Stand on Your Mat – Balance, Body Awareness and More

Stand On Your Mat – Feb 2008

I was going to write a bit about stand on the mat, and then I thought, rather than write about what I know now (which I can do in another post) I thought it might be fun to look out the post I had put on a forum when Classic ‘got’ stand on a mat.

I had been trying to teach him stand on a mat for some time with no joy…he could kick it, push it with his nose, paw it, pick it up, throw it, you name it…except stand on it ! Then one day he suddenly got it and looked at me as if to say “well if all you really wanted me to do was STAND on it then why didn’t you say so !”.  Sigh.

Stand On Your Mat

Stand On Your Mat

It really highlights that each horse learns differently and that not everything we ask of them makes sense.

So here is the post I made to the forum which details the phenomenal power of standing on a mat. I hope you enjoy….

“Last week I had noticed I had lost steering when riding. So I had decided to go back to basics and start with the WWYLM lesson and work up to riding and 3F3 under saddle to try to identify the training holes that I needed to address. The day I got started was pretty windy (we had gale force winds with gusts of about 50 miles per hour) and so I knew this was going to be a big test for Classic, but I also knew he had been really good with head lowering so I thought this would be a good test for how well he could use it.

A New Tool for my Training Tool Box

The day before, this I had introduced Classic to the colour board to stand on (chipboard mat painted with 4 colours). He loved it. AND….having never managed to get him to just stand on a mat….he finally got it !! Woo hoo !! We still had some pawing but with carefully timed clicks (microshaping) I was managing to phase the pawing out to be only one or two occasional half-hearted paws before he placed his foot down. So I was delighted to say the least. Finally he got it and I thought, great this is another little training tool that we can use. But there is more……I had no idea how powerful this would be !!

So, WWYLM….I took the mat with me so that I could start to transfer this to other environments, and as a break from the WWYLM

Stand Square on Your Mat

Stand Square on Your Mat

lesson if needed. But things started to go wrong. The trees at one end of the arena, apparently suddenly had horse eating gremlins in them (known to humans as ‘the wind’) and horses MUST face the trees at all times just in case the gremlins sneak out while they have their backs turned and grab said horse and eat it. So horse must run past the trees as quickly as possible. If a sudden gust of wind goes through the trees, spinning to face the trees is a must and when adrenalin levels get high, bucks are required as well.

Can you Touch The Goblins ?

So I tried the touch the goblins game…..nope. Still can’t get anywhere near the trees. I tried step by step past them. I tried walk/trot past without spinning…..nope. So I finally set up a tai chi wall to assist him past and stop the spinning. We were going past the trees and he was taking comfort in the tai chi wall. It was a really light wall but so effective at just supporting him emotionally and physically. It felt really nice to me and it must have felt nice to him too as he could easily have blasted through it and off down the other end of the arena.  But it still wasn’t quite what he needed…I was dealing with the symptom and not the problem.

The wall was getting us past the trees, but it wasn’t dealing with the fear of the trees. But I had achieved something today. I had refined my tai chi wall and I had taught Classic that even when he is that scared, I can still support him. So I wasn’t disappointed with our short session.

I was about to head back to the yard when I remembered the mat was there. I decided to ask him to stand on it just to see if he could transfer his new-found skill to a new environment (just a minute or so and then back to the barn)…….this is where amazing things started to happen…..

OK, You got My Attention !

'Posing' on The Mat

'Posing' on The Mat

I put the mat down and he leapt on to it as if this was the most important thing to him !!  Not only did he leap on to the mat, both front feet and not even a hint of pawing, but his face and whole body language changed…..he went from high adrenaline to totally relaxed as his feet hit that mat !!!! I was stunned. He could stand there as calm as you like and look at the trees and examine what was making the noise. We were in the middle of the arena and the trees were at one end, but without the mat he had not been this relaxed even at this distance. After just a couple of clicks for standing on the mat (and relaxing), he got so at ease with it that he started to pose !!! So now stand on the mat REALLY has my attention.

I had viewed it as a good way to get all sorts of other behaviours, but this level of emotional control ? and also bearing in mind he had only understood stand on the mat the day before and had never managed to stand on it without a little bit of pawing.

I was intrigued….how can such a new behaviour be so effective in such a scary situation ??

Let’s Put it to The Test !

I decided to really put it to the test. We were about 15 feet away from the trees. I asked him to back up off the mat (the same way he had learned how to come off the mat in the stable), picked up the mat and threw it about 6 feet closer to the trees. Then asked, can you go and stand on your mat…..the answer….’of course I can, and look how relaxed I am when I stand on it’ !!! At this point I was even more stunned. We hadn’t managed to get this close to the trees a foot at a time never mind in a 6 foot leap !

I tested it again….another 6 feet closer. Same answer. Straight to the mat and relax. I’m almost speechless at this point (which is quite an accomplishment).

So then I moved it right under the fence of the arena, as close as we could get to the trees while staying in the arena. This was more of a challenge and he only put his toes on the mat. This time rather than asking him to back up, knowing that he is now standing against a fence and really feeling like running away, I thought I would reward his effort with forward movement (I felt he was controlling his emotions well enough to deal with this, and he was). But I asked him to come round in a really tight circle and re-set on the mat again, this way I got him back to his comfort zone very quickly. This time both feet straight on and relaxed. I asked him to do a tight circle off the mat and back on again a few times and he gradually relaxed more and more. I could see it started out as an emotional challenge but after a couple of circles round, he was offering pose again.

You Can’t Touch Me

Stand On Your Mat - Ridden

Stand On Your Mat - Ridden

What really struck me was that every time he stood on the mat, he looked like he had stepped in to a protective bubble and he stood there able to peruse his surroundings. It was like he felt nothing could harm him while he was there. I so wish I had this on video but the weather was so inclement I didn’t bring my camera out. The change in him was truly amazing.

So this was what I thought was going to be the end of our session and started to head back to the barn….but there was more to come……

When we come out the arena, there is a little path that splits, one part goes under the scary trees and the other goes back to the barn. Just as we got to the split, there was a huge gust of wind through the trees again and Classic had a little melt down. I knew he was too far gone for head lowering so I offered him targeting on my hand and his face was wonderful, he looked relieved that there was something familiar he could do rather than panic.

Let’s Play Near the Scaries !

Once he calmed I started to walk him on again, conscious that I was going to have to turn his back to the trees and so I was already prepared for him to shoot off and had my recovery plan in place.  Instead….he asked if we could go to the trees !!!! What, has he gone mad ?!?

I obliged and let him go to the trees. I let him tell me how close he wanted to go and I watched to make sure he wasn’t getting too anxious as I didn’t want to undo all the good work and have him run off at the rate of knots. He managed to get right under the trees, lowered his head and stood there just glancing up every now and then. Then there was another big gust of wind. I thought I was about to get taken back to the barn…..but no, he had a little jump, but he stood there and looked up to the trees as if he was trying to figure out what was making the noise….and the mat was still in the arena !!

Amazing. I’m stunned how he used this new tool and used it so quickly.

Look, I Did My Homework

Today, I got the mat back out…..boy had he done his homework, he almost grabbed it off me to throw it on the ground himself and I only just managed to get my hand out from under it before he stood on it looking like royalty. He was on and off that thing on cue (he learned the cues in about 15 secs), with pose, no pawing, feet squarely on, and the enthusiasm he had…wonderful !!!

It is just stunning that stand on a mat is SO powerful.

Amanda, Feb 2008




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