One of the most common mistakes handlers make when trying to teach a horse to lay down is that they attempt to force the horse into a prone position. Attempting to create domination will only create resistance. In order for this process to work, you must have an established relationship with the horse.
There are some additional factors that will also help you be able to teach your horse this skill. Make sure you have the following before beginning.
- An enclosed area with soft footing. You wouldn’t want to lie down on a bunch of sharp pebbles. Your horse will not want to begin the learning process until there is a certain level of comfort within their environment.
- A large enough area. Horses don’t like to lie down in areas that seem too small or confining. You’ll need to make sure that you have enough room to move away from the horse as well, just in case there are a few flying hooves.
- A halter. Web halters are useful for stubborn horses who respond to a greater amount of pressure. Horses that are not as stubborn can successfully learn to lie down using a rope halter. Make sure that you have lead ropes, support boots or wraps, and a back cinch as well.
You will also want to have patience available in a large amount for this exercise. You’re asking the horse to put itself into a very vulnerable position. It takes time for a horse to accept this as something that is “normal” to do.
Now You’re Ready to Get the Exercise Started
To get started, you’ll want to saddle the horse, putting the halter and one of the lead ropes on as well. The stand in front of the horse, putting pressure on the lead rope. This is asking the horse to begin backing up. Most horses are comfortable doing this, but if yours is not, you may need to spend the first day of training on this one step alone.
Do not proceed until your horse is comfortable with a command to back up. The horse should be backing up with the head down and the nose tucked towards the chest. If the head stays up while backing up, then it will be physically difficult for the horse to lie down.
Now you’ll want to bring the lead rope that’s on the side away from you back to your side. Run it along the back of the horn on the saddle. Then stand next to the stirrup, putting pressure on the lead rope. The horse needs to keep backing up with the nose tucked toward the chest. When the horse takes a step backward, then release the pressure.
Some horses will try to turn instead of backing up. Stick by the horse and maintain the pressure until you receive the intended results. Keep practicing until you can get several steps backward in a row.
The Next Step: Getting the Hobble Right
At this point, you’re ready to begin the hobble. You’ll want to hobble the horse around the pastern, using the front leg on the side you happen to be on. Support boots or wraps are useful here. Make sure the hobble is snug because many horses like to yank their foot out. Now attach the second lead rope to the hobble, having it draped around the front of the horn so the tail of it is on the same side as you. Then let the horse get used to the feeling of the hobble.
This will allow you to begin training the cue to lie down for the horse. Most horses are comfortable with a shoulder tap, which is useful since you may need the horse to lie down while riding. Tap on the spot and then ask the horse to pick up the front foot. Use the lead rope attached to the hobble so the horse has added support. When you receive the behavior, release the pressure.
Make sure you tap the spot you’ve chosen every time you ask for the foot to be raised. This will help the behavior to be learned with greater speed.
Once the foot can be brought up consistently and tucked next to the belly, you’re ready to keep going. Ask the horse to shift the weight backwards once again. Once the movement begins, release any pressure. Move toward touching the bent leg to the ground. Make sure to reward the horse frequently and be extra patient here as this is usually the most unnerving step for the horse.
Ask for Extended Periods of Down Time Over the Next 48 Hours
Once the horse becomes comfortable with a knee on the ground, ask the horse to stay in this position for longer periods of time. Remember to continuing guiding the front leg back to a normal position since a horse rising on three legs instead of four can create dangerous circumstances for both of you. The goal here is to reach 15-20 minutes of down time without causing distress.
When a horse reaches this stage, you will want to work on laying the horse down three times in the morning and three times in the evening for about 7-10 days. This will establish the behavior as a habit and help the horse become more comfortable with what you are asking to receive. If at any time you sense discomfort, stop the exercise and reset from the beginning.
Once you can pass this stage with your horse where laying down is no longer awkward or uncomfortable, you’re ready to begin teaching the behavior without the hobble. Some horses will immediately respond to the cues that have been taught in the past couple of weeks. A few might just lie down immediately on the tap. Others are going to be stubborn and look at you like, “You want me to do what now?”
Repeat the training steps, but without the hobble. Readily reward the horse every time there is a step backward or a shift in weight backward or toward the ground.
A Few Final Tips to Consider When Teaching a Horse to Lie Down
- Keep things light, fun, and relaxing. You’re working on your relationship.
- Stay behind the horse during any attempt to lie down.
- Don’t get tangled in the legs at all. Any discomfort in this area may cause the horse to refuse to lie down in the future.
- Never try to hold the horse down. Give yourself some distance in case the horse pops back up to the feet rapidly.
Knowing how to teach a horse to lay down can make it much easier for riders to get into and out of the saddle, especially if the rider has a physical disability. This training process may take some time, but you and the horse will have fun doing it the right way and your relationship will be deeper because of these efforts.