Training a Horse to Stop

Training Horses That Won’t Stop When Riding

There’s nothing more annoying, or dangerous, than a horse that doesn’t like to stop when being ridden. If you have a hard time stopping your horse when riding in an arena, imagine if you’re out on a trail and your horse suddenly bolts and takes off back to the barn.

So, what do you do if your horse doesn’t like to stop when being ridden? Here are the immediate and long-term solutions for getting your horse to stop when riding:

  • Stop your horse using the one-rein stop.
  • Use leg pressure when you ask your horse to stop. 
  • Teach your horse that refusing to stop will result in more work for them. 
  • Correct this behavior on the ground before you correct it in the saddle. 


As mentioned above, some of these points are only quick fixes you can use when you find yourself in a situation where your horse won’t stop. The other points are how you can correct the problem long-term; this will take consistent training with your horse to do.

You don’t have to be afraid every time you ride your horse or take them out on a trail ride. Knowing how to handle a horse that won’t stop can help make you a much more confident rider. Keep reading to learn more!

How to Stop a Horse When Riding

Stop Your Horse Using the One-Rein Stop

Did you know that horses have an emergency brake? It’s called the one-rein stop and I can’t tell you how many times it’s saved me from a horse that’s taken off or having a meltdown. Believe it or not, but the one-rein stop is so simple, anyone can do it; it’s the first thing I teach any new horseback rider in case they need to use it in an emergency.

If you have a horse that doesn’t like to stop when riding, it’s vital that you know the one-rein stop. To do the one-rein stop, you’re going to drop one rein and grab the other rein with both hands. Reach one hand down the rein so that you can get good leverage. Next, bring the rein back to your hip. This will cause the horse’s nose to tilt back to your knee if you’re sitting in the saddle. Hold this position until your horse comes to a complete stop.

The reason the one-rein stop is so effective is that it takes all the power away from your horse’s hind-end. If your horse takes off or starts bucking and rearing, all these actions are done by the energy in the hind-end.

Now, when your horse’s head is brought and held to the side during a one rein stop, the only way the hind-end can move is by stepping one leg in front of the other. That means the only way your horse will move in this position is in a tight circle, swinging their hind-end around; this is what we call “disengaging the hind-end,” or taking the power away from the horse.

If you suddenly find yourself in a situation where your horse is taking off or freaking out, your first reaction should be to do the one-rein stop. You can do the same thing if your horse refuses to halt, even at the walk. When you do the one-rein stop and the horse disengages their hind-end, it’s much more work on the horse compared to just stopping. The horse will soon learn to stop when you give the cue.

The one-rein stop can also help you teach horses about rein pressure. When I first start a horse, the only way I’ll ask them to stop is by one-rein stop. This teaches them that when I apply pressure to the rein, it means to halt. Soon, all I have to do is pick up on my rein slightly and the horse will stop.

Use Leg Pressure When You Ask Your Horse to Stop using leg pressure to stop a horse

Do you have a horse that seems to have trouble coming to a stop? It may take them a few strides between you giving a cue to when they actually halt or do a downward transition. You may think that they’re just being stubborn, but they could also be struggling to get balanced so that they can make that transition.

If you have a horse that seems to get strung-out and flat, or you feel as if they are pulling you down in the reins when trying to stop, this could mean that the horse is simply unbalanced. It can be easy for horses to be thrown off-balance; imagine if you had to carry another being around on your back!

There are ways to help your horse get balanced so that they can slow down or stop. They way you can help your horse to do this comes largely from your position in the saddle and the cues you are given. Unfortunately, many horseback riders are taught that the way you should ask a horse to stop is simply by pulling on the reins; however, this usually leaves the horse unbalanced and inverted.

To ask your horse for a downward transition or a halt, start by sitting up in the saddle, doing a slight half halt, and wrapping your legs around the horse and adding pressure to help balance them. By doing this, you’re helping your horse rock back on their hind-end and push themselves into the transition rather than dragging themselves into the transition with their front-end.

I remember the day someone told me to try adding leg pressure when asking my horse to come to a stop. This sounded crazy! Didn’t leg pressure tell the horse to move forward? Unfortunately, most of us are taught the wrong things about leg pressure; this pressure can ask the horse to engage its hind-end and step under itself more, which makes movement much easier.

Teach Your Horse That Refusing to Stop Will Mean More Work For Them

Now it’s time to get into the more long-term solutions for training your horse to stop when you ask them to. One solution is to teach your horse that it’s more work for them to keep going than it is for them to stop when you ask. Like most animals, horses want to do as little work as possible, so this is a great technique for getting your point across.

Let’s say you have a horse that gets strong at the canter and won’t come back down to a trot when you ask. What you can do is ask for the downward transition; if the horse ignores you and pushes past your cues, let him keep cantering.

Keep him cantering until he’s tired and wants to go back down to a trot, then you can ask for the downward transition. Make sure you’re asking him to go back down to a trot rather than just letting him do it on his own so he can understand what you want.

You can do the same thing if you have a horse that likes to take off back to the barn or to their pasture. When they take off and get to their desired destination, make them keep going. This will teach them that taking off to the pasture and the barn will mean much more work for them when they get there, which will soon turn them away from the idea.

I used to foxhunt on a fat pony named Bella. During the foxhunt, I would oftentimes have to ride away from the flight and other horses to open a gate for the huntmaster. Bella would always want to take off back to the horses once we were done with the gate. One day, I had enough of it, so when she took off back to the horses, I just kept her galloping around them until she finally wanted to stop. After that, going to open the gate was never a problem!

Correct This Behavior on the Ground Before You Correct it in the Saddle

If you have a horse that can be difficult to stop in the saddle, you can start correcting this problem by training them from the ground. If a horse is pushy and runs past your cues when you’re on the ground, chances are they’ll do it when you’re in the saddle. In this section, I’ll cover a few groundwork exercises you can do to help your horse become more responsive to your cues asking them to stop.

Training a Horse to Stop On the Ground teaching a horse to stop when on the ground

Ask Your Horse to Stop When Lunging

The first place I like to start when working with a horse that has difficulty stopping when asked is the round pen. I’ll lunge the horse around the round pen and work on getting them to stop when I ask. The concept is much like the previous point; the horse will learn that it’s more work for them to run past my cue then it is for them to stop the first time I ask them to.

I’ll start by getting the horse going around the round pen. Next, I’ll cue them to stop; if they don’t, I’ll have them keep going until they’re tired and want to stop, then I’ll ask them to halt. When they do finally halt when I ask them to, I’ll be sure to let them stand and rest so that they know they did right.

To learn the ins and outs of working a horse in a round pen; check out our article, Lunging a Horse in a Round Pen: How-To Guide For Beginners.

Teach Your Horse Personal Space When Leading

Another groundwork technique you can use to teach your horse to stop when you ask them to is to work on teaching them to respect your personal space as you lead the horse.

A horse that likes to go in the saddle has tendencies to be pushy and walk into you when leading them on the ground. When I stop walking, I want the horse to stop walking. I want them to avoid coming into my personal space, and I’m going to use my body language to communicate this to the horse.

Start off by leading your horse around. If they are being pushy and trying to walk passed you, even if you’re asking them to stop, immediately tell them to back up or move out of your space. Be firm and assertive, but also rewarding when they do good, even if it’s the smallest try. They’ll soon figure out that they can’t push passed you.

To learn more about how to correct disrespectful horse behavior, visit my article Disrespectful Horse Behavior: Training Guide.

Stop Your Horse By Helping Them Become More Sensitive to Cues

One reason your horse may be difficult to stop when riding is that they’ve become dull to cues. This can happen when you use one cue too much, like pulling on your reins. The good news is that you can help your horse become more sensitive to cues! I always recommend starting on the ground, but this is also something you can do in the saddle.

To do this, all you’re going to do is ask your horse to do something with the lightest possible touch. Let’s say I want my horse to back up; I’ll ask them to back up first using the lightest possible pressure. This could be taking a step towards them and pointing at their chest.

If they don’t respond to that, then I’ll gently increase the pressure by pressing my finger lightly into their chest. If they don’t respond to that, then I’ll increase pressure. If they don’t respond to that, then I’ll jiggle the lead rope until the horse even shifts its weight back as if it were going to back up. Then I immediately release the pressure and reward the horse.

You can play this game with many other things; moving the horse’s shoulder or hind-end, upwards and downward transition, etc. The more you do this, the horse will start to respond to a lighter and lighter pressure as they learn what you’re asking and what you expect.

I hope this article was helpful to you when it comes to getting your horse to stop. So, we’ve talked about the fast horses who don’t like to stop; now it’s time to talk about the lazy horses who don’t like to go! If you have this type of horse, check out my article, Making Your Horse Faster: What You Need to Know.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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