It’s crucial to teach your horse to stand still when you first mount, according to trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. The lesson will help your horse know you’re always in charge.
Improve your horsemanship, and develop a kind, trustworthy relationship with your trail horse with top clinician/trainer Julie Goodnight. How to ground-tie your horse.
Whether you’re on your horse’s back or dismounted to clear a path, check a hoof, grab lunch, or help a trail buddy, it’s important that your horse knows he must follow your directions. If you ask him to stand still, he should stay put without continuous prompting. To accomplish this goal, teach your horse to ground-tie (stand still, even when you walk away).
In the first of her exclusive natural-horsemanship series, top clinician/trainer Julie Goodnight helps you understand what it takes to be your horse’s leader from the ground. By teaching your horse to stand still, you’ll help him focus on you and establish yourself as his leader, fulfilling his natural instinct to follow a dominant personality in a herd. You’ll teach your horse that you’re the trusted leader in your herd of two.
Before mounting up for a long adventure, make sure your horse listens to you when you’re on the ground, says Goodnight. At no point should he make his own decisions about what to watch or where to go. You’re in charge of his every step; or, in the case of ground-tying, his every stance.
Ground-tying is a wonderful skill for any horse to have, notes Goodnight. Not only is it convenient when you need to step away from your horse to perform a task, but it’s a sure sign that your horse is obedient, focused on you, and trusts your authority and leadership. This kind of rewarding relationship with your horse can only be achieved by investing time in ground-work exercises at home.
Natural-horsemanship lesson: Teach your horse to stand still on command.
Why you need it on the trail: This skill comes in handy any time you need to hop off to remove fallen branches, open a tedious gate, arrange your saddlebags, help a friend, or simply stop to rest. Teaching ground-tying also boosts your confidence in your horse and his confidence that you’re in charge, no matter what spooky or interesting conditions surround him.
What you’ll do: You’ll ask your horse to stand still, vigilantly correcting him by shaking a soft training lead toward his halter any time he starts to take a step. You’ll gradually progress to laying down the rope and walking a short distance away. Finally, you’ll test his ground-tying skills by working with him in his usual tack.
What you’ll need: A rope halter; a 12- or 15-foot training lead with a knot (rather than metal) attachment; your usual bridle with split or loop reins, and your saddle. Caution: Never allow loop reins to hang down where your horse can step through them; place them over his head in a way that removes them from stepping range.
Step #1. Teach Him to Stand Still.
Outfit your horse in the rope halter and lead. The long lead will allow you to move farther from your horse as you progress in training – so that gradually your horse is less reliant on your physical presence, but will continue to stand still.
Ask your horse to stand squarely on an even surface. When he stands squarely without leaning or cocking a foot, he’ll be less likely to take a step to maintain his balance. (Any whisper of a step he takes will earn a correction from you.)
Loosely hold the training lead, and stand well in front and slightly to the side of your horse; point your toes toward his shoulder. (Don’t stand directly in front of your horse, where you’d be in his path if he moved forward quickly.)
Note: Always face your horse when you want him to stand still; he’ll learn that’s a cue. When you want him to move, you’ll face the direction in which you wish to go.
Give your horse a verbal “whoa” cue, then watch vigilantly for any movement. The instant he starts to pick up a hoof or moves his nose beyond the width of his shoulders (Photo 1A), issue a correction.
Correction technique: Flick your wrist up and down to send a wave through the lead toward your horse. (Be careful not to jerk the lead toward you, which would cue him to move.) This wave movement causes the halter-to-lead knot to bump your horse in the chin, letting him know what he was doing at the time was wrong (Photo 1B). The knot is enough of a correction; a metal attachment can hurt your horse and make him fearful of future corrections.
Important: When your horse moves, correct him immediately. He must receive a correction within three seconds of his infraction to understand your meaning; the sooner within the three-second time frame the correction occurs, the more likely he is to understand.
Continue working with your horse in this manner until he’ll stand still several minutes without a correction. Work up to 10 to 15 minutes. Practice this stage daily until your horse stands still without correction, keeping his attention focused on you, his herd leader.
Gradually stand farther and farther away from your horse, until you reach the end of the long lead. When he stands still at the end of the lead, move from side to side, one step at a time, so that he learns to stand still even when you’re moving.
Practice the standstill in locations around your barn, gradually getting farther away from his comfort zone. Find times to practice when you’re sure your horse doesn’t want to stand still, such as when the other horses are going back to the barn or leaving the arena.
Step #2. Lay Down the Lead.
Once your horse respects your leadership, it’s time to test his stick-to-itiveness. Ask him to stand squarely. Lay down the lead, and hold onto the very end. Verbally tell your horse to “whoa.” Note: Make sure the lead hangs straight down from your horse’s head, so the weight doesn’t pull his halter to the side, cueing him to move.
If your horse turns his head too far (Photo 2) or threatens to take a step, send a large wave through the lead to correct him. (You’ll need to exaggerate your movement to send the correction through the longer lead length.) If your correction is meaningful, he should back up a step and look concerned about getting in trouble. If he doesn’t, you haven’t used enough pressure in your correction to motivate him to change his behavior.
Practice with the lead in this position until you can step from side to side around your horse (as far as you can go without dropping the lead) without him moving, and you’re correcting him only rarely.
Step #3. Walk Away.
Now it’s time to test your horse a bit more. Position the lead so it hangs down from your horse’s halter, and lay the excess on the ground. Slowly walk a few steps away from him, and stop.
If your horse moves, issue a stern verbal correction (“whoa!”), and move immediately to the lead to correct him. (Your verbal cue will keep his attention on his infraction until you have time to pick up the lead.) Lead your horse back to his original location. Repeat this exercise until he stands still when you walk a few steps away.
Once your horse continues to stand still when you walk a few steps away from your in-front stance, walk farther away. Gradually increase your distance until you can walk all the way around him – and walk away from him in any direction.
Note: At first, it’ll be easier for your horse if you continue to face him as you move around and away from him, but eventually, he should stand regardless of your body position (Photo 3).
Increase the time your horse will stand ground-tied by practicing this exercise when you groom him, tack him up, or even bathe him. Test him frequently; look for opportunities to ground-tie him, even if only for a minute.
Step #4. Tack Up.
When your horse consistently stands still on command, you can walk around him and away from him, and you rarely have to issue a correction, it’s time to try this exercise in your regular tack.
Outfit your horse in his usual bridle and reins. (If you use split reins, allow them to hang down, mimicking the weight and feel of the rope, but keep loop reins securely over his head to avoid entanglement.) Ask your horse to stand squarely, say “whoa,” and step away (Photo 4A).
If your horse starts to move, say “whoa” sternly, and move immediately toward him to correct his position. To correct him, don’t use the wave technique you used with the lead. Instead, gently pick up the reins, and use them to cue your horse to back up to his starting position. Then reissue the “whoa” command.
Important: Never use the reins for punishment, whether on the ground or in the saddle. Use bit pressure only for communication. If you use the reins for punishment, it may cause your horse to fear bit pressure and consequently lose trust in you as his leader.
When your horse is ready, it’s time for the ultimate test. Walk all the way around him while he stands in place, then walk away and out of his sight (Photo 4B). He should trust that you, his herd leader, have placed him in position and will stand still until he receives further orders. You’ll trust your horse to stay put, and he’ll trust that you’re in charge, firm, and worthy of being the herd leader.
Do you have trouble with your horses pawing while in the trailer? Check out this Q&A with Julie Goodnight.
Stand Statue Still
Lots of people “do” ground work but like with any type of training, it can be done well or not. Groundwork done poorly is training the horse the wrong thing and I have seen many cases where horses have been damaged in the process of “groundwork.” To be an effective trainer, you have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it, what is the desired response and how to get it, and most importantly, you must have the ability to reward (release) the horse with perfect timing (the optimum timing is within one-half second of the desired response of the horse).
If your horse is not adequately trained and you expect the veterinarian, farrier or anyone else to work on your horse or pick up his to feet, then you also have to accept someone else’s fast training instead of your own work with your horse. Don’t wait for someone else to train your horse in a hurry. It’s your job to train the horse.
You need to train your horses to stand still on your request. This can be accomplished in about five minutes with the fussiest of horses if the handler is consistent and has good timing and is adequately outfitted with gear. To teach the stand-still skill, I prefer to use a rope halter with a training lead attached with a knot (and not a harsh buckle). A trained, obedient and subordinate horse will willingly and calmly stand ground tied, with or without a halter and lead.
As you do ground work teaching the horse to stand, work from a looser and looser lead, getting farther and farther away from the horse like he is ground tied. When he is standing reliably (because you have consistently corrected his mistakes or the slightest look away from you—where his attention should be), start lifting his feet and messing with them while he is ground tied. You horse will learn to stand quietly and relaxed while his feet are being handled and manipulated. Be sure to pet and praise the horse for his efforts and make sure that he learns that when he does the right thing, life can be quite good and quite easy.
Once you’ve taught your horse to be mannerly and obedient, you need to get him accustomed to what the farrier or veterinarian will require him to do: hold the foot up high and long, place it between your legs and pound and scrape the foot. As you work with young horses to teach them about foot handling, it is critical that you only put the foot down when the horse is standing still and relaxed. If you release the foot while the horse is fidgeting or fighting, you have trained the horse to fidget and fight. When you let go of the foot, make sure you let it down gently, slowly giving back control to the horse, never dropping his foot out from under him. It is best to place the foot in a specific location when you set it down, but never try to force the foot down.
This technique is explained thoroughly and demonstrated on my video, Lead Line Leadership. You can also find out more about collection and many other riding skills at my Training Library: http://juliegoodnight.com/q&a.php.
While shooting a Horse Master episode on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts I was introduced to a woman, Vickie Thurber, who had an accident with her young pinto eventing horse and wanted help introducing “Poco” to new possibly scary stimuli. She wanted to make sure he—and she—knew what to do if he spooked again. In their initial accident, Poco spooked and Vickie injured her arm. I decided to take Poco to the beach to introduce him to the surf. Though he lives on an island, the surf was new to him. Although not everyone can ride their horse on the beach, the technique I use to help Poco face his fears can be used to approach any scary object or scene. Read on to learn more about “advance and retreat”. Plus, watch a clip online now: http://horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/episodes.html
Advance and retreat: These days, with military actions and wars consistently in the headlines, thoughts of aggression make it easy to think of “advance and retreat” as an aggressive move. But in case of horse training, advance and retreat is an important concept to understand and when utilized properly, this technique can effectively train your horse to quietly and peacefully accept all sorts of scary and uncomfortable stimuli.
When training a horse to accept a scary or adverse stimulus, whether it be clippers, fly spray, the water hose, the bridle, or taking a horse to the beach for the first time, it’s important to understand the theory of advance and retreat. First, you must understand that whatever a horse is afraid of, be it a sound, a feel or a touch, that factor is considered a stimulus. A stimulus is an environmental factor that motivates the horse to action. If the horse is afraid of the stimulus, the action will likely be to snort and run away.
The advance and retreat method of horse training is a way to desensitize the horse to a scary stimulus and teach him to respond to the stimulus with willing acceptance. Let’s say, for the sake of explanation that the scary stimulus is fly spray, although this method will work with any type of stimulus. The first step, in any training process, is to determine what the desired outcome is. In the instance of fly spray, the desired outcome is that the horse stands still and relaxed while you spray him.
With the case of fly spray, as with just about any scary stimulus, there are many different sensations that may frighten the horse. It maybe the sound of the spray bottle, the smell of the chemical or the feel of the droplets on his body (or all of the stimuli combined) that causes fear in the horse. Regardless of what actually causes the fear, it’s an honest emotion of the horse and he should not be reprimanded.
The theory of the advance is that you approach slowly with the stimulus, starting far enough away that the horse is not uncomfortable and advancing slowly until you reach the place that causes discomfort or a slight tensing in the horse. It may be that just spraying in close proximity to the horse causes him to tense and become frightened (helpful hint: use a bottle with water in it so you don’t waste your fly spray). Only advance as far as you can until the horse becomes tense, advance no farther but maintain your ground.
Continue applying the stimulus, at the distance that caused the horse discomfort and let him move as fast as he wants in a circle around you. Do not try to hold him still, don’t impede his forward motion; keep his nose tipped toward you so that he has to move in a circle around you. It’s important that he is allowed to move his feet because that is his natural reaction to a scary stimulus.
The theory of retreat comes into play once the horse voluntarily makes the right response, which is to hold still and/or relax. As soon as the horse stops his feet or relaxes, even if it’s very briefly, immediately remove the stimulus (stop spraying). Turn your back on the horse and take a few steps away and allow him time to relax and take a deep breath. Removing the stimulus when the horse makes the right response rewards him for stopping his feet. Timing is everything, as with most aspects of horse training.
Apply the stimulus again (advance), as close as causes discomfort and remove it the instant the horse stops moving his feet or relaxes (retreat). In very short order, the horse will make the association that if he holds still and relaxes, the scary thing will go away. Once he makes this association, it will diffuse his fear altogether.
It’s critical in this training technique that you not advance beyond whatever causes discomfort to the horse. Once he stands still and accepts the stimulus (because you have retreated a number of times), then you can advance farther. I have seen too many horses traumatized by people advancing too far initially and overwhelming the horse, sending him into terror and panic. Then often, the person removes the stimulus when the horse is reacting poorly, thus rewarding his behavior.
Advance and retreat, when applied with good timing and a calm and humane approach, will help the horse learn to stand still and accept scary stimuli. Furthermore, once a horse has been desensitized in this way to a number of stimuli, he learns to carry over this response to new stimuli as well and to think his way through a scary scene.
My horse won’t stand still for mounting.
Follow Julie Goodnight’s advice to teach your horse to stand still while you mount up.
Does your horse begin the ride before you do? When you put your foot in the stirrup to mount, are you hopping and scrambling, reaching for a handhold on the saddle, or dangling from your horse’s side while he heads down the trail? Or does he take off the instant you skim the leather—leaving you grabbing for the reins as you struggle to get your foot in the stirrups before he reaches full speed?
If you’re nodding your head, knowing the scenario describes you and your horse, it’s time to make a change. Here, we’ll discuss why your horse may act out this annoying and dangerous behavior then give you steps to take to teach your horse to stand quietly and relaxed for mounting. Soon you’ll have a horse that stands like a statue on a loose rein as you mount.
Many horses have never been taught or required to stand still on any occasion, let alone for mounting. Until you can control your horse’s feet (both moving and not moving), you don’t really have control of the horse; this is as true on the ground as it is for riding.
Horses are very impulsive when it comes to moving—remember they are flight animals. To get a horse to think before he acts—and not move impulsively—takes good training and strong leadership skills. A horse must not only learn what rules to follow, but also that there are ramifications if he breaks a rule—that’s where your leadership comes into play.
For young horses, it’s important to learn good ground manners, including standing still when asked. A good trainer will start with lots of ground work to gain control over the horse’s feet. When the youngster is started under saddle, from the first time he’s mounted, he learns to stand quietly and wait for a cue before walking off.
Many older horses that do not stand still for mounting have been inadvertently trained to act this way. I call it “anti-training.” Generally the rider has been condoning the horse’s impulsive movement for months, if not years before realizing there’s a problem. It starts with little infractions—small but unauthorized actions– and gradually it snowballs until your horse hardly listens to you at all.
Often the horse has gotten into this habit from an eager-beaver rider that mounts and takes off. Soon the horse expects it and he makes an association with mounting and moving his feet—this the action of mounting becomes his cue.
Instead of correcting the unauthorized actions of the horse, many riders cave in to the horse’s actions, thus condoning it. This is often rationalized by the rider as being okay because “I was going to ask him to walk anyway,” but the horse sees it for what it’s: he’s making the decisions therefore he’s the leader.
In short order, you have trained your horse to walk off as you mount. Since he thinks he’s doing the right thing, he’ll begin to walk off sooner each time you mount until you won’t even have a foot in the stirrup before he’s headed down the road.
Whether your horse has never learned proper ground manners or has inadvertently learned to walk off through inaction or a lack of authority on your part, there are some simple steps you can take to fix this common complaint.
First, take assessment of your horse’s general ground manners and respect for authority. Is he always respectful of your space? Does he lead with good manners, matching you step for step, stopping when you do and going as fast as you ask? Will he stand patiently and wait for you whenever you stop and does he stand quietly for the vet and farrier?
If you have complete authority over your horse, you can control his feet entirely, both moving and standing still. If this is not the case for you and your horse, you probably need to start doing groundwork to develop this critical connection with your horse. There are numerous articles on my website on how and why you do groundwork. I also have DVDs that will explain horse behavior and training techniques; the videos and all the equipment you’ll need are available packages at Shopping.JulieGoodnight.com.
I teach my horse that he can’t move a single foot unless I authorize the move. I practice this stand-like-a-statue game a lot, especially at times when I know my horse does not want to stand (like when all the other horses are headed back to the barn). These exercises are thoroughly explained on my website and in my DVD called Lead Line Leadership.
Once your horse is obedient and mannerly from the ground, you can start retraining him to stand still for mounting. The first step is to realize that whatever you have been doing, hasn’t worked. You have probably condoned the behavior many times or not given adequate corrections or insisting on obedience. You’ll have to make a commitment to change that—to be the captain of the ship.
It may have been your impatience that has led to this problem, so you’ll need to get in the habit of standing for a moment after you mount and never letting your horse walk off without waiting for a cue. If he just walks off because you’re mounting, he’s making an unauthorized action and it needs to be met with a swift and certain correction. Pick up on the reins, back him up and say “whoa!”. Be adamant about not letting the horse walk off until you cue him and you should only cue him when he’s standing still (just a momentary pause will do).
If your horse is walking off before you even get a foot in the stirrup, there’s a simple exercise you can do to change his associations. It’s a classic case of making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard for the horse. Like all horse training, this exercise requires an excellent sense of timing and consistent reinforcement.
Outfit your horse in his normal riding gear, with the reins secured to the saddle and a 25’ longe line clipped in the left ring of the bit. Approach your horse in slow motion, as if to mount; it’s important that you move slowly so that the timing of your corrections is precise. Keep the reins and line loose and do not make any effort to prevent the horse from moving off—let him make that decision—through this exercise, you’ll make him rethink that choice.
As you go through the motions of mounting, your horse will begin to move—you’ll have to concentrate hard to find the right instant. At that time, step back (well out of the kick zone) and get after your horse; send him out on the longe circle, making him trot long and hard until he’s eager for a stop cue. Then ask him to stop and repeat, approaching in slow motion to mount.
Each time he walks off without authorization from you, longe the pants off of him—give him a reason to think about how he can get out of this dilemma. You may need a training flag or whip to keep a safe distance from his flying hooves and to motivate him to action.
Each time you start the mounting process over, look for an opportunity to reward him. As you go slowly through the motions, if you reach a milestone—say, you put your foot in the stirrup and he holds still, reward him by turning and walking away from him and leave him in peace and comfort for a moment.
In the process, while he’s thinking and holding still, pet him and tell him he’s a great horse when he’s doing the right thing and hiss and spit at him when he’s not. Put him to work when he decides to move on his own.
When he begins to understand that you’re asking him to do something really easy, you’ll be able to go further and further in the mounting process until you’re on his back with him standing still. Once you swing your foot over his back, your hands control his movements. When he stands for mounting, reward him by getting off right away. Repeat this numerous times during each training session so he really understands what is expected of him.
If your timing is good, it should only take a few repetitions before your horse begins to make an association with his decision to walk off and having to work really hard. Suddenly the easy thing to do is stand still. If it takes you more than 6-8 circling episodes to make progress with your horse, it probably means you do not have the skills needed to have good timing in the release of pressure. He may be learning the wrong thing and you probably need to enlist some professional help.
With repetition, good timing and lots of enforcement on your part, your horse will soon learn to stand like a statue when you mount. For a wealth of information on the skills and knowledge needed to gain complete authority over your horse and cue him correctly visit TV.JulieGoodnight.com.