Sunday, November 12, 2017


I've gone from feeling pitifully helpless this week (there were tears) to being excited about teaching a horse to stand still. Its' soooo cool, what I found today.

Oddly, the best information I found online was through carriage driving trainers. Well duh. They can't skip that lesson, their horses are out in traffic and must stop at red lights. (I've driven horses in traffic with red lights and not all of them wanted to stop and wait on red, that is a pretty sick feeling with cars zooming by.)

So first, from a riding perspective, and then I'll share the good stuff.

Laura Crum (remember her?) blogged in 2013 about her "perfect" trail horse, and she thanks the Mexicans. She learned that in Mexico, her horse was taught patience in a pretty extreme fashion. They tie up all the horses overnight where they cannot see each other. !!!! They either survive it and learn patience, or they don't, I guess. She's grateful for that most unpleasant training, because her horse is truly patient. She said these horses learn how to "self-soothe."

It's logical to me that starting at home is the first step - tying your horse up and leaving it for at least an hour (with hay or without) is the "easiest" step in the process.

As good as a horse can get at being left tied at home, doing so in the woods is challenging.

Today Mag surpassed my expectations - J and I went back to "that spot" for J to try to find the hide. I tied Mag to that tree and as we moved around in the woods, he never fidgeted. He stood like a (very alert) statue, only moving to keep his eye on us when we got too far away. At one point a forest ranger drove right by him, which Mag ignored. (J found the hide in less than 5 minutes, he's WAY better with a compass than I am even though I did CMO for 8 years and J has only done it once. I've got to make it harder for him.)

So, so proud of Mag today!

The traditional solution is to make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy, so, move the horse until it wants to stand still.

And it works in many cases. (Chilly the QH. I asked S2 how she got him so perfect. She said, "Every time he was bad, I made him canter off. He prefers saving energy.")

I want to be open to anything that might help, so, even though I feel this is “tricking” the horse, I would apply itif it helped. So...

Where to trot?

Long trot, I mean. There's nowhere. The longest stretch of trail I can trot is about 3 minutes before I hit a town/street. I live in the most densely populated state in Germany. I don't have 9 miles around Lake Youngs where I'd try to beat the one hour mark, the Cedar River Rail trail that goes on forever. An entire mountain with only logging roads, no pavement. *sigh* 3 minutes of trotting/cantering is not going to make Mag want to stand still. It will make him more fit.

I enjoyed this article from Cooperative Horse. It's funny, he admitted how he realized that his highly trained dressage horses are not capable of stopping on the street to chat with a neighbor (though they understand the concept of halt at X and salute the judge). He did what I do. He halts on trail, waits, and then offers a treat. And then increases the time until the horse can stand still on trail/street under saddle more than just a flipping second without rearing up and dumping its rider.

On, I read, “Make moving YOUR idea – if your horse wants to move, make him move until he wants to stop.”

(I'm curious if reverse psychology really work on animals.)

In response, another trainer said, "Keeping a horse moving until he wants to stop can result in very bad habits. Your horse needs to trust and respect you. Communication (cues) are to tell a horse what you want after he has learned what the cue means. When he does that, then thank him (loving tone, pat on his neck or a little treat can all say Thank You."

He continued, "You don't want your horse to think that the whole activity of moving and stopping is ONE thing. Move is one thing. Stand is another. You need to teach your horse what both mean as separate activities*. Then when you ask him to stand, he stands. No other actions. Just stand."

(* - separate activities - interesting, we'll come back to that)

A couple others,“He needs to be made tired, even exhausted. Then standing will be a relief not a punishment.”

“Make sure he sweats and gets tired. Then he's happy and you ask him to stand.”

I want to stop, Mag wants to move. He fidgets around, so I make him move to show him stopping is better than moving. I see it as rewarding the fidgeting because all he wants is to move, and I'm giving him that. It also seems dishonest. Why not just ask for what I want, and reward him for any effort to actually hold still when he'd rather move? Good thing Mag likes cookies - it's the perfect time to use them.

My horse at this point understands stopping and standing on the trail/street, under saddle, to let people pass, let Mira catch up, take a cookie, let a dump truck go by. These things make sense to him. But I really want to take a photo of some odd mushroom. He doesn't see the sense in that now.  Stopping OFF trail?  No way. Would I take off at a trot and try to exhaust him, and then come back for the photo? Or would I find a way to convince him that this is yet another reason to stand still on trail?

Then I found a couple of trainers (both male) who specifically teach standing as a skill, because they are both carriage drivers. Of course. It's not optional, it's a critical part of teaching a horse to drive, the standing and waiting part.

The first guy really stresses me out. I admire him so much but his YouTube channel shows some pretty hardcore methods. His method: move the horse back to where you originally asked it to stand, as long as it takes. 2 hours in the pouring rain, until the horse finally cocked a hoof, and then was allowed to go inside and have the harness taken off and eat his dinner. I say, when that pony was dancing there in place, I was thinking this is gonna be bad, he's gonna lose it and destroy the cart....but as hard as it was to watch, I think the guy was right. If the pony can't stand still in his own driveway, he won't stand at a red light.

The first part is pretty boring because the pony really is just standing there, but then he starts to fight again. What was interesting to me was the fact that the pony was blowing hard the entire time. The pony had obviously been worked. I wonder if it's as hard for you to watch as it was for me.

The second guy expects me to pay money to read his article, but then he pretty much gives away his secret in a comment, "No, I don't advocate circling a horse, it's not always practical, so I just ask the horse to stand, and put him back in that spot if he moves, repeatedly."

But check out this article! 5 Reasons your Horse won't Stand.
OK the first part is not very interesting, about the show horses and grooming (and I don't expect my horse to stand perfectly still for grooming, but I also don't tie him up and he stands for me anyway cuz there's nowhere to go). But if you read on it gets really good.

I love it: If your horse is ever going to learn to stand, you must put it in your mind that standing is, in fact, an activity. Just as with all of the other movements, it’s a skill that has to be practiced, repeated, honed, and perfected.

Standing is the activity of not moving. Walking in a circle is an activity of movement. You can’t really walk in a circle without moving. So by asking a horse to circle because he’s not standing you’re trying to train a horse to not move by telling the horse to move. I can’t imagine why that doesn’t reconcile!

I just cracked up remembering a scene from one of my favorite movies of all time, Raising Arizona:

Looking forward...


Kitty Bo said...

I never liked the circling idea either. In dog agility, there is the pause table. So yes, being still, staying, is an activity. I have 4 dogs, and all have been taught to stay, and it is reinforced all have the time. They are not released from it unless they are focused on me. I also taught my horses to stay and come with the clicker. In stead of working a horse that wouldn't stand for me to mount, I'd patiently ask him to stand, rewarding with a bit of carrot. Eventually we had an agreement that you stand still, and I'll reward you. This was only if the horse was really stubborn about standing. Repetition is the price of knowledge and cooperation. Good for you, Lytha!

lytha said...

Good old Barry, you gotta give it to him. Check out this Fell Pony mare BEGGING him "Can I PLEASE MOVE?" and he says no, good lass, stand still. And she keeps turning her pretty face to look at him, asking, "And now!?" No, good girl, stand still. Impressive.

TeresaA said...

There are lots of ways to teach a horse to stand and they will work depending on the temperament of the horse and consistency of the rider. when I advised the moving it wasn't as a punishment or to make the horse tired. With both Irish and Carmen (hotter horses) standing still when they really really want to move can make them escalate while letting them move in a controlled fashion lets them relax so that when they stand it's okay. But so much depends on the context. When I taught Carmen and Irish to ground tie it was all about just repeatedly putting them back until they realized that was all they had to do.

lytha said...

KB, I've seen that agility pauase table, and that is fascinating to me, cuz the dogs want to move SO Much, it's a real test of training. Self control. I never had trouble with mounting Mag, cuz I expected him to be still every time, and rewarded with a treat, and then we just stood there. I've had the fancy arena lady exclaim to me, "That's amazing, that he stands so still after mounting" But, the "ho" is his favorite gait in an arena. But you know that. I'm not sure others reading this do - that I have the world's laziest Arabian in an enclosed area. He just lets it all hang out, and it's actually a task of mine to get him in front of my leg!

Teresa, I respect you so much, and your advice is right on. In a "controlled fashion" is the difficulty in the brush, I'm sure you understand. In the arena, I would absolutely circle my horse and let him rest at the scary spot, where he'd appreciate no longer trotting. As you said it's all context. You mention ground tying again, interesting. I'm not sure how that applies to under saddle work - can you elucidate? I believe in ground tying but I don't have much chance in real life to use it, in the woods. Thank you for your help in this.

AareneX said...

You remember how squirrely the Toad was. When I first started working with him, he couldn't stand still in cross ties long enough for me to say "Gooooood Boy!" I would get to "Goo" and that was it, he was wiggling again. Gahhhh.

I'm an absolutely stickler for standing still while mounting, and I know many horses who will always try with a new rider to see if walking away while mounting is a thing. Hana is the classic example: when I had her, she STOOD STILL for mounting. After Du took her, I watched it fall apart, because for Du (15 years younger than me, and with real joints instead of the titanium rigs I use) it's not a priority. When I got on Hana yesterday for a lesson (my first time on her in at least a year), what did she do? She moved one foot, remembered it was me, and put the foot back. Then she stood quietly while I mucked about with stirrups, hopped off, and hopped back on. Because she has been taught: a. Aarene always expects standing still and b. Duana does not. She's not dumb. She knows the difference between Du and me, and she behaves differently for us!

So, to teach standing to a wiggly horse, you're already doing what I would do: catch him being good, and attach a command to it, and reinforce it with praise (and a cookie). Before he falls completely apart, give him a different command (...and walk!) before asking for a stand still again. Count to 4 at first, then to 8, and increase. The trick (and it is a trick) is to figure out when he's starting to crack, and have the command to move be YOURS, not his.

A very clever horse (Mag is one of those) will try to cue you to cue him: "I'm gonna break, I'm gonna break, quick, give me another command!" So, ask him to take ONE STEP forward, and then back to the same place he was, and stand (and reward heavily, especially at first). You are catching him before he breaks, but you don't let him dictate when you give a command, or what the command is. You can also play "random numbers" and ask him to move backwards, or move a specific foot. NOT WHAT HE EXPECTED. Wha-a-a-a?

Story and Fiddle were both carriage horses. Not successful at racing, either of them, but that early training to stand still never had to be done by me, hooray!

EvenSong said...

I'm catching up, today, Letha, and. All of the things I would say about standing have been said by everyone else. But ONE thing I used to do (don't much any more because Kate is good about standing Chilli) was hobble training. Learned it from a Native gal in Montana. I used to use a burlap sack, folded on the bias and tied around a young horse's cannons. Done in a safe spot (arena, grassy area) I'd step back and let them figure it out. It seemed to help them figure out that they just made things awkward if they fought it. (Also good for desensitizing them to things around their legs.)
At mountain trail events, sometimes you're asked to ground tie, with the slightly lower point option of hobbling. If I see a class that requires it coming up, Kate and I spend ten minutes beforehand practicing--moving her back to where she was repeatedly, if she moves. She usually does okay.
Sounds like you're on the right track!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I like that you brought up the idea of the activity needing to make sense to a horse. When I trail rode in Nevada, I was always pulling my camera out of my horn bag to take pictures and videos, and the horses would automatically stop as soon as they heard me rustling around in the bag. They understood the concept of having to hold still to take a picture even though they never saw the pictures I took. But when I wanted to film videos, I wanted them moving, so I had to work with them on that. I spent months working with a trainer on sidepassing, but could never perfect it until I started asking the horses to help me close and open gates. They understood the reason to move sideways once a gate was introduced.

I've been trying to get the horses to stay out of the barn when I clean for years, and they haven't been consistently cooperative until I got my Mule. Now they know they are not allowed near the barn when I drive the Mule through the open gate, because I don't want them to escape. Having to chase loose horses around is the last thing I need with my leg pain, so I'm adamant about no horse taking a step closer when I have that gate wide open.
Then I had to keep cracking the whip every time they tried to eat the Mule once I drove it through the gate and parked it, which expanded to cracking the whip each time they tried to enter the barn while I was cleaning. As long as I was consistent, the learned to stay out. If I got inattentive or lazy, they'd start creeping back into the barn, so I drew an imaginary line at the end of the barn aisle, and if any horse set a foot over that line, out came the whip, and the horse would take off running to the other side of the arena. I guess not wanting the horses to eat my Mule is a huge incentive for me to be consistent. Also, I find that the "don't move one foot beyond balancing yourself" technique with mounting and moving the horse back into its previous position works better than circling, which is a good thing, because it doesn't tire me out like circling does. I'm more likely to get tired before my horse.

Kitty Bo said...

I’ve watched Barry’s videos before. Truly a man after my own heart.

lytha said...

Aarene, omg I love the story of “good..” not getting to “boy”. What a classic Arabian he was. Made to move! I mean, looking at him, he looked so much like a racehorse. He was all leg. I think even his face marking was drawn in a way to encourage speed. Good times huh?

Re: Hana. You rode Hana! I mean, cool, but I have to say something now. Many people distrust a horse's ability to discern rider from rider. I'm the first to say horses are not “discretionary” but they absolutely know the difference between people. It pisses me off, actually, to hear, like S2, “I don't let anyone else ride my horse, cuz I've done all this work and I don't want it ruined.” OK there is no way another rider can ruin your hard work! When you get back on, Chilly will go, “Oh, it's YOU.” Like Hana did. Horses are not geniuses, but they've got that down perfectly. I daresay Hana would recall the last time I sat on her, and go, “Oh crap, her again.” (But seriously, Hana never put a foot wrong with me, she was a dream to ride. I have a feeling she knows not to try things with me, it would be a waste of her time. Am I wrong?)

I'm honestly not so sure about Mag's clever-ranking. He cannot seem to outsmart the donkey, but most horses cannot do that. I'm glad you approve of the cookie method, positive reinforcement is proven to produce the best results compared to other methods (reverse psychology, probably included).

Your idea, waiting for the moment before they “crack” is exactly what me and Katja are good at catching. In this way I'm glad to have her. She notices that pinpoint in time the moment I do. She never has to say, “OK release.” Cuz I've got it. I used to count to 20 on Mara. For my mud horse, it depends on where we are, etc. We've got that down, though, recognizing the limit and then walking off again.

I like your idea about defending against ultra clever horses. Not sure Mag is one. But I will keep it in mind to keep him from taking over the situation. Random numbers. You should blog on that.

I am more and more drawn to driving horses the longer I live here, with the carriages going by, with their dutiful ponies sweating away, scraping up the pavement with their notches shoes. I want!

lytha said...

ES, hobbling! I love it. Would love to do it, if I could!!!! What on earth is a “Mtn trail event”? With “option to hobble?” !!????!! Sounds totally rustic. Eastern Washington rustic. My husband has fond memories of Yakima. I think it blew his mind, he'll never forget the dry side of my home. I know you are in Ellensburg, he's only done the North Cascades loop so we missed you, and barely missed a fire.

NM, I was trying to tell my man about the dead rat you have in your house, and how you have scorpions too. IN your house, because my man says there is some sort of animal scratching around in the roof of his separate office building (my tack room too). We find no poop, so it cannot be rat/mouse, right? Sigh I think it's funny cuz we have nothing in comparison to you.

Cool that your horses know your camera, of course, you're a professional photographer.

About staying out of the barn while you clean, I do the same thing! Funnily, today they decided all on their own that I'd had enough time to prepare breakfast and clean poop, and they invited themselves back into the paddock/shed area. I looked at them, “Hi guys. What?” They looked all around for food and felt foolish (I assume). I said, “I never invited you back, so there's no food. Hm!”

I shook the whip, they moved out again, and then I placed their buckets and called them back. OK then.

Your mule is the incentive, I don't have it, but I have a much smaller area and much less animals than you, to deal with. Do you ever have this situation: I come around in the evening to clean up, whatever, and the animals all rush to the “breakfast waiting zone” even though it's not breakfast time? I feel so bad, cuz they're asking for second breakfast, third, whatever. Does not exist.!!! As if they can train me to feed them again by politely arranging themselves in the waiting zone! Cute, but ineffective.

The mounting method you discussed, I do the same. But I got it easy, Mag is better than Baasha in some ways, he stands there for mounting. And gets a treat. And I should be much, much more disciplined about it and request him to stand much longer than I do. But I admit, when I'm on trail riding with others, I feel bad asking them to wait. Stupid human.

NM, I like the way you perceive your Arabians.

lytha said...

KB, really? I thought surely I'd be the only one!! I mean, he can talk a fat streak. But have you watched his vids? He does amazing things in situations I'd be terrified in. It's his life. His horses act up on film and he keeps talking calmly to the camera, hand on the reins, nothing happening here. Wow. Can you imagine just having your HAND to calm a team that is upset? I drove but I never really learned driving. You say he's a man after your heart, I guess that means you are not offended by his sort of well, dominating way of training, very politically incorrect these days. I think it is the way I was raised, and I cannot imagine raising kids/horses otherwise. Discipline. Simple but not easy.: )

EvenSong said...

Lytha, it's been years since I've done anything consistent on the blog, but these posts will show some of my favorite mountain trail event, down in Walla Walla every June. This was the two years right before her accident. I know you don't do FaceBook, but if you are "visiting" sometime, search "Laurie Herzi Walla Walla" and you'll get my post from this year, her first real competition year since the accident. My goal is to get her to the national championships at Eugene's Oregon Horse Center, hopefully next fall! Search YouTube for that--they transform a couple of indoor arenas into mountain trail courses!

CSL said...

My gelding was a bit fearful and a lot anxious and had no idea how to hold still when I got him. I still remember one day deciding I had had enough, and he was just going to have to STAY where I put him. We were riding in the arena and I'd asked him to halt, and he started walking off. "No. Back up that step." So he did, then he stepped forward again. "No. Back up that step." So he did, then left, and then right and then backwards, and headtossing! Each time I asked him to go back, but I was worried he was winding up for a fight. He was dancing and fidgeting. I did not 'hold' him in place, but I did ask him to move back every. single. time. I was starting to get anxious myself, wondering what was going to happen next and how long it would last (as it felt like forever!) when finally he sighed, the tension went out of him, and he gave up and just surrendered to standing there. I praised him and slid off that second. We've had to do that at least a million more times, but now we both know it is a thing he is able to do so it only takes a couple of seconds before I can feel him relax and accept that standing is the current activity. You and Mag will get there- the fact that it is an ACTIVE thing to do is half the battle.

Terry said...

Thanks for linking to my blog. You're combing through a lot of advice, and it can be very confusing! It helps to realize that behavior science has explanations why various methods work, and also what the pitfalls to the methods are. So, tying a horse up to a wall overnight certainly has an effect! Giving treats does, too, and these methods all can be understood under the behavior science umbrella. Once you understand that, you can make your own choices. Karen Pryor's book "Don't Shoot the Dog" is the most accessible explanation. It's also a fun read. Enjoy it! Meanwhile, the problem with training from exhaustion or force is that when that doesn't work, you don't have anything in your tool kit left. I blogged yesterday about training for trust and calm. When my horse is fearful, I have a simple "touch" cue that calms him down. Take a look here:

Kitty Bo said...

What a wonderful article on touch. I taught my Arabian, Khanalee this cue. He was very spooky, but he also responded very well to clicker training. When we would go places, we' d walk around and investigate all the spooky things. He came to understand it as a rewarding job. You could tell part of him saw the tractors and implements as scary, but the rest of him came to understand they really weren't. Years later the trust we had built paid off when he had to go into an indoor bay at a vet hospital to have his feet x rayed.

hainshome said...

Love the movie clip! I was just quoting that part of the movie this week! haha 😁