Standing is a State of Mind
Training tips from Joanna Wilburn
For a horse/pony to stand still, it must be mentally prepared. They must learn to be bored with themselves, not looking for entertainment. Whether it is just standing to be tied, standing to be groomed, standing to mount, standing to hitch, standing for you to get in the carriage, standing for you just to stand around, they can’t do this if their mind is too busy.
Drag rope self-training:
When I wean my babies, they wear a halter and drag rope in an enclosed area and step all over the ropes. They learn to “give” to the pressure from someone else or themselves standing on their ropes. They also learn that ropes touch their legs. Most people do not get their animals that young, but they are never too old to learn by this method. If I get one in for training that is touchy with the rope or thinks it can drag me around or freaks out if it steps on its rope, they wear a halter and drag rope in their stall (not in the paddock) no matter what age they are. I find that they learn a lot from their own experiences, not necessarily active training.
After they wear a drag rope, they are tied on a longer-than-usual rope to eat. They learn that standing tied means food, their bellies get full, their friends are there with them, they can relax and wait on me to let them loose. They look to me for freedom so when something happens in life, hopefully they look to me to get them out of that mess. The reason I tie on a looser rope is that I encourage a leg over the rope. They will struggle but then stand still. All of this is new so they don’t know having a leg over a rope is wrong…heck, as far as they know, if I tied their heads to the wall, why didn’t I mean to tie the leg as well?! I do NOT do this on an older animal while tied. I do this in an open area putting the rope under a leg and getting it used to that with gentle pressure. I hold the end of the rope, I do NOT tie it. When I get ready to turn them loose after they eat, if one has a leg over the rope, I go to it first, take the leg and move it over the rope. I never unhook them as the dropping of the leg with the rope still wrapped around them can be quite traumatic to a young one. After I take the leg over the rope, I pet them and walk away — this lets them think about the fact that I am the one that “saved” them. I turn the others loose, then go back to that one and turn it loose. Again, you may not be working with such young stock but ALL of my 35+ ponies stand tied to eat twice a day. (Yes, some are three to a stall – they only eat there, they don’t live there). This teaches them to want to be caught and to look to me for freedom.
“Whoa” means one thing and one thing only:
One other very important thing I do: once I put their halter on while they are eating, I pet them on the neck, say ”whoa” and walk away. This kind of gives them a sense of what whoa means. In my world, whoa means “plant four feet or die”. NO, I am not that strong with them. I just never use “whoa” unless I mean…stop, don’t move. I don’t use it for a slowdown word or a reassuring word; I use it to mean one thing and one thing only.
For example, a Hunter trainer and her student came to try out a pony. The kid got dumped three times before I convinced the trainer to quit telling the pony “whoa” two strides before the fence. Pony did as it had been trained. In case you are wondering, yes, they fell in love with the pony, once they quit saying “whoa” all the time, and they purchased him.
Tied out to learn:
After they have learned to stand tied in their stall with their buddies, I tie them all over the farm. The time depends on first the weather (Mississippi heat can be horrendous) and then how long it takes them to just stand there. For one pony, it may take very little time but for another, it may take LOTS of time. The pony that just stands quietly can be turned back out with his buddies in a short time; the one that fidgets must stand out there longer. Once they can stand quietly wherever I leave them, then we start with ME being involved. I take them to my wash rack, say “whoa” and start doing whatever… brushing, putting harness on, etc. When they move…and they will…I simply put them back where they were without saying “no” or “back” or anything; I just put them back. Once they are where I originally put them, I say “whoa.” PLEASE only do this when you have LOTS of time — this may take a while. You must be patient and kind. Temper has no place here…or for that fact, in ANY animal training.
I continue to do this until I feel comfortable letting go of the rope. I then move further and further away in order to let them know that “whoa” means to stop and stand until told otherwise (same as you would want while in a carriage). The key to this is to quit when the horse starts to understand. Depending on your horse, you may not get around to dropping the rope or brushing them or harnessing them for several sessions but your goal here is for them to stand still. If they are standing, be happy and turn them loose. I do this with all my ponies, they are not tied to brush, or put harness on or much else as this standing lesson is every time I work with them. This practice of leaving them unattended is NOT done in public where others could be involved. I do this so when we are in company and they are tied or held, they have a MUCH greater chance of just standing there.
Patience and Kindness for Long-term Payoff
These sessions sound like a waste of time but once you have a horse that just stands, you will know how much easier life is. When I am at home, I can harness one in the middle of my arena, walk away, go find my gloves (not sure why I am always searching for them!), put the whip I want to use in my carriage, find the dog blanket from the last carriage I used, drag the carriage from the end of my arena to where I left the horse and my horse hasn’t moved one foot. When I unhook, I can take carriage back to the end while he waits for me in the center. Again, I do not do this in public and I NEVER leave one while hitched, no matter which pony it is!!!
Take your time, you will be very happy with the results.
Stay tuned… My next post will be on how to progress to the next stage in standing.