Equine Behavior Questions and Answers

The Question: How do I teach my fidgety horse to stand still?

Since I purchased her two years ago, I have made great strides with my 12 year old Missouri Fox Trotter named Princess. She was previously owned by a lady who rode her at a racking pace, tight reins and a daughter who equated trail riding with galloping. To make matters worse, Princess is spooky. Though she has a beautiful fox trot, I began her training by longing her and then riding only at a walk, gradually loosening my reins and teaching her to enjoy herself on a loose rein. Second, when she spooks, I calmly dismount and let her check out things. Third, I trailered her last year to the local Forest Preserve every weekend and began by riding her alone short distances and gradually increasing the distance so she could gain confidence, learn to trust me, and not become herd bound. We've progressed beautifully. I ride mostly at a walk, but I let her foxtrot as long as she remains calm. So with all the progress I've made, there remains one problem I don't know how to approach. When I ask her to "whoa" she immediately does so, but she WILL NOT REMAIN STILL. When my husband and I ride together and stop for a rest, I end up having to dismount. If we see friends on the trail and stop to chat, same thing. She swings her rear from side to side, turns around, side steps, etc. How do I teach her to respect a command she obviously knows in a positive and assertive manner without getting hurt?

The Answer


First, I have to say that it sounds like you have been making great strides with your horse. It is not easy to slow down a horse who is used to being revved up - so you should be quite proud of yourself!

To teach your mare to stand still will take time and work, but it can be done. You did not mention where she will whoa and stand still on the ground, so we will start there. Work with her on the lead rope at first and then work up to a longe rope. Ask her to whoa and stand still. At first you may only stand for a few seconds because you want her to stand still, receive praise, and then move off at your command. If she will stand for a few minutes, gradually increase the amount of time she is asked to stand still. If she moves before you ask her to move off, back her up and then ask her to stand again. Praise her when she stands and then let her move off forward. Once she's standing well on the lead rope, work with her on the longe rope. Only let her move forward when she's standing still for you. If she moves before you ask her to, back her up or move her forward in a trot or canter. She will learn that standing quietly is not work but that not listening to you results in a lot more work.

Once she's standing calmly on the ground on a lead rope and longe line, start work under saddle. At first, you may only get 2-3 seconds with her standing quietly, but with a lot of praise and patience, you can slowly work up to longer and longer periods. Use the same philosophy as on the ground - if she stands quietly for the length of time you ask, she can move off into a walk. If she fidgets or moves off before you ask her, she backs or goes forward at a foxtrot or canter. Standing still has to be the easy option for her - everything else results in work.

It could take months but before too long, you should have a horse who will stand still when you ask. Good luck and have fun with your horse - she sounds like a nice, smart girl.

The Equine Behaviorist

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