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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"Sway" Routine at the Elysium Sport Ponies Open House

"Other dancers may be on the floor
Dear, but my eyes will see only you
Only you have that magic technique
When we sway I go weak
I go weak..."

                                              - lyrics from Sway by the Pussycat Dolls

This video was taken at the Elysium Sport Ponies Open House November, 2015. I was SO happy with this routine! As some of you know, I was injured the week before and wasn't able to practice. I decided last minute to ride to the song "Sway", one of my favorite songs that I performed to with Rovandio at the Equine Affaire last year. I knew the transitions of the music inside and out, and it has a fun, playful vibe. Enjoy our dance routine and please share with anyone else that would appreciate it. Thanks!

Creative Process for "Diamond" Routine - Music, Costume, Choreography, and More!

Creating a competition freestyle is a lot of work but creating an exhibition freestyle is an entirely different challenge. I wanted to share my thought process behind our new routine to help give insight to other riders that want to create their own exhibition freestyle. There really is no particular way to put one together but my process might help spark some ideas for you.

Inspiration

Originally I was planning to perform with my friend Lydia Spencer dancing as we have done in the past. Unfortunately her schedule wasn't working out so I was left with two weeks to put together a new routine. At first I was disapointed but then I was excited at the thought of creating something new. The day of the performance was Douwe's 14th birthday so I wanted to dedicate the routine to our partnership together. I have considered him to be a "diamond in the rough" because of his background and thought diamonds would be a fitting theme. Click here to read Douwe's story.

Music

This was perhaps the most frustrating piece of the process. I went through at least 5 edits of the music and spent at least 7 hours finding music online, downloading, editing, burning test cds and watching the music to videos of my horse. I love picking music but it was stressful for me because I was still editing music the day before the performance. I started with songs that I knew the audience would recognize, Diamonds by Rihanna, Chandelier by Sia and Lay Me Down by Sam Smith. I found acoustic piano versions of all three and practiced riding to them every day. It was tricky to edit them smoothly and I wasn't feeling the flow for the liberty work. I ended up purchasing some music from AudioJungle.net that was more dramatic with clear highs and lows. It wasn't long enough for my entire routine so I blended that with the Diamond song. Two days before the performance I practiced our routine to the music and found it wasn't inspiring me for the liberty work. Back to AudioJungle I went and found a romantic, inspiring song by the same composer that was easy to edit. However, I didn't want to lose my Diamond theme so I took the very beginning of Rihanna's song to set the tone for our routine.

Choreography

Trying to choreograph a liberty routine can be considered very difficult or very easy depending on how you look at it. On the one hand I really can't have detailed choreography because I have no clue what we will end up doing at each moment on show day. All I can do is have specific markers in the music so I know when I would like to take off the bridle, dismount of the liberty work or perform specific movements. On the flip side it is extremely challenging because I need to have 1-2 backup moves in the back of my mind in case Douwe isn't at the right position of the arena, in the right balance or in the right mood for that particular movement. During the winter months I have been playing with new moves, having Douwe pick up the veil with his mouth, trot and canter beside me with the veil, follow me with veil, etc. Trying to blend these different movements together and make it look like a finished routine requires that I stay super focused and in the moment with my horse. The most important thing to remember is that the audience doesn't know what you are trying to do so just smile, even if you make a mistake!!! The audience wants to be entertained and if you looked frustrated it takes all the passion out of the performance. Performing exhibition routines has helped me overcome some show anxiety because I am forced to stay present in the moment, if I get tense or lose focus my horse will just leave me!

Costume

Putting together a costume is always fun...for this routine I didn't have the luxury of buying anything new because of the time crunch. I went through my collection of dance and riding costumes and came up with the black petal skirt from Moondancebellydance.com, my Art on Horseback corset from www.corset-story.com, and a wrap top I use for dancing. I did buy sequin trim and fabric from Jo-Ann Fabric to add to my corset, saddle pad, petal skirt and to use as a veil. My costume jewelry was a throw back to my days in the Isaac Royal Equestrian Theater in a Moulin Rouge routine I used to ride in. I used spray glitter to cover paint specks on my corset and on my plain black breeches. I added my diamond browband to Douwe's bitless bridle and we were ready to go!

Show Prep

I braided my hair the night before so that it would be wavy and I braided some sequin fabric into the front to keep it out of my face. Elisha Harvey helped me glitter Douwe's hooves, mane, tail, pretty much all over! For more details on how I get the glitter to stick check out my blog post on DIY Glitter Hooves, Mane and Tail. I painted a diamond on Douwe's forehead and swirls on his neck and hind end using a special trick we figured out years ago.....fabric paint! The fabric paint stays wet long enough for you to create the design and add the glitter. It takes about 30 minutes to dry and you have to be careful not to touch it or have your horse rub it off before it is done. Once it is fully dry it will stay on for days! 

If you have any questions or comments please email me at beginthedance@gmail.com. I would love to hear your stories about performing or any ideas you might have about the creative process. Have fun dancing with your horse!