Nothing starts a ride off badly like your horse pinning you against the wall of the tie stall or stepping on your foot—just because he is nervous and can’t seem to stand still and wait for you! This article explores why some horses dance around and how you can teach them to chill out.
What’s the Fuss?
You’ve asked your horse to stop, and you tied him up. What happens when he starts moving his feet again? He has failed the Rhythm level of the shaping scale by not continuing to do what you’ve told him to until you ask for something else. What does that mean? It means this is a training issue, not a respect or impatience issue.
Looking at the problem in these strictly objective terms helps to expose the solution. If he is moving without being asked, he just needs to be taught to not move until asked.
So, what we need to do is ‘shape’ the ‘stop’ response so it includes stopping (which we will assume he already does well) and staying stopped. Shaping is systematically rewarding behaviour that is closer and closer to what you want until the horse reaches the desired behaviour.
So, What do I do?
Check your horse’s stopping. To proceed with training Park, your horse will need to stop in two steps from light pressure on the lead rope.
* If you horse stops in two steps when you stop your feet, it doesn’t count. Why? If your cue for your horse to stop is when you stop your feet, his cue to move is therefore when you move your feet. That means he has permission to move while he is tied up because you are moving. Having a clear cue that shows the horse when it must stand still is necessary. Some cowboys drop the lead rope. I prefer using backwards pressure on the halter. Choose a cue and stick to it.
Ok, he stops well. Grab a dressage whip (it is long enough to be useful but not so long it is cumbersome). Make sure your horse doesn’t fear it. A whip is a cue, not a punishment. If he tries to run away, you will have to get him used to it being around before you can use it. When he is comfortable with you having it, teach him to step backwards when you tap the front of his legs lightly.
Holding your lead rope in one hand and the whip in the other, face your horse so you can see his feet. Step backwards, away from him, just one small step. Did he move? If he follows you, tap the front of the leg that moved until it goes back. Don’t get upset; he just made a small mistake, and you corrected it. Horses don’t learn well from punishment, so calm, quick correction is the best way to teach.
Try stepping away again. As he gets better you can be more creative with how you move. Can you get him to make a mistake? Run away, leap away, jog circles around him, veer off on an unexpected angle. Correct any mistakes and go back to the last level he was successful at to practice.
How Long will it Take?
If you spend 15 minutes on this every time you handle your horse, and if you are consistent and clear, your horse should be standing very nicely most of the time in a few weeks. Keep in mind that when you start going out of sight, you are changing the context of how he learned to stand still (previously you were always in his sight) and he might make more mistakes. If you go to a new area, he may also make more mistakes. Introduce new situations in small steps and give consistent correction. Don’t forget to practice when he is tied as well!
As always, if you’re trying to make headway and it isn’t working, you know who to call! Contact me for help.