Staying put

Posted on Nov 4, 2014

Scott dropped off a horse for me to work with that suffers from a fairly common problem: refusing to stand still while being mounted.

There are some basic ground manners every horse should have… and standing still while a rider is trying to mount it is one of those. But the truth is that lots of horses shuffle their feet, back away, or move off when a rider is attempting to get into the saddle. Sure, this bad habit is annoying. But it’s also dangerous.

First, I asked Scott if the horse, Dash, was suffering from back soreness, or an underlying medical condition that would cause him to shy away from being mounted. When Scott assured me that Dash was in good health, I began the retraining process.

For a horse, moving is instinctive – a natural reaction to pretty much everything. If it is feeling anxious or threatened, it’s the fight–or–flight response. So, for this to work, I had to make Dash feel comfortable and safe while standing still.

I decided to start by lunging him, without a saddle. When a horse is tired he’s much more motivated to stand still in front of you. I positioned his side next to the fence and I consistently repeated the command, “Stand.” Then, I rewarded Dash with strokes and soothing words of encouragement while he stood still.

Instead of using the fence, sometimes a visual cue, like a mounting block, can help. You gently lead the horse to stand beside the mounting block, then repeat the command you’re using and reward the horse when he gets it right.

Then, it’s all about doing it over… and over… and over again until the horse feels safe, and is willing to stay put.

Then, you start all over again… but with the saddle this time. Once the horse is comfortable standing still with the saddle on, the final step is to begin putting your foot in the stirrup… taking plenty of time to put a little weight in it and leaning over the horse before getting on.

Every time the horse moves off, bring it back to the start position and begin the process all over again… until you can safely swing your leg over and sit in the saddle.

Obviously, the key to success… is patience and repetition.