I taught a trick training clinic at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME and one of the popular exercises we did with each horse was to begin working with the pedestal. The pedestal can be a lot of fun and is a great exercise to work on throughout the winter months when it is too cold to ride. I learned how to work with the pedestal with help from the following trainers: Heidi Herriott, Cohn Livingston, and Allen Pogue (by video). As with all training methods there are slightly different ways to approach the process. If one approach isn't working for your horse try to think creatively, the best training happens when you listen to your horse and try out a variety of techniques.
What are the benefits of working with a pedestal?
- Helps your horse learn to "step-up" which can greatly increase confidence for trailer loading.
- Gives your horse more self-awareness and better sense of balance.
- Gives the horse a target and a place to go where he feels more secure.
- It can help you develop a better relationship with your horse, playing with the pedestal and using it as a reward in liberty work.
- Helps desensitize the horse for agility, trail classes, and working equitation where they will need to cross a bridge and work with other obstacles.
- It's fun!!! For both you and the horse!
What type of pedestal should you use?
I bought an aluminum pedestal with a round shape for performing. Douwe learned on this type of pedestal and it was easier to roll around and lighter to carry to shows. The wooden pedestals are much heavier but are more preferable to use at the beginning. A large, square pedestal (around 36" x 36") or a rectangular shape (around 24"x 42") works really well for a beginner horse. If you are interested in purchasing a pedestal please scroll to the bottom of this post for more information. You can also purchase instructions on how to make a pedestal at Allen Pogue's website. Click here: http://www.imagineahorse.com/store-shop-pay/pedestals/
How do you begin?
- Safe Space: Make sure that you are in a safe training area, an indoor arena, a roundpen, or a paddock that has good fencing. If you have a horse that gets scared easily you will want to be in a safe, relaxing space. However, do not put the pedestal in a stall...you need to have enough space for the horse to move around and for you to move out of the way quickly if the horse spooks or loses his balance.
- Exercise First: Work with your horse first so that he is calm (riding, lunging, free lunging). It will be difficult to teach your horse to stand on the pedestal if they have been in a stall all day with no exercise!
- De-Sensitize: Lead your horse near the pedestal and see how they react, if your horse is really spooky it may take a few days for them to adjust to this new object in their space. If you can leave the pedestal in the ring while you ride that is also helpful for them to adjust. If your horse is really confident and walks right up to it let them sniff it and touch it with their nose. Sometimes I will throw a treat onto the pedestal for the first time so the horse is encouraged to sniff it.
- First Steps: When your horse is relaxed and interested in the pedestal you can attempt the first "step-up". Some horses will step onto it with no issues, just stay to the side as if you were leading the horse onto a trailer. Do Not Stand In Front of Them! The first time a horse stands on the pedestal they might lose their balance and fall towards you. Make sure to keep your space! When the horse steps onto the pedestal you will ask them to "whoa", using whatever cue you would normally use. If your horse is hesitant you can ask a helper to hold the lead line while you pick up one front foot and "place" it on the pedestal. Oftentimes just setting the toe onto the pedestal is enough to give them confidence. Once their toe is on the pedestal ask the horse to step forward using the lead line. Usually they will transfer weight into that foot on the pedestal and bring up the second foot.
- Straightness Using the Wall: If your horse tends to wiggle from side to side around the pedestal you can try placing it against the wall. This will help the horse stay straight, blocking the right shoulder from moving away. Just be careful that the horse doesn't push into you on the left side, make sure that you have determined boundaries with your horse so that they don't crowd into your space. I usually have a dressage whip to lightly touch the shoulder if they want to fall in. You will need the whip to help teach the hind legs to step up as the horse gets more advanced.
- Always Back Off: You can allow your horse to walk off the pedestal by going forward but this can make it more difficult to get the horse up with all four feet. Every time I ask my horse to get off the pedestal I say "Back" and have him step off the pedestal going backwards. If you imagine that there is a wall in front of the pedestal this will help. However, be careful not to restrict your horse by holding tightly with the lead line, keep it loose and let him find his balance as much as you can. Practice getting off the pedestal multiple times so that the horse starts to anticipate backing off instead of going forwards. Having a verbal "back" cue is helpful when you are riding as well, especially if you are bridleless.
- All Four Feet: Once your horse is relaxed and confident with the front feet you can start encouraging him/her to step closer to the pedestal with the hind feet using the whip. Lightly tickle the hind end and when they step closer to the pedestal reward them with your voice or a treat. It is important that they get their hind feet really close to the pedestal before they step onto it. This is where a larger pedestal comes in handy. If you have a large pedestal it will be easier for the horse to step onto it with all four feet. You will have the space to walk them up onto the pedestal and tell them to "whoa" once all four feet are up. Continue to back them off using your verbal "back" cue. When that is fairly easy you can decrease the size of the pedestal and the horse will have an easier time figuring it out. If you only have a smaller pedestal to work with it will take more timing and co-ordination on your part. You will be managing the forward energy of the hind end with your whip/voice while keeping the front legs in place with your body/voice/lead line. I would recommend that you seek professional help if your horse finds this part difficult.
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