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Fugitivo XII Blog

February 01, 2012

WHOA CAMEL! Do you have stopping power?

Whoa Camel!

by Antonio Topete Diaz
Many riders strongly believe, and with reason, that the horse must be ridden forward. As a matter of fact, this is often times the main focus in their training regime. Yes, the horse must be ridden forward and yes he must have the desire to move off the leg. After all there can never be collection without power, because collection is the accumulative increase of power under control.


A lot of riders however, are paying so much attention on the development of the power, of the engine, that they forget or neglect all together to make sure that engine can also be stopped when required. For what good is a sports car, that is beautiful, powerful, and with great handling around curved roads, if there are no brakes? From the very beginning, the horse learns that he is being over powered, not by physical force but by mental games that the rider plays on him. That is why it is so important that the thinking rider be aware of the tools he has at his disposition, and that he knows how and at what moment those tools are to be used. We always hear riders speak of the half-halts. But, what are these half-halts? Nothing really, just what the name implies, a halt, or halting the horse half way. The half halt is done to prepare the horse for a change of rhythm, change of gait, change of stride, etc. In short the half-halt is done for the preparation of the horse, so that he knows what is coming next, to be better prepared. And where does these half-halts come from? You guessed it, from the whoa itself.


I believe that all horses, must learn to whoa solidly and calmly before they learn anything else. As a matter of fact, I always teach my horses to stand still and quiet, and to stop on command before I ever get on them for the first time. It is not un common to hear me say “Whoa Camel” often when I am working with horses at the farm. Yes, “whoa camel” I always say all horses are camels until they prove otherwise. I say this in a joking way, but with reason. Since all horses loose their natural balance from the moment we tack them up and teach them to move on command in different directions, and especially when they are not yet accustomed to the weight of the rider, horses tend to be for the most part heavy and clumsy, much like a camel appears to be.


On the other hand, I also see many times, and especially in America, the many riders that focus so much in the stopping force, that they neglect the carrying power of the hind quarters. An evil, equally as bad or maybe even worst, than not having brakes on the sports car. For what good is a great sports car, with good brakes if there is no engine, or if the transmission is busted?


We must find a common ground when teaching the whoa. And the way we do this, is keeping in mind that the horse will not understand over night. We must take baby steps from the very beginning, to ensure that each step forward is a step on solid ground.


The whoa takes very little effort, but only if the rider or trainer takes his time to do right. And to do it right we must know, how and at what moment we must begin teaching the whoa, also we must know what a good whoa is. Many think that a good whoa is obvious, and it is, since the horse will stop on command. Are there any technical things to look at though? That is the question we must ask ourselves. For a back yard rider, or for someone who does not care about being technically correct, but only wants to ride on the trails, this is also important since the horse will be more enjoyable the better trained he is. For the professional rider and trainer it is even more important.


Now, for the horse to be technically correct when he halts, must come to a complete stop with collection and square. With collection and square because, only in this way we can ask him from a halt to rein back, canter, trot, walk, side pass etc. We collect thru the half-halts and we stop the horse by the use of our seat and legs, asking for more impulsion and keeping a steady hand without pulling on the reins. In other words we prepare the horse, we ask for more impulsion forward, and we close the door so he can no longer get away, and the only thing for the horse to do is to stop, collected and square on all four legs.


Since I mentioned earlier that the half-halt comes from the complete halt, or from teaching the horse to whoa, you are probably thinking that I am contradicting my self. It’s like saying or asking, what came first? The chicken or the egg? Yes and no. To do a technically correct full halt, collected and square is to actually do an advanced movement. The horse when he does this, he is not putting his nose on the ground and sliding for a long time. A practice and common fault we often see in western reining. I say this because, if the horse throws his hind legs too far forward, past his center of gravity, he will have no other option but to put his weight on the forehand, and yes it looks very spectacular but is technically incorrect in classical terms. When a horse comes to a complete halt from a fast run, there will be some sliding, but it must be more of a skid than a slide. Because we want the horse to move off as soon as possible from the halt if we need him to, in the other case the horse must regain his balance before he moves off.


Now, the square halt comes from the half-halts which come from the whoa. The whoa is one thing, and the full halt is a completely different thing. From the same family but different. The whoa is done, to teach the horse to stand still, to be patient, to ignore his surroundings and focus on his trainer. The whoa is done to teach and train the horse, and for the purpose of teaching the invisible aids that will come later, with the half-halt. The whoa is given with voice command when needed, and is used as a temporary tool, that will later on be dispensed with. The full halt, is the test of the rider’s ability, to use the aids correctly and to test his timing. The full halt is an advanced movement that tests the horse’s mental well being and abilities to follow the riders most slight indications of seat and legs. The halt in this way is when the horse has understood, that he is a horse, not a camel, and “whoa camel” is no longer needed or desired. When the horse reaches this point, he no longer spooks at anything even if you literally shoot a cannon off his back. The horse is trained to a high degree. And it all starts with the basics. It all starts with “WHOA CAMEL.”