Pedestal Trainingby Allen Pogue
Training any species of animal includes hallmarks such as drawing the animal to the handler, asking the animal to remain or stay at a particular spot, and then to execute other taught behaviors. Of course, prior to teaching each particular behavior the handler must have the attention and also respect of the animal. Perhaps the most important taught behavior in animal training is the stay command. When an animal can be taught to stay in a particular spot or position it can then be asked to proceed to the next task/command.
We have a close friend, Bobbi Colorado, who has been an animal trainer for all of her adult life. Bobbi and her husband train and provide every type of animal imaginable for movies, commercials, and still photography. Their students include marine mammals, exotic birds, dogs, cats, lions, giraffe’s pigs, camels, monkeys, snakes chickens and even flies and roaches. Bobbi has featured our Imagine A Horse horses several times on her local television segments.
We recently asked Bobbi if she could see similarities between pedestal training for horses and any of the species that she trains. Here are her words, “When I train my dogs it is usually for movie work. They are rewarded for placing their paws on a set place or mark. I then move the mark around and they are taught to go to that mark and stay. That insures me that the dog goes and stays to any place where he is supposed to for a shot. A lot of dog trainers use place. This can be a bed or something a little off the ground. That is their safe spot to go and stay and relax until the trainer wants t hem to work at something else like agility”.
It is interesting that in this day of enlightened training we still have folks ask why our Trick Training method for horses revolves around pedestal training. The reason is simple, the pedestal serves as a place or mark for the horse.
We believe horses are among one of the species that would benefit most from the utilization of the stay command, as they are prone to act out on their strong flight instinct. The whoa and ground tying are widely taught to pleasure and performance horses and pedestal training certainly adds a new measure of reliability and interest to horse education.
With our own horses, we begin pedestal training on day one of a new foal’s life because baby horses are ready to learn shortly after birth and the first nursing. As the foal’s education advances it learns to wait quietly and patiently on the pedestal either to get back in the stall with mom or for the next request from the handler.
Behaviors most frequently taught with or from the pedestal in addition to ground tying include yielding the hindquarters, yielding the forehand, ground tying, parking out, the jambette or salute, and the rear. A horse can also be taught to retrieve an object and step up on the pedestal while still carrying the object.
Standing with the front feet planted on the pedestal, it is easy for a young horse to learn to yield his hindquarters around the forehand. The pedestal gives the horse a base and a reason to keep the front feet still as he walks the back feet around. The opposite exercise is to ask the young horse who is standing on the pedestal with all four feet to step the front feet back down to the ground and stop. With the hindquarters still up on the pedestal, the horse can understand to keep the back feet stationary as the front feet revolve around the back.
In a round pen, we teach a young horse to go to his pedestal, step up and stay. Standing quietly and patiently on the pedestal is a component of ground tying. The youngster will have learned that being on the pedestal is enjoyable (a break in the work or lesson) and a place to hang out and enjoy scratches and praise.
As a precursor to stepping the front feet up on the pedestal the horse is taught to move and walk each foot individually as we tap it with a guider whip. This is an exercise that can be used to set a horse up in a halter class or to teach it to park out for mounting.
The adult horses that we have pedestal trained have all seemed to enjoy the height added to their stature and also the stretching out of their muscles when the front feet are on the pedestal.
As many trainers will tell you, standing quietly at attention is a desirable behavior for a horse of any age to learn. Horses are like children and have a hard time just being still especially if they do not understand the reason for not moving. Once again a pedestal helps the horse to stay in place until released because it is his mark.
We have conducted many seminars and exhibitions where one of us has turned to speak to the audience and left one of my horses parked on a pedestal. Usually when we’ve parked a horse on a pedestal for our convenience it has turned out to be a wonderful prop and discussion topic on willing obedience. What looked like a great trick to the audience was just my horse taking a chance to relax on his mark and skip the work for a few minutes!
After the desired behaviors have been taught and confirmed, the pedestal exercises may be transferred to the ground without the pedestal, as they will have become etched in the horse’s mind.
Imagine A Horse has an entire troupe of Trick Horses and exhibition horses and those of saddle age are also great all around mounts. The word trick can be a verb, an adjective or a noun. When describing the exhibition horses we have often thought they should be called tricky horses rather than trick horses. Roget’s New Thesaurus says that tricky means requiring great tact or skill.
Whether training exhibition and performance horses or movie star and agility dogs, the mark and the pedestal are valuable and productive training tools for most animal species.