Learning how to sit a reining stop is harder than it looks.
After watching endless hours of YouTube reining patterns, studying other riders at my barn, and taking weekly lessons, I still struggled to create plus-one rundowns. My horse can stop beautifully (with my trainer), but my stops were typically seat-poppin’ chunkers.
Perfecting sliding stops takes practice, and it also takes creativity. You have to find the mental and physical triggers that work for you and your horse — even if they aren’t the “traditional” tools. In this blog, I share the 5 weird reining tips that actually worked for me:
- Please, prepare for departure
- Tree tops and boot tops
- Gun your motor boat
- Don’t think stop, think slide
- Buh-bye bridle
Reining Tips for Beginners
You can find plenty of sliding stop advice online (and hanging out in the stands at any reining or reined cow horse show). People will rave about the benefits of fencing your horse. They’ll stress the importance of running straight.
Phrases like “securing the stop” will undoubtedly be uttered.
That’s all good stuff, and it’s worth doing. But my stops still trended toward jackhammer instead of glide.
Here are 5 weird tips that actually helped me get the hang of reining rundowns and stops.
Check out NRHA Million Dollar Rider Matt Mills’ Letter to My Rookie Self.
Tip #1: Please, prepare for departure
You hear it every time you board a plane: “Please, prepare for departure.” But, when’s the last time your horse heard that prompt over the intercom before his rundown?
Do you get a clean, crisp halt-to-canter transition?
If your horse is dead to your legs, you’ll find yourself out of position from the get-go. Instead of sitting back and deep, feet towards your horse’s shoulders, you’ll be kicking, leaning forward, and messing with your reins trying to get your canter.
Does your horse sit on his haunches from the first step?
A flat, slow-energy canter will never lead to a +1 maneuver. Your horse can’t drive from behind and build (quality) speed if he’s strung out and running on the forehand.
Is your horse straight between your reins and legs?
Consider your body position. Straightness is next to godliness when it comes to rundowns. Be aware if your horse is ducking his shoulders, evading your leg, or standing crooked. Once you add speed, all those small things get bigger.
The point is this:
The better your departure, the less you have to “fix” during your rundown and stop.
Now, I take a little extra time to prepare before each rundown. I go through a “pre-flight” mental checklist to see if my horse is truly in front of my leg, standing straight, sitting on his haunches, and paying attention.
If so, I ask for the canter transition. If not, I fix it right then and there.
Tip #2: Tree tops and boot tops
One of the first things I learned during riding lessons as a child was, “Your horse follows your eyes.” If you look left, he’ll go left. If you look right, he’ll go right. Makes sense.
What I didn’t realize until years into my reining lessons was that the same advice applies on a vertical plane.
If you look down, your horse runs downhill. If you look up, your horse runs uphill.
At first, I thought it was enough simply not to stare at the dirt. That’s “up” enough, right? Wrong. You have to look WAY up, as in “tree tops on the far horizon” up.
(If you’re riding inside, fix your eyes on the tip-top of the roofline at the far end.)
At the same time, I like to think about how I’m using my legs. If you take your whole leg off to send your horse forward, you’ll be out of the proper stopping position.
If you think about using the top edge of your boots to lightly “wag,” your seat and leg position remains secure in the rundown.
After a quality departure (see tip #1), this phrase should be the next thing to cross your mind: “tree tops and boot tops!”
Pro Tip: Check out our 9 Best Boots for Western Horseback Riding to make sure your equipment is up to the task.
Tip #3: Don’t think stop, think slide
This lightbulb moment was courtesy of a reined cow horse clinic with NRCHA Million Dollar Rider Zane Davis.
After watching several teeth-rattling chunkers from the students, Zane ran his young horses down the arena into a beautiful sliding stop.
As he walked back to the group and discussed his approach, this phrase came up:
Don’t think stop, think slide.
Counter-intuitive though it may be, thinking about stopping at the end of your rundown is one of the worst things you can do. Why? Because that’s not actually what we want our horses to do.
We don’t want to shut down the horses’s power or forward motion. Quite the opposite!
We want to harness all the forward momentum we’ve built in the rundown and guide it into a smooth and forward glide.
Thinking “stop” also causes riders to unconsciously shut down our forward motion, close our hip joints, and brace. When we think “slide,” we sit back and down, open our hip joints, and continue forward with our horses through the entire maneuver.
Want to perfect your reining stop? Check out our 5 Weird Reining Stop Tips That Actually Work.
Tip #4: Gun your motor boat
Many riders are visual learners, and this tip is for you. Once you establish a straight, forward canter, it’s time to gain speed.
Remember, all speed isn’t created equal.
The best rundowns consistently gain speed the entire way, but the horse doesn’t simply get “faster.”
Horses that keep their weight on their haunches, drive forward and upward, and keep their shoulders light once you put on the brakes get the +1 scores.
Horses that run flat, faster, and dive onto their front ends during the stop? Their riders get an expensive trip to the dentist.
When you ask your horse for more energy, visualize gunning the engine on a motor boat.
All the power comes from the engine in the rear of the boat, so much so that the front end becomes more elevated the faster it goes. That’s how you want your horse to feel approaching your sliding stop.
My trainer even calls out “motor boat!”during my practice rundowns to remind me. (Watch the video below for inspiration.)
Keeping this image in mind is especially helpful when you’re training at home (vs. competing). If you don’t feel like you’re riding a motor boat, do not ask for the stop. Go all the way to the fence, take another lap, or start again.
Tip #5: Buh-bye bridle
It may sound strange, but one of the best ideas I had was to practice my stops without a bridle.
I bought a simple neck rope (you can pick the same one on Etsy), left my bridle in the tack room, and decided to experiment.
It was amazing how quickly I found a solid stopping position once I didn’t have reins to mess with (or rely on) during the rundown.
My horse actually stopped better than he had in our lessons because I was focused on sending him forward instead of fussing with his face.
Nerves had been holding me back from really asking my horse for speed, and I had a tendency to hunch forward and brace during the stop.
The biggest benefit was the confidence boost I felt after practicing my sliding stops bridleless.
Now, as I head into the rundown (with my bridle on), I remember how I sat during those practice sessions and replicate it.
I put my hand down, sink deep into the saddle, open my hip angle, and have confidence that I can sit whatever comes next.
Disclaimer: Don’t try riding without a bridle unless you have a safe horse, enclosed arena, safety gear, and a solid seat.
Feel the Need for Speed
If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this: get creative about training your sliding stops. When the traditional methods, terminology, and visuals aren’t working for you, think outside the box.
Start with the 5 tips in this article, then add more of your own. (If you have a good tip to share, tell us in the comments!)
Sitting a great sliding stop is one of the best feelings a rider can experience, and it’s worth fighting for. Whether you’re well on your way or just starting out, you’ve got this.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- Media Guide: Matt Mills Reining
- Letter to My Rookie Self: Matt Mills Reining
- Letter to My Rookie Self: Warwick Schiller
- 20 Different Types of Western Riding
- What is going backward in reining called?
- 10 Best Men’s Cowboy Boots (Fashion, Western, Work, Wide)
- 9 Best Boots for Western Horseback Riding
- Fast & Flurrious: Horse Skijoring Equipment Explained
- Ranch Roundup: 10 Best Horseback Riding Vacations in Montana
- Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Horseback Riding at Night