What I wanted to talk about in this message is the use of the
platform. My horses have all had their turns standing on the platform (also known as pedestal, drum, or block).
What possible value could it have? Is it just a trick? People used to
It's probably most difficult the very first time (and that's not very
difficult)--for the handler, trying to figure out how to ask!
After figuring out how to ask your horse, with your body, how to get up on
the block, it's very easy after that to ask almost any horse up. It has to
do with the "draw" and the invisible thread that you have with your (or any)
It has to do with being able to place your horse's feet exactly where you
want them. A neat thing to be able to do! And this transfers to under saddle work, where you REALLY want to be able to place his feet anywhere you want! (See also the backing exercises
After being able to do this, you may find that the "Elephant on a Ball" exercise is something else you want to try. It is very good for all horses, including gaited horses, and specifically Icelandic Horses, as it helps stretch the back. The Elephant on a Ball exercise is also known as Trail's End or Closing In. You will find a description here.
Being able to ask your horse up on a platform at liberty and
him voluntarily performing is the ultimate in unity and harmony.
The trainer that I
previously worked with (who recently died) used a very similar
training tool, but without a clicker. It was not a round drum, but a
sturdy stepped mounting block. It has all the attributes of Dr.
Deb's drum, with a couple of added benefits.
First of all, it's square. This means you can teach your horse to
stay on the line that you put him on, rather than a round platform
where the horse can continue to move around it. Secondly, it has the
high step in the middle. Getting the front feet on the lower step
with a halter on is the beginning -- getting two feet on the low step
at the front and two on the low step at the back is wonderful, but
getting all four feet on the higher middle step is the ultimate. And
when you can get all four feet on the higher middle step while at
liberty, well, this is nirvana.
I have several horses that I can get on the step with all four feet
at liberty (including the difficult to catch two-year-old filly I
discussed in my introductory post), but not with all four on the high
middle step. We taught them this before I discovered clickers. I
have used the step with horses as young as 6 weeks (a colt who
learned to get all four feet up in less than fifteen minutes!).
Once the horses have been over the step, they often rush over to it
and put their front feet on when they get anxious or confused. This
is a very safe place, as they are always rewarded when they're on the
step. It's a bit of a challenge if you're teaching an animal to
ground drive and they pull the harrows over to the step and put their
front feet on it (as my miniature donkey jack did) . A little
tough to back up with harrows attached...
Carl described the benefits of the step as follows:
1. teaches the horse to go somewhere it wouldn't likely go on its own
(useful for trailer loading and crossing tarps afterwards).
2. teaches the handler to keep the horse "on the line", that is,
where she wants to put it. This is transferable to the saddle where
you are always drawing an imaginary line that your horse is working
on (at least if you have control!).
3. teaches the handler to watch for any small offer of release of
resistance from the horse, and to reward it by taking off the
4. teaches the horse to focus on the handler and await instruction.
I believe Carl's step was the most valuable teaching tool I've ever
used, and suspect it set me up with transferable skills (like timing
and noticing the "give to pressure" from the horse) to be able to
adapt to clicker training so quickly. My skills were developed with
a few two hour step sessions. Carl always taught us that we could
keep working on something like this unless we got frustrated. He was
a big believer in "time-outs" if the handler wasn't capable of
staying calm and observant. He also said that the concept that "you
can't let the horse win" was a bunch of hooey, and that horses didn't
understand that there was a contest -- the contest was in the human's
Here are the steps we used to teach a horse to stand on the mounting
block which has two levels and is higher in the center (needs to be
adapted to include the clicker):
1. Get the horse to "line up" facing directly towards the step and
standing quietly once there. Do this by "asking" the horse back
towards the line with the lead rope whenever he steps off the line (a
rope halter works better as the pressure is more direct than a flat
halter). Praise the horse once it will stand quietly in front of the
2. Stand on the other side of the mounting block directly facing the
horse and pull him towards you with steady pressure. He will try
going backwards and from side to side, but just keep asking him when
he steps off the line. He will eventually figure out that the only
way to release the pressure is to step forward, up on to the step
with one foot. Once you get this, praise effusively (as Carl would
say "rub the hair off him", that is, rub him lots and praise). He'll
probably take his foot off, but that's OK.
3. Repeat step two until he puts both front feet on the step. Once
he will stand with both fronts on, praise, praise, praise.
4. Repeat step two until he moves both front feet to the higher
5. Repeat step two until he offers to put a back foot on the step.
Reward the offer, then continue to ask for the step up, first with
one then with both back feet.
6. Once you get him on, extend the time he'll stand gradually using
praise, petting and the release of all pressure when he's up on the
CARDINAL RULE!! Never try to hold the horse on the block once it's
stepped up with any foot. If you got him there once, you can get him
there again, and the step must be a place where the pressure is OFF.