horse training

One thing that we insist on when we train a horse is that it learns how to stand square.  Showmanship classes require it, dressage requires it, but, we find it is more than a requirement that we need to comply with.  It is an integral part of  safety for our program.

Squaring Slick on leadlineStarting on the lead line, the young (or not so young) horse, is taught to square up whenever the leader stops.  We use the words “square up” and turn – leader’s toes to the horses left shoulder.  Then manipulate the horse until the front feet are square.  Following our tradition of slow is fast and less is more, we found that starting with only two feet was less confusing for the horses than trying to square up all four feet.  Once the horse has the habit of stopping and squaring the two front feet we move to squaring the back feet as well.  We work with the horse until he is square every time he stops.

One of the problems we see with our handlers is they pull or push too hard with the leadline when squaring a horse.  Most horses are very sensitive to the movement of the leadline and just a little movement will cause the horse to shift its weight and move a leg.  Once the leg moves, stop pulling or pushing.  Handlers and horses can get very frustated when the leg in question moves too far back, then too far forward over and over again.  Easy and light  makes it right and keeps everyone happy.

Mounting Slick ChickNext step is the mounting block.  Our horses never move when a rider mounts if they are standing square.  Why? Because when they stand square, they are balanced.  A horse moves when someone mounts because he is trying to get under and balance the rider – unless the horse has never been taught good ground manners.  But that is another topic.

With the leader in position – toes to the left shoulder, the horse squares up at the mounting block and the rider mounts.  If you look at this picture, you will see that the rider isn’t holding the reins.  Many of our riders cannot manipulate reins and mounting, so we teach our horses to stand for the mount without any pressure from the reins holding the horse back.  Any pressure, if necessary, comes from the leader.  Once mounted, the horse must stand still for any adjustments, taking up the reins, etc. until the command “walk on” is given by the rider.

Mounting a horse that is moving, is neither easy nor pleasant.  The time it takes to teach a horse to stand still with worth it…whether it takes minutes or hours.  We find it’s the safe way to mount.


One of the things we teach our horses is to stop if the rider falls or shifts weight too much.

Now I now of some trainers who will actually fall of the horse when teaching it to stop.  But at my age, I don’t want to chance a broken bone, plus, I’m not that fond of falling.  So, I devised the next best thing,  balancing a pool noodle on the horse’s back. 

This is Poppie.  She is new to our program, so on the few somewhat balmy days that we had over the winter, I worked with her in our “Horse Boot Camp”.  Here I am making sure that she will stop if the rider comes off.

Pool noodle on Poppie’s backThe first thing I do is put the pool noodle on the horse’s back in the saddle area. 

Walking with a pool noodleOnce the pool noodle is balanced, I lead the horse around the arena.  Usually we start with a nice slow walk.  I lead in the normal position, but try to watch the pool noodle as it wiggles on the horse’s back.  How the horse walks and its back movement will determine how long the pool noodle will stay on the horse’s back.

Pool noodle fallsSooner or later, the pool noodle will fall off.  When I see it slide, I immediately stop walking and ask the horse to stop.

Surprisingly, it only takes two or three falls of the pool noodle before I see the horse “trying” to keep the pool noodle on its back and stopping on its own when the pool noodle falls.

Does it work?  Last summer I had a child pass out on the horse.  The horse was standing still at the time and I was giving instructions on the next exercise when I saw the young boy fall forward.  He did not fall off, and looked like he was hugging the horse.  The horse did not move, did not get startled from the sudden forward movement.  She just stood there.  She didn’t even move when three of us adults were taking him off. 

I feel fairly confident that if a rider came off, our horses would stop in their tracks.

NOTE:  I just saw an ad for a video teaching this technique with a deflated inner tube.  The inner tube sits on the horse’s croup and hangs down the tail.  In my opinion, this is not quite as effective as the pool noodle technique because the inner tube is not in the area where the rider would sit.  BTW, the cost of the video (with other tips, I’m sure) was only $59.95.

If you liked this training tip, and would like to see more of my methods of kid-proofing horses, drop me a line, and I’ll be happy to add them.

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