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Stopping Power

Don Jessop

If you can't stop your horse, you shouldn't ride. It's really that simple. In reality, it starts sooner than that. Your leadership on the ground matters too. If you sense your horse could pull the lead rope from your hands and bolt away from you, shouldn't you take time to fix that too? Because, just like riding, if you don't have stopping power, you will ultimately find yourself in a situation that overwhelms you. And that... is the biggest of all confidence robbers.

​Lots of people grade their horse on the nicest, warmest, sunniest day and unwittingly fool themselves into thinking that's what their horse is like on a regular basis, only to be surprised when something goes wrong. Michael Jordan, the world's most famous basketball player of all time, spoke clearly about this. In his words... "You're only as good as your worst game. That's what you can count on. That's what others can count on." I've adopted that phrase with horsemanship. My horse is only as good as his worst ride. It's true that he can be and has been better, but it's the worst day that tells me what he's really capable of. On that day, his worst day, do I really have stopping power? Can I shut him down? Can I suggest to him, my safety and his, are more important than whatever he's feeling? If the answer is questionable, then it's really not questionable at all. It's a solid "no."

​I have to believe I can stop my horse when he in on his worst behavior. I have to know from exposure to tough situations that I can indeed control where his feet go and prevent them from going where it's inappropriate. With practice and purpose I will find myself choosing windy days, large groups, new spaces, etc. After proving over and over that I can, control the basic safety elements of our relationship, I develop a deep sense of trust for my horse. In simple terms, I need stopping power and I need to know it will work in the worst situations.

​In blunt terms... YOU need stopping power. All this positive reinforcement training and natural, kindhearted, reward-oriented relationship stuff we strive for is still intact. I don't abandon that mode of thinking about my horse. But I hold the duality of mind that I must and can, in a tough situation, take control. YOU must do that too, if you want to move beyond the comfort of your home environment. If you don't ever need or want to progress in that way, I won't judge you. But if you want to join the trail riders, the arenas, the clinics, etc. You have to practice your stopping power.

​So how do you practice stopping power? Well... like I said at first, on the ground. I don't ever personally use a nose chain but I have recommended it to students who don't have my skill and timing. And I always encourage weaning off it to something more elegant as soon as possible. If you're still using a nose chain, a year after you started working with your horse, it simply means you're avoiding solving the problem and you're just coping with it day to day. I use a soft, simple rope halter. It's light, comfortable and handy. But it does work against the horse if he pulls away. The thinner rope is less comfortable. A wide leather halter may look beautiful but it's harder to influence a horse that bolts away. A nose chain or rope halter might work better to help in the beginning. The same concept goes for riding. I don't personally ride with a bridle and bit very often, but I often recommend to folks less skilled or with lesser-skilled horses, that it may be necessary for a while to earn that stopping power. Don't be afraid to do what you have to do and balance it with kindness and bonding after the emergency work. But it all should really start with leading on the ground. How you lead matters.

​Leading is not just about getting from point A to point B. Leading a horse is about teaching them to step with you, not in front, not way behind, not way off to the side, grabbing grass, and certainly not on top of you. Leading is about teaching a horse to focus so that when you ride, your horse is focused. Don't just go from place to place. Go with purpose. The purpose is to train focus. This type of leading will be helpful when you need to catch your horse and shut him down in a tough situation. Next, it's up to you to design situations that test you. One of my favorite tests is the buddy test. I take my trusted human partner and place them behind my horse while I'm leading. I ask them to open an umbrella suddenly, or something like that, and I test to see if I can shut my horse down. If I can, points go into my trust bucket for my horse. If I can't. I diminish the intensity and try again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Get the point?

​In the end, we both win. My trust goes up and his confidence goes up. Now we can test more and ultimately test riding. A "true blue" horse, is truly the horse that's the easiest to stop, go and turn. Let's start with stopping. Only bronc riders and jockeys get on a horse they know they can't stop. I'm no hero, you don't have to be either. Test, grow, and earn your stopping power in as many creative ways as possible, and grow your trust and confidence together. All, and I really mean ALL, of the best trainers in every discipline, do exactly that. You can too.

​Thanks for reading. I love your comments and feedback. Email me with requests and questions. Try a personal conference call if you'd like help with your horse... Click here.

Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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