“My horse is steady & safe but why won’t she stop or stand still?!”
“I have a horse on loan that is a good confidence giver but she’s not very responsive to my aids. Although I only hack her I’d like her to stop, stand still and go when I ask her. Any tips?”
This is a common problem with horses that are good for your confidence – often they’re not too sharp but they’re also slow to respond when you want to stop – so although your horse isn’t going to disappear into the back of beyond with you, she’s still ignoring your aids to stop!
Not having a school is not a problem for problems like yours because all you want from your horse is a few basic good manners. She needs to go, stay at a given pace and stop when you ask. I have added some other blog post links in this answer – don’t be put off by any school exercises I’ve suggested, just use the basic principles. A school is just a series of markers and you can just as easily use a tree or a gate as a marker to aim at.
When a horse won’t stand still it’s usually because they can feel tension through your body and hands. Slowing down and stopping needs to begin from your seat, back and legs. There is an excellent way of teaching your horse to slow and stop without using your reins HERE. Although you don’t need your reins as much always keep a contact on her mouth, making sure your elbows and arms stay relaxed, so she doesn’t just lean against the contact (fairly common with horses that are more laid back than others!) There’s a great post HERE about contact.
This method uses your knees and thighs to restrict your horse’s shoulder muscles – causing them to slow down until you release the pressure. Think of yourself as a clothes peg – relax your seat and push your knees and thighs into the saddle as hard as you can. You’ll feel her start to slow down. Keep up the pressure, keeping your lower leg against her sides so she still understands you’re dictating the speed, and relax your thighs and knees when she reaches the speed you want.
Have a play with it in walk along a track. Press your knees and thighs in – allow her time to get used to the new aids so she may ‘creep’ for a few strides whilst she thinks about what you’re doing – then close your fingers around both reins to actually bring her to a halt. Keep up the pressure from your thighs and knees until you want her to move on again. This works on every horse – some may take longer than others to pick it up – so keep at it. You may find you need a lot of pressure at first but once you both get the hang of it you’ll need less.
When you get the hang of slowing her down from walk to halt, move on to trot and canter. It’s a great ‘party trick’ and good fun to play with. It’s also the best aid I’ve ever been taught – and something I teach everyone I see. When you’re in trot or canter, use the knee and thigh aid until she goes into the pace you’re asking for (i.e. trot from canter), and as soon as she’s in it relax your knees and thighs so she continues in the required pace.
Don’t expect instant perfection and expect to get things wrong for a while, but make sure you stay consistent – the same aids and the same pressure on your contact so that she has every chance to understand what you’re asking.
You also say she’s a bit slow to respond. Check out this post to see a very easy way of sharpening her up to your leg aids. Hopefully by the time you’ve mastered both methods you’ll have a much more responsive horse, that still gives you confidence but is much more enjoyable to ride. Best of luck!