How to teach a horse that fidgets in harness to stand still.
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How to teach a horse that fidgets in harness to stand still.

August 24, 2019


We’ve got Sarah on the reins today, we’ve just come back in the yard. We’ve taken the pony in a different direction so somewhere where he’s not familiar. And unfortunately we weren’t able to film this
exactly because Mel was opening the gate you know. So we’ve gone today out of his “comfort zone” out of what he’s been used to. And this is where the problem is and the reason I say this pony is not suitable in my opinion for the people that own it. Now the people that own it are lovely people and they want to give this pony a good home; he’s had a bad start he’s been left to do what he likes, bucked people off, 2 or 3 different people that rode him and he’s been an ill-mannered pony. Because he’s not done as he’s told and he’s found it very hard to do as he is told. So today we take him a different route he’s scooted more, by that I mean speeded up, same cars that he’s seen, same vans that he’s seen, same lorries that he’s seen he’s unnerved because he’s in a different route. He’s never been on that route before. Now, he went over the bridge very well you’ll see it on the film. But breaking horses is not putting them in a cart. When you break them to drive these shafts are neither here nor there. They’re not going to make any difference to the horse whatsoever. This horse now we brought him back into the yard. Normally we pull over, they go on a chain, we take them apart, take them out of harness, take them inside. Or in weather like this we drive them straight inside. Now this lass is on work experience, she’s come on really well in the time she’s been with me and I’m happy and confident as long as I’m sitting here that she’s on the reins and learning. And she’s learning a big lesson now because we brought him into the yard and he has been an absolute pig. Pawing the ground, stamping his feet, will not stand still for love nor money. Up until now he’s always stood still when we bring him back in the yard but he’s out of his routine as you can see. Now she’s not pulling him on the head; he’s got to stand still on a slack rein. And he is as annoyed as anything. Now unfortunately we didn’t get it on film when we came back in the yard and stopped here he was yanking the reins out the lass’s hands, pawing the ground, backwards, forwards, sideways, he’s jack-knifed the vehicle he’s done all that. We’re going to do this again tomorrow so maybe he’ll do the same. But what we’re doing now, and people say “you’re crackers!” – this is what breaking is about. Standing out here in the pouring rain with a pony, getting him to do as he is told. He’s obviously hot enough, you can see the steam coming off his back, he’s not going to get cold but if he does I’ve got a rug ready to lay over his back. But he will stand here and he will do as he’s told on a slack rein. Do you see me hitting him, smacking him, or doing anything? This is what I call discipline. He;s not being beaten into it I’m not going up and shouting at him I’m not pulling his head, I’m not doing anything at all other than applying the front brake, so that if he wants to come round there’s a little bit of resistance just for safety reasons. He will stand there now with these reins like this till I tell him that its alright to move. This will be the biggest lesson this pony’s had. We’re soaked wet through even with this stuff on but I’ll still stand here, if I’ve got to stand here 2 hours. And we’ll have our cup of tea out here and I’ll keep doing it until he will stand when he’s told. This will be the biggest lesson he’s had in his life. You know, the fact that we’ve gone a different route he’s been a bit more spooky, a bit more jumpy, he’s not used to it, doesn’t know the route, been a bit uptight. Nothing major, gone over the motorway bridge no problem at all pleased about that but this is his ignorance, this is an ill-disciplined pony and now he’s standing here. Now you say to me “surely not, standing in the rain” I’m standing in the rain let alone the pony. So it won’t matter that the rain’s on his back he’ll be washed off, dried and put away in a minute but he’s going to stand there until I allow him to move. And I don’t want to keep saying to him “stand still stand still” “don’t move, steady” and all that. He’ll stand there because he’s been told to. And what he wants to do is go through the doors, have his harness off, food, that’s what he wants to do. Now had he stopped here in the first place and not given me a load of hassle and “backchat” if you like like a teenager, tell them wait here a minute they don’t do that and wander off and this is discipline; its nothing to do with smacking horses. This is discipline, this is training. This is the bit I can’t get over to anybody “Oh but he’s only young” its nothing to do with whether they’re young, this is when they want to learn it now, they need to learn it now and then he’s got a future. You say “well is it that important” sure its that important because if you pull in somewhere you’re getting down, he jumps forwards, you’re on your ass down there and your pony’s gone. If he won’t stand still now he won’t stand still at a road junction will he? He won’t do anything that he’s told to do. He’s got to do what he’s told to do. When you say road junctions, he’ll stand there like a christian at a junction wouldn’t care. Stand there like that, lovely. Wouldn’t care what comes in front of him now really good. But because he’s been on a different route and he’s had to look at new things, see new things, that’s why we kept him on one route to get a certain amount established; his confidence on that route. Now we’ve got to show him the wide world. Take him in the middle of town… But now he’s standing on a slack rein and he’s behaving himself. This lesson he;s having right this second, I mean ask Sarah what he was like when we pulled up. Piaffing! Piaffing on the spot, trotting on the spot, pulling his head down, went round there, back round there. Forward, back up, down. Everywhere! Tried to pull the reins from your hands. And on a wet day like today this is a very good point as Sarah’s just said these reins are slippery. Gloves are soaking wet, reins are soaking wet. So to hold on to them is not as easy as it is in the dry. So therefore if you were just getting off the carriage, just pulled up somewhere, wanted to get down I know you say “have someone at their head” well let me tell you this if someone had been standing by his head just now they wouldn’t have held him, he’d have knocked them straight over because he was jumping this way, jumping over there. So this is what I call training. This is the bit you don’t see, pouring down with rain its not the warmest of days but we’ll stand here now until he gives up and does as he’s told. Now we’re coming to that time now; all the time we’ve been filming he’s entitled to move his head like that but I don’t want him moving his feet. What we’ll do now is move him on 5 feet more so so we’re telling him yes you’re going to go inside, then he’ll stand again. So move him on. Walk. Now this is nothing compared to what he was doing, so he’s going to stand still again until he gives up. See, snatching the reins, pulling, will not stand. Now he’s standing again. I’ve done nothing but make him do as he’s told, or instructed Sarah what to do. But he’s standing there isn’t he? He’ll fidget again. So we’re going to move him forwards a little bit more. And he’ll fidget again; if I want him to back up, he’ll do that. He’s going to do what I want. There you are. Snatching the reins, dropping his head violently but when he wants to stand and does as he’s told that is discipline. Nothing to do with smacking horses. This is a prime example of what I say all the time. But we never film it because it would be so boring in some ways, standing here but we do it whether its a red hot day in the summer or freezing cold in the winter and that is why we get the horses to the standard we get them to. But if you film him now he’s got a leg at rest, just started to rest, I’m unnerving him a bit being here talking because he thinks “Are you going to undo this harness? Are you going to take this off me?” There he is standing, he’s looking at me as much to say for God’s sake come on. You can say to me “Well you’re tormenting the horse for no reason” its nothing to do with that, that’s the last thing I want to do is torment a horse. I’m teaching him that I am in charge and he will do as he’s told. But I haven’t hit him with a whip, I’ve not kicked him in the guts like I saw someone do the other day I’ve not hit him with a piece of pipe, I’ve not done anything at all to harm him or give him any physical pain or discomfort I’ve just said “No what you’ll do is stand there” and if you say “Well you’re holding him on the bit” he’s only got a lump of rubber in his mouth, not what most people drive in, a big lump of iron with a nice twisted side on it and a curb chain. So he’s standing there on a piece of rubber. What I shall do now is mess about with his harness as though I was taking him out. I’ll move in front of him Now I’m getting to the stage where I’m happy with him he’s standing again, he’s now standing quiet we’ve moved in actual fact 3 times now. If we move up a little bit more please. See him try to move in to the doors and go inside, he’s going every which way but where I want him to stand. But he will stand before we give up. So she’s just bringing him back again That’s lovely. Now each time, the amount of time involved in the struggle is less. And he’s learning a lesson. I’ve got to do as I’m told. And that is training horses. All this nonsense talked about a partnership with a horse and like that, this is a true partnership when we treat him with respect and he
respects what we say, what we’re asking him to do. Never ask them to do more than they can do Now most people would think we’re crazy “Oh, don’t do that to the poor horse” – the poor horse will go and kill somebody someday or cause a major accident where this is where the standards are falling all the time and people are accepting this sort of behaviour and its not what is good. Now you can see the horse relaxing he’s got his foot at rest so he’s starting to go “I’ve got to behave myself” Ok you can take him in now.

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  1. This is so great to show this process. I had a filly that I had no idea how to fix this issue she started off with ground driving. She would do this ground driving and one time leapt backward and fired both hind feet at me. She ended up flipping over with the trainer and later with me. Thanks so much for showing this important info on how to approach a fix.

  2. Awesome video as always guys. Great to see, certainly not 'boring' as it's a challenge I am facing along with a newly developed fear of trucks after a nasty scare.

  3. Time and patience are valuable things; especially since lack thereof can cause the poor horse to end up on someone's plate. People need to think about the horse, not constant kisses and cookies. A person with a temper and frustrations train horses to be the same. Hoping a problem will just go away only entrenches it. Great vid as usual.

  4. Barry what would you recommend for a 5yr old mini horse mare that is wonderful under harness unless you ask her to stand? She'll prance, rear, leap, etc to get out of standing still. She nearly flipped herself the last time! I've used a snaffle bit on her previously but currently she drives bitless. She's perfect unless asked to stand! I'm at a loss with her! If needed I may be able to film her and put it up on youtube for you to see.

  5. Hi Barry and Mel,my new pony,s exactly the same very responsive to the voice,nice mouth walks trots and canters wen asked,but ask him to stand and just like the lad on your video an absolute pain,so iam now trying more or less the same thing as yourselves,before I venture out on the roads with him,but how anyone can allow their horse to behave in that manner is unbelievable,and very dangerous,your video could not have been better timed thanks!

  6. I think this is the best video of yours I've seen so far. Why is it that when you have an awkward willful cuss that plays up right at the end of a good session, so you have to bore it into good behavior, it always seems to bucket down with rain? I find my helpers (when I can get any) always give up first, leaving me and the horse to out-stubborn each other like two drownded rats.

  7. Brakes aren't essential but they can help. They won't stop a horse from moving (we teach horses to push into a collar to move a vehicle+when it gets heavier such as more passengers, to push even harder which can mean they use a lot more strength to push against the brake as they think they have to move a very heavy vehicle. But they can help to stop the carriage affecting them if they are fidgeting so they don't get conflicting messages from the carriage weight on breeching/collar.

  8. Nothing is more frustrating then a horse that will not stand !

    I think were all just to lazy to stick it out and get annoyed where as you guys get great results time after time because you never give up x

  9. Thanks for this particular video. I enjoy them all, but this one really opens my eyes to the patience required, and done even at the discomfort of the humans. Bravo !

  10. Another great video.  I find it hard to gage though, how long (when they have stood still), before you ask them to move off again?

  11. Thank you.  I really enjoyed this and it is a great example of how minor issue can become major issues.  I really enjoyed watching this.  Just purchased a new team and learning myself.  I have dealt with this issue with saddle horses for the exact reasons that were spoken of in this video.  I very much enjoyed this and reminded me how important patience is for humans as well as the horse needing patience when asked to do something.  

  12. when he is fidgeting are you just countering the direction he's trying to go with the opposite rein? (if he's trying to go left counter with the right rein, if he's trying to go forward give halt command with reins, etc)

  13. I am currently training a mini jenny (female donkey for those who don't know) to drive. Because a donkey's natural fear response is to first freeze and evaluate and then run, she requires a somewhat different approach than a horse would. Still, I have found your training videos to be invaluable! Thank you for sharing your experience!
    If I may, where do you get your rubber bits from? My jenny does not respond well to the metal snaffle due to her incredibly shallow mouth. A soft rubber bit would be a big help! Also, could a wide nylon dog collar work like the neck collars you use? Thank you!

  14. this is training.that realy hit home with me.thank you .i can also clearly see how a true professional like yourselves have the knowledge to make the right desicion as to the right timing of this exercise.something that someone like me just would not be confident about and may end up doing more harm than good.thanks for sharing your videos.

  15. Excellent. As our trainer told us, STAND is the most important gait and the primary virtue of the well-trained carriage horse. The result of the training is not obvious to the casual observer because the horse appears to be simply doing nothing. Inside the horse's mind those tiny mental gears are presumably working constantly: "Must not move. Must not move."

    Antoine de Pluvinel said, hundreds of years ago, "I work primarily with the mind of the horse." I do believe that he was right.

  16. Such wise words!
    When i break a horse to saddle, i long rein every where before getting on. One of the hardest things for a youngster is patience and standing still. SUCH an important lesson to instill from the very beginning.
    An old horseman said these wise words to me about 20 years ago…
    "You can't be in a rush or hurry. Much of the early lessons are just walking and halting and standing around. They are not ready to get on, until i can ask them to halt in long reins – anywhere – and get my smokes out, roll one… and smoke it, while they rest a hind leg".
    Such wisdom.
    I use it all the time!!
    I dont smoke… and sometimes I am the impatient one, wishing i could just get going lol.
    I make myself wait while they fidget.
    But all the horses that i break in have a calmness and patience about them in the end. Some take a lot longer than others to master patience. It is a gradual process.
    But the end result is the same 🐴

  17. Bless you for this video. I needed to hear this. I need to remember this so I apply it to my pony who is mostly good, even for a child, but I need to work with him more like this to keep him good and to eventually be able to train him to drive.

  18. No, you are right. Standing still is like first grade stuff. That's the best way. Stop and wait till you're ready.

  19. This horse has an ulcer, hard to stand and it is painful. Good training on his part sometimes there is more, even a chiropractior may help him.

  20. People don’t realize how dangerous it is when they misbehave and won’t stand or do anything they are asked to do. The sad thing, is it isn’t the pony’s fault, people do this by not having them properly started and maintained. Then when they end up hurting or killing someone, the pony ends up on a slaughter truck. Even a small pony running away with a cart even in a big field is dangerous and yes discipline is very important. I had a friend with a young filly she started with no experience on her (owner) or the filly’s part. I wanted her to take to trainer. Then she kept handfeeding and didn't think there was anything wrong from the time she was a yearling to give her treats. As she got worse and worse biting, snapping, pawing out and twisting around her – I begged her to take her somewhere to bring a stop to the mess or for her to take some action. I told her to stop the treats except in her bucket, to firmly reprimand any nasty seeking behavior and get her working hard to redirect her energy. She thought that was being mean. She just didn’t think it was that big of an issue – well until the day, she reared (which she had been doing but getting nastier and nastier) – she struck the owner in the head several times, ended up whirling when she fell down from the strikes and then kicked out trying to get away from her struggling. I wasn’t there, her younger brother was and relayed the story. And he was only 12, and up in the hay loft so he couldn’t do much except call for help and catch the filly in her stall. The young woman died from the brain injury after month in the hospital; the pony was put down by the family. All because someone though it was cute her begging for treats when little and not stopping the behavior before it ended up killing a young woman and a nice filly. Sadly, this is just one such situation I have personally seen and it breaks my heart. Barry is absolutely correct, they have to learn discipline from the first couple of days after birth. It’s simple things that grow to big and dangerous. What is cute at 75 pounds isn’t when they are big growthy yearlings at 600+lbs, and even worse as strapping 3 or 4 yr olds at 1000+ lbs or more depending on breed.

  21. Basically if he was a person, he'd be a naughty teenager..he wants to do what HE wants to do..he wants his grub, NOW. But like the naughty teenager, he respects discipline! [not punishment..discipline.

  22. if this horse really wanted to he could just get hold of the bit and go so why don't he, is it because he has had something a lot stronger in his mouth previously? X

  23. I've always enjoyed your vids because of the kindness mixed equally with common sense and knowledge. A lot of people who train their own horses don't realize that standing has to be part of the training. Maybe they are so impatient themselves to get moving down the road, and training vids and books rarely mention training to stand, which in my opinion is the most important place to start. People see horses standing around in the field and think they shouldn't have to train for something that comes so naturally. And, too many people want to be their horse's friend rather than the leader. Thanks for the vids!

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