Traveling to do clinics at therapeutic riding centers, and rescues, it is pretty common to see horses who have a hard time standing still and comfortable. It's also pretty common to notice that after a few "release and relax" exercises most of the horses have begun to stand quietly, and to hear folks comment, "Wow he never stands this way for me." I have a number of clinics coming up in the next 3 months and was just thinking about this "horse fidgeting" and thought it might be a good subject for our Coffee Clutch.
When I'm demonstrating "Therapy For Therapy Horses," I think it's important to do the exercises with the horse not tied. They need to be able to move freely which they can't really do while tied. Of course we're in a ring, corral or arena doing the clinics so they really can't run away, but with other horses in the ring with them and other people too, many horses step around, hold their heads high and worry. Showing the horses they can stand still during the clinics does work, but if you work on it at home, alone, devoted to just your horse it works much better. So how about a few little exercises and tips to help with that? And friends, this will transfer into the saddle.
|Kessy and Dutch demonstrating the "Rock Back"|
Horses can stand much more quietly if they are comfortable. One thing you can do to help is always ask your horse to "Rock Back" off their forehand. Just gently touch her chest and encourage her to rock back. That is to shift her weight back. Another is to do the "Mane Wiggle." Firmly grasp her mane and wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, starting gently and increasing until you see her entire neck jiggling. She'll lower her head and relax.... You can see more about the "Rock Back" on my Blog Post here -- http://dutchhenry.blogspot.com/2013/01/reconnecting-your-horse-to-her-feet.html
And the "Mane Wiggle" video on my blog post here--- http://dutchhenry.blogspot.com/2013/03/easy-exercises-to-relax-and-release.html
Teaching your horse to stand "Ground Tied" is not hard to do, and is very beneficial and relaxing for the horse. Start in an enclosed area by walking with your horse. I like to start on the off, or right side for this because horses are most often led on the left. Walk slow and easy a few moments doing large sweeping figure eights. Begin mixing in a few stops, including the rock back (not a step back). Be sure to turn toward her when you ask for the "Whoa" and say it. Be sure she is standing comfortably when she stops. Wait each time for her to process the stop, stand still, and wait. Then say, "Stand." It's just the word I like to use. When you walk on turn forward and say, "Walk on" then start off gently.
When she's mastered a smooth, soft, Whoa and Stand, add the next move. While facing her drop your lead rope, make sure she sees you drop it, say "Stand" again. I also like to hold my hand up in a stop fashion, and make solid eye contact in the learning phase. Now take one step back, continue to face her and wait about half a minute while you stand relaxed and soft. This is NOT a test to see if she moves. Rather it is a teaching, learning moment. Hopefully she will not move and you can step to her, pick up the lead, tell her what a good girl she is, like you mean it. Then turn, ask her to, "Walk On," and go back to the walking and gentle comfortable stops. Remember to hold your hand close to the halter as you walk, you want crystal clear connection. Do this several times each time keeping the "Stand" time about the same short time, building confidence.
A BIG key to remember is, should she move, even one foot, gently put her back EXACTLY where she was. You are helping her to understand, "Stand means right here" not "It sort of means about here." ... Consistency builds confidence. So she must be shown to stay exactly where you've told her to "Stand."
When she has become comfortable with this add the next layer. This time when you ask her to "Stand" step back and walk to her hip, pause and go back to her halter, pause, then pick up the lead, make sure she sees you pick it up, say "Walk On" and go for a little walk again. Remember the figure eights.
Now switch sides and begin all over. Be careful to do everything, slowly and methodically from the very first step of just walking and stopping in the figure eights.
When she's mastered both sides to the point of your walking to her hip and back it's time for the next layer. After you've asked her to "Stand," pause, then walk to her hip, and continue walking, to complete a circle around her, back to your starting place. Pick up your lead rope, congratulate her, pause, then walk on. Remember to tell her, "Walk On." Do this until she has it perfect, then switch sides. And that's it.
This whole exercise will take about half an hour to an hour. Of course over time she'll gain more and more confidence and you can try moving out of sight for a few seconds while she's ground tied, and then add more and more layers. Remember if she moves to ALWAYS put her back EXACTLY where she is asked to stand ... never scold, always praise ... One more tip, do not do this on grass until she has really learned to ground tie. It's not fair to tempt her.
|Here Kessy stands happily "Ground Tied" and enjoys a "Vertebrata Wiggle"|
Well there you have it. If you teach your horse this nifty little deal you can have a relaxed time at clinics, even if there you do hold the lead rope for safety, but your horse will not fidget. She will stand relaxed, comfortable and confident. Tacking, grooming, trimming feet, everything will be soft, comfortable, safe and fun when your horse has the confidence to stand ground tied. She will thank you for teaching her.
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry