What to do when your horse can’t be worked or ridden
Unfortunately, these things happen, and unfortunately it happened to my mustang Mathias. He’s not only lame, but I haven’t been able to ride him or “work” him in a couple of months now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t spend time with him. But furthermore, it forced me to get creative in how I spend time with him. So that he could continue to learn and grow. You can actually continue training, believe it or not, and keep them fairly confined.
I want to share with you I’ve done and you can do as well in a stall or in the aisle of your barn. It did most of these under the awning of our barn, which is a very small space. My hope is that you glean some new ideas to work with your horse no matter if they are on rest period or not. Sometimes the weather just doesn’t cooperate and you need some fresh ideas. I know I’ve been very pleased with how quickly Mathias picked up on things and it has kept his mind active and engaged with me. I feel he’s come a long way for the short amount of work we’ve done.
Tips for Success
- I used positive reinforcement and food rewards. If you are not comfortable with food rewards, try scratching their favorite spot! Some kind of reward is best for these exercises.
- To let your horse know they did what you asked, you may use a clicker, a click sound with your tongue, or a word such as “good.”
- Finding a good stopping place for each exercise is critical. Don’t over drill anything, but recognize when your horse catching on and maybe move on to something else.
- All horses are different, so some may do better at some things than others. You will see!
- They don’t have to learn it in the first session. Look for progress, not perfection!
- Have fun!
This is a verbal command you can teach your horse that is invaluable. To teach this, I said the command “head down” slowly and clearly the same way every time. Once I said the command, I would point to the ground. If your horse lowers their head, let them know they did right by a “good” or using a click sound. Then reward! If they do not lower their head by pointing, place a hand on their poll and apply a small amount of pressure.
This is another verbal command I’ve taught Mathias and, again, is invaluable. *A little side note; I was at the Liberty Festival in Kentucky back in October and there was a blind horse there that knew over 50 verbal commands. You can look him up, Endo the Blind Horse. It really showed me what a horse can do as far as learning and listening. Don’t underestimate verbal commands!
To teach this, I said the word “back” slowly and clearly. Then, if he didn’t back up at all, I would place my hand on his chest and apply a small amount of pressure. Once your horse takes even one step back, release all pressure and reward.
Choose a Color
I learned this one from Gabi Neurohr. If you haven’t heard of her, then go check her out. She has several courses, and I actually bought one for under $30. And I learned from her that horses can see the difference between yellow and blue the best.
To teach this, I took a sheet of blue construction paper and one of yellow. To begin, I would show him the yellow and say “yellow” slowly and clearly. And when he touched the paper, I would reward. Then I repeated that with the blue. Next, I’d hold up both and say which one I wanted him to choose. If he got it wrong, I would simply continue to say the color I wanted him to go to. I never said no! But he caught on to this very quickly! By the 2nd session he was getting them right 100% of the time. It was a lot of fun! I think you could get even more creative with this and have them go to a marker eventually to make it more challenging.
This may sound like a command for a dog, but I don’t know why we shouldn’t teach it to our horses. To teach this command, put a few feet of distance between us. I said the word “come” and motioned with my hands to come forward. If he didn’t move forward, I would come tug on his neck rope and say the word “come” again. I chose to do this without a halter, but that is a personal preference. Repeat and reward as they begin to understand the word.
Pick Up at the Mounting Block
This is where your come cue may come in handy. To teach this I moved the mounting block a few feet away and said “pick me up.” But feel free to use “come” or whatever command you like. Warwick Schiller uses “taxi.” Have fun with it and make it your own. (*Note: I used “pick me up”. But I was careful to only use “back” instead of “back up” because it could cause confusion.) But you don’t need any fancy sidepass skills to teach this. Simply walking forward and stopping at the mounting block is great. I would get on and give him a good reward and then get off. You may increase distance away to make it more difficult.
If your horse is mouthy, then this is a great little trick to teach. I used a jolly ball and held it in front of my horse’s mouth and said “take it” and as soon as he even opened his mouth around it, I would reward. The end goal was for him to take it out of my hand. Sometimes he would just drop it, but eventually I wanted him to hold it. If your horse isn’t mouthy, he may not be interested at all. But if he is, then it can be fun and keep his mind active, too.
Some horses are more cuddly than others, but Mathias happens to be a big cuddler. To teach this, I stood at his side by his neck. I opened my arms up wide and said “big hug” if he tipped his head towards me I’d wrap my arms around his head and use my reward word or click. If your horse doesn’t tip their head towards you, then take your hand that is up high and gently apply pressure on the opposite side of his head, up by his poll. Continue working with your horse until they understand what you’re asking.
Kick the Ball
This was so fun and again you don’t need a ton of space to teach this. I used a large ball for horses. It looks like an exercise ball, but it is stronger. To teach this, I put it near his front legs and said “kick the ball.” If he didn’t move his leg, I would urge him forward towards it and as soon as his leg made contact I would reward! Continue until he will easily move towards it and either paw it or kick it. *Note: If your horse is afraid of the ball, do plenty of desensitizing and rewards for curiosity before teaching this. A horse that is afraid will not learn. Make sure there is no fear before starting the “kick the ball” cue.
Outside of just bonding time,do, I hope these bring you and your horse some great fun together. Plus, there is so much more you can do even in a stall. You can teach a horse different tricks such as
- yes or no
- wait or stay
Have fun and happy training! Leave me a comment if you have any other suggestions or if you liked these ideas! I’d love to hear from you!