Laying down

I posted a video on Instagram from my lovely training with Vidar yesterday. He gave me the gift of laying down on cue for the first time, which to me is one of the most pure and beautiful gifts you can ever get from a horse.

I was not even planning to go out and work with him, but he was right outside the (open) stable when I went out to check the mailbox. So I walked over to say hi and I happened to have treats in my pocket. He invited me in to the stable and started offering behaviors. Horses have a habit of presenting gifts when we least expect it!

I did not plan for him to actually lay down when I introduced this trick to him, my goal was only to plant a seed in his mind for the future. I wanted him to grasp the downward-thinking and start understanding my wish for him to be close to the ground. But Vidar obviously wanted to do more than just think about it, he wanted to DO it! And I got some comments asking how I got him to understand what I wanted him to do, so I thought that I could share that in this blog post.

I have taught several horses to lay down before but they have all been ponies, Vidar is the first big horse that I’ve done this with. I have tried several different techniques through the years (none of them have included ropes or anything abusive, though) but this time I wanted no shortcuts. No force, no tools, no pressure. With previous horses I have sometimes used the bowing as a shortcut, but this time I wanted to start from zero and not rush things at all.

By not using shortcuts or going in and helping out physically (like using my hands to help him bow or touch his legs) I wanted to make sure that Vidar wanted to lay down. I wanted to make sure that it was his choice to lay down. And by not using tools or shortcuts or pressure I wanted to test myself as a trainer. I wanted to earn this trick even if it would take 10 years before he was ready. With this method I have proven to myself that I really can communicate with my horses without the need for tools or pressure.

But the hard part is not to get them to understand what I want from them, because horses are very smart. Much smarter than we give them credit for! No, the hard part is to get them to WANT to do what I’m asking. Like my previous blog post said:

”You can force the body but never force the mind.”

By using tools and shortcuts you can get the body to where you want it to be. But I wanted his brain to lay down, not his body. Please click the link above to read my other blog post if you can’t make sense of what I’m saying. 

So now that you understand WHY I chose to teach him this way I will explain how we actually did it. First I really encourage you to go out and look at horses. Look at what they’re doing right before they lay down. My horses usually lower their heads, start circling and step in with their hind legs under their bellies. They might paw the ground, swish their tails and look for the right spot to lay down on.

I try to use their own behavior when I teach them to lay down and that’s why I started with one of my favorite behaviors/tricks which is head down. Such a simple thing that really helps with a lot of things, including laying down. I taught him to put his head all the way to the ground when I touched his withers/shoulder/neck.

The next step was to get the hind legs in under his belly. After he got that, I could point at them and he would start stepping in (like in the mountain goat trick). 

After that I taught him the circling part. And the typical ”laying down-circles” are very different from just walking in a normal circle. The hind end swings away and it almost looks like the horse is doing a western spin at a walk. That was what I wanted him to do and I rewared every time he did that characteristic hind swing circle thing, hoping that it would help him understand what I was after.

So after doing these three steps separately I started to teach him how to combine the behaviors into one. And what did I have then?   

A horse that put his head down, stepped in under his belly and did the typical ”laying-down-circles”. And that is about 90% of the finished trick!  The ‘only’ thing left was the actual laying down which I figured would take a long time. But he surprised me yesterday by completing the trick all by himself and I couldn’t be prouder! ❤️ Thank you Vidar for this beautiful gift.


Warning: Graphic content

So I just spoke to the vet and showed her a picture of the incisions and she said that everything looked fine! So I’m one happy girl right now. I will post a picture of the wounds below so please scroll past it if you don’t want to see it! 😊

Anyway, my plan was to take a walk with Vidar today but I realized that I’m out of treats/feed so I decided not to go. #firstworldpositivereinforcementproblems 

But… Whoa, wait a second! Did I just say that I won’t take a walk with my horse unless I have treats with me?! That is exactly what I said. Vidar is so used to getting treats when we are out walking that it would be unfair of me to not bring any. He usually does target training on scary objects (without me asking), I reward him with food when a scary vehicle has passed us etc. It’s not that I couldn’t take him on a walk without bribing him with treats, it’s about my way of training and what he’s used to. If you watched my livestream (on instagram) from a few days ago when I took a walk with Alvin you might have noticed that I don’t just walk from point A to point B.

I engage and encourage my horses to actively work and walk with me instead of just being dragged along in the lead rope. And since Vidar is so used to ”asking” for treats by showing desired behaviors it would be unfair of me to stop doing that. As he gets older the treats will be phased out to like 90% but as of now I want him to constantly work his brain and at the same time get really good at just taking a walk. Even when I’m driving Humle I still get out of the carriage to give him a treat from time to time, as a reward for doing something really good.

I hope this doesn’t sound like a bunch of BS to you, it’s hard to explain in another language than your native one. 😅 So instead I will focus solely on getting orders out to my customers today and take a walk as soon as I have gotten more treats. And again: keep scrolling if you don’t want to see a picture of Vidars incisions!

Bye stallion, hello gelding!

Yesterday was the day for Vidar to lose his jewels, or should I say manhood? 🙈

I was so worried before the procedure since Vidar would be under anesthesia instead of sedated and standing up like I’m used to. It went well though and I’m so relieved!

The first step was to shave him on the neck, which he didn’t like. He’s a gentle and well behaved horse so he didn’t make a lot of fuzz about it, but I wished that there was more time for me to make him calm about it instead of forcing it on him. I’ll work on that later!

After that he got a mild sedative to make him sleepy. Then the vet listened to Vidar’s heart and made sure he was healthy. Then he got the anesthetic and after a few minutes it was time to get him ‘on the ground’. That was the part that I was most nervous about but the vets did a great job and he went down smoothly on the side.

 Then they covered his head and pulled one of his back legs up in the air and started cleaning the area. 

After the procedure was done he got back up fairly quickly (but very unsteady on his feet) and was back to his old self in just a few minutes. Of course he was a bit groggy but I expected him to be more tired than he was.

He was been on stall rest with Humle as company since yesterday and today I started walking him. His temperature went up this afternoon and I was just ready to call the vet when it went back down to normal again. I hate it when my animals aren’t feeling well. By the way, look how comfy he was this morning. 😍👇🏻

So now I’m hoping that everything heals quickly! The vet was very happy about the fact that I gelded Vidar this early. The incisions were very small now but if I had waited until he got older it would have been a bigger procedure that would take a bigger toll on his body.

Right now, as I’m writing this I’m actually sitting in the stable with them. Listening to my favorite songs surrounded by my favorite horses. ❤  But now it’s time to sleep, good night!