Thursday 10 May 2018

The Stand

One of the demonstrations that I viewed at the Mane Event a couple of weeks ago was from a driving guy on how to teach your horse to stand. Standing still is very important for driving - a horse who dances around is not safe to have harnessed to a cart.

Those of us who don't drive their horses, seem to not put so much importance in standing still. How many times have you seen someone get on a horse in motion from the mounting block? Or dance around when getting hosed off? Or wander away with the shank thrown over their neck as soon as their person turns their back? That's if they can be trusted to not be tied up at all. Some give the illusion of standing still, but did you notice that they started standing a couple of feet behind you, and somehow snuck up to have their nose on your arm?
This week has been crazy busy with little horse time. I had to go to Vancouver for work Monday & Tuesday. I had lunch along the beach.
Sure, many people have horses who stand nicely for all the above. Is that because they were trained to stand? Or did the owner just get lucky and acquire a horse who is pretty chill about life and has little desire to move around?

I think most horses that I know fall into the latter category. I have seldom seen someone teaching their horse to stand where they have been put. Phantom falls into this category - she doesn't put too much effort into things that don't require it. And for the most part she's been this way since I started working with her at 6 years of age. She ground ties to be groomed pretty well. I've washed her tail many times without her being tied up. She can stand a few feet away from me without issue - it's a good excuse to catch a nap. All this disappears however, if there is grass underfoot (or within sight).
Everything was green and blooming! 
Cisco does not chill like Phantom. In the year that I've had him, I have yet to see him come in and zone out while tied up in the barn. He generally stands quite nicely without doing the idiot dance, but he's a very social, curious horse, who would be quite happy to be a pocket pony. But he's always on alert. And he also has a limit to his attention span.

Tying a horse to a patience pole would do some of the work of teaching a horse to stand. But that only works if they are tied. What if I want my horse to stand somewhere in the yard? Or next to something on the trail so I can get on (because I don't get on from the ground)?

The process is pretty simple. Start by having your horse stand square. Find something to line your horse up with - you could line your horse up with landmarks (ie. their butt is lined up with that tree and their shoulder is lined up with that rock), you could make a line using chalk on cement, or dig a line with your foot in the sand. This is The Spot.
Came across a raccoon in Stanley Park. I was carrying a paper bag with souvenirs and was super worried that if I crinkled the bag he'd come at me looking for treats and bite me because I didn't have any.

Everytime your horse moves away, you are going to put them back to The Spot. And you are going to put them back the same way they left - if they took a step to the right, you are going to move them a step left. They walked forward? You move them backward. And back to standing in the exact same spot, standing square.

When they get there, praise them, then leave them alone.

Long shank. Turn your body away from them. They stand there by themselves.

How do you move their body? Start by moving your body. You want them to back up? Try to take a step towards their chest, facing the horse. Add a tug of the lead if needed. If their butt swung around and a gentle touch to move it back over doesn't move them, use your first and second fingers to give them a poke. Use the smallest aids you can to effectively move them back exactly where you started.

Praise them. And then leave them alone.
I stuck my hand in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. And unintentionally, my foot.
In the beginning, there will be a bunch of step forward/step back to get the horse to standing square again. There will come a point where you will be doing the hoky poky with your horse - you take a step towards him to get him to step back, but it's too big, so you take a step back to get them to take a step forward, and it's too big, so you step towards him again, etc, etc. Make the steps smaller and smaller, and the horse's steps will get smaller and smaller, and then they will stand square.

If they drop their head towards the ground to start investigating, say to them "Head up". That might be all that you need to use.

Whenever they move from The Spot, you need to put them back quickly, quietly, and efficiently. And then leave them alone again.

Don't get suckered by the cute pony who wants to have his nose on your arm. Stand away from the cute pony!

And don't think that your big dumb animal won't try to use their brain for evil. If you let them sneak a tiny step away from The Spot without moving them back, next time it's going to be a bigger step, then a bigger step, and before you know it they are 2 feet to the left of where The Spot is.

I've done it a couple of times with Cisco so far. The first time was the day of a horse show at the barn. I took him behind all the horse trailers, on the (dead) grass, and make him stand still. And it totally worked. He stood very nicely, calmly looked around, and didn't try to eat the grass.

In the barn, I have been trying it while I'm grooming him. Stand him in the middle of the aisle, where he can't get his nose on anything. He's pretty good while I'm grooming, but the second I turn away to get something he wanders. So there is work to be done there. But if I work on this consistently, I think it will come together pretty quickly.


  1. I've been doing this with Carmen. She can do it really well but it's something that needs to be reinforced pretty regularly.

    1. Yes, it will need lots of reminders to make it stick. But I've already noticed a difference with Cisco. He still moves more than he needs to, but is calmer about it and allows me to reset him.

  2. I worked pretty hard to get Ramone and Dante both quietly standing by the mounting block, ground tying on the other hand I am not very good at training that lol