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Manoeuvres that define the Western Horse

1. The Sliding Stop

5th November 2012

It was the sight of a sliding stop that hooked me in the first place. Like most people, I had tried horseback riding fairly early on in life but follow-my-leader round the local riding school didn’t really light any fires. And I’ve always been addicted to adrenalin.


It wasn’t even a live performance that got me. I was sitting in a bar and there was a video playing of this horse running down and sliding to a halt in a shower of sand, tucked down on its haunches and his front feet pattering away to keep his balance before he comes to a complete halt, alert and waiting for his next cue. I was just riveted.


The NRHA defines a stop as follows:


“Stops are the act of slowing the horse from a lope to a stop position by bringing the hind legs under the horse in a locked position sliding on the hind feet. The horse should enter the stop position by bending the back, bringing the hind legs further under the body while maintaining forward motion and ground contact and cadence with front legs. Throughout the stop, the horse should continue in a straight line while maintaining ground contact with the hind feet.”


In the context of the versatile horse, a full blown sliding stop is always going to be something of a mixed blessing. We were at a show a few years back and were pleased to see a couple of dedicated reining competitors turn up to give versatility a try. Of course, they were peerless in the showing classes and even put up a fair performance in some of the western games but their reining horses were at a real disadvantage when it came to the cattle work. They just couldn’t stay with the cow when it stopped and changed direction. One of them was so bewildered by it all that it threw in a spin for good measure!  They could only work one way as they were cued for a stop when running a cow down the fence and just slid straight on while the cow had already taken off back down the fence in the opposite direction.




And so it is that, these days, I tend to look upon a sliding stop (and, for that matter, Reining generally) as a bit artificial. Reining horses have special shoes (called sliding plates) fitted to their hind feet and the Reining fraternity are very particular about the surfaces they work their horses on.


It gets you into the argument then about what should define the Western Horse: is it the stylised and specialist forms of competition that feed the horse production industry or is it the versatility of the working horse? Anyone that has spent any time looking around this website will know which camp I fall into....



But, for all that, I do not know anyone who has watched a well-executed sliding stop  for the first time and not been captivated: perhaps not to the extent of heading straight out and finding the nearest western riding school as I did; but certainly getting the idea of what differentiates Western Riding from English.


And it’s true to say that you can only go on for so long lamenting about “the good old days”.  Sooner or later, it has to be accepted that manoeuvres such as the sliding stop are definitive of the modern western horse. Pointless, perhaps, but you might just as well ask what’s the point of chucking a javelin as far as you can or pole vaulting?

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