Lying and lying flat
Result of an invisible bond
Lying and lying flat are behavioral responses we can establish as circus lessons that can be requested by giving a specific signal. They can emerge out of a shaping process, and they can be established by capturing a natural form of behavior. In my opinion however, there are elements that are even more important than finding the correct training method, the exact criterion, or timing: both behavioral responses naturally result more casually for me. So, it is more important for me to create an atmosphere that invites the horse to lie down; it likes to lie on the ground because it feels comfortable and safe. It can feel a connection with the human being that makes the horse feels secure, and it can calm down to lie flat.
Rewards as a starting point
In general, discovering these lessons starts with soft ground, and a common search to find a suitable, safe place. The way I orient myself on the ground, the way I look around, and the way I focus the ground can encourage many horses to show forms of behavior that come prior to rolling on the ground. It helps the horse to understand that this is the right time to find a place to lie down if we closely monitor, and click these forms of behavior; they are, for example, wandering around with the nose close to the ground while sniffing the ground, pawing the ground with the fore hoof, turning in circles at a certain point, and even repeatedly bending the forelegs and rising again. Moreover, they can support us to sense the horse’s mood, and we can also mirror or mimic the animal’s search for a suitable place. As a rule, it is likely that lying down will happen in a relaxed manner if this kind of foreplay to lie down happens in a calm and relaxed way. So, you can click the moment the belly of the horse touches the ground, and directly give a reward afterwards. Some horses like to lie down only for a short period of time in the beginning but the period can be significantly increased by extending the time we feed when the horse lies down on the ground. In contrast, other horses like to chew peacefully, look around, and take one treat after the other, or eat directly from a bowl right from the start.
Even more important, your own attitude
For many horses, the inner attitude of all human beings that are involved is even more important than the perfect technique to hand over the reward. Soft and relaxed movements help the horse to relax too; breathing deeply soothes the horse, and sets the mood for a break, and our soft, non-focused gaze conveys peace and serenity. Furthermore, it helps a lot to restrain ourselves, and try to not transfer our desire that the horse should lie down immediately. Sensitive horses, in particular, do not lie down in such an atmosphere because they can sense their two-legged training partner’s mental tension.However, many horses enjoy an occasional reward that is given in a relaxed manner, and accompanied by gentle strokes and tender cuddling once we have managed to create an emotionally suitable space for lying down. Then, we can start from this relaxed “picnic scene” between horse and human, and gradually move the spot where the treat is given to develop lying flat.