Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Sometimes I get emails or Facebook messenger questions about teaching my horse to stand either while being hitched or after being asked to whoa when out driving. I thought I would share a little more about how I teach that.
It really all starts out in the pasture (or in my case on the track) with the every day handling when I feed or clean their area. I train my ponies with treats and positive reinforcement quite a bit. I also use natural horsemanship style training when online, using pressure and release. But teaching the stand command can happen at liberty, once your pony understands your marker for the correct answer. For example you can mark the correct behavior with a click and then a treat. I often use “Good” or “Good Boy” as my marker for the behavior I am looking for. Usually the full “Good Boy” means they have found the right answer and the “goooood” is the bridge between them trying different things and finding the right answer.
To start Zorro, I would be in front of him on the track, then I would say “Whoa”, stop walking and if he also stopped walking then he got a “Good Boy” and a treat. This quickly translated into him walking in front of me on the track and I would say “Whoa” and he would stop. I would say “Good Boy” and give him a treat! Just remember to start small and keep it easy so they can find the answer.
I then shaped this into stopping when I said “Whoa” and standing still. So if he stopped but turned to face me, he did not get a treat. Instead I would just start walking again. Now he LOVES to get the treats so he tried different things to get the reward he was seeking. It didn’t take long for him to “Whoa” and then just stand quietly.
When you start shaping the behavior stay close to the pony so you can reward quickly. If you are too far away then you will have to run up to treat and that can cause them to turn and face.
Of course this same thing can be taught when on line. I would start by walking beside Zorro with him in the halter, and when I said “Whoa” I would help him stop, then treat the behavior. I would slowly move back towards his butt as I did this exercise online, until I was behind him. At first when I asked for the “Stand Still” I stayed close enough to treat immediately after the “Whoa.” As that got more solid then I moved further and further away. He quickly learned when I said “Stand Still” he would get the treat if he actually stood still. LOL
If your pony is creeping forward after you ask for the whoa, back them so they are in the same spot you asked for the Stand Still to begin with, then treat once their feet are still. Sometimes you have to start small and work up to longer Stand Still’s. The key is to time the reward well so they can recognize the right answer.
I have found that horses are eager to do what we want them to do, but if we don’t tell them what we want, they can get anxious. So if we ask them to “Whoa” but don’t then ask them to stand quietly they can start to anticipate what they think we want. This can look like rearing, backing, trying to turn and face, jamming into the harness, etc. But once they learn “Stand Still” and we tell them to do so after we have stopped, they will often just relax and hang out. They know we are going to be standing for a little bit and there is no need to do anything at all.
This translates beautifully into harnessing and hitching your pony as well. Once they understand “Stand Still” they will stand quietly while being hitched. This is especially nice when you are somewhere where you can’t tie them to hitch them to the cart.
Hopefully this will post will give you some ideas of things to try if you have a pony that is struggling with this concept.