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September 25, 2018 3 Comments
The truth about lying your horse down - Don Jessop
Many of us were taught that lying a horse down will bypass their instinct to flee, fight, or freeze in the presence of a predator or scary experience. The belief is that the horse, when in a vulnerable position, begins to think it's better to relax than be fearful and reactive. In theory, this concept is accurate. Horses that choose to indulge in a vulnerable position are truly less reactive. But horses that are forced into a vulnerable position, without ample rewards, often resent the human who forced them there.
It's time to bring more light to the concept of lying your horse down to make them braver.
The only way lying a horse down could really work to diminish his/her negative instinctual responses, is to reward the act of lying down heavily. Extra, exaggerated rewards would cause the horse to feel like being in that vulnerable position is worth it. Forcing a horse down without ample rewards will only cause the horse to fear you more. I hope you don't want your horse to fear you. A healthy respect for boundaries is imperative, but excessive fear... is unhealthy for both parties.
If you act like a predator, force your horse down, then love on him till the cows come home, with his favorite bucket of treats, grooming, and scratching, he quite possible could learn to love doing it. Doing this in a cyclical pattern, for several days in a row will help a horse become less afraid of predators. But as you can imagine, it can go wrong very quickly. You MUST be rewarding enough.
The less forceful and perhaps more natural approach to lying down, is to reward the horse for lying down on his own, without ropes and tools. Even encouraging the activity with deep sand and a wet wash before you give your horse the space to lie down, can be helpful in the process. Some horses are less inclined to lie down at first, and it can take upwards of six months to a few years of dedicated practice to complete the task this way. If you do this type of training, you still have to endure through a cyclical pattern of support and rewards until it becomes an understandable idea in the horse's mind. I personally prefer this more natural method. If you do one day hope to lie your horse down, just understand both methods have their up sides and down sides.
The more natural way, takes a long time and requires a lot of patience. It also makes it hard to lie down absolutely anywhere, in response to a signal. The horse gets used to lying down in a safe place but takes even more time to learn the activity in a new space. The more forceful way (using ropes), takes less time but is far more dangerous for the horses body and mind. It's all too easy to do it wrong and injure a big muscle group, knee, or leg tendon. Or perhaps injure the relationship. The other thing to consider, coming back full circle now to how horses think, is no matter how much lying down you do, you'll never completely get rid of a horses instinct to flee, freeze or fight.
But... lying a horse down can help make those responses more manageable.
For example, just the other day I took my "true blue, bomb proof" horse for a nine mile ride in the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana. Not once did my horse buck me off, run away with me, bite me, or rear. But I can count dozens of little spooks, imperceptible to the outside observer. She remained completely manageable. She is a horse that I've taught to lie down, and I do believe that in doing so, helped me make her more tractable in general. However, she'll still never be perfect. "A horse is a horse of course, of course."
Besides being a tool to make a horse more manageable related to the human world, lying down can be a beautiful liberty movement, for the performing arts. It can also be a useful tool to help handicapped riders get on or off. It's a task, in my opinion, worth pursuing for a variety of reasons, but not to be in a hurry about.
I've taught horses to lie down using both fast (using ropes) and slow methods (using a horses natural inclination). I still prefer the slower methods. You might ask which one is best for you regarding lying your horse down (If that's a goal for you). If that is a question you have, I can help by simply asking you the following questions:
How psychically capable are you? How well can you manage your tools? Are you coordinated enough to hold multiple lengths of rope and manage those ropes at a moments notice? How rewarding are you? How well do you stomach a horses physical struggle through a learning process? How safe is your training area? How adept are you at managing the horses boundaries and your own personal space? How strong are you if the horse takes over or quits? How willing are you to repeat this as a daily pattern? How confident are you that your horse is ready to consider taking on such a big ask?
If your answer is weak to any one of these questions, I don't recommend teaching your horse to lie down using ropes. If your answer is strong, I still don't recommend it, simply because the other method is safer and will test your patience and make you a more professional, masterful horseman or horsewoman... if you're willing to stick it out. But that doesn't mean I don't think anybody should use ropes to lie their horse down. Some people are willing to take the risk and their rewarding enough to make it easier for their horse. If you feel that is you, I'm not stopping you. Just be careful.
I want you to be great with horses and I think I can help by encouraging you to take our online learning courses. Learn to manage your horses boundaries. Learn how to increase your bond. Learn how to teach new, exciting skill and games. Check the courses out by clicking this link. Mastery Levels
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