Your Horse For Longer Sliding Stops

Once your horse is reliably doing a short-slide stop (consistently stopping in one stride and sliding a couple of feet when you say whoa) at a slow lope, you can begin teaching him to do a longer sliding stop. Make sure that your horse is doing this dependably before attempting to lengthen his slides—you must have a strong foundation to build on.

 The length of the horse’s slide is determined by several factors. They are:

• His natural ability and talent for stopping
• The ground you are riding on
• His horseshoes
• His rate of speed going into the stop
• And how the rider cues the horse to stop—rein work, posture, etc.

  Each factor influences your horse’s slide, and they will be discussed individually.

First, it’s important to understand that almost any horse is capable of a little two-foot slide on good ground. However, not every horse is going to be able to learn to slide fifteen or twenty feet. If this is your goal, it’s important that your horse has both the ability and the desire to stop and slide.

Not every horse will be able to do this. Trying to train a horse who isn’t inclined to stop to become a long-slide stopper will usually result in your training sessions becoming harsh and unpleasant for both of you. Your horse will end up frightened of you, and it still won’t stop well on a consistent basis. So it’s vital to make sure that your horse wants to become a long-slide stopper.

How will you know this? Well, if he was pretty easy to train to stop well at a trot or a slow lope, there is a good chance that you will be able to train him to become a long-slide stopper. Of course, this is assuming that you advance the stop gradually and that your horse has the physical strength to hold a hard stop.

Conversely, if you had a difficult time training your horse to stop at a trot or slow lope, it’s not worth it to try to advance the stop. He’ll resist the training and frustrate you both, and it isn’t worth it to put either of you through that.

The ground is another factor affecting slides. Long slides simply won’t occur on bad ground. For clarity, good sliding ground is ground consisting of a hard, smooth, packed base with two to three inches of loose dirt on top of it. This gives your horse the advantage of a solid base to slide on, preventing him from digging his hooves in too deeply and shortening his slide. It must be smooth, because otherwise your horse’s feet might catch in a rut. At best that would shorten the slide; at worst, your horse will be injured.

It’s also important to have loose, fluffy dirt on top of the base to soften the impact of the feet hitting the hard base. Without this soft cushioning, your horse will get sore. Also, this loose dirt is easy for your horse to plough through while sliding. If this top layer is too deep or heavy, your horse won’t slide far. He’ll also need exceptional strength to hold a slide in deep, heavy dirt.

To improve your sliding ground, add rice hulls or shavings to it. This really helps to make the top layer fluffy and light.

Your horse’s shoes also have a great impact on his ability to slide. You must use sliding shoes made of tempered, flat bar iron. They are one inch to an inch and a half wide, and the wider they are, the less friction they have on the ground—and the longer the slide.

The nail heads on sliding shoes are countersunk, lying flush with the shoe, to reduce friction still more. To prevent the horse’s toe from jamming or catching in the ground while sliding, the front quarter inch of the shoe is curved upward, rather like the forward edge of a snow ski. The shoe’s quarters should come almost straight back from this curved toe, allowing dirt to easily flow out the back.

Also, the trailers should extend back to, but not past, the bulbs of the foot. Trim the hind feet with a slightly longer toe and lower heel than usual. (Usually, the angle of the hoof is trimmed to match the angle of the horse’s pastern.)

All this is done to create more surface area on the hooves and increase the slide potential, reducing the danger of the horse catching his toe in the dirt, knuckling over and injuring himself. However, while these slight changes are good, more is NOT better. If the heels are trimmed too high, your horse will knuckle over and pull a tendon while stopping. Too low, and there is the risk that he’ll strain his hamstrings.

Your horse’s build is also important. Horses with straight hind legs and feet that point straight ahead have an advantage when sliding far. Their back feet remain together during the slide. However, it a horse’s back feet toe out, they will start to spread as he slides. The longer the slide, the more they will spread, until he has to come out of the slide to bring them back together.

A horse with this problem will make V shaped slide tracks. The owner can help to correct this by slightly turning the horseshoe so it points straight ahead. Also, it can sometimes help to rock the toe just a little toward the inside of the foot.

Obviously, the speed at which your horse is running when it goes into the stop is a major factor determining the length he will slide. For example, say you want your horse to do a sliding stop down the length of an arena floor. You should begin at a slow speed and gradually build up speed, a little with each stride, until you ask for the stop.

It’s important to ask for the stop during your horse’s acceleration. During acceleration, your horse’s shoulders will be more elevated and his back feet will reach further beneath him, both necessary elements for a good long slide.

However, make sure you carefully time his acceleration so he won’t be running too fast when you ask for the stop. Otherwise, he might ignore the signal. Horses instinctually have an optimum speed they will run when they will still try to stop. If you run him faster, he might concentrate on running and forget about the upcoming stop. Or, he might not have the strength to hold a hard stop over a certain speed, and he won’t try it. Lots of practice and experimenting to find your horse’s optimum running speed for a long stop are the best keys here.

Also, remember not to ask your horse to hard-stop from his top speed too frequently. He’ll sour if you do. And don’t forget to use skid boots to protect his fetlocks during the skid.

If you have your horse accelerate too quickly, then begin to slow as you near the stop, you’ll usually have a disappointing slide. The horse is already decelerating when you ask for the stop.

It’s also important to ask for the stop when your horse is running straight, not turning or curving. You should be able to draw an imaginary straight line from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail when you ask for the stop. If your horse is a bit crooked, he won’t be in balance during the stop, which can be dangerous. To ensure a straight stop, make sure he’s running a straight path down the arena, not veering or zigzagging.

Finally, the way the rider cues the stop is vital. You must correctly use the reins; have perfect timing, and great posture to enable your horse to slide a long distance. It’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know the proper method.

Firstly, contrary to popular belief, pulling harder on the reins will produce a shorter slide, not a longer one. This is because that hard pull makes your horse spread his hind legs too far and jam his feet too deeply into the ground to slide far. And most importantly, a horse needs the use of his head and neck for balance in a long slide, and he can’t have that if the rider is yanking on the reins.

Now, how should you do it correctly? There are three techniques you can try—because different horses respond differently—to get the best result. While the three techniques are different, they are similar in theory.

The absolute best way of stopping your horse for a long slide is to keep the reins slack and say “Whoa!” This lets your horse slide as long as possible, because the rider is not interfering with him. Without the distraction or impediment of rein pulling, he can slide just as far as he can. Of course, for this method to be effective, your horse has to be the kind who really wants to stop and enjoys the slide. The average horse probably won’t consistently stop this way.

Another method is to say “Whoa!”, apply light pressure on the reins, then allow your horse to slide without further interference. Remember—light pressure, not pulling. Apply a pound or two of pressure and set your hand solid, without pulling or allowing slack on the reins.

This technique is most effective on horses that will stop, but don’t want to stay in the slide. However, horses usually won’t slide too far this way unless you use extremely light pressure. If you pull on the reins instead of setting your hand solid, your horse will pull on you and then fall on his front end.

The last technique tends to work on the majority of horses. When you ask for the stop, say “Whoa!”, wait just a fraction of a second, then apply rein pressure, set your hand, and allow slack—just an inch or two, not too much—almost immediately as soon as the horse goes into the stop. The horse will continue to slide with the reins slack.

If you feel your horse start to release the stop, set your hand again, then immediately slack the reins once more. This set-slack maneuver repeats throughout the slide until the horse has come to a complete stop.

The reason this whoa-set-slack technique tends to work well is simple. After giving the verbal cue, waiting just a split second gives the horse a chance to enter the slide on his own. His hooves enter the ground more smoothly than they would were he startled by the “whoa” and rein pressure simultaneously.

Once his hooves are set and sliding, then the short pressure with the reins simply reminds the horse to stay in the slide. Immediately slacking the reins allows the horse to slide as far as he wants, while keeping the pressure constant would make his hooves dig in too deeply and prematurely end the slide. It can also cause the horse to pull or become rigid.

If the horse tries to stop the slide, another quick set-slack reminds him to stay in the slide. However, do not set the reins again unless you feel the horse begin to come out of the slide. Considering that a long slide only takes a few seconds at most, this set-slack progression happens very quickly. The rider must pay careful attention to the feel of the horse to get this right.

The last element the rider must do to cue the stop is to relax your body. As you ride, you use your body to generate energy and help the horse accelerate forward. When you ask for the stop, you must also stop. Specifically, you must sit down, stop the movements of riding, and relax in the saddle with your back, shoulders, and thighs limp.

When your body relaxes this way, it is a stopping cue that horses instinctively recognize and respond to. However, timing is key. Keep riding until you cue that stop, or your horse will recognize the change in your posture and being stopping too early. This can ruin the slide.

Your body posture is very important in getting the best possible slide from your horse, but it takes practice. You and your horse will not be making 20 foot slides overnight. However, concentrate and keep practicing, and you’ll both get it.

Read the next horse training article on Teach Your Horse to Trailer Load.
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