Building stalls and getting an unbroke horse to move foward

Horse stallsQuestion: I had a question about building stalls, I don’t have a huge barn but its a pretty good size so I wanted to know what would be the smallest but safest size stall to build. I have four horses and we just moved and this barn doesn’t have them already built so we were going to but I just don’t want to make them too small. They would only be stalled at night and turned out in the day.

Also I have a four-year-old gelding who has never really been ridden but we’ve had him since he was born and is just as gentle and respectful as he can be. When we get on him he just stands still. I know he just doesn’t know what ‘giddy up’ means yet but how do I teach him that? What about lunging him –  how do I get him to go in a circle and not backwards? Thanks

Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s In regards to the stalls, the smallest I would put a horse in (under 16 hands high) would be 10 by 10 feet. At 16 hands, 11 by 11 or 12 by 12 (best). A horse must be able to move around in a circle, and when a stall is too small, the horse ends up rotating on his hindquarters. Any repetitive movement to the joints and skeleton will eventually end up in pain and discomfort, leading to an unrideable horse. The horse also is not a cave dweller, so the larger the stall, the better mind you will have on your horse. I’m not an advocate of the tie stall – I think they are cruel. Horses should be able to lie down where they choose and move around.

Your 4 year old gelding has several options to learning the leg commands. Let’s not teach the “giddy-up”. Instead, lets teach him to simply move off pressure.

Have a handler on the ground with you as you get on the gelding. Once your feet are in the stirrups, keep your legs off and away from the horse. You are going to teach the horse that the instant he feels the legs move into his sides, he is to move forward.

Timing is important here. You and your handler must do this at the same time. Cluck to the horse no more than twice, and at the same time, close your legs on the horse for one second, then off again. As your legs begin to close on the horse, the handler must walk the horse forward.

It’s simple, but simple is often the fastest way to train. You will have to do this over and over again, for several days in a row, for about 15 minutes at a time. You can alter how long you let him walk; sometimes for one or two strides, and sometimes for 20 to 30 strides or around the ring or pathway. Repetition teaches, along with consistency. DO NOT alter the way you ask. DO NOT squeeze harder. Continue to do exactly the same thing over and over.

The minute you change the smallest detail, you are asking the horse a different question. This is one of the most valuable things to know in horse training.

While you do this, you also need to teach him to stop. Whoa and Go are the two basic elements of training. Again, timing between you and the handler is important. Pick up on the reins at the same time the handler stops the horse (you will be wearing the halter under the bridle). As the handler asks the horse to stop, say the word “ho” in a very short and abrupt style (much like the ‘sound of a halt’ would sound). At the same time, pick up the reins and without pulling hard, just make contact with the horse’s mouth so that he can feel there is a difference.

Pulling hard will accomplish nothing positive. The softer you work with a horse, the more sensitive he becomes and responsive. The rougher you are with a horse, the more the horse will tune you out.

As you take up the reins and make contact, immediately release the contact as the horse is stopping. If you continue to make contact or increase it, the horse won’t understand the lesson and begin to move through you every time you pick up the reins. You want that horse to associate the increase in rein pressure with the action of stopping. This will transfer into faster gaits, where you will increase or just pick up the reins to ask the horse to slow down or stop.

(We often teach our horses bad manners through poor training methods. This is a classic example of a horse that moves forward when you pick up the reins. He has been taught to do this by his owner, unconsciously.)

Try not to move your body forward when doing this. Keep your body position either upright or just slightly behind. Moving forward means go and will confuse the horse.

So you now have 2 things to train the gelding – whoa and go.

As the horse begins to understand your signals, have the handler walk with you on a lead, but carry the lead very loose. You are now going to see if the horse is beginning to understand or not. You are going to test the horse by asking him to go with soft legs and a cluck, and have the handler stand still until you move first. Once that is established, have the handler take the lead off the horse. Test again to see if the horse will move off of leg pressure and a cluck. Once he does, the handler can slowly move out of the way until you no longer need him/her.

If you find the horse is not getting this, it is you, not the horse that is having the problem. This is one of the easiest and simple training methods around, so if you are not consistent, then the horse will not be learning the lesson properly.

Another way to train a horse to go is to use a roundpen. As you are walking quietly around the pen, on the horse, use the ends of your reins to ask the horse to go forward. Continue to flip them from side to side in front of you, watching that you do not scare the horse, but encourage him to move forward. Cluck at the same time. Once the horse goes, you stop the rein activity and sit quietly. If the horse goes back into a walk, use the reins again to encourage the horse to move forward and stay in the trot. Your legs are not in use while doing this exercise. Once the horse learns to move forward, you begin to incorporate legs and seat (weight). You teach horses by adding one lesson at a time. As they learn, you begin to add more requests (aids).

This is for advanced riders as it requires timing and confidence. The horse can get a bit bucky and unpredictable with this method if you are not good at timing and listening. I added it because it’s valuable to know more than one method of training. All horses are different.

Once your horse is moving forward into the walk without problems, you can use this technique to get him to trot up. Again, use the cluck and spank him quietly with the rein ends. If you don’t have rein ends, find a longer piece of leather, about 4 feet, and use that. Cluck, spank and use your legs softly once, on and off. Continue to spank until he moves into the trot. Stay quiet, keep your legs off, and ask him gently to walk by picking up on the reins and saying “ho”.

If you run into problems, it’s best to send the horse out for 30 days to get a good basic foundation on him. These are crucial times of training and done poorly will only hurt the horse. I see beautiful horses in the slaughter pen because the owner did not have the tools to train properly and did not seek help.

For the other problem of lunging, I am going to refer you to an article I have on ‘sending’ the horse:

It is also a comprehensive article on basic foundation work that you may want to read over and try. It will answer the next set of questions I know will pop up for you.

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