Ken McNabb Speaks
An Issue of Trust: Teaching Your Horse to Lie Down
By Ken McNabb with Katherine Lindsey Meehan
Over the next two months, we will explain how to teach your horse to lay down on cue. I first started teaching this exercise when a friend of mine was injured and could no longer mount his horse from the ground. In addition, I teach this exercise because it is a great way to build your horse’s trust. When he lies down, he is putting all of his trust in you to look out for his safety. It is also a fun thing to be able to do with your horse, and can increase his value if you are looking to sell him.
For this exercise, you will need an enclosed area with soft footing. It is important that your horse have a comfortable place to lie down. Make sure that the area is big enough that your horse won’t hit the fence or get his legs tangled, and you have plenty of room to move away from him. You will need a nylon web halter (I prefer this over a rope halter for this exercise because the web distributes pressure over a larger area), two cotton lead ropes of different colors, a padded one footed hobble, support boots or leg wraps, and a western saddle with a horn and a back cinch. The back cinch should be snug, so you can just slide your fingers under it.
Since this exercise involves your horse putting a lot of trust in you, it’s very important that you are patient and reward him frequently as you go along.
To start the exercise, saddle your horse and put the halter and one of the lead ropes on. Stand in front of him, and put pressure on the lead rope to ask him to back up. Most horses will already be comfortable with this step, but it is important that you check to be sure before trying the next step. Your horse should back with his head down, tucking his nose in towards his chest. Next, starting with the lead rope on the side away from you, bring it back to your side, running it along the back of the saddle horn. Stand next to the stirrup, and put pressure on the lead rope. You want your horse to back up with his nose tucked, just as he did when you were standing in front of him. Release the pressure on the rope when he takes a step back. If your horse tries to turn instead of backing, just stay with him, neither increasing nor decreasing the pressure, until he takes a step backwards. Practice getting more steps back in a row. It is very important that your horse is backing with his nose tucked in and down. If he is backing with his head up in the air, you are going to have a hard time getting him to lie down. This part of the exercise cannot be practiced too much.
Once your horse is backing and tucking his nose well, you can move on to the hobble. Hobble your horse around the pastern on the front leg on the same side you are on. Put the hobble over the support boot or wrap if you can. The hobble needs to be sung, so there is no way the horse can yank his foot out. Attach your second lead rope to the ring on the hobble, and drape it around the front of the horn and over the seat so the tail of the rope is on the same side as you. Lead your horse in a circle so he can get used to the feel of the hobble on his foot.
Now, we are going to create a cue for your horse to lie down. I like to use a tap on the front shoulder, because I can use my toe to touch this same cue spot from the saddle. Tap your horse on the cue spot with your fingers, and then ask him to pick up his front foot. Use the lead rope attached to the hobble to support his foot when he lifts it. At first, reward him for just shifting the weight off his foot. Gradually ask him to let you pick up his foot higher and for longer periods of time. Run the rope around the front of your saddle horn so the weight of his foot is being supported by the saddle. Make sure you tap your horse on the shoulder each time you ask him to pick up his foot, and reward him with lots of attention and reassurance. Never tie the lead rope to the saddle horn. Always use a wrap around the horn, never a knot. You need to be able to release the rope quickly.
Once your horse will let you pick up his foot and bring it snug up towards his belly, and he seems bored and totally comfortable with the exercise, pick his foot up all the way and take one wrap around the saddle horn with the lead rope. Take the lead rope that is attached to the halter, and with it ask him to shift his weight backwards, as you did when you were asking him to back up before. To start, all you are asking for is a thought of going backwards. As soon as you get that, release. Move on to where your horse is leaning backwards, and then touching his bent knee to the ground. Once that is going well, ask him to come to one knee and stay there for a few seconds. If he goes to get up, just touch the rope going to his halter to ask him to shift his weight back to the knee. This process shouldn’t be done in a hurry, and it can take you 1 to 2 days or more to get your horse comfortable with all these steps.
Be sure to reward your horse frequently and keep the exercise fun and comfortable for both of you. Next month, you will learn how to complete this exercise and move on to laying your horse down without a hobble.
Until next time, may God bless the trails you ride.
For more information on Ken McNabb’s programs call us at 307-645-3149 or go to www.kenmcnabb.com.