I’m currently working with two four-year-old Fell Ponies. Standing still is considered one of the most important lessons you can ever teach an equine, at least to those of us in the driving and draft communities. My two four-year-olds know to stand still in a lot of circumstances. So I’m always interested in the circumstances when they don’t stand still.
Both of them know to stand still when I throw the lead rope over their backs and around their legs. And I’ve published video of Willowtrail Black Robin standing and waiting patiently for his morning hay. Both Robin and Willowtrail Jonty can ‘do’ the ‘around the world’ exercise that Steve Bowers taught me. They must stand still while I stand away from them on one side and use a stick to run a plastic bag along the outline of their bodies: up their front legs, under their necks, around the tip of their nose and up their foreheads, between their ears, down the top of their necks and backs, down their hind legs and then up inside them, under their bellies, down the back of their front legs, stopping where I began (and then reverse direction and do it from both sides).
I’ve been especially working with Jonty, my gelding, on standing still when being saddled and standing still when being mounted. This exercise includes not only keeping his feet still but also not moving his head (to mouth the lead rope or stirrups, for instance). The standing still lesson extends to staying in one place when I ask him to ‘whoa;’ he’s not allowed to move his feet after the halt. Jonty’s getting better and better at this. Now I’m working with Robin who’s finding it quite challenging. Maybe it’s the stallion energy.
During our session today, it took Robin and me about six circles of the pen before we got one complete circuit of him stopping and being still on all the whoa’s of the circuit. Given how challenging he found that ground work, I was very pleased at how he did when I mounted. Not only did he stand still when I mounted from the fence, he also stood still later when I jumped halfway on when we were in the middle of the pen, something I’d never done before. I’ve heard people say that some Fell Ponies really understand that they’re supposed to work and they get lessons quickly. It would sure make training a stallion easier if Robin were like this; I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
When I was riding Jonty’s mom Lily today, I did a standing still exercise with her, too. It was one suggested by the Parelli Natural Horsemanship Freestyle checklist: swinging my legs. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever done it with her, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I swung my legs forward and back and out and in. I was pleased that she stood still as she was supposed to. Later in our session, I was supposed to open a gate mounted. This involved a combination of movement and standing still that was pretty interesting to orchestrate; we eventually got it done from both sides. The next task on the list in the standing still department is to put on and take off a rain coat (preferably one that makes notoriously strange noise) and to rub her with it while mounted. I’ll be interested to see how that goes since when I wear that raincoat to feed (only a few times a year) I usually get strange looks from the ponies.
This morning Robin surprised me with a circumstance where he wouldn’t stand still. As I mentioned, I’ve worked with him on standing still while I dump out his hay. Apparently, though, I’ve never worked with him on standing still to get his vitamin bucket, a precursor to hay in the morning. After turning circles around each other several times this morning, he eventually understood what I wanted. I wonder what circumstance for standing still, or not, will present itself next!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012