Juliane Dykiel's Horsemanship Blog

Your Emergency Brake on Horseback: the One-Rein Stop

By Juliane Dykiel

Why do the one-rein stop?

A horse’s speed is one of its most intimidating factors. Therefore, imagine being able to ride a young or untrained horse with minimal fear of being run away with. To many horse people that I know, this would be a relief.

marika gerhart bridleless riding

Natural Horsemanship Trainer Marika Gerhart and her horse Masq

However, this does not come magically. It is helpful to employ a structured exercise.

One of the most basic, yet important, exercises is the one-rein stop. I teach every single horse I work with on a regular basis this exercise. The one-rein stop will increase your safety in the saddle, and most likely your confidence. You can use it to stop your horse, whether he is going too quickly, spooking, or misbehaving. Another fantastic benefit of the one-rein stop is that it will help your horse become much more supple, as it isolates his neck from the rest of his body.

juliane dykiel natural horsemanship

Juliane and 4 year old Morab mare MTS Jets Royal Envii.

There are many ways to do the one-rein stop, but I tend to follow a fairly specific and structured method.

The most straightforward way to share this method, I realized, would be on video, so I put together a video of me teaching a horse the one-rein stop for the first time. I’ll explain the exercise below, as well, to give you the clearest idea possible.


Remember that it’s very helpful to teach your horse to flex on the ground before teaching this exercise.

natural horsemanship

Mercedes flexing

This way, your horse will understand that he has to give to pressure, and if he reacts dangerously to you asking him to give for the first time, you can be safe on the ground. Here is a video that explains this.

Step-by-step Instructions for the Mounted One-Rein-Stop:

1) First, hold the reins on the buckle with one hand. Then, raise your hand so that you can slide your other hand down the rein without having to lean forward and putting yourself off balance.

juliane dykiel natural horsemanship

Juliane raising and sliding on Envii.

Then, pull your hand to your hip, and wait for two things: for your horse to stop moving his feet, as many will walk in a circle at first, and for your horse to give to the pressure. As soon as both of those things happen, drop the rein like it’s burning. Timing is very important. This will encourage him to do the right thing.

2) Practice this a lot on both sides. You will know that you are ready to move on to the next step when your horse is light and gives completely, turning his head all the way around and practically turning your head, without moving his feet at all. It’s all right if he moves around a bit at first, but this should stop once he understands that you will give as soon as he stops. It’s a good idea to make sure he understands that this is a stopping exercise, not just flexing, before moving on to the next step.

3) The next step is to do it from the walk. First, ask your horse to walk off. When you’re ready to ask him for the one-rein stop, ask him first with your body, not the reins. Make yourself a little bit heavier in the saddle, put your toes up, and maybe use a vocal command…I like “Woah” or “Hoe.” Most likely, your horse won’t respond to this at all the first time, so often people give up on this step, but I find it very important. Whether or not your horse stops, then, do the one-rein stop. If you do this often and consistently, your horse will learn to stop simply from your body language, and you won’t even need reins. Kira, in the video, begins to do this. Now that we have practiced more, we can be cantering around in the big arena, and I’ll say “Hoe” and make myself heavy in the saddle, and she’ll stop right away. I always do the one-rein stop after, though, to clarify this to Kira.

4) When your horse is listening to your body language successfully at the walk, move on to the trot. When the trot has become very good, eventually the canter. Make sure that your horse is listening to your body.

Use caution when doing the one-rein at a full gallop if your horse is running away with you so as not to pull your horse off-balance. If his canter is too quick and he’s not listening to you, it helps to circle him a bit first, which will force him to slow down, before doing the one-rein stop. Pay attention to leads as well; it’s better to do a one-rein stop to the left if your horse is on the left lead, and vice versa.

5) When you do a one-rein from the walk, trot, or canter, always mix up how many you do. Only doing one might cause some horses to anticipate and walk off after the first one, so I usually do between two and four.

I always do between two and four one-rein stops right after I get on a horse. This keeps a horse from walking off as soon as I’ve mounted, as he’ll anticipate the one-rein stop instead of walking off.

Happy training, and e-mail me at or comment on this blog with any questions!

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3 thoughts on “Your Emergency Brake on Horseback: the One-Rein Stop

  1. cowboyjourney on said:

    Reblogged this on A Cowboy's Journey and commented:
    This is going to be at the top of my list to work with Ivy on!

  2. This article is very clear and well-written. Thanks for posting this!!

  3. Arkansas on said:

    My (young) horse bolted and then threw me buckaroo style. We have done lots of groundwork, but he’s still young I guess. I’m not back on him yet but when I do start again this is the first thing I’m going to teach him, along with lots more groundwork. Hoping it will give me my confidence back. Thank you for your clear instructions!

    Sue and Arkansas

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