Saturday, March 9, 2013

Teaching a Horse To Stand Still

One of the more important things people ask me is, How do you communicate to your horse that you want them to stand still?" This is something everyone would like their horse to do at some time or another. Its nice if a horse will stand quietly when you are working around them, while grooming, saddling, or mounting. It also can help for when you tie your horse for any reason. If they understand that you want them to stand still, then they don't fuss and get all anxious when tied.

The reason a horse won't stand still for their handler is most often because they don't understand the expectation, or they don't have enough trust in their handler. If it is a trust issue, then you need to work on your relationship. The process I am about to explain will help with both.

I like to start with Getting Their Attention. I do this is a round pen if I can, but a small or even a large pasture can work. I find a 50' round pen to be the best place to work. I don't start by running them, or moving them around. Most horses I just meet or horses that have been worked with by someone before me, usually want to start running around the pen. I don't want them to run so I go to a spot opposite where I would like them to stop and stand. This blocks them from running around. My goal is to get them to stop and just look at me. I apply pressure by approaching slightly. Its kinda like chasing them to a stop. I don't chase them, its more like cutting them off, pushing them to a spot that I have pick out ahead of time. Once they realize you don't let them go right or left, they stop and look. As soon as that happens I walk away and let them relax. If they move as I leave, I put them back. It doesn't take long for them to understand what you want. From there I work on having them focus on me no matter where I go in the pen. My focus is on having them focus on me. If it strays, I apply pressure, usually by just kissing or moving my arms till they look. sometimes they will leave the spot. Remember where the spot is and put them back. Don't be in a hurry but the less time it takes the better they understand. Once you can walk past their hip and they turn and face you instead of leaving then you can start asking them to move and stop. The more you move and stop them and they understand the cues you choose to use for this, then they're more likely to wait and focus on your expectation. This part is the basics of my first half hour with a horse. Once you get this They are very focused on you and you didn't have to run all around the round pen.

This next technique I start Working With Emotions. Lets face it, some horses are afraid of their own shadows or a blade of grass blowing in the wind. So if you need them to control their emotions, you need to let them know you understand them. I do this by no matter what I'm doing with them I don't soften myself to where I find myself saying easy, easy, its ok, relax. I work at a pace that's more, matter of fact, or just go about my business. If it bothers them emotionally. I just stay at it till they respond and relax on their own. Then I stop and give them a pet. I purposely find things all the time that I think might make them nervous. Introduce it slowly to not overwhelm them but at the same time finding a reasonable level of emotion so that we can teach them that if they relax, we can make it go away. There will be times that whatever your horse is afraid of won't go away at all. Sometimes its a rock on the side of the road or trail. This is why I work with their emotions. So they know a safe and proper response to their fear. Many people teach their horse to overreact without even knowing it. When their  horse is afraid of whatever their doing they stop because they don't want to scare them. All your doing is teaching them is if they freak out, you will make it go away. Then In the times you can't or don't know what it is, you have a huge wreck because you never taught them to deal with their emotions. This is also important in teaching a horse to stand still. Specially when tied because being tied is restrictive and raises anxiety.

This last technique I use when teaching a horse to stand still while mounting. Some people have the idea that if their going to move then you make them work harder and go faster. I would rather let them think it through and figure it out without raising anxiety. The first time I saddle a horse I go through a mounting process. This teaches them to understand everything that is happening and is going to happen. I start by standing next to them and asking for a bend in my direction. Then I grab and hold the stirrup, If they are good with that then I put weight in it using my hand, then I shake it, then I make it make noise. Like when you jerk it and it makes a slapping noise. If at any of these stages the horse starts to move, I just keep going till they stop moving. Then I stop and give them a pet. I don't move on to the next step till they stand quietly and allow me to do this on both sides. I then start to move the saddle. If it goes well I will lift my foot into to the stirrup. Then I would bounce as if I am getting ready to mount with my foot in the stirrup. Again if they move I just stay with them and keep bouncing till they stop and stand, Then I take my foot out and start over. Once I can do this on both sides I will stand right up in the stirrup and get right off. After a number of these go without any movement I will get on, through a leg over and get right back off. If they move when my leg goes over I sit and wait, encouraging them to stop without panicking and pulling on a rein, as soon as they commit to a stop I get right off. I will then start mounting and dismounting from both sides, staying longer each time. I will then start staying till I get some relaxation like lowering the head or a soft bend toward the side I mounted on, then get right off. Its a good idea to sit up there and mess around for a while get them used to standing still while mounted. This also helps to keep them from walking off as soon as you get on.

If you have a horse that likes to start moving as soon as you are on them, you may want to get in the habit of stopping them, and when its time to go, go backwards, or turn on the haunches and go right or left. If you teach them that the start will require them to put weight on their hind end, they'll most likely wait for your signal. Its also a good idea to do a lot of walk, stop, back, stop, walk drills stopping for a different amount of time each time. This also teaches them to wait for a signal from you and not think that they can go whenever they feel like it. They learn there is a signal that communicates to them that you want them to go or stay, and they will learn to wait for it.

We hope you enjoyed this topic and found something in it that may help you with your horse.
Thanks for reading.


  1. Great info. Quick question though on moving when mounting. What do you suggest to an individual who is short and has to use a mounting block. Sometimes (not always) my horse will start to move as soon as I put my foot in the stirrup. I can't bounce along until he stops because I'd fall off the mounting block. I immediately take my foot out of the stirrup, step off the block and back him up a few steps. Sometimes I have to do this a couple times until he stands...any suggestions? Robin Pepin

    1. Thank you for this Question. There may be many looking to hear about this. For training purposes I would either lengthen the stirrups or get extensions, then I would follow the process explained above right up to the point of throwing a leg over. If they are standing for you at that point then put your stirrups where you ride them, then bring the horse to the mounting block. I think by that point your horse should have the understanding of what you want. Another thing you can do is teach them a cue to swing toward you. If you can stop the forward motion and you have a cue to bring them closer to you then you would be able to ask them to come back and get you. I do think if you follow the beginning part you will have their understanding. Make sure you do some ground work that asks them to move and to stop, if they move before you ask them to, try to put them back. After they are standing without trying to move, then you can ask them to move. It would be good to practice using different time span between stop and move and to move down their side and pet them or ask them to pick a foot. At first just a few seconds, then on up to a few minutes or more. The more they understand they are supposed to wait, the more likely they will.

  2. What a great idea. I would not have thought to lengthen the stirrups so I could at least put my foot in the stirrup from the ground....duh :)
    Thanks for the advice. I'll definitely give it a try! Robin

  3. There's a great gadget you can find in some tack catalogs for this. It sets into the existing stirrup for mounting, then you can take it out with a flick of the wrist, put it in its carry bag, and leave it on the horn (or d-ring, if you're riding English). Great for training and for trail riding. It was shown to me by a child student with a passion for trails. -Joy

  4. Ron...another question on the standing while mounting issue.
    When you mention..
    "After a number of these go without any movement I will get on, through a leg over and get right back off. If they move when my leg goes over I sit and wait, encouraging them to stop without panicking and pulling on a rein, as soon as they commit to a stop I get right off."
    Is this meant more for a newly backed horse? Reason I ask...what about a horse that is eager and wants to head right out as soon as you set down into the saddle. My gelding wants to go forward as soon as I get on. Right now, I use one rein and flex his head to the side (say whoa)and keep him flexed until he stops circling and comes to a stop...then I give him a slack rein. If he immediately steps forward as soon as I give him the slack rein, I repeat the process until he'll remain still on a slack rein. Sometimes I have to do this several times before he'll finally stand still. I'm not sure if this is best way to handle this or not... any pointers or advice? Robin

    1. Hi Robin. The description I gave on this is how I work with a horse that has never been saddled and backed but also any horse that has come for training. Even if they have been ridden for years. The process is best if you start on the ground loose and are able to get them to stand and pay attention to you no matter where you go and what you do. I always start there no matter how much a horse knows. The goal is to get them to understand that if there is a need to move, you will cue them to move and they should wait for the cue. The more you ask them to stand still, then ask them to move and stand still again, the better they understand. If they move without you asking, politely put them back and ask them to stand again. be aware of how long they can stand still. If its only 10 seconds ask them to move in 8 seconds. Slowly building on how long.

      Getting them to stand still when your on the ground and doing well will help you so much with when you try mounting. The method you are using is a very common method and can work if you do it right. But I think its best to not get the movement in the first place. This is why I get it real good on the ground in many different locations and circumstances before I ever get on any horse. I will not ride a horse that doesn't have a good foundation and to me that is one of the most important parts of the foundation. I hope I helped.
      Thanks for the question Ron/

    2. Thanks, Ron... you ALWAYS help :) I'll work more from the ground as you suggested. My horse is kind of an odd egg because he'll stand quietly in hand, tie quietly anywhere; doesn't paw or move about at all. He ground ties nicely as well. I've tested him on the ground tying and he's stood in the middle of my driveway for over a half hour without budging while I wandered around, worked in the yard and barn, etc. But when you hop on he's ready to move. Robin

    3. If he stands that well on the ground, try a lot of mount and dismount as well. Even only part way will help. If you have any movement just keep doing what your doing til he stops then you stop and give a pet. Get right back to it. the more you can do at a steady pace and he still stands, the better his emotional control will get. If he has to think a bit about whether you are going to get on and ride or whether you are going to get right back off he will be more likely to wait on you.

      I would also do some mounted work on backing first, stopping, wait a few seconds, then sometimes go forward or sometimes go backward, or even a turn on the haunches. This will keep him thinking about you instead of acting out on a whim. If you don't have him backing on your body yet and you have to use your reins be very gentle on his mouth. I recommend getting a horse to back without reins so they will use their hind end to pull the body back. If you use the reins its hard to get a straight backup cause you are pulling the front into the back, when the back needs to drag the rest backward. Also if they understand your body when you ask to back you also have a body cue to stop forward movement. This for me is another foundation exercise. Its something I start to get on the 1st or 2nd ride. It takes 6 or 7 to get it good but again foundation stuff is so important.

    4. Thanks Ron!!! These are all GREAT ideas...can't wait to try them. I think he just anticipates and is anxious to get going and is not waiting for my cue. I think the backing is a great idea. When you say backing with your body, I just want to make sure your cue is what I've been taught. I lean back a bit and push my feet forward in the stirrups just a bit. Sometimes he will break at the poll and back with just very light rein pressure...other times he resists and lifts his head to evade. I'm riding him in a western, d-ring snaffle. Again..thanks, I think these are all great things to work on. I have no doubt he has some holes in his foundation but we're working on it :) Robin

    5. What you do for a stop sounds like what I do. I crouch more than lean back. Still moving my weight to the back of the saddle. My legs just come off their side so to not make contact. You can put your feet forward and the tips of your boots become a cue as well because they see them out the side of their eye. The cues aren't all that important. As long as you have a way to communicate to your horse what it means and it isn't something that puts you and/or the horse way off balance. Do whats comfortable for you and the horse. Just make sure they know what it means.

  5. Wow I have hope again after reading your Article, Ron! I recently got a horse, that does not want to be tied at all, or standing still when mounting. Thanks to your advise, he is now standing perfectly still and waits for my cue to go back or forward, because he never knows....:) Thanks so much!

    But the being tied I cant get him to relax. He would maybe stand a minute or just a few seconds, before thrashing around, breaking everything he can. And if he cant break the rope, he'll dig holes with his forehand and breaks out in a sweat. But it is not safe to stand by his side and carry on with grooming etc, because any given moment he might totally freak out regardless who or what is next to him. I'm kinda stuck here and actually am not tying him at all during grooming and he's learned to stand still.

    Is there still a chance to teach him to except being tied or is it to late? I inquired from his previous owners and they said, they did the tying thing with a mountain climbing rope around his neck tied to a pole where he pulled for hours and when he was out of stregth, drenched in sweat and shaking all over they release him. But it never solved the problem though of being tied....I personally have doubts in such teckniques and dont want to do this. But I have no idea, how on earth he can be cured from this phobia.If at all still possible. Any suggestions? Thanks, Bine

    1. I'm glad this post helped. Thanks for reading and posting your progress.

      There is hope for him. We had a horse come for a one day demo because the horse would not stand still, or tied. This horse ripped a welded metal ring off a trailer before I worked with her. The demo was about 4 1/2 hrs of work over 6 hrs in time. By the end of it she was standing tied without pulling back even when I applied extra stimulus.

      The way I get this is I start right here doing the things explained in this blog post, While doing this I work on there emotions(there is also a post about this on this site). once I am in tuned to there emotions and they understand that I understand their emotional needs, then I might start to work on restricting them slightly while working with their emotions. When they do this well I will then tie them, but I use a slip ring. If you don't have a slip ring you can wrap your rope around a smooth solid object. I find 1 1/2 wraps works good as long as you are careful not to let the rope pinch. This allows them to pull and move their feet when they get nervous. What I do is tie them and let them stand. If they pull I let them go backwards as far as they want. If the rope runs out of length I will grab the rope in front of the tie and just walk with the horse till they stop. Then I bring them back and do it again. Once they stand without moving at all, I may start to pet or groom them. If they move I do my best to keep doing what ever I am doing till they stop, then I stop and bring them back and start over. Once I can pet or groom them then I may start doing other things to work their emotions a little deeper. I.E. a flag, plastic bag, etc. Soon they won't move at all. This is difficult to explain thoroughly here but if you understand the concepts you should have good luck. It may take 2 or 50 times bringing them back and starting over. But just go about your business like its no big deal and if they get scared just keep doing what your doing till they stop and start over. Do your best to stay calm and methodical. Also I would be sure to start incorporating making sure they don't move to the side with their front end or their hind end.

      The method the previous owners used is probably why he gets so worked up. There is still hope for him, It will just take a little time, patients and knowledge.

      Thanks again for checking us out and sharing your experiences. If you have any more questions I would be glad to give my opinion in hopes that it helps. Feel free to contact us in any way, here, Email, Facebook, or even give us a call if you would like to talk about a topic that may need some explaining.
      Thanks again Ron Johnson.