Ruben Vandorp illustrating a rundown on a horse
In the rundown, a free-running, relaxed horse makes a pretty picture for judges to watch as the horse goes into a dirt-slinging stop.

Wide Open to Whoa: Perfecting the Rundown and Stop Maneuver

Ruben Vandorp builds horse and rider confidence in the rundown and stop maneuver through simple, consistent exercises.

The rundown is one of two things to riders: a blast-off into a fantastic stop or the most nerve-wracking portion of a reining run that leads to an uncertain slide. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, though, if the horse and rider both know the expectations and mechanics of the maneuver.

Reining trainer Ruben Vandorp, 43, loves to slide. He also loves to train a horse to have confidence in the rundown, which leads to that adrenaline-boosting, dirt-throwing sliding stop. At shows, Vandorp watches other riders struggle with challenges in the stop or not understand why they didn’t score higher in the maneuver.

“People come out of the arena, see a big stopping picture, and they wonder why they got a minus-half [score] on their stop. You have to take the whole approach into account,” said Vandorp, who trains out of Cinder Lakes Ranch in Valley View, Texas. “How did the horse run down, get into the ground, back up or roll back? A lot of people get fixated on leaving tracks, but they don’t look at the whole maneuver.”

When schooling horses or working with non-pro riders, Vandorp breaks down the rundown and stop into segments. He works on each step – from the turn or lead departure into the straight line run, to building speed, then perfecting the horse going to the ground for the sliding stop. While other training programs focus on fencing as a means to achieve a free-running line into a stop, Vandorp instead works on the rundown and stop in a methodical manner that teaches the horse his expectations.

“Part of the issues I see are rider-related and a big part are horse-related. When a horse enjoys running down there, it will not change leads or anticipate the stop. Instead of wondering when the rider will pull the trigger and say, ‘Whoa,’ a horse that knows that is going to happen doesn’t have a care in the world and is ready to do its job,” he explained. “It will run down in the same spot 10 times, hit the stop and make it big.”

Forward focus

Pushing up the throttle in a rundown isn’t like shooting the horse out of a cannon or holding a pinball machine back until the last minute, according to Vandorp. Instead, the rundown should be a smooth acceleration up to a speed where the horse can go into the ground with momentum to make that sliding stop.

To teach a horse to remain relaxed and confident while running wide open, Vandorp follows a routine of building speed then stopping in a consistent manner.

Ruben vandorp performing a rundown and stop maneuver
In order to have a soft, smooth sliding stop, the horse needs to build speed and respond to cues in the rundown. The finished stop is the result of a horse willing to run down with confidence.

“I don’t run up and down, up and down, then surprise them with a stop. I spend a lot of time running down and explaining how I want a stop, and when I want it, to build confidence,” he said. “If I don’t like the feel of the stop, then I work on it until they hit that ground perfectly. I think the confidence for the horse comes from knowing their job and understanding what I expect them to do, and how I expect them to do it. I keep it simple. The other thing I do is not go above their training. I push the limit always asking for more, but I finish up in their comfort zone.”

Vandorp’s ideal horse is one that moves forward without drifting to the right or left. One thing he doesn’t dictate is which lead the horse favors in the rundown.

“Some horses are more comfortable running in one lead or the other. Just like people who are left-handed or right-handed, a horse can change leads and keep running straight as an arrow,” Vandorp said. “If the horse maintains its straightness, I let it go on.”

But, if a horse changes leads and alters directions, then he will correct it by putting the horse back on course. Nothing in Vandorp’s program is done quickly or in a way that punishes the horse. When he corrects a horse and it realigns with expectations, Vandorp is quick to praise with a pat on the neck.

Fixing an issue can take 10 minutes or 10 days, Vandorp explained. “You have to break the bad habits. [If] the horse knows it has to run hard and fast to the stop, but doesn’t understand to build or wait, it just needs to relearn what is expected.

“I try to generate as much of an opportunity to work on a problem as possible,” he added. “I like to create situations where they don’t listen to me, so I can gently correct them and realign expectations. When they finally fix it and relax, not anticipating, then it’s time to go to the horse show.”

Read the full article in the November 15, 2018 issue of Quarter Horse News.