When watching a reining pattern, we are often enamored with the big stop and the awesome speed which these great athletes reach when going into their stop. However, when we go home and practice our stops, they are not quite as dynamic. Often, what is missing in the non-pro’s program is the importance of the approach and the control needed in the rundown.
First, your horse must be at the point of stopping on a consistent basis, using his hindquarters and responding to rein pressure when driven into the bit. By this, I mean that when driven forward with the legs in a straight line and when slack is taken out of the reins, the horse drives forward with his hindquarters and elevates his shoulders while yielding to the bit.
The rundown is important because it dictates how your horse is going to stop. If he is running down the pen and leaning to the left or right, he is going to stop that way. The mistake commonly made is the correction or over-correction when the horse is not running straight. For example, if the horse is leaning to the right, your natural instinct would be to steer to the left; you want to avoid doing this. Instead, ask for straight by taking the slack out of the reins and driving the horse lightly with your legs straight into the bit. Once straight is accomplished, allow the reins to loosen. The release is the reward for doing it right. The other important point is making sure that your horse is gradually building speed through the stop. Notice that I did not say “to the stop,” but rather “through the stop.” In order for the horse to stay collected and rounded in the back, he must be driven from behind while slightly gaining speed. You do not have to be going at breakneck speed, but you need to avoid letting the horse lose speed. To do so would allow him to elongate his stride, which makes it more difficult for him to be collected in the stop.
It is important that you gradually introduce the increase of speed to your young horse. You do not want him to become scared of running fast. As much time that is spent running to a stop, just as much time needs to be spent running to increase speed and then being shown how to come back down and relax. The horse needs to realize that there is not always a stop to the end of every rundown. Even though he is running fast, he also needs to be listening to the rider. If not, you will get a horse that starts running off in order to hurry to the stop because there is release at the end.
One last tip: If your horse continues to lean in its rundown, there comes a time when you will need to let him fully make the mistake of running in the wrong direction. This will show him that it is not a good thing. What I like to do is if the horse is leaning to the left in a rundown, I will let him fully make the mistake of going completely off to the left. Once the mistake is completely made and he is heading towards the left fence, I will pick up the reins and redirect him completely to the right, and vice-versa. The important part to this technique of correction is that you let him fully make the mistake, because without doing so, he will never be sure why he is being driven off in the opposite direction. This also makes them start listening to you as a rider rather than just being a passenger.