The horse that won’t stand still

It’s amazing the excuses people make for a horse that won’t stand still. “He’s so keen, he can’t wait to get to work”, or “he gets bored when he’s standing still”, or “he’s just being naughty”.

However, if anyone saw a horse in the field, or in its stable, that was constantly shifting and unable to stand still, they would quite rightly be worried and suspect the horse was in pain or stressed. So why is the interpretation different if there is a rider on board?

Understanding the horse’s point of view:

*      For a horse, moving its feet is the answer to just about everything that makes it uneasy. Anxious? Move your feet. Under threat? Move your feet. If everyone else is moving, you’d better move, too.

*      Moving is the flight response. It is instinctive.

*       If the horse moves off as soon as you get on, or won’t stand still, it’s because something is making it nervous – and it could well be you.

So rather than getting angry with a “naughty” horse, or making excuses for it, how about making it feel safe and secure enough to stand still?

Most people spend huge amounts of time, money and effort teaching their horses to move, but invest hardly anything in teaching them to stand still!

A solution from the human point of view:

Standing still in front of the mounting block

*         Set about teaching standing still with a view to making standing still comfortable and relaxing.

*         Never try to force a horse to stand still, as this will only make it even more anxious. The horse should feel it is safe to stand still, not that it has no choice.

*         Work in an open space – resist the temptation to try and restrict the movement by restricting the space or by having someone hold the horse for you.

Photo © ARTECAST 2010

*         Start with getting the horse to stand still for you to get on. Use a mounting block so that you are roughly the height you will be when sitting on the horse (or at least above its eye level). Start off without the saddle. The first exercise is standing still in front of you. Getting on comes later.

*         Every time the horse moves away, bring it straight back to the spot in front of the block. Stroke and pet it while it stands there, and if it moves off, stop stroking and bring it back. Make that one spot the most comfortable place on earth.

Preparing to mount and getting on

*         When the horse can stand quitely in front of the mounting block, introduce the saddle and bridle. Take plenty of time putting a little weight in the stirrup and leaning over the horse before getting on. Again, every time it moves off, just bring it back and set it up again.

*        Never take the mounting block to the horse – always take the horse to the mounting block.

Working in the saddle

*         Once the horse is standing still for you to get on, make sure it stays put until you are ready to ride off, and that includes checking your girth, adjusting stirrups, blowing your nose, cleaning your glasses, and anything else you choose to do. If the horse starts to move off before you are ready, pick up the reins and back up to the spot in front of the block. The faster you react, the faster the horse will realize that standing and waiting is the safe and comfortable option. Don’t forget to reward your horse for waiting with a stroke or a scratch before you set off.

Just chillin’ on a loose rein is an exercise in itself!

*         Apply the same principles in the saddle as on the ground. Reward the horse for stopping and standing still, just the same as you would for any other exercise. Treat “halt” as an exercise in itself, to be specifically practised and rewarded.

Most importantly, keep in mind at all times that the horse is not moving off to frustrate you or “be naughty”, it’s feeling insecure. To overcome this, you need to offer safety and security, and getting angry or impatient will be completely counterproductive. Set small targets for each training session, and try to ensure you and the horse finish with a sense of achievement.