Teaching your horse to stand still can be vital to both you and your horse’s safety. Whether it’s standing tied to a tree, standing to be mounted, or standing still for the vet or farrier, if a horse can’t stand still, it can become a real nuisance. Fortunately, teaching your horse to stand still is fairly easy.
How do you teach a horse to stand still? You can teach a horse to stand still by using repetitive training and by teaching them that if they won’t stand still, it’s going to be more work for them. Here are some instances where horses can have a hard time standing still:
- Standing next to their handler
- Being tied
- When being mounted
- When asked to stand under saddle
- During a vet or farrier visit
For me personally, some of these situations call for a different approach to teaching your horse to stand still. Horses are flight animals, so standing still can make them feel very vulnerable. Keep this in mind when working with them and don’t ask or expect too much from the horse in the beginning. All this does is frustrate you and your equine.
Teach Your Horse to Stand Via Groundwork
Have you ever had your horse on the lead and stopped to talk to another barn buddy? Did you notice how your horse would try to creep off by taking a few steps in another direction before you had to pull them back? This is where a horse not being able to stand still begins.
A horse that tries to walk off like this is probably bored. Instead of being focused on you, they’re focused on everything else around them. A horse that is focused on you will watch you intently, even if you’re doing something else. They won’t walk off until you signal to them that they can.
I use a very simple groundwork exercise to start correcting this problem with the horse. I stand at the end of the lead rope facing my horse in front of them. I allow some slack in the lead so the horse has the option to walk off or move around.
As soon as the horse chooses to take a step, whether it’s towards be or away, I’ll shake the lead rope back and forth, which signals to the horse to back up. I make the horse back up however many steps it takes before responding.
When the horse has backed up to the original spot, I repeat the exercise, giving the horse the option to walk off. As you continuously work with your horse on this, you’ll notice that the horse will stand still for longer periods of time without taking a step. This is good! That’s what you wanted to accomplish.
To learn more about this exercise, check out our article, 5 Best Groundwork Exercises for Your Horse.
Teach Your Horse to Stand When Tied
Does your horse tend to move around whenever they’re tied to something? They scoot from one side to the next, looking distracted and anxious. Maybe you see your horse paw one of their front feet as they get agitated.
Horses that can’t stand tied are usually either anxious about having to be tied up or they’re just impatient. As mentioned above, horses are flight animals. If they aren’t used to being tied, this can make them feel really vulnerable since they can’t flee if trouble arises.
On the other hand, an impatient horse is just an impatient horse. Being tied up makes them feel bored.
The Impatient Horse
To teach an impatient horse to stand still, I usually will just tie the horse up and leave them there for a while. Usually, I’ll tie them up for about an hour a day until I start to notice a difference in their behavior and when they start standing quietly.
Many times when an impatient horse starts to paw the ground when tied, the handler will go over to the horse and attempt to correct them for the behavior. However, that’s exactly what the horse wants. If the horse realizes that every time it paws that you’ll come over to it, the horse is controlling you.
How I’ll usually do this with an impatient horse is that I’ll tie them up and then do some chores around the stable. If the horse paws, I don’t go over and correct it. In fact, I probably won’t go near the horse for the hour I leave it tied. The horse needs to work out its impatience on its own.
Whenever you’re doing this, make sure you are in a location where you can always keep an eye on the horse. Never tie your horse and walk away where you’re out of sight and earshot.
The Anxious Horse
The anxious horse will benefit from the same exercise as the impatient horse. The anxious horse needs to learn that standing tied isn’t a bad thing and they can feel comfortable doing it. The only way a horse is going to learn this is by repetition and time spent being tied.
Once again, tying a horse for an hour a day is a great place to start. Make sure you’re tying them to something solid so that if they pull back or try to take off, the object won’t budge.
Anxious horses can learn that if they start pulling back on the rope, their handler will come over and untie them. To avoid this, it’s vital that you let the horse work out all the kinks themselves. It can be hard to do but trust me, it’s for the best.
An anxious horse can benefit from communication and contact when tied. Having this horse tied is the perfect time to feed them and groom them. This way, they can associate being tied with good things.
Teach Your Horse to Stand When Being Mounted
Having a horse walk off when you’re mounting is not only a nuisance, but it’s also a bad habit and it can be dangerous. I’ve seen many riders fall when their horse starts walking off as they’re trying to mount. I’ve also seen this bad habit go from walking off when mounted to taking off when being mounted.
Many horses learn that if they even take a few extra steps from the mounting block, their handler will lead them all the way around the block again to try again. At this rate, if the horse isn’t ever corrected, it could take the rider hours to get on their horse.
The solution to this problem is quite simple; work. Horses don’t like to work more than they have to; if they learn that walking off at the mounting block is going to mean more work for them, then they won’t do it.
You’re going to have to rely on some groundwork knowledge for this one. I recommend putting a halter over your bridle so you can use the halter for the groundwork exercises if need be.
As soon as you go to mount up and the horse tries to walk off, get off the mounting block and send them out in a working trot around you on the lead. Make it seem like work to them; get a big trot, ask them to change directions frequently, and make them move their shoulders and hind-end. (To learn these exercises, click here.)
After you’ve worked the horse for a good few minutes, re-align them with the mounting block and try again. If they let you get on with no problem, great! If they try to walk off again, repeat the groundwork exercises.
Teach Your Horse to Stand Under Saddle
A horse that can’t stand under saddle can not only be annoying, but it can also lose you points in the show ring and potentially put you in a dangerous situation if you’re in a position where the horse needs to stand still.
Something to keep in mind when it comes to your horse not standing still under saddle is how are you asking them to do so? Many times, we overlook the rider and tend to focus on the horse causing the problem. However, this is not usually the case.
For the Rider
If your horse won’t stand still under saddle, examine yourself. One time, I realized that my horse wouldn’t stand still because I had involuntarily taught him the release of rein pressure from asking him to stop meant to move forward. I had done this by hanging on his mouth even when he was standing.
My horse would only stand still if I kept my reins taut. I had to re-teach him (and myself) that he should stand still even on loose rein. This is just one example of how riders can cause faults in their horses. Before you place blame on your horse, check yourself.
For the Horse
If your horse is refusing to stand still no matter what you do, I use the same concept as when I’m correcting a horse that can’t stand still when being mounted; work.
Ask your horse to stand; let your reins be slack. If they start to take a step, immediately pull a rein to your hip and apply pressure with the leg on the same side. This will cause the horse to bring its nose back towards your leg and step their hind-end around. Keep encouraging them to move by using leg pressure.
This exercise is a lot of work for the horse. Once you’ve had them go around in a circle a few times, release the pressure in your reins and let them come to a stop. If they try and step out of the halt again, repeat.
When doing this exercise, it’s important that you always ask the horse to walk forward when you want them to instead of them just deciding when they can. If they can decide when they walk forward, they aren’t really learning anything.
So, in the beginning, only ask your horse to halt for a few seconds before asking them to walk on again. As you continue the exercise and as they learn to stand under saddle, you can increase the time you require them to stand still.
Teach Your Horse to Stand for the Vet or Farrier
Many horses have a hard time standing for the vet or farrier since any visit from the vet or farrier can cause the horse to become anxious. These visits can change up the routine that your horse is very familiar with, causing them to be a little more on edge than usual.
Another reason your horse may have a hard time standing for the vet or farrier is that they aren’t used to the pressure that these professionals apply to the horse. This isn’t a bad thing; farriers have to hold the horse’s legs a certain way to be able to trim the hooves and vets have to run tests and checkups on muscles and body functions.
If the horse isn’t used to being handled in that way, they will be more likely to move around.
There are a few solutions I’ve used to help get my horse to stand still for the vet or farrier. In my daily routine, I make sure to handle my horse in the way the vet or farrier would. That means I pick up my horse’s hooves and stretch their legs. I make sure I pet my horse all over his body and that he is comfortable with different amounts of pressure applied.
By doing this, you’re helping your horse become familiar with pressure that the vet or farrier may apply. The more familiar a horse is with these things, the more likely they will accept it and stand still.
To help the horse to not feel off their routine when the vet and farrier comes, pull your horse out much earlier than when the professionals are supposed to arrive. You can brush, lunge, and even ride them beforehand; this will not only burn some energy but it will also make the visit seem more natural than if you just pull them out when the vet shows up.
I hope this article will help you with training your horse! Another issue many horses have is being scared to load onto a horse trailer. If this happens to be your horse, check out my article, Loading a Horse on a Trailer: Simple Step-By-Step Guide.