Well, seeing as we’ve mastered those desensitization lessons (and if you haven’t, keep working on them! Work on a few simple things at a time with your horse, so if you or he gets bored of one thing you can switch to another), let’s start in on a new series. Standing still is a very easy lesson to teach and very valuable.
So, your horse has his bridle on and you’re ready to ride. Oh! Oops! You forgot to put his saddle on. Oh, no, it is all the way across the arena and there are so many horses crowded over there ready for the lesson you can’t take him with you. Now what? He doesn’t stand when you leave him, and he might put a foot through the reins. Well, that’s why you need to teach him to stand still.
A quick word on why your horse may do this before we begin. There are a couple of reasons:
- He is a herd animal, and he feels more secure with other horses/people around. He simply wants security by following you when you leave.
- Standing still doing nothing is unnatural for a horse. He is always doing something – listening, looking, eating, hardly every just standing around. Of course, sometimes he will just stand there, but it is certainly not his favourite thing to do!
Put a halter on him (I prefer a rope halter, as it sends clearer signals to the horse than an inch-wide nylon strap does). Lead him to the middle of your working area and halt. Give a verbal command such as ‘stand’, ‘whoa’, or ‘wait’. You can choose what you would like him to respond to. Once you give the command, walk away, keeping one eye on him to see if you moves. As soon as he moves a foot go back and put him exactly where he came from. Say your command again and walk away. As soon as he moves, go back again and put him where he should be. Walk off at different angles, walk all the way around him, go for longer and longer excursions as he gets better with the process. When you return and he hasn’t moved, be totally non-threatening. He did a great job, and say as much. Smile, praise him, and don’t stare stonily at him. This is a lesson that should be carried on no matter how long he has known the exercise for. He may decide that something is scary behind him or something is more interesting over there even if he is pretty good about staying put normally. Be consistent and put him back every time he moves when he was told to stay.
Here is the last lesson in Desensitizing. There are so many things that horses are afraid of! I will cover one more of those things in this lesson. If your horse is scared of anything else, please use either the odd noises method or the bag method (in Lesson #1) to introduce it to him.
Materials: Find horns and big bags and little bags and big tarps and little ones, anything that makes a noise!
Method: Make just a little of the odd noise at first. Be ready for the horse to jump back! If he does, bring him forward to where he was before and do it again. As he becomes more comfortable with it, you can make more noise with the item in the same manner. An easier way to do this is to put something that will make noise in wind (e.g. a tarp or bag) or something that looks odd (e.g. a flag or balloons) right in the horse’s pen and let him be beside them for several weeks. Pretty soon he will no longer pay attention to them. A note of caution: please do not put anything ‘scary’ right beside the horse’s water source, or he may not drink for several days and that can cause all sorts of nasty consequences.
Some horses are fidgety about their legs. They just cannot stand having someone or something touch them! Here is how to address this problem without getting kicked.
If your horse is really violent about having his legs touched, get something long and soft – a 1 meter long (~3 feet) foam pipe insulator works well, that is what I use. The point here is to desensitize your horse, not get kicked in the knee so you will never walk again. Use caution! Stand well to the side. Horses can strike out forwards, backwards, and to the side! Start high up on the horse’s front left leg. Start touching him there with the insulator until he relaxes. If you have already completed Lesson 1 Desensitizing, he should be O.K. with you touching him here. Work slowly down his leg. As soon as he protests, stop there and hold the insulator on his leg until he stops moving. Again, use discretion. If he is about to run you or someone else over, get the insulator off his leg and try again. However, try to keep it in contact with him, because taking it off will reward his evasive manoeuvres. As soon as he stands still immediately remove the insulator and start again at the top of his leg where he is more comfortable. Do this until he no longer protests. See why training requires so much patience and persistence?
Okay, our first lesson is going to be desensitization to a plastic bag. There are two methods for this, I suggest using both.
Before we get started though, let’s look at why horses are so scared of bags:
- The horse’s instinct dictates that if something odd is coming towards him he either flees from it or fights it, then finds out what exactly it was afterwards. He prefers to flee, and tends only to fight if he is trapped. Don’t trap him, please!
- Again, if it makes a noise that is odd, it may be something that is going to eat him. However much he likes you, if something threatens his life he is going to get away from it first, and then figure out what it was. Life is his first priority.
Materials needed: A plastic bag, a safe place to work with lots of room for the horse to move around, and a halter with a long rope.
Ball up the bag so it is as small as it gets. Let the horse sniff it if he would like. Reach out and touch his neck with the bag and remove it immediately. This is very important. If you keep on doing this touch-and-go approach, especially on a horse deathly afraid of plastic bags, he will eventually realize, “Hey, that thing touched me, and… and it didn’t hurt!” Once he is comfortable with this (on both sides of the neck – horses’ brains are constructed such that something that is O.K. on one side is totally not O.K. on the other), you can either open up the bag to make it bigger and do the same thing, or you could begin touching him on other parts of his body. Cover him very thoroughly with that bag so that no matter how big the bag is and where it touches him, he doesn’t care.
Materials needed: A plastic bag, treats.
Simply store your treats in a plastic bag, and the horse will soon have a good connotation of bags. However, he may not be comfortable with it touching him, even if he doesn’t mind the sound, so make sure you do Method 1 as well.
Before we get started with training our horse, I must explain a few things. First off, all horses learn differently. Please approach the horse respectfully and understand that he may need to move his feet quite a bit at first to feel somewhat comfortable with a new thing that you may be introducing. Don’t hinder this movement too much. Occasionally it is better for the horse if you immobilize his feet (simply by sidling him up to a wall, don’t tie him up or throw him down); use your judgement.
Even though I can provide a few tips for training, you will have to modify your plans constantly! Horses are individuals, and no one is the same as another. Qualities a horse trainer must have are patience, patience, patience, perseverance, and lots of creativity. If you don’t possess these qualities, it may be best for you to have us train your horse for you, because if you get mad with your horse, he will feel it and get tense and very hard to train.
And one last thing – training always works better if you can spend a small amount of time six to seven days a week working on his training. This is ideal, it is not necessary, but your results will be much better if you work slowly and steadily with lots of patience! If you have any questions or just can’t make any headway, please contact us and we will be happy to help you out. Good luck!