No, it’s not an Oral Rehydration Solution or Off Road Service for your trailer or, God forbid, The Office of Regulatory Spending (you know how I feel about that if you’ve read this).  No, ORS is simply the One Rein Stop.  Except there’s nothing simple about it.

If you have a background in Western riding or training or you’ve attended a Cowboy Clinic or bought a DVD from any half-pint wearing a hat that’s measured in gallons, you’ve no doubt encountered the One Rein Stop. It’s the magic technique that promises to keep you safe and in control when the manure hits the fan.

I have to confess that, as sensible as it all sounds, I sense the unspoken in the premise, and that has always turned me off to the technique. Frankly, the emphasis on safe and in control sounds to me like a solution for scared and ineffective.  I’ve always thought that the One Rein Stop was a crude tool for people who couldn’t ride.  It was certainly one I didn’t need, even though I’ve ridden my share of rank horses and even had a rogue to call my own.

If you try to find out about the One Rein Stop by reading about it or watching DVDs or youtube videos, I can just about guarantee that you’ll get confused or intimidated.  (And if you think I feel strongly about the One Rein Stop, head on over to the UDBB — the Ultimate Dressage bulletin board — and check out this thread on the ORS; things start to heat up at the bottom of page 2.)

I’m more scared and confused reading about it than I would be in a situation that provoked it.  One prominent female clinician spends three long paragraphs on her website describing how to perform the One Rein Stop, despite the fact that calling it the One Rein Stop makes it sound pretty darn easy.  Another celebrated clinician spends nineteen paragraphs describing the same deceptively-straightforward-sounding thing.  In addition, she cautions the reader that if performed poorly, the One Rein Stop may cause the horse to fall down.  Yet another clinician advertises the One Rein Stop as a tool to know when “preparing for disaster.”

One self-proclaimed expert has a two-part series on youtube devoted exclusively to the One Rein Stop. That’s twenty minutes or so to teach you how to do something that should take a few seconds in the middle of an uncontrollable situation. And did I mention that there is not One way of performing the One Rein Stop?  Oh no, that would be too simple.

It’s only three words (or three letters, if you use the abbreviation).  Is it really that complicated?  That dangerous?  Or is it made to sound that way so you think you have to go to a clinic to really learn how to do it?  I hear the loudspeaker in my head:  Go to a Cowboy Clinic and find out the real way to do a One Rein Stop. Even if you can’t ride, you can be safe and in control!

As if I needed more to turn me off, one clinician proudly asserts that the One Rein Stop takes away the horse’s balance and “gas pedal.”  Gee, I kind of rely on both of those things.  Another online expert introduces it with the phrase, “If you want the most power.”  The most power?  He goes on to say, while pointing at his bicep, “we need to use the big muscle here when we need the most strength.”  The most strength?  

One of my friends always referred to the One Rein Stop as “whipping his head around my leg.”  I never found this concept attractive…and I’ve never believed it could possibly reflect leadership or trust.

And then came Buck Brannaman.  The first person to explain to me, in a way I could understand, why I would want the One Rein Stop in my toolbox. Because he explained how it benefits the horse and not the rider. And then he demonstrated how to do it while riding in the Vaquero tradition, not so far off from the French classical dressage that is so dear to my heart, with tact and elegance and empathy for his partner.

During his four days in New Jersey, Buck talked about how he liked to help the horse find its center, although he didn’t say it in exactly those words (he did talk about keeping the horse inside a rectangle, which I interpreted as a metaphor for being centered and balanced).  As he explained, the One Rein Stop worked not only because the horse was responsive to the aids but also because it helped the horse find that center of calm and trust.

Buck talked about safety, but mainly in the context of starting colts who wouldn’t mind kicking your head in after they got you to hit the dirt.  He seems to care desperately about people not getting hurt but doesn’t present the One Rein Stop as a tool for the terrified, but rather as part of the foundation that makes your horse listen to you when it doesn’t know much, so that you can continue to develop the things that really matter — responsiveness, sensitivity, confidence and trust.  As he said, “first it’s an escaping…then ask for a few more steps until you get a calming.”

I know when I fell off a horse a few months ago and broke my back, I “shut the horse down,” (Buck and I use the same words here) by doing a rather dramatic quarter turn on the haunches (a One Rein Stop in reverse?). Now, if I’d managed to do what I did and calm my horse in the process, I probably would have stayed on.

That — and seeing Buck’s bridle horse perform the ORS — are the two things that are making me practice my own One Rein Stop.  I hope to perfect it One Fine Day. Just don’t ask me to explain it.  Or ask anyone else, for that matter. Find someone who has the horse foremost in mind, someone kind and tactful, and ask them to show it to you.  And if you decide to learn it, or you already know how to do it, just make sure you’re doing it for all the right reasons.  If you’re scared or you feel out of control just sitting on a horse, fix those things some other way.