To stop the horse, shift the weight slightly back and pull back lightly, then release the reins. The stop should be balanced, and if the horse does not stop, pull harder, forcing the animal to an abrupt halt. By pushing slightly with the balls of the feet and squeezing with the knees, the horse will learn to stop without so much pressure on the reins. If the horse does not stop well with reasonable pressure on the reins, he should be retrained. The reason for releasing the reins when the cue is first given to stop is because constant pressure on the reins means to “back.”
To back the horse, the chin should be in and a series of short, easy pulls on the reins will back the horse, a step at a time. The rider’s weight should be back. Move the horse forward a few steps after backing. This teaches the animal to expect a forward move and will prevent unnecessary backing.
You learn one gait at a time, and it is wise not to attempt to progress until each step is properly learned. You will be using hands, legs, weight, and voice to control the horse. The aids or cues act together in coordination, each aiding or correcting the use of the other.
Perhaps the hardest part of learning to ride is to move the horse. The tendency of the rider is to “kick.” A slight touch of the heel may be necessary in the trot and canter, but shifting the body forward should be sufficient to move the horse into a walk. Use caution in “clucking” to the horse as it may affect other mounts in company. The action of the reins and body should move simultaneously. The shoulders should be erect but relaxed. The legs from the knees down along with the feet should be firm and balanced on the ball of the foot in the stirrup tread. If the body is relaxed, the weight will be well about the hips, so when this weight is shifted forward the animal will feel the movement through the saddle. If the animal does not move at once, lay the rein across the neck, forcing him to take one step and then follow, quickly, with the cue again. If the action is firm enough, the horse will move.
Most beginner riders are afraid they will hurt the horse by being rough. A 1,000-pound animal is not likely to be hurt by firm handling. Being too easy will make the horse sluggish and he will not work if he thinks the rider can’t force him. Remember, a good horse will step out in a swinging walk, and for trail riding there is nothing like a “good walker.” When you have the horse moving in a walk, it is time to learn to trot.
The trot is not a comfortable gait unless the horse is well collected. It is preferred that the western horse either walk or canter when working. However, in the western trot you sit down in the saddle. The balance must definitely be maintained on the balls of the feet, but the rest of the body must be relaxed. Allow the shoulders to take up the jolt of the trot. Pick up the horse’s head with the reins until the trot becomes an easy jog. If you become the least tense you will find yourself popping in the saddle. When someone complains of having a sore rear it is because he has gripped constantly with his knees and was stiff in the saddle. Perhaps the most common fault in trotting is to allow the hands to bob up and down, thus loosening and tightening the reins. This will make the trot rough. The cue for the trot is firmer than for the walk. The position of the body in the saddle is a little farther forward than in the walk. The position of the body is still to maintain balance, so when you feel the center of balance once more you will know you are forward enough.
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