Watch the video and learn in 14 minutes how to train your horse to stand still in grooming situations

When I teach a horse to stand still when groomed, I first teach the horse a back up aid, which I use in teaching. A back up allows me to tell the horse it’s unwanted behavior when he is moving without asking. When a horse is asked to back up a couple of steps, he gets to work a bit, which motivates most of the horses to stand still. This is a correction of unwanted behavior.

In addition to this, it is necessary to tell the horse what it is wanted behavior. That is, when he stands still for just a moment at the beginning, you scratch and praise him. These are also very good ways to make your horse relax. In addition, scratching increases the production of an attachment hormone called oxytocin and lowers the heart rate when used in the right situation. So, if you want your horse to get attached to you and relax, scratch is often a really reinforcement. Of course, if your horse is very nervous or tense, you should save the scratches later when he is already a little more relaxed.

If it is very difficult for a horse to stand still, it is also a good idea to let it move a little after standing still for a little moment, for example by leading a small loop. This makes it easier for him to start standing still when he notices that he can move again when you only stand for a moment. In such a situation, the best reinforcement for a horse may be that he is asked to move again.

If you ask a very tense horse to stand still, his direction may be upward. It is a good idea to practice standing still at first in one place that is as easy as possible for him and only then transfer the skill to a grooming situation.

Whenever handling and training a horse, it is worth thinking about what the horse wants. Then give it from the behavior that is desirable for us. That’s how we can reinforce behavior we want.

When the horse stands still for a moment, standing time is slightly extended.

Before I start tying the horse in a grooming situation, I teach it to stand still. Before that, I hold the rope in my hand and the horse is not tied to anything. This is how I can move the horse and use backing up as correction if needed. I also teach the horse to give in to pressure in every direction. In this way, the horse does not panic so easily when it knows not to go against the pressure produced by the halter, but to get rid of it by giving away to the pressure.

In practice

The goal of this short course is to teach the horse to stand relaxed and in place while the horse is being cared for. The horse in the video is a 1-year-old stallion named Badger. The owner wanted him to be taught to stand still tied up, so it was a great fit for the instructional video. Young horses are often playful and restless, so standing still in a grooming situation can be especially challenging. 

With Badger, we first got acquainted with a grooming place where the young horse had not been before. Fortunately, the horse was not afraid of a place, so it didn’t take much time.Then we started learning to stand still, which was challenging at first. One of Badger’s challenges was the snapping familiar to many young stallions. You can also see it fixed in the video.  

I fix the biting attempts by waving my hands towards the horse. It is not advisable to start slapping the horse’s nose, because it is easily a nice play for a young stallion, which then increases that habit. Waving the hands towards the top of the head works for most of the horses.  For Badger, I taught back up aid by standing towards the hind end of the horse. I grabbed the rope with my hand closer to the horse so that my thumb pointed toward the front of the horse and my knuckles were up. I started with a little pressure and added it little by little. When the horse tried at least to the right direction of what I wanted, which at the beginning could be a mere weight transfer backwards, I relieved the pressure. In addition, you can scratch and praise. 

Because it was difficult for a restless young horse to stand still at the beginning, small walks were often taken when he stood still for a moment. This way standing still time could be soon extended, when Badger got more relaxed. Eventually I got to a point where I was able to brush Badger well while he stood still. This took about 15 minutes at a time with six training sessions. With an older horse, you can spend more time at one session, but keep in mind that less is more. That means, don’t do too much at one session! A horse has energy to learn better if you do less at one session. 

Then we started learning to stand tied up. First on one side, then on the other. Before attaching both ropes, I checked that Badger understands to yield to the pressure that comes from the ropes. So that he does not panic or get tense when moving and the ropes restrict the movement. Badger yielded to pressure perfectly. That’s when I dared tie him up from both sides. He was really good standing still there too! So, the goal was well achieved.  

Want more simple and easy tips to make everyday life with your horse easier? Register for the Speak horse with Mervi 1 online course via this link: