Recently, I had a friend get into a very sticky situation with one of his young 3 year old fillies. When he was opening one of the gates in his pasture area he got stuck in the mud while also hung up in the gate. His filly was about to go through the gate, and it was a more than likely chance that if she would have rushed through she would have easily broken his leg. My friend simply said “whoa” and she stopped immediately, lowered her head and waited. He was then able to free himself of the mud and continue his day without a trip to the emergency room.
This is a classic example of the importance of teaching our horses to stand. Despite being a seemingly simple lesson for our horses, it’s often overlooked. If my friend’s filly never would have been taught the importance of the word “whoa” and how to stand quietly she would have seriously injured him.
I challenge anyone out there to draw a 4×4 square in the dirt and have their horses stand within it for 10 minutes – 99% of horses would not have the ability to do this because standing is a trained response. When I start working with a horse at my facility, whether it is a yearling or a 10 year old, “whoa” has one meaning and one meaning only, and that is to plant your feet, relax, and wait for instruction.
In most horses you will have to build this response into them at a gradual pace. At our facility we utilize a 4×4 pedestal which is 12” off the ground. I ask horses to “load up” onto the pedestal and stand there calmly until I release them. When I put a horse up there for the first time I do not ask them to do so for a long period of time, but instead gradually build up the time until I can ask them to stand there for 10 minutes at a time, for example. Eventually I will up the ante and have them standing comfortably in situations that appear scary. For example, I utilize two large box fans from poultry barns and tie tarps to them. I turn them on and ask horses to walking through them calmly as the tarps flap around their bodies and legs. This is a great obstacle for horses to learn and stand next to because of the amount of activity which is taking place – they need to handle not only the tarps flailing around them but also the noise associated with the fans.
In all of these situations, horses will not willingly stand right off the bat. They will jig, refuse to load on the pedestal, or dash through the tarps quickly. The most effective way to get to a horses mind is through his feet, especially when asking them to stand. A prime example if when we are mounting a horse which walks off as soon as your foot is in the stirrup. We tend to pull back the reins and do anything in our power to make them stay still. However, in order to get them to stand we must do the exact opposite. Accommodation is a powerful tool and when used with the horse provides great results. If the horse wants to jig around as you mount, then give him a reason to want to stand. Put his feet in motion on the ground and make him work. When mounted, ask your horse to stand quietly for 3 minutes or more until moving off. If they want to move as you are mounted, work them in small rapid circles until you ask them to stop in the exact same place where you mounted. They will eventually learn that standing is a better option.
This also goes for the pedestal. I will continually ask horses to load on the pedestal until I can get them to stand on it. They need a little assistance at first, but after a while they know that it is a place to stand. This is because I provide it as a resting spot, and they know once loaded up onto it they will be able to relax and will not be messed with. The same goes for the fan, if the horse decides to rush through, make that decision hard on him. Put his feet in motion and make him work. When he finally does stand in front of the fan, he will associate the cool air with a positive experience versus a negative one after he has worked himself into a sweat.
Standing exercises can be done almost anywhere, even in your aisle ways at home- as long as the footing is good and it’s a safe environment. These are great lessons for your horses when you have down time, especially in the winter months when riding is sometimes cut short. Remember, the best way to a horses mind is through his feet. Accommodate your horse’s behavior and use him against himself. If he wants to jig around, then make the behavior into a workout. These seemingly small tasks ultimately make a huge difference in our horse’s entire demeanor and thought process.
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About Dennis Auslam: Dennis has been a trainer for over 30 years, working with many different breeds and disciplines. He grew up with horses and has worked with some of the best trainers in the industry. His passion is horses and people and he loves helping people learn how to work with their horses, progress in their riding abilities and make that connection with their horse. You will find Dennis at various horse related events in 2013. He also does numerous clinics and demos, both at his stable Redwood Stables in Morton, MN and at other venues. His main focus is on confidence building for the horse and the rider.
Reprinted Courtesy of Horse Digest