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by Downunder Horsemanship

Training Tip: The Reason Behind Laying Horses Down

Question: How important is laying down a horse? I know a lot of trainers do it and I was wondering why it isn’t a part of your Fundamentals. I love your method and use it, but I just wanted to understand the purpose of laying down. – shyan.rae

Answer: Laying a horse down is very beneficial, and something I do with all my colts. It quiets the horse very quickly and gets him to use the thinking side of his brain. It’s a very humbling experience for a horse. As prey animals with a flight-or-fight reaction, horses would always rather run from danger. If they can’t run, their only other option is to fight— kick, bite, strike, or do whatever they can to survive the situation. Horses depend on their legs for survival, so when you take a horse’s legs away from him, he feels very vulnerable. What’s the last thing a prey animal like a horse does before he dies? He lies down. So if you can show your horse that you can take his legs away from him and let him get back up without harming him, it will really build his confidence with you as his leader. It’s like the horse thinks to himself, “You had me on the ground and could have eaten me, but you didn’t. You really must not be one of those predators out to get me.”

Not only do I use this exercise with colts, but it’s a great exercise to do with any horse that is spooky, reactive, nervous or jumpy. I’ll also use it for horses with an extreme “Oh no, don’t touch me there!” spot that doesn’t get completely fixed using the Approach and Retreat Method. For example, if I have a horse that is very ear shy, I will use Approach and Retreat for a couple of weeks to try and get him over his fear. But if I feel like it’s not getting much better, or not as good as I would like, I’ll lay the horse down and “flood” his ears with stimuli by rubbing my hands, the clippers, and other safe objects all over them until he submits and relaxes.

I don’t show people how to lay their horses down until they’ve reached the Colt Starting Series and the Trick Training Series because you have to have good feel and timing to do it correctly. Your horse will struggle when you initially ask him to lie down, and you need to know how to react when he does so that you keep the both of you safe. Most people who start the Fundamentals can’t even move the lead rope or stick and string correctly, let alone possess the feel and timing needed to teach a horse to lie down. So I leave it to later lessons when they’ve developed their skills.

Have a horsemanship question or looking for more training tips? Check out the No Worries Club.