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Teaching a Horse to Stand

By: Galadriel Billington

10:26AM Apr 8, 2004

Do you want your horse to stand still when you're handling him, leading him, when he's tied? Does he wiggle, paw, turn and face you, or otherwise act distracted? Let me ask: Are you sure that anyone has ever properly taught him to stand still? It could be that he's not misbehaving; it's just that no one has ever really sat down with him and really explained what is expected.

So what you need to do is to teach him to just stand still. It isn't particularly hard, it's just often assumed that a horse already knows it. I tend not to assume that a horse knows anything unless I have taught it to him; I may cue for a command and get the right response, but I don't *know* unless I did it myself.

Leading at the walk

Leading woah

First, teach the horse the word "whoa" (or some facsimile thereof--you can pick any word you'd like). Don't assume he knows it-start all over and make sure. I usually do this by walking the horse, stopping, using the lead to ask for a stop, and saying "whoa." Eventually, you use the lead less and less until he is responding entirely to the verbal command, and does not need you to use the lead rope to get the idea across.
I have an additional page on teaching voice commands, which goes into this sequence in more depth.
standing by the horse's head

standing in close to the shoulder

Now you want to teach him to stand still, to continue to stay "whoa'd" while you are moving around him. You will eventually make him stand at a whoa while you mess around his body...playing with the girth, flipping the reins, whatnot. This is how I do it:

You may want to begin any or every session by reminding him of how he whoas on the lead; walk a few steps, whoa, walk a few steps, whoa. Then you will move on.

I usually first teach them to stand while I am holding the lead rope, walking back to the neck ("whoa. whoa. whoa."), and back to the head ("whoa. whoa. whoa."). I hold the lead rope to prevent him following me. If he tries to follow me, I do not punish him; I tell him, "no," (or "AAAP!" as "no" sounds quite a lot like "whoa") and start over. You are trying to teach him something he does not already know; there is no point getting angry at him. You have to show him what it is that you want him to do, and then try to make sure he "gets" it.

If he has remained whoa'd then I reward with a treat or a "good boy" or "good girl," or a nice scratch (or a combination thereof). Rewarding him for doing it right will tell him when he has done what you are asking for. Do this for several times a session--I would say about five--and then stop. At any time, if he seems to have a "flashbulb moment" and suddenly gets it, or does it perfectly, STOP. Put him away. Reward him by not making him repeat the exercise any more that session. Do this for several sessions until the horse really seems to have the idea down well. Do make sure you repeat the exercise on both sides of his body, not just left or right.
whole body shot of standing ath the shoulder Next session, I start off by reminding him to stand whoa'd while I walk back to the neck and then return to the head; reward. Now I walk past the wither; for the first few sessions, I usually keep my hand on the horse. I lightly run my fingers along his body as I walk toward his back, then back to his head. Again, if he has been able to stand still, I reward him. I do this for several sessions until he understands it and obeys well.
standing at the hip I bet you can guess what I do for the next session ;) I extend my "walk" to his hip, then eventually to his tail. Over the course of a few sessions I keep extending my range until I am entirely walking around his body and returning to his head.

If at any time he seems to be losing it--he will not stand still when told--you can go back to the very first step, asking him to whoa while being led. Reinforcing the idea of "whoa" is most helpful.
I also teach him to stand while I walk away. It's easier for him to obey your "whoa" if, at first, you walk away from his side (turn your back to his withers and walk straight a few steps) rather than away from his head; he is used to being led when you walk away from his head, and it may not "click" that he is supposed to stand and wait.

Stop him, tell him to "whoa," walk a few steps away from his body. Walk back, reward. Again, try extending this slowly over the course of a few sessions; you want to be able to walk about 5 steps away, or away from any *part* of his body (shoulder, head, hip) and have him remain still.

Teaching your horse to stand is helpful in so many ways. It's a real building block of handling and training. Once he understands what it means, you can use the concept when he's tied, when you're opening a gate, in mounting, in loading in to a trailer--this is such an essential concept for horses to know, and yet we often do not actually *teach* it...we just assume that the horse already knows it, and get upset at him for failing to perform. ;) Once *you've* taught your horse a concept, then you know that he understands it!
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2004 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.