Thursday, August 14, 2008

My horse won't stand still!

It's just my personal opinion that unless there really is a tiger in the woods , (like so many horses think), a horse should stand still when you need or want them to, regardless of what you're doing. It's extremely annoying and another of my pet peeves when it comes to a horses' manners. They should not be stomping and stepping all over you or trying to walk off when you're grooming, saddling, etc. It's not only annoying but it can be really painful when they step on you. If they're flinging their head all around in your space, or trying to gallop off as soon as your foot hits the stirrup, it can even be dangerous. Do your best to break this bad habit.

First of all, make sure you're being fair to the horse. Is the horse legitimately afraid of something? If so, be fair and help the horse deal with his fear. John Lyons, one of my favorite trainers, says it something like this: We can't teach the horse not to be afraid but we can teach him how to act when he is afraid.

If they're not afraid, then how old is the horse, what breed is it and how long are you expecting them to stand? Are you being reasonable? If a yearling has been in a stall all night, chances are they're going to be dancing around and ready to go! You and I would, wouldn't we?

Keep the horses' breed in mind. If you're dealing with a naturally high-spirited breed such as a Thoroughbred, (especially a young one!), put them in a paddock or someplace where they can blow off some steam for a few minutes before asking them to stand still for more than a couple of minutes. If you don't have a paddock, the second best thing you can do is lunge them for a few minutes and let them burn off some of that pent up energy before you ask them to stand while you put a gazillion of those tiny rubber bands in their mane.

I worked at a barn once that had about thirty of a wide variety of horses and ponies, everything from trail mutts and lesson horses to show ponies to retired race horses. When I would get Sylvia (a retired Thoroughbred race horse) out of her stall, I prayed that not one leaf would fly by or else I knew my shoulder was sure to be dislocated. It was like trying to hold on to a rope attached to the NASA space shuttle. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I absolutely loved getting out sweet Jack, a husky, bomb-proof Quarter Horse used for lessons. The trash truck came by one day and picked up a large metal dumpster and dropped it not far from us. I thought my eardrum had split and my heart was gonna stop (and perhaps Sylvia had just created a sonic boom when she tore off galloping across the pasture) but Jackie reached down to grab a snack and waited until he had grass sticking out of both sides of his mouth before bothering to raise his head to casually look around and see what all the ruckus was about. So keep your horses' breed, age and spirit in mind and make sure that you're making reasonable requests of your horse.

Another question: Has the horse had sufficient training to understand when they're supposed to stand still? Have they been taught the command "stand"? Do they know what it means? If they haven't been taught, then it would be silly to expect them to do it and even sillier and unfair to punish them if they don't.

Also, to be more successful in training, I think a horse needs to learn the patience needed to stand quietly while haltered and tied and the only way for the horse to learn this patience is to do it. Now, of course, I'm not talking about tying your horse up and going back in the house to watch the movie "Titanic". That's not only kinda mean, I don't think horses should be left unattended for long periods while haltered and tied. Too many get caught in the rope and they can panic and thrash. They can hurt themselves or develop a phobia about being tied which will totally defeat your purpose and is a royal pain to help a horse get over. (If a horse gets a phobia about being tied, you're in a for a very long battle in teaching that horse that it's okay to ever be tied again). If they don't get a phobia, almost all horses who get tangled in the rope get at least terrible rope burns and many horses have died because they hung themselves. So, don't leave them tied for hours unattended but haltering and tying them for an hour or so while you clean their stall, tidy the barn, oil some tack or whatever else you need to do is good for developing patience in a horse.

If the horse doesn't understand what the command "stand" means, then go back to the basics and teach them to "stand". I'm assuming they already know the commands "Walk" and "Whoa". So, with their halter and lead rope on, give the command "walk" and walk them around for a few paces or a minute or so. Next, give the command "whoa" and stop walking and praise them when they stop. Next, give the command "stand" and take a step away from your horse. If they start to move with you, give a slight tug backwards on the lead rope and give the command "stand". Hold a crop, lunge whip or your flat hand up in front of their face if you have to, something that tells the horse "stop moving". Do this until you can get them to stop and praise them lavishly if they stand still for even just a second. Continue to do this for about 5 minutes. Put the horse away or continue doing what you were doing to give the horse a break and let them think on what they've learned. Give them maybe fifteen or thirty minutes or an hour , giving it a little time to sink in. You can work on this several times a day, each time increasing the amount of time you work with the horse. Gradually, over a period of several days, expect the horse to stand for longer and longer periods of time. Horses are smart. They should get it quite soon, usually in just a day or two. And once they get it, reinforce it. Stay in communication with your horse. They like hearing your "nice" voice. Most horses enjoy pleasing you. Be consistant and reward your horse every time they do what you want and they will quickly make the connection of verbal cues and that "stand" means "stop moving!"

Once they understand the new word or vocal cue, they won't forget it. Once they learn something, you can skip a month without giving them the cue and when you give it to them the next time, they will remember. So, if you're absolutely sure they've got it and they don't do what you ask, then you know that they're just being disobedient.

If a horse won't stand still, punishment is quite easy. The philosophy is this: When you're working with your horse, their attention should be on you. Their attention should not be on everything going on around except you. A horse should always know that you are in charge. They don't get to make the decisions. If they want to move, they move on your terms, not theirs. If they want to move, make them really move! Using your halter and lead rope or bridle, (whatever is on the horse), hold them with one hand, drive them with the ends of the rope or reins in the other hand and make them move quickly in tight circles around you, (about 6 feet in diameter, not wide circles like lunging). Don't beat the horse, don't terrify the horse, just get their attention. Their eyes should be alert, their ears forward and their attention should quickly switch to being on you instead of whatever was making them fidget around in the first place. Moving in tight circles like that is hard on a horses' legs and hindquarters and they will begin to cramp up in a short amount of time. A few circles like this and standing still will suddenly seem like a really great idea to the horse. They will "ask" you if they can stop moving by licking their lips, which is a sign of submission. When you see that little licking of the lips, then stop. It may take three circles, it may take twenty but move that horse until standing still sounds like a really good idea.

With some horses, you may only have to do this once or twice. With other horses you may have to do it twenty times and with a real flighty horse, you may have to do it every single time you're ready for them to stand still but it's the most effective technique I've seen for a horse that won't stand. Be consistant. Always be consistant in all of your discipline (and rewards) and the chances are extremely high that you will be very successful in ground training your horse to behave in a way that makes spending time with your horse much more enjoyable.


Debra said...

so how to i get my horse to stand still to be sprayed..she stands t be groomed and tacked but the moment she feels the tickle of the spray she freaks and starts backing and circleing to get away..should i cross tie her? this is going to be a real problem come summer when i put her in the wash stall to get a see we just got her and shes 6yrs old and a tennesse walker..its so annoying when i need to spray her with fly spray or show sheen and she keeps moving..any help would be is thanks

Horse classifieds said...

ya you should take one thing in your mind that the horses need a great care if you want to see them fit and work well .

Please feel free to email me your horse questions and I'll do my best to answer them or at least point you to someone or someplace that can. (Scroll down to the "About Me" section and click on "View my complete profile" to send me an email) I look forward to hearing from you! ~Melanie