How To Teach Your Horse To Stand On A Pedestal

Elisha Harvey on her young horse Finn. He was a quick learner and loved the pedestal! This photo was taken only a few days after his first time standing on the pedestal.

Elisha Harvey on her young horse Finn. He was a quick learner and loved the pedestal! This photo was taken only a few days after his first time standing on the pedestal.

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.
Working with Thor, a Haflinger cross at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME. He was proud of himself!

Working with Thor, a Haflinger cross at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME. He was proud of himself!

Good boy! Elisha Harvey (owner/instructor/trainer at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME) having a successful training session with Finn.

Good boy! Elisha Harvey (owner/instructor/trainer at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME) having a successful training session with Finn.

Yay! First day learning how to stand on the pedestal. Finn is very smart and well balanced so he was able to do all four feet on the first day!

Yay! First day learning how to stand on the pedestal. Finn is very smart and well balanced so he was able to do all four feet on the first day!

Working with the younger girls and their school horses. Quigley found it easy to stand with his front feet but he has arthritis in the hind end so that was as far as he went for the day. 

Working with the younger girls and their school horses. Quigley found it easy to stand with his front feet but he has arthritis in the hind end so that was as far as he went for the day. 

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How to Stay Motivated to Ride in the Winter Time, Ideas & Online Resources

I have lived in Maine my entire life and can relate to everyone out there who struggles with motivation in the winter. The ice, the snow, the below freezing temperatures, the frozen bits, the frozen fingers and toes!!!! Riding in the winter is certainly not for the faint of heart! However, the winter training season can also be a great opportunity for you to take your riding to the next level. Here are some ideas and online resources that I have used over the years that I hope will keep you going on those 10 degree days (or colder!) where you really want to ride but are frustrated and tired of winter.

Education

The winter months are the PERFECT time for continuing your education. If there aren't any clinics in your area don't worry! I have included a few online resources that I have devoured in the past.

Clinics: Look at your region and find out if there are any dressage instructors that will be teaching nearby. You can learn just as much or more auditing a clinic than even riding in one. By watching all the different riders and horses you can take away volumes of information to apply to your horse. Remember to bring your notebook to take notes and have a comfortable chair!

Online Training:
DressageClinic.com: This website is perfect if you don't want to miss all the big events happening in the dressage world. They post full videos of national symposiums and events like the USDF Convention, Global Dressage Forum and the NEDA Symposium. Watch clinics with all the top trainers and Olympic riders like Ashley Holzer, Ingrid Klimke and many more. Their monthly membership is $39.95 but if you pay for 3, 6, or 12 months at a time you can get that price down to $24.95 a month. Click here to visit their website: www.dressageclinic.com

DressageTrainingOnline.com: Imagine if you could visit the barns of Olympic riders and watch them school their horses and teach lessons.......this website lets you do just that! They have over a 1,000 videos to browse through and add 10 new videos every month. Their membership fee is currently $28.80 a month and it is certainly worth it to watch world class riders and their horses. They have also added an Evaluate My Ride feature where you can submit your own video and have it critiqued by the trainer or judge of your choice. Click here to visit their website: www.dressagetrainingonline.com

Working Student or Riding Vacation: If you can take off a few weeks or a few months why not try a working student opportunity somewhere warm! I have been a working student in Wellington, Fl for international dressage judge Gabriel Armando and I have also taken a dressage riding vacation in Portugal before under George Malleroni. Both experiences were incredibly valuable in shaping the rider I am today. My visit to Portugal boosted my work ethic and showed me what it took to become a great rider (riding over 7 horses a day!) and my experience in Wellington opened my eyes to the behind the scenes. I was able to visit training barns of Olympic riders and watch them train and teach.

Work with Me (Sandra Beaulieu): I have a new (December 2017) coaching group online where you can learn how to improve your dressage, teach your horse tricks, learn liberty and in-hand exercises, and upload short video clips of you and your horse for review. Behind-the-scenes access to schooling sessions, lessons, and performances. This opportunity is $9.99/month, with three new videos added weekly! Click here to learn more about my positive, creative style of training. 

Playtime

The winter months are a great time to relax and play with your horse. Have you been wanting to try some liberty training or teach your horse tricks? I first began riding Rovandio with Douwe at liberty because of the weather. It was too cold outside to take the time to ride both so I just put them in the ring together and started experimenting. That blossomed into a new performance routine for us and a new language between me and my horse. Here are some trick training resources I have used to help me get started:

Allen Pogue: Allen has a variety of trick and liberty training videos that can help you teach your horse how to lay down, bow, work on the pedestal and much more. He also sells props like bean bags to teach your horse to sit, pedestals, and balls for your horse to play with. Click here to check out his website: www.imagineahorse.com

Heidi Herriott I met Heidi when I was teaching at Southern Oaks Equestrian Center in Tallahassee, FL. She has been the head trainer at Arabian Nights and has her own tv show called Horse Trix TV. She showed me how to teach Douwe to smile, pick up objects and we also worked on spanish walk and rear. She has a variety of YouTube videos to help you get started and she also teaches clinics. Click here to visit her website: www.heidiharriott.com
 

Photoshoot

Photograph taken by Lydia Rose Spencer

Photograph taken by Lydia Rose Spencer

Have you ever wanted to do a winter photo shoot? It can be challenging but well worth it! I have done a few winter photo shoots over the years and my best advice is to LAYER! You have to get creative with layering so that you can wear a fun costume but not freeze to death! Using hand and toe warmers and bringing spare blankets and large jackets out to the site will help you enjoy the photo shoot and have fun. Waiting for the perfect snowfall can be frustrating and you have to be sure there is no ice under the snow. If you want to read more about photo shoot I did last year with a beautiful red cape click here.

I hope these ideas and resources help inspire you to stay motivated this winter. I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or email me any questions at beginthedance@gmail.com. How do you keep motivated in the winter? Do you have any other ideas that might be helpful to others that are struggling?

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