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Topic Review

Joined: Sat Feb 4th, 2012
Posts: 3
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Posted: Wed Aug 14th, 2013 01:35 pm
My 14  y.o., 16h, very expressive TB/Belgian mare and I have been playing with drum work. We are at the point where she willingly and eagerly steps up and stands on the drum; her expression is one of ease and active relaxation, meaning, she has a soft eye, is engaged, and really seems to enjoy stretching her back + abdominal muscles and contentedly stays up there until I ask her to come down.

Our drum is a cross-section of an old tree trunk that our barn owner put into the corner of our large indoor arena. The "drum" measures about a foot and a half high, and about 4 feet across. It is used as a mounting block.

What happened yesterday that I need help understanding is this: we tacked up and started our work together with a 2-minute or so step up onto the trunk/drum. My mare stepped down when asked, then I stepped up onto the trunk to organize myself and the reins to prepare to mount. In the few seconds I was doing this, my mare quietly and gently stepped back onto the drum with me, assumed the same facial expression, and sighed. She did not push me or touch me or get into my space whatsoever, she just stood with me on the drum/trunk (obviously the trunk is quite generous in size). I was taken by surprise and didn't want reject her offer so I stood quietly with her, watched for any changes, gently patted her neck, and then asked her step down. She did. I mounted. We then practiced mounted Birdie work.

Is her stepping onto the drum next to me unacceptable? Aggressive or disrespectful? What should I change in myself to help redirect her, if so?

Seeing her do this sort of cracked me up -- I had to suppress laughing out loud -- but maybe she needs gentle redirection? This is uncharted territory for me and I don't want to discourage her try and offer.

Thank you very much.

Super Moderator

Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
Posts: 3309
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Posted: Wed Aug 14th, 2013 08:18 pm
Gypsy: the drum should never be used as a mounting block. Use a mounting block for mounting, and teach the horse not to step up on that.

Your mare did nothing wrong, and you need to change nothing except as noted above. You know yourself that she had no aggressive intent.

This situation is analogous to what should be done with breeding stallions, also; they have an 'everyday' halter, used for ordinary leading and groundwork and tying up; but they also have a 'breeding' halter, and the animal very quickly comes to know which is which. -- Dr. Deb


Joined: Sat Feb 4th, 2012
Posts: 3
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Posted: Wed Aug 14th, 2013 08:40 pm
Thank you! Will bring a mounting block to the arena tonight and mount from that.

Allen Pogue

Joined: Thu Sep 6th, 2007
Location: Dripping Springs, Texas USA
Posts: 108
Status:  Offline
Posted: Fri Aug 16th, 2013 04:13 pm
Hello Gypsy , Dr Deb et al,,
No need to suppress laughter when your horse does something that amuses or entertains you. In fact let it out. That way you horse will begin to understand your vocalizations . This is actually possible to a degree that most, if not all, animal behaviorists cannot fathom.
It is my belief that their education into the superiority of the human species gives them a hubris that will not let them acknowledge something that is completely obvious. That subject might be an interesting topic for another message thread. We have been documenting "what the horse said" for several years and have hundreds of examples of horses punctuating human conversation with vocalizations of their own with perfect timing of the sounds they make.
On the subject of pedestals. (aka 'drums'). This is topic of much interest.
After several decades of exploring the possibilities my wife and I have a written treatise worth sharing with you.
This may answer a few queations and possibly generate a few more..

How and Why of Pedestal Training

By Suzanne De Laurentis and Allen Pogue ã2010, Imagine A Horse

The goal of Trick Horse Training is to create a companion horse that is willing, compliant, intelligent, and has “learned how to learn”. There is one other important element that goes beyond even compliance and that is obedience. In this age of new, natural and gentler horsemanship obedience is not talked about much. But we should talk about obedience because an obedient horse is a safe horse, on the ground and on the trail.

At Imagine a Horse, we specialize in Trick Horse Training as a vehicle to create not only an obedient horse but a willingly obedient horse or in other words, a horse that likes his job.

Pedestal Training will help to create a willing horse that will Step Up, Step Over, Step Around, Step Back on a pedestal but on trail objects and obstacles too.

Almost every species of animal trained by humans is done so with the use of a “place” or a “mark”. This applies to dolphins, big cats, dogs, birds and elephants. If you watch dog agility, you will see up close how effectively the mark is used. The dog returns to his place after completing a trick or series of moves and awaits his next cue. His place is his personal space where he receives praise, a food treat or even a well deserved time out.

In ground training the pedestal gives a horse somewhere to go, rather than to just act out on his flight instinct and run away. Horses have been running away from things for eons and a pedestal gives the horse a place to go to and a place to stay. Quiet feet equal a focused mind. Pedestal work helps to develop physical dexterity while increasing self-confidence and boldness. Ground tying, yielding of the hindquarters and many other useful lessons are taught through pedestal training.

How and Why does pedestal training help to instill willing obedience?
Horses love to stand on pedestals (perhaps) because it makes them taller than usual and taller than other horses, which increases their confidence. Standing with the front feet on a pedestal gets the weight off of the front end and helps a horse to stretch and relax his back which (perhaps) makes him feel good. A relaxed and confident horse is in a mind set to learn.

Many of the requests made of horses in standard training surely seem nebulous from their perspective. Take for example yielding the hind quarters-why does a horse respond to that request in ground work? He responds because he is given a release of pressure (that is applied by the handler) for responding correctly to the request and over time, the response becomes automatic.

Let’s take the release of pressure a step further-What if a horse were to receive not only a release of pressure but also a degree of self (intrinsic) reward or satisfaction? That’s exactly what the usual outcome of pedestal training is.
With his front feet anchored on a pedestal, it is easy for the horse to understand yielding the hind quarters because he has a reason for his front feet to stay still.

In pedestal training as we will demonstrate, the trick becomes the reward.

Goals of pedestal training include having the horse mount the pedestal with two feet and then all four feet as directed. He should stand quietly until released. He should go to any pedestal as cued while at liberty (no lead).

A horse becomes willing to stand quietly. His attention span is increased as he learns to focus on the handler and await the next cue. His physical dexterity is increased especially in variations of pedestal work such as having all four feet up and when pivoting his hind quarters around the front. He learns to pay attention to what both ends of his body are doing. When he is on a small square pedestal with all four feet, it automatically creates lift of the top line and of the stomach muscles which will be helpful in creating collection under saddle.

Tips before you start
Teach your horse to move and/or lift each foot (all 4) separately when cued. The horse should have good ground manners such as stopping, stepping back and yielding each part of his body when asked.

Be prepared to prevent your horse’s evasions. For example, if he comes over the top of the pedestal, place it against a wall or fence. Be as creative with problem solving as the horse is with evasions.

Each horse learns at an individual pace. It may take a horse many repetitions or even days of repetitions before he has enough confidence to step up with both front feet. Teaching is a process, give your horse the necessary number of repetitions required but also know when to stop teaching each lesson.

For mounting with two feet approach the wide (oblong pedestal) side of the pedestal every time so that the horse associates that side with the specific reason of mounting with the front feet. For mounting later on with four feet, it will be easier to approach the narrow end so the horse has room to “walk up”.

Pedestals can be constructed in any dimension desired. The standard pedestals that we suggest starting with are a 24” x 48” rectangular shape and a 36” x 36”square top. Heights can be from 12” to 15”. Variations on construction styles include Revolving Top Pedestals, Multi-tiered or stair step pedestals called an agility platform or long skinny pedestals for a trick called "Walking the plank" . You may email the authors for construction specifications of pedestals at or search the ESI forum for the thread which has construction suggestions

If your horse is a draft breed or a mini, you may want to modify the size of the pedestal to accommodate for size. A good way to estimate the height of pedestal your horse requires is to use the measurement from the middle of his knee to the ground.

Pedestal or Stumps and Rocks on the Trail?
Stepping a horse up on a stump or large rock on the trail is a great exercise however it is not pedestal training. One of the most valuable pedestal exercises is to be able to send the horse to a pedestal, any particular pedestal that the handler desires which is a demonstration of willing obedience. Pedestals can be positioned and used to benefit the lesson being taught and immobile objects in a field can not be.

Pedestal Safety
As in all equine activities, caution is important. Horses do not usually slip on the pedestal but precautions are still advised. Above all, know your horse and begin pedestal training with good ground manners. The construction of the pedestal is important. The sloped sides, rubber mat cushioned top and heavy duty design are all safety features. Square box shaped pedestals are NOT safe for horses beyond two months of age!

Here’s how to teach it
Teach the horse to step up on a pedestal with the front feet first. We’ll cover mounting with all four feet and other variations (including the revolving pedestal) in later segments.

At first you may want to walk next to the horse as you approach the pedestal and later when lungeing him, you can position yourself on the opposite side of the pedestal.
During the first session (or two) it may be enough for a shy horse to just approach the pedestal and lift his foot as cued.

Approach the pedestal with the horse in hand and cue him to lift his front leg. It may be necessary at first to actually lift his foot forward and up to help him to place it on the pedestal. A horse must willingly give his foot when asked to facilitate this. If he does not lift his leg, tap him on the fetlock with the end of a whip. Offering the foot willingly should be a behavior that is instilled in the horse before beginning Pedestal Training. You may experiment with the handle of a dressage length whip or the snap to see which works best. As with all good horsemanship, strive to use the mildest effective cue for the individual horse. A harder cue does not mean increased or quicker results and can scare the horse.

When he allows you to place his foot on the pedestal, be sure to praise him and stroke his leg while encouraging him to keep it there. Repeat this step until the horse is comfortable with putting his foot “Up” and will do it freely when asked. When he will reliably put one foot on the pedestal, begin to encourage him to step up with the other foot by helping him to shift his balance off of the foot on the ground so it is easily lifted. Use the lead rope (short hold) to guide him as you ask him to “Step Up” by gently pulling his nose over the leg already on the pedestal. After he will willingly step up with both front feet, encourage him to stay for incrementally longer periods of time and until he is released. You may also condition him to stay on the pedestal as you step back from him and also walk around. This is similar to the stay command in dog training and the beginning step of ground tying. The complimentary and opposite part of this lesson is to teach him to “Step Down” on cue.

When a horse understands how to Step Up with both front feet, lungeing him to it adds a sense of urgency (on his part) to go to the pedestal. This is the applied pressure portion of the lesson and the point at which stepping up on the pedestal will offer the release or reward. Use a long working line (approx 15 feet) to lunge the horse around the pedestal. Lunge him around the pedestal at a trot. As he approaches the wide side of the pedestal, draw his head toward it by shortening the line and slipping it through your hands. As you do this, give him a preparatory cue such as “ready” then ask him to “Step Up”. The preparatory cue lets the horse know that a request is coming. Most horses understand in short order that stepping up and standing still is much easier than trotting circles. It is at this point that a horse usually comes to understand that he has some control over his work routine-he can STEP UP and rest. When he mounts the pedestal, praise him and a food treat may be used also. Let him know that he did just what you wanted. Now the trick will have become the reward.

The horse is empowered because he can make the choice for release of pressure by stepping up which lets him willingly make the right choice. When he is on the pedestal, he will focus on the handler because it is easier than going back to trotting circles, which is exactly what we want. When he looks away or loses his focus or steps down before released, put him immediately back to trotting circles. Do this as a directive with absolutely no emotion attached. In other words, we school with no emotion but praise with all our heart!

Opposite and Complimentary Lesson
Teach the horse a cue for dismounting the pedestal such as “Step Down”. He is to dismount the pedestal only when cued to do so. If he does dismount before he is released, send him back to work trotting circles for a few laps and try again.

Creative Challenges
When a horse is mounted on the square top pedestal with his front feet, ask him to yield the hindquarters or Step Around as his front feet remain anchored. Gradually increase the number of lateral steps until he can completely circle the hindquarters around the pedestal. With his front feet anchored on the pedestal, the request will be easy for him to understand. He can be taught to step the front feet down and walk them around the hind end that is on the pedestal. Revolving pedestals, multi-tiered pedestals and agility platforms present lots of fun challenges.

As the pedestal training progresses, it can serve as a horse’s mark for executing other moves such as the Jambette or Salute, Retrieving an Object, and even a slow Spin. If two horses are worked together, they can be taught to Change Places in a musical chair fashion or to line up side by side on pedestals.

As with all good training, horsemanship principles, tact, good judgment, and a systematic approach are required with reasonable expectations in mind. Taking time to plan will make your sessions fun and fruitful for both horse and human.

Training Instructions
The training instructions contained herein are well researched and have been practically applied to many horses but they are not intended to be absolutes. Be ready, willing and able to practice what we call RIF, Rapid Intelligent Failure. Simply put this means, if something isn’t working be quick to recognize it and change the approach.

The photo attached shows Navegador executing a hind leg walk as he approaches a pedestal. Even though he is 'working into pressure'(the raised whips) he will approach and place his feet on the nearside of the pedestal. The pedestal is approx. three feet square so there is plenty of room for us both. This may be a trick you are not quite ready for. But it shows that by incrementally pushing the envelope it is possible to come up with some interesting horse behaviors.

good luck

Allen Pogue
Dripping Springs, Texas

Attachment: Gater Hindlegwalk to pedestal.jpg

Allen Pogue

Joined: Thu Sep 6th, 2007
Location: Dripping Springs, Texas USA
Posts: 108
Status:  Offline
Posted: Fri Aug 16th, 2013 04:30 pm
Walking the plank

Hi Folks,
The photo attached shows a trick mentioned in the previous post. It is a variation of "walking the plank" It is offered to show that by pushing the envelope it is possible to achieve some quite remarkable achievements from your horse.
In this case the 'plank' is five inches wide and 30" off the ground.
This leaves enough room under his belly to protect the horse should he slip off and get 'high centered' over the elevated beam.


Attachment: walking the plank.jpg


Joined: Sat Feb 4th, 2012
Posts: 3
Status:  Offline
Posted: Sat Aug 17th, 2013 03:57 am
Wow! Thank you so much for the generous sharing of information. Fascinating and very helpful - I learned much from reading this. Beautiful pictures of engaged and proud, if you will, horses, too.

I am in the midst of reading The Birdie Book, and learned I don't know Jack, and that what I thought I knew I needed to unlearn, and start to re-learn. So, while I knew at some gut level that my mare was not being aggressive by stepping back onto the drum WITH me, I am being careful with any assumptions I make now and rather default to "wait, watch, and/or do nothing for now" until I get more re-learning under my belt. I appreciate the help.

Using a separate mounting block made a distinct difference for her; she practically ran onto the drum when it was time to play there.

Tonight the mare offered to put all 4 feet onto the drum. It was unplanned - she can't seem to get enough of this thing. I did, indeed, laugh out loud.

Thank you.
Allen Pogue

Joined: Thu Sep 6th, 2007
Location: Dripping Springs, Texas USA
Posts: 108
Status:  Offline
Posted: Thu Aug 29th, 2013 04:18 pm
Hi Folks
In a previous message there was a reference to a multi-level "agility platform" but no photo to illustrate. So the attached a picture shows how we use this great training aid.
It is quite simple to build using mostly cheap 2x6 dimension lumber. The construction is just like making a deck for your house. Carriage bolts hold the corners together using 4x4s for legs and the top deck is screwed down. The rubber mat came from a local horse trailer repair shop that sells it by the foot off a roll.
The overall dimensions are dictated by the width of the mat which in this case was 34" . The length is approx three times the width of the mat, making the base almost 9 ft square. Plenty of room to teach a beginner horse how to step up and negotiate the turns and different levels and also big enough to get more than one horse involved.

I have pictures that show the construction as it progressed but I have never been able to figure out how to post more than one photo at a time.

I really think this 'toy' is the best(pedestal) idea I have ever come up with because it gives the horse a reason to pay attention to what his back feet are doing.

Allen Pogue
Dripping Springs, Texas

Attachment: 3upbig2.JPG


Joined: Wed Jan 16th, 2013
Location: USA
Posts: 21
Status:  Offline
Posted: Mon May 2nd, 2016 02:57 am
Have to share:
Today Bonita did what I have been hoping she'd do ever since my father & I made her a pedestal: all on her own (I was inside the house), she stepped her forelegs up on it. I was in the room nearest her paddock and heard her walking around out there; I peeked out the window to see her posed on the pedestal. She stood there maybe 10 seconds more, then stepped down.

Bonita readily took to her pedestal when she was introduced to it 2-3 years ago, and she marches up to it from a subtle suggestion/gesture from me. I think she does enjoy how it feels, which is why I've been hopeful that she'd start mounting it on her own. Hope she continues... anything she does that helps her stretch/strengthen her to carry me is just dandy by me.

Going back to Gypsy's original post & Dr. Deb's response: oopsie, I have had the same thing happen myself, because I, too, have used the pedestal to mount. Note to self: you have a mounting block, USE it.

Attachment: Bonita 3-30-14c.JPG

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