Teaching A One Rein Stop (our way)

by Cheri Wolfe

I have had several people ask me to explain how we use the ‘one rein stop’. It was not invented by any of the current famous clinicians. It has been around for a long, long time but everyone that I knew that used it just called it ‘taking a horse’s head away from him’. The clinicians gave it the name ‘one rein stop’.

First, a lot of people think it is the same thing as making a horse ‘yield’ its hindquarters or that every time a horse’s head is taken away from him he should move his quarters in the opposite direction. This IS NOT how we use it. For the stop is just that – a stop. It means that when I have gotten a horse to understand it correctly, I can take his head and he STOPS right there. He doesn’t go around and around in circles or move his quarters out. Only a horse that is resisting does that. So I keep repeating the ‘stop’ lesson until he just ‘stops’ and stands there like his feet are nailed to the ground.

Green horses are always taught to give their head in a full cheek snaffle with a nose-band ‘mouth closer’ that is not fastened very tightly.  When we first teach the horse to ‘give his head’, we gradually ask him to bring his head around to our knee and to relax with it there.  When he relaxes, I pet his face and release him; but I don’t want him to move forward until I tell him to by ‘closing’ my legs on him. The important thing is that the horse STOPS and does not move his feet until he is told to.  This is by far, the best way to teach a horse to stand still.  If a rider stops a horse with both reins and the hose gets fidgety and the rider continues to try to make him stand still, many horses get more and more upset and end up backing or threatening to rear up.  Teaching a horse to stand still with one rein at a time eliminates all of the problems.  It should go without saying, that every horse should be taught to give its head equally well to the right and to the left.

Older spoiled horses can be pretty tough, especially if they are really stiff and resistant.  I teach them in a little curb with short, loose shanks.  I prefer one with a three piece (dog-bone) mouthpiece.  I also prefer using a running martingale, but it is set long enough to reach the horse's throat.  I have found that I can use it like a snaffle bit and I don’t have to ‘out-pull’ them with my old arthritic hands.   I also use this same little mild bit to transition from a snaffle to a curb.  I just start out with a very loose curb chain and gradually tighten it so the horse learns to gradually accept the leverage of the curb.  Occasionally, I run into an older horse that is so resistant and gets so mad that I find it counter-productive to argue with it.  With these older, spoiled horses I will sometimes ‘check’ their heads to each side with a side rein that has an elastic link in it.  I usually check their heads to the back girth on a roping saddle and put them in a round pen for a while. I always watch them so they can’t get into trouble. Even if they have one really stiff side, I will check them each direction.  I do not check them real short.  I only want enough bend that the horse can 'give' a tiny bit more and get complete relief from the pull.   Horses learn from 'release' rather than from 'pressure'.

When I am teaching a horse to give me his head, I will also teach him to yield his hindquarters. I want him to know how to do both but I don’t want him to interchange them.  When I take his head to the right, if he stiffens and resists, I will nudge him in the ribs with my right (inside) leg. That will make him yield his hindquarters and in the process, it will help him ‘loosen up’ the resistance in his face and neck. If he goes around and around in little circles, I just let him. I don’t put either leg on him and just wait him out until he stops on his own.  Then, I pet his face and give him relief (a loose rein) and let him stand for a few moments. If you are consistent and don’t give him relief until he stops moving his feet and stops resisting with his neck and mouth, it won’t take very long for him to do just that.  If you tighten your leg on the same side, he should yield his quarters and if you bring the outside legs against him, he should make a tight circle.

When teaching the horse to give you his head, you start at the walk. You sit back (not lean back), slide your hand down the rein and then take that rein directly back toward your hip.  Take the horse’s head as close as you can to your leg. He will go in circles at first but wait him out and give him relief ONLY after he comes to a complete stop. When he does this EVERY time you take his head either direction at the walk, then put him in a jog and do the same thing. You will find that he learns very quickly to stop and give you his head at the jog. Only then, do you want to take his head away at the lope. Just sit back, slide your hand down the rein and he will probably stop before you get very far with the rein. Just because he stops, don’t give him his head back until he brings it all the way to your leg.

I have found it very valuable to teach a horse to give his head and NOT yield his quarters when you are going to work cattle on him or teach advanced maneuvers like flying lead changes or even good lead departures. If you want to do advanced maneuvers, the last thing you want is for a horse to move his quarters out when you take his head either direction. They have to ‘HOLD THEIR GROUND’ with their hindquarters if they are ever going to learn to move their shoulders independently from their quarters. If a horse is ever going to learn proper lead departures with their hindquarters in and strike off with their inside hind foot, they cannot shift their quarters out when you bring their head to the inside. The correct ‘one rein stop’ really helps a horse learn to give his head without shifting any other part of his body out.

Have you ever worked a gate or watched someone else work a gate and they get their horse to move his hindquarters over to the fence or gate by picking up the opposite rein? That is how you get really ‘chewed out’ if you ride here. How about watching someone straighten out their horse’s ‘back-up’ by picking up a rein? They get a horse to move their hindquarters over to the left by taking his head slightly to the right. OOPS! BIG MISTAKE! Your horse will NEVER learn when you want him to move his a** out or when you want him to move his shoulder over if you pick up a rein and some of the time he is supposed to move his hip while other times he is supposed to move his shoulders. Around here, he is NEVER supposed to move his hip out when you take his head. He learns to ‘hold his ground behind’. Then, when you want to start a horse on cattle, you can ‘tip’ his nose toward a cow so he can concentrate on it with both eyes and his hind end will stay exactly where it is supposed to stay.

When a horse has been properly taught to give you his head, much of his resistance leaves and he becomes MUCH more willing to do about everything else you want to teach him. 

Using the ‘one rein stop’ to correct a problem horse

If a horse is spoiled and wants to put a hump in his back or gets really unruly, just take his head away from him and make him stand there. I want him to stand like his feet are nailed to the ground.  If he has been taught to give you his head, that is exactly what he will do. If he has been taught to give his head, no matter how scared, mad or spoiled he wants to act, he will give you his head. You have to teach him before hand. Don’t think you can teach him to give you his head when he is trying to buck you off. After he bucks you off, take him into a small corral and TEACH him to give you his head – both ways. I think you have to do it about 100 times each direction and in each gait before a spoiled horse really ‘gets it’ and knows that you want him to instantly stop moving his feet and stand perfectly still EVERY time you take his head away from him. We have taken ‘cold backed’ horses that had bucked when they were fresh and had them completely quit when they were taught to give their heads. Not every bronc will quit – some are just really good at it and love it, but most spoiled horses will give up the behavior when EVERY time they get their head taken away from them.

‘Chargy’ horses and really ‘hot’ horses will get quiet and slow down better with this method than any other we have ever used. I’ve used this on many horses that came off of the track, on spoiled barrel horses, run-aways and bolters and they have ALL gotten better with this schooling than with any other method that people before me had tried.

A horse that instantly gives you his head is like riding a horse with an ‘off button’ installed in him. When you feel him brace and get ready to blow, it will de-fuse about any situation.

Horses that have ‘tough mouths’ and require a lot of ‘pulling’ to stop them, will lighten up greatly by teaching the ‘stop’. They just cannot brace and push against a rider using one rein to take their head away. Once they have found out that they get their head back when they stop, they stop so much more willingly.

Is there a down side?

I know there are people that think it makes a horse get ‘rubber necked’ and he won’t properly ‘follow his nose’ when he has been taught this move. This is absolutely NOT TRUE. Horses get rubber-necked when a rider pulls too hard and ‘over-bends’ the horse when he is trying to get the horse to turn. When you apply the ‘stop’, you sit back, slide your hand down the rein and take his head WITHOUT putting any outside leg on him. When you want him to turn and ‘follow his nose’, you take his head –ever so slightly in the direction you want him to go. You simultaneously bring your outside leg against him. IF he does not turn exactly where you are asking him to turn (or circle) you DO NOT pull harder or get any more bend than the slight amount it takes to ASK the horse to turn. You ‘reinforce’ the directive ‘to turn’ by applying more pressure to the outside with your leg or spur or crop or whatever it takes to MAKE him turn. You DO NOT PULL HARDER or make him bend more. That is where ‘rubber-necking’ comes from – not from teaching a horse that you can take his head away from him.  Of course, like any good thing, it can be over-used and takes judgement.  And, like anything else, you cannot let a horse decide to give you his head.  He cannot flop his head around when HE wants to.  It must be something YOU ask for.  I do not want anything to be his idea.