In this key lesson the horse learns to stand next to you in a relaxed way and keep his head straight forward, not too high and not too low. The goal is to reward the horse for his ‘patient’ behaviour. Of course the horse is not really ‘patient’ when he stands with his neck straight and his head on a comfortable level, it is a ‘learned behaviour’. A very safe behaviour!
Benefits of this teaching your horse to be Patient
It teaches your horse:
- Responsiveness to cues
- It reinforces calm behaviour
Bonus: The behaviour is incompatible with ‘mugging’, stepping on your toes and other unwanted behaviours!
Focus on what you want
It is really important that you communicate to your horse what it is you want or expect from him.
If you don’t think about this, you will end up with a horse that is always asking your attention when you are busy with something else.
In this case you want your horse to ‘stand with four feet on the ground, relaxed, neck straight forward and horizontal‘. It’s very clear and precise.
When your horse is asking your attention all the time
We all know horses that will show their whole repertoire of tricks if people are around to get attention. They kick their stall doors in order to ‘call’ you over, they push you, sniff your pockets and try to steal one when you’re not paying attention.
Then you have horses that pull their handlers to the juicy patches of grass as soon when they want to check their her phone for messages.
Wouldn’t it be great if your horse just stood there ‘patiently’ and waited for you to be ready to give the next cue?
This is why the Key Lesson Patience is an important exercise to spent some time on.
The time you spend on this exercise is really a good investment. It looks like the horse is ‘patient’ but it is just a learned behaviour, just like the behaviours described above. The difference is, that the key lesson patience is a desired behaviour. You can put it on cue.
Just like head lowering you could choose to make this behaviour the default behaviour. It’s
- Practical: It prevents the horse from mugging you, pushing you, sniffing your pockets or asking your attention when you are doing other things, like talking to a friend, adjusting your tack, braiding his mane and so on.
- Safe: It calms your horse down if he is excited or nervous.
Calm behaviour (relaxation) should always be reinforced, even when it is displayed without cue. That’s how you can make it a default behaviour.
A default behaviour is a behaviour a horse can fall back on when he is getting frustrated, anxious or wants your attention. It’s a behaviour that will be reinforced even when it’s displayed without your cue. A default behaviour can become a clear communication tool for your horse to use.
Useful horse behaviour
Teaching a horse to be ‘patient’ is also a useful exercise under saddle, with ground tying, waiting in line on competition grounds, during a bath/hosing him down, brushing, saddling and so on.
Ask you horse to be Patient if he can’t wait for your next cue and randomly shows behaviour. It will help him become relaxed. This can help prevent frustration. In this way you can teach your horse to wait for your next cue.
Reinforce what you want to see
It’s is just that most handlers forget to reinforce this simple behaviour of seemingly ‘doing nothing’.
The handler has to be aware of this behaviour and reinforce it and put in on cue. Once you’ve learned to recognize it in your horse, keep it in his repertoire by reinforcing it.
Kyra ‘s head is still a bit high in these pictures. I shaped my ‘Patience’ now more into a combination of ‘Patience’ with ‘Head lowering’. It is such a great tool and helps calm the horse down and makes everyone safer!
More Key Lessons
- Horse, stay in training mode: equine emotions during training
- Table manners for Horses: safe behaviour around food and treats
- Head lowering & Backing
- Mat training
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Sandra Poppema, BSc
I teach horse people to connect with their horse in training, so they get results and the relationship they want with their beloved horse. Make training win-win!