Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lay Lady Lay

"Please, we just want to be your friend!"

There was an interesting article in Western Horseman this month about laying horses down.

It was carefully worded so the magazine itself didn't offer an opinion one way or the other.
Smart choice on their part, since this subject is pretty controversial in the horse training biz.

Remember the movie "The Horse Whisperer?" Yeah, me too. Irritated the crap out of me.

Anyway, Robert Redford laid the crazy horse down during his rehabilitation process. It transformed the horse and everything became magical and perfect after that.

This wasn't the first time I had watched a horse brought down as a training tool. It was the first time I had seen it described as anything but total domination of the animal by the trainer.

The first time I saw this done was as part of a last ditch effort to train a human-aggressive horse. I wasn't training it, I was just around while it happened. The horse hadn't killed anybody, but it was a strong possibility for the future. He wasn't responding to standard training and was going to be put down if he didn't get straightened out. FYI - this was a bottle raised orphan foal - now three years old.

The horse had a front leg roped up and was laid down on his side by pulling on said leg with a rope from the off-side. He was then covered with a canvas tarp and left for 4-5 hours. When the trainer came back, uncovered the horse and released him, it seemed to me the horse thought he had come back from the dead. He was dazed, surprised, and very, very confused.

He was also over any and all signs of aggression to people. Dull-eyed and quiet as a Mexican rodeo trained rope horse, he never offered to fight again. He wasn't nervous, spooky, as a matter of fact he was nothing but a biddable service animal. Nothing.

He wasn't friendly either. He had got the message loud and clear, but it sure didn't make him anybody's buddy. He never offered to hurt anybody again, as far as I know, but he never became much of a horse either. He had no try, no interest, no drive. He just did as he was told. The essential, people hating horse was still there, as a matter of fact, it seemed he had been proven right, but now he knew he couldn't win.

This lesson burned into my brain, probably not as much as it did this young horse's, but it gave me something to think about.

I have watched variations of this procedure a few times since and have tried it once. I've never been impressed with the results.

Martin Black and Dr. Stephen Peters have come out with a new book, Evidence Based Horsemanship. I haven't read it yet, although I'm getting the feeling it's my kind of read, so I'll hold back on commenting for now.

It was referenced in the WH article. The point stressed was this is not a training tool for everyone and how the horse has to be set up to choose to lay down.

Here's where I come in.

I don't have a huge bucket of experience to draw from in this area. I don't have much scientific training or reference here either, just my own thoughts and observations.

Horses are prey animals. Given the option, they run from trouble, run from pain, run from potential danger and death. They are wired with ever fiber of their being to get the hell out of Dodge in order to be safe.

I consider picking up their feet, one at a time, to be a huge step forward in the development of trust. If a horse gives me a foot, he is allowing me to hinder his ability to flee. I teach them this by always letting them take the foot back if they need to, but then, in my stubborn, bull dog like way, I take the foot again and again and again until we come to an agreement.

My training approach is completely based on moving forward, not stopping the feet. I think a horse feels safer in motion and therefore I am safer too. It is yet another reason I don't use one rein stops (another day another fuss).

I am also the first to admit I use my status as potential predator to train my horses. I like them to look at me as a benevolent dictator. I could eat them, but they're pretty sure I'm not going to. I have never been able to buy into the theory that  horses accept us as a best friend and cohort when we crawl on their backs and wrap our legs around them to ride, like a mountain lion jumping on them to eat them. Or when we put a bit, hackamore or Dr. Goodhorsie's Painless, Bitless, works-with-fairy-dust bridle on their heads to control where they go, like  a wolf latched onto their noses, in order to eat them.

They learn to do what we want, the release of pressure teaches them we probably won't eat them and as time passes friendship happens, only because horses are awesome.

What is critical to my thinking is that the horse keeps some options in this twisted way of doing things. He always gets to leave. I might still be on his back, I might still be torquing his head here and there but he always gets the comfort of movement to help him along. The hard-wired need to move goes along way to avoiding the other response a horse has, which is fight. I really prefer to avoid that one.

Because I think this way, the idea of taking away any chance a horse has of escaping me or fighting me is repulsive. No horse, on this planet, chooses to lose control of his feet. I just don't believe it. They may accept it because they have learned they have no other options, but I think that's where we head into soul crushing.

If we go there, from an emotional point of view, we have destroyed the very freedom that draws most of us to horses in the first place. From a practical, trainerly way of looking at things, we have taken away the fire that creates a top competitor, or the horse that sucks it up and travels those last few miles.

I have read definitions of the reaction of a horse that is laid down. The horse becomes still, relaxed and calm. The transformation is nothing short of miraculous. This keeps being described as the horse accepting us as non-threatening.

Thing is, I grew up watching Marlin Perkins and Wild Kingdom. I never once heard Marlin say, "Notice the calm, peaceful expression of the antelope being eaten by the hyena. It is clear he has become one with the hyena and they will now enter a life long partnership."

You know why? Because what really was happening with our friend the gazelle was a little thing called

"This is the normal response of the central nervous system when living beings are faced with intense physical harm, fear or terror they are unable to avoid, escape or shield themselves from. In a state of dissociation, animals (including humans) undergo a partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of their conscious and psychological functioning. They can no longer feel physical pain, shed tears, access or express emotions, communicate or interact with others. They become disconnected from their physical bodies and emotions.

 In the wild, when an animal is pursued by a predator, through the length of the chase, the prey is very much engaged in the form. Fully present in its body, it is actively immersed in the flight mechanism aimed at saving its life. Yet, the instant the predator's jaws closes on its throat, the prey's body instantly becomes limp and loose. Dissociation allows the nervous system to shield itself from a level of physical, psychological and/or emotional harm, the intensity of which would be impossible to absorb.

The dissociative state in wildlife and human beings is characteristically recognizable by the dazed, faraway, glassy, disconnected stare we get when our lives, physical safety, emotional well being, or all of the above, have been suddenly, violently altered."

How about that. What do you think is really happening to a horse who has had both flight and fight completely taken away from them? Tied up, completely powerless, getting crawled all over by some human who's petting them all over and cooing "Good pony," in it's ear?

Is he hearing, "I love you and want to be your best friend," or, "Yum, yum, snack time!"

To my way of thinking the horse gets that peaceful, accepting air about him BECAUSE HE KNOWS HE IS GOING TO DIE. He is preparing himself to be eaten.

When humans come back from this kind of experience they are deeply transformed. War, Tsunami's, earthquakes, they can all cause it.

Even though we have supposedly better tools to reason with than our horses, we don't get over these experiences. It's called PTSD folks, not creating an open line of communication.

At this point in my life I can't imagine doing something like that to a horse or any fellow being on the planet. Unless of course I'm planning to eat them.


  1. I've only seen a horse laid down once. It was an own-son of Bask (a real nasty bugger and still a stud, of course) that would rear up and strike out at anything and everything when you tried to lead him anywhere.

    When he reared up and started striking out again, 2 men (one on either side) pulled him over backwards (on pretty soft ground). They didn't sit on him or coo all over him. They let him get up and figure it out. The lesson to the horse (as I understood it) was: if you are a complete ass, we will knock you down. He got it. And was a pretty solid horsey citizen after that.

    So, I'm not sure what to think. Everything else had been tried to no avail and this seemed to get the point across without "breaking" his spirit. Of course, he had the option to get up right away and move to. What are your thoughts Mugwump?

  2. Great post. Kinda like what SweetPea asked - what would you do with another human-aggressive orphan? Would it be kinder to just shoot the horse than to lay it down? I'm just curious; I don't have a strong opinion either way.

  3. Sweet Pea - You're tlking bout something totally different here.
    You said it yourself.
    "...if you are a complete ass, we will knock you down."

    "Of course, he had the option to get up right away and move too."

  4. I'd approach a horse like this the way I trained Cupcake.

    My methods weren't necessarily kind, but he was still himself when we were done, just trainable.

  5. Oooh this is interesting. What you are saying makes perfect sense. What do you think about folks who leave their horses tied for hours to teach patience? I always have felt funny about that.

  6. flyin' horse. I do it all the time. They can still move their feet.

  7. This is going to make me sound like a terrible human being, but I'm just going to go ahead and lay it out there:

    I've seen horses laid down before, and it worked. Like, really, really worked. Done right, I'm not sure I'm against it.

    The one that comes to mind was an off-the range mustang that was just not responding to gentling. He just wasn't coming around, and remained convinced humans were out to kill him. So they threw him, and his owner spent about five minutes just touching him everywhere.

    He seemed pretty normal after that - still spooky, but it was like staring into the chasm of his worst nightmare and still surviving made him a little more sane.

    I do think there's a HUGE difference between laying a horse down and rubbing on him for a few minutes and laying a horse down, blinding them with a tarp and abandoning them for 4-5 hours. It's kind of the difference between a Marine drill instructor breaking you down and being a real POW in the enemy's camp.

    I do think it shouldn't be taken lightly. And I think you might be right that they are giving up on life and going into I'm-gonna-die mode.

    But if they are a danger to humans, and maybe even to themselves.... I don't know. That mustang had a much better life because of his experience. It was definitely worth it to him. So maybe it's worth it?

    I feel dirty for just typing that. Now I'm confused.

  8. I've seen it work, and I've seen it not work.

    It can't be used as a "shortcut" - it must be used as a "last resort."

    I know a cowboy trainer who does the lay them down and tarp them (which I don't agree with at all - I do think it completely breaks their spirit) -- and I know a couple guys who break cowhorses for a living who will lay one down, touch, pet but the option to get up is basically still there -- and those horses seem to respond positively without any lasting effects.

    It worked on a gelding that would literally try to climb a fence, stall, round pen panel, whatever was in his way, to charge a person.

    It didn't work on a mare I had rescued, rehabbed and re-started under saddle - she hurt me bad enough I couldn't ride for several weeks, so I sent her off to a trainer I trusted...She proceed to hurt him and two more after him ...She was either too far gone from her first years under saddle, or too far gone in deciding it was worth trying to hurt anyone who handled her....That's a different story but, laying her down didn't help.

    I also know an asshat "natural horsemanship trainer" who teaches his clients to lay their horses down as part of his monthly "certification classes"..."Your horse has to have ultimate trust to lay down for you".....all I can say is WTF, NO ONE should make a flight animal feel so vulnerable just to call themselves a "horseman"...

  9. Forcing a horse down and leaving it tied up under a tarp for hours is nothing short of torture; I had no idea people did that.

    I have seen a couple of mustangs laid down by an expert horseman (he worked for and with Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance for years - Ray had respect for him). He will not do it just because someone wants to.

    It was done with 2 mustangs during a clinic I attended - one really troubled mustang that had several previous bad starts, and one very wild one that could not imagine that she could look to the humans for any help. The horses went down because they had one leg tied up - they got tired of trying to walk on 3 legs and laid down. My impression is that the people were trying to show the horses that they were NOT going to eat them. The horses were down for maybe 15 minutes - the wild mare's feet were trimmed once she quit trying to get up. The older gelding got used to someone walking up to him (with chap fringes waving around).

    I had really mixed feelings about it, but the change in the horses the next day was obvious - especially the little wild mare. She was really looking to her owner for help and trying to get along instead of just trying to get away.

  10. Intersting topic and a GREAT post, Mugs....kudos.

    I have witness two lie-downs, that were self imposed by the horses instance was due to human error.....mine...*sighs*

    First was a gelding that had been a stallion for many years. I bought him, gelded him and he was a touch impatience towards me and being tied. So I tied him to a post to let him learn some patience while I was cleaning stalls not far away.

    My first mistake was not using the correct knot for the situation. The second mistake of mine was tying him in an area with good grass. He ws able to loosen the knot well enough he could get his nose down to graze; however, while grazing he tangled himself in the rope and, when I found him he was quietly laying in the grass legs all tangled up and still munching on grass.

    I walked over to him and petted his head and called him an asshole while getting his legs free.

    He tied quietly thereafter while still retaining his get up and go. But then again no human was involved and he was not under a hot tarp for 4 hours.

    The second time was with my current Eunuch little white Arab. I call him a Eunuch because he normally has no interest in mares.





    Until one day, a little grey Arab mare showed up at the barn. Well, I have never seen a gelding fall so helplessly, hopelessly in lust.
    We had planned a trail ride a day after she arrived. I had to catch her to get him (this is the same gay Arab that usually comes when called…..when not in a lustful lathered state of mind). When I took him from the pasture he was calling like some intact stallion. He N E V E R calls.

    Trying to groom him was like to trying to bathe three fighting cats in a tub…..not going real well. So I took him away from his lady love to the round pen…which was further than his Mr. Pepe could handle. He started to kareem around the round pen at warp speed. He had no idea I was there in the vicinity, could care less, and would have round over me…all because Mr. Pepe was feeling a tingle.

    Anyway, to make a long story short, he was running so hard so fast in the 60 foot round pen, that he had churned up the footing and finally slid under the first rail of the pen. Kind of surprised me, and shocked the tingle out of Mr. Pepe! I was able to reach him before he got his wits back and kept him down while I attached the lead rope to the halter; ushered him back into the round pen and worked him a wee bit and ended the day with a 6 hour trail ride.

    Mr. Pepe left the building after that and has not reared his ugly little head again.

    I guess me whole opinion is maybe it could be useful if done correctly and humanely and quickly.

    As for leaving under a tarp….I can see that causing undue stress and a sense of hopelessness. A sense of hopelessness in any creature is a horrible thing to see.

    Sweet Jesus, I hope I didn't bore y'all to bad!

  11. I'm currently trying to teach my horse to lie down on command, but am taking it very slowly, 5 minutes twice a day, broken down in very small steps. She is not stressed and is rewarded for trying. It may take months. It's just something fun to try together out of a trick training book. That being said, my horse is 16 yrs old, and is not being punished or started.

    I obsess about my horses' well being and am easily swayed and confused by all the reading I do on how to have the best partnership with my animals.

    This is a good post for thinking over why we do what we do.

  12. I've only seen a horse laid down once, by Martin Black, and it wasn't anything like I thought it would be. It was a troubled little gelding who had suffered a bit too much "natural horsemanship" and lost all his trust in humans. Martin asked the horse to lay down, he used a hobble on a front leg but he made sure the horse knew how to move hobbled before he did anything else and it always had a choice, he just kept persisting with that ask. The horse was very reluctant to lay down but after a while he did. Martin didn't touch him all over, he just took off the hobble and walked away. The horse stayed where he was- he didn't immediately get up or charge off the moment he could. In fact he seemed to really appreciate the fact that he could lay down with humans present. After a bit of talking about the technique and when and why it was useful we went out and got lunch. An hour later, when we got back, the horse was still there. I think he might have been sleeping.

    The technique was hard for the horse, but the reaction afterwards was really interesting to me because it seemed that horse really turned loose during the process and I think it made a really positive change for him.

    It is a very sharp tool, very sharp indeed, and it could undoubtedly cause serious harm in all but the most experienced hands. But I don't think it is entirely without utility.

  13. Wow, Mugs. Great, thought provoking post!
    I feel that what you witnessed, with the tarp, was torture.
    I feel that a VERY experienced and EMPATHIC trainer can lay a horse down, in certain instances, and get a positive response.
    Some of the other commenters here don't understand what "laying a horse down" means. It is not a horse slipping and falling, or laying down in the yard while grazing, or when you are teaching it to lay down as a trick (which implies the horse has free will to do it or not to do it - I'm assuming you are using only positive reinforcement to train the trick and are not trussing it up with ropes!).
    I think Mugs described it, but "laying down" is the horse has one front leg hobbled with a rope tied to the hobble. The rope is ran up and across the back of the horse to the trainer. The trainer keeps the leg up so the horse is hobbling on three legs, which is a lot of work, and drives the horse forward until the horse is exhausted and goes down - he has no other choice because flight is taken away from him (he's exhausted) and he gives up fully expecting to be eaten. It is an act of pure domination, and it's not pretty, even if it's done right.
    I fully believe that trainers (magazines, etc.) should not be touting this method at ALL to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. The general horse public can't properly use their own body language to longe a horse, let alone accomplish something like this.

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  15. I've seen a few laid down at a clinic with a guy that studied under Tom Dorrance. But, there was no tarp and they weren't left there for 4-5 hours...I put that treatment in the torture category...and totally unnecessary.

    It's been too long ago for me to remember what the outcome was for each horse, but I know they weren't traumatized. They were laid down, stroked and comforted, approached by different people in a non-threatening way and then allowed to get up when they wanted to...some laid there longer than others.

    I think that if done properly, with skilled hands and done as a last resort, I'd be OK with it.

  16. I'm starting to wish I hadn't used the tarp example, because we're getting hung up on it.
    My point is I can't take away the feet. Just can't.
    I get that Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt had this technique in their saddle bags. But they also encouraged free thinking in the people who watched or worked with them.
    It's the interpretation of how "happy" the horse is when they're let back up that I disagree with.
    I know it works.
    If I get real fat and somebody locks me in a closet until I'm thin, well that will work too.
    People can look at me and say, "That sure worked, none of the diets she went on before worked like locking her in the closet did. It didn't hurt her either, she's healthier than when she got locked in there. And once she chose to be thin she got let out."

    I'd probably stay thin too cuz' I sure wouldn't want to go back in that closet.

  17. I attended a demonstration this fall given by a local horse trainer with decades of experience. Toward the end of the demo, he laid his horse down, but not the "trick" way. He tied a rope around a front leg and pulled the horse down. This was his own horse who had probably had this done several times and he still looked like he did not want to go down. I tried to conceal my gasps as the audience clapped and the trainer proceeded to sit on the horse's neck and then stand on his ribcage. I was not impressed at all. It looked like domination to me. I wondered why his horse would tolerate such treatment and then realized that I didn't really want to know the answer to that question.

    I agree with you Mugs. Whether it is under saddle or on the line, I like to keep a horse going to get him calm. I would rather that than the feeling of a lit powder keg.

  18. mugwump your own recent comment sums this up....'I'd probably stay thin too cuz I sure wouldn't want to go back into that closet'.....transferred to topic under discussion then, the end justifies the means.

  19. The only experience I have with laying horses down was with one of my college professors. He travels the country teaching rescue personnel how to deal with large animal crises - how to save stuck horses/cows, helicopter transport, biohazard, etc etc. So he trained his horses to lay down because he uses them in his training. They are also trained to be lifted in slings, trapped for long periods of time, etc. His horses never seemed "dead" to me (we used them often in class). They were social and well adjusted. His was a simple cue (I don't remember what it was exactly...something with the wither and the heartgirth area) and they'd just lay down. But then again, his was also never a "dominance" thing. It was just a "trick" they did. I always thought it was kinda cool. :)

  20. Interesting thread... I'm a carriage driver and in our world there's something called a balky horse. From what I've been able to discover, the true balk is caused by fear and the feeling of being trapped by being strapped to the cart. Rather than bolt, the horse goes into a dissociative state and will go so far as to fall over and just lay there. Eventually, if left alone, they will come out of it and move on, but it may take a while. It's very difficult to train past this once it begins.

  21. I dunno, Rifruffian. The ends justify the means only if it's really, really necessary. If losing the weight saved her from a fatal illness, then it would be worth it. But if we created a skinny Mugs who was borderline anorexic and looking over her shoulder for the bogeyman about to toss her in a closet, just so she'd look better in a bikini, then it isn't worth it.

  22. I understand what you're saying Mugs, and I would completely agree with you.
    I think that laying a horse down should only be done in extremely rare circumstances, as a last resort in giving a very troubled horse a chance at a normal, productive life, by someone who knows what he's doing and has no domineering tendencies but is doing it only for the horse's benefit. I truly believe that the number of horses (and trainers) that would fall into this category would be very few.
    I'm not sure what I would do if I were an owner faced with a horse that was so troubled as to require this type of technique. I'm sure I would try everything possible before resorting to this. But first and foremost, I try very hard not to get myself into those types of situations in the first place, by knowing what my own limits are in what types of problems I can handle and not taking on completely unknown problem horses.
    I would compare it to your use of the serretta(sp?) on Cupcake. I'm sure you would never advocate its use on all horses, or its use by a novice who didn't know what they were doing. But in the hands of an experienced trainer, with a singularly troubled horse, there is a time and a place for it in the toolbox.
    Hopefully, none of us ever own a horse that would require this tool ("laying down" OR the serretta) be used.
    On a side note, I always heard the term "throwing" the horse. More recently it seems it's become "laying down". Is that because it's a more politically correct, or "natural", term? Does NH strike again? :) Just curious...

  23. Ruffian - Please!!!!Don't put me back in the closet!!!I'll be good!!! Oh no!Is my stomach sticking out? Quick! Go throw up!That will help.

  24. If I get real fat and somebody locks me in a closet until I'm thin, well that will work too.
    People can look at me and say, "That sure worked, none of the diets she went on before worked like locking her in the closet did. It didn't hurt her either, she's healthier than when she got locked in there. And once she chose to be thin she got let out."

    I'd probably stay thin too cuz' I sure wouldn't want to go back in that closet."

    AWESOME analogy!!! You always find a way to break things down and make the complex strikingly simple. This one is a gem.

  25. I've never seen a horse laid down in person before, only in videos. I've never had a horse that I would consider bad enough to put them through that. I consider it a last resort. My gelding on the other hand, feels comfortable enough around humans to lay down while you're standing there lol. He's actually let me walk up to him and rub all over him while he's laying down(not on the feet side haha), and he just closes his eyes and grunts. I love my boy! :) Sometimes he's a little too "friendly" and practically frisks you with his nose, that's when I run him off. Persistent little bugger just comes right back though, but with a better attitude lol.

  26. This may be one of the best things I've ever read. I never liked the idea of it and never understood why people wanted to do this with a "normal" horse; I knew it was reserved (or used to be!) for the worst of the worst, but hadn't bothered to really think it through to the level you wrote about here.

    Awesome, awesome post. And about so much more than just "laying a horse down."

  27. Interesting, thought provoking post. So what do you think about hobbling? You see it done where they were hobbled, purposefully moved/chased until they realize how exhausting that is, give up, stand still, accept... what restraint? A well known and respected pleasure horse trainer hobbles his young pleasure prospects first, then sacks out then saddles. Taking their flight/feet away. Not traumatic as laying down, but in your training philosophy, is this the same but ... different?

  28. Interesting, thought provoking post. So what do you think about hobbling? You see it done where they were hobbled, purposefully moved/chased until they realize how exhausting that is, give up, stand still, accept... what restraint? A well known and respected pleasure horse trainer hobbles his young pleasure prospects first, then sacks out then saddles. Taking their flight/feet away. Not traumatic as laying down, but in your training philosophy, is this the same but ... different?

  29. Dead on the outside or dead on the inside. Not sure which is "better.". Fantastic post and discussion.

  30. This makes me wonder about another side of PTSD: flashbacks, violent, unpredictable responses, etc. If it works like you say, Mugs (and it makes good sense to me), then wouldn't a horse that had been laid down be a sort of ticking time-bomb?

  31. An excellent post on a touchy subject. I have to agree with your analysis 100%. I always looked at the laying down technique as just incredibly cruel, but you also put a truly scientific and psychological twist to it. Excellent. This completely ties into the NH hoo-haa. But that is another topic that has been far to over-discussed.

  32. Oh good I thought I was the only one with a problem regarding that "wonderfully accurate" film.

    Sweet Pea you reminded me of an own son of *Bask that I associated with briefly one Summer. What a memory. On a seperate note...

    There was a stallion I knew at one time, 20+ years ago, that was an unhappy soul. Bored and burnt out are a bad combination in a show horse. He got rank and when the trainers brought in a Cowboy to ride him things got real interesting. Word around the barn was they saddled this horse up, took him to the out door arena and it wasn't long before he reached around and tore the Cowboys jeans at the knee. Cowboy got right off that horse and walked away. Not long after the stallion got sent off to Arizona where a serious Cowboy laid him down and tarped him. Never knew how that turned out.

    My opinion...if humans actually listened to the horse and did what was in the horses best interest instead of sticking blindly to their human agendas there would be no need for "extreme training" measures.

  33. hullo Half Dozen Farm replying to your post timed 11Apr 6.23pm writing about terminology (perhaps the least important in all of this)......I see it as physically impossible to throw a horse down and a horse sometimes lays down of it's own volition. If this manoeuvre is accomplished at the behest of a human 'close up and personal' i.e. not using ropes or other accessories.....I would write it up as inducing the horse to find it's way to the ground.

  34. I've never seen it done, but my cousin did use hobbles on a very aggressive mare once. Apparently she would attack for no reason and was just R.A.N.K. The mare could still shuffle around and nobody was sitting on her or doing anything like that, but it was a last resort for her and it worked, so I can't say I'm completely against compromising a horse's ability to run if they are a danger to people and themselves.

    That said, I think leaving a horse down for 4-5 hours and covering them with a tarp is taking it a too far. As a last resort for a super aggressive horse, I can't say I'm completely against laying them down (just to clarify, by aggressive I'm think of something like the stallion on BUCK).

    I do know this: My mare got tangled in a fence once and was down for around 20 minutes before we found her. After we got her out, she was much happier to be around us. She was never aggressive or anything to begin with, just a bit of a loner. After that she loved attention. Just thought I would throw that in there because that is the only real first hand experience I have with a horse who has been trapped while lying down.

  35. My point was missed I guess in my previous post. I apologize for that.

    I believe taking a horse down really depends on the horse, the history of said horse, and the mental state of the horse. I personally would NOT attempt to do it myself due to my lack of experience. I also feel it could be useful as a last resort sort of thing.

    Sometimes we have to stop loving things to death and take measures we normally find distasteful. If you have ever had to deal with a loved one that was troubled by checking them into a mental hospital, to me that is akin to laying a horse down. We “lay them down” with either physical restraints or mental ones (drugs) in order to help them overcome their personal demons. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t nice to see, but needs done to help the loved move back into society as a useful member, and so they can have a demon free future.

    Sometimes the end justifies the means.

    Now, I find myself in, what I call, My Darkness. I think I will lie myself down (as my horses did in my first post), and hopefully I will come up with a better attitude. Like those two horses I tend to tie myself up in my own ropes of life, or run around through life at mach speed until I slip under the fence. I just need to lie there in my own created mess and ruminate over how I got myself in this situation.

  36. Another brilliant thought provoking post – I love your style of describing training and why – cant wait for the training book or DVD for cowhorses.

    I don’t have a “position” on this issue, but find it very interesting and thought provoking.

    To follow up on an association you make with wild animals and dissociative states. In one species I know of, and possibly many other species, if you get them into a particular physical position they will remain still and not fight as much. Sheep do this and it is what allows us to shear them in any way expeditiously. If you sit them on their tails they will usually just hang there. The shearers craft relies on getting at every piece of their body and turning them this way and that while maintaining them in this still state/position and getting the wool off in one piece. If the shearer gets the sheep out of position the sheep will kick and fight and the shearer would not be able to shear it this way.

    Alpacas are much harder and slower to shear than sheep because positioning like this doesn’t work (perhaps they are too big) or hasn’t been invented yet. They must be tied down stretched out kicking and screaming and it is slow and unpleasant and shearers don’t like doing it.

    The “not struggling” state can be accessed in any sheep at any time almost instantly by putting them on their bottoms – also often works if they are just rolled on their backs or a position that is unnatural for a four legged ruminant. It might be a dissociative state – it might be something else, similar. I use it daily being a sheep farmer – it is how I can handle sheep that are my weight or bigger. It is so easy and quick to get sheep in and out of this state I mean (whatever ones wants to call it) that I don’t think it is what you describe as a “deeply transformed. War, Tsunami's, earthquakes, they can all cause it” state. I don’t think it is the same as I can tip over the pet poddy sheep, who will go limp, then roll them back on their feet and they will just go back to eating out of a bucket or following me around so I don’t think they are all that traumatized.

    I know they are predators and not prey, but puppies and kittens will also stay still if picked up by the scruff of the neck and I believe it is not considered to be deeply traumatizing. Similar states, that are not dissociated deeply traumatized PTSD states, may exist in herbivores. I think swaddling is believed to bring on a similar response in human children but I don’t really know much about that.

    Perhaps a horse being laid down may react like the sheep, the position itself might access this still state, but it is not necessarily deeply traumatized. Not saying that sometimes horses are not – like the one left 5 hours under a tarp. The example with Marting Black that Glenatron relates reminds me of the sheep. Sometimes I have to get them up afterwards too.

    I owned a stallion once that had been taught to lie down. Hold up a front foot and pull on the opposite side rein and he would lie down. It was just a party trick he came with. He did not seem very worried by it at all. I gave him a few treats when he lay down one day and, guts that he was, would wiggle his head around expecting more every time after that.

    I am not disagreeing with you, just floating ideas and observation.

  37. Working with Humans with PTSD generally requires trust and empathy. After a solid trusting relationship is established does a therapist move onto resolving the trauma.

    If during the work the person begins to become symptomatic, you have to help them calm down and relax. This is because when a person is in a distressed, trauma state, they can't process information--literally, their frontal lobes are offline.

    There is also something called learned helplessness. In the therapy world we see this in abused children and women. No matter what they do, they get abused. They become dull eyed and depressed. And believe me when they are eventually out of the situation that caused it, all hell breaks loose.

    From my perspective, a scared horse isn't going to be able to learn much. The process that creates PTSD is present in all mammals. Had a cat once with PTSD, took him years to get over all of his freak outs.

    I can't speak to how long this would take with a horse. But somethings take time.

  38. Anon - Hobbling. I've never used it as a training tool, but I will train horses to be hobbled. My way of thinking is if I need to put my horses out to graze and have no fence they need to learn to be in hobbles. Plus, if you have had to hike as far as I have trying to find my stinking hobbled horse in the a.m. (think Mort)you would know, a horse can move just fine in them.

    Accendora - Here's the thing, laying them down does work. The horse is different. Their brains do work differently than ours, so I don't think this process makes them violent. We're not prey animals like they are. I think it makes them give up something though. Something I want my horses to keep.

    scsarah - again, I think there's confusion here between human responses and horse responses. Submission, as far as I know, is not the primary goal behind human treatment for mental health.

    Ozhorse - nope. No DVD's. No training books. Just the blog. Sheep are, well, sheep. Don't know them, do know they are not kept because of their intelligence.

    Megan - If a horse gets caught in barb wire and you get it out it's a totally different experience than if you PUT the horse in barb wire and DECIDE when to get it out.

  39. Oh pooh, why do you always write these great posts when I don't have time to sit down and read everything? Calving time, I don't know where yesterday went. Anyway, my gelding, who was green forever, was shot by a hunter as a weanling. He had a terrible wound that took months to heal. For a while I thought I would have to put him down, because of the mental stress he was under. When he becomes scared it's life or death. It also seemed to delay his mental maturation. So far this year, he seems like a normal horse, but I don't know, are they ever over it?

    As for the book you mentioned, I've wanted to read that too, lets talk about it in the book club.

  40. Here's my take on it.
    I've seen LOTS of ranch horses in the making that were so rank they had to have a foot tied up to be saddled, or for them to be mounted. As Mugs says, they were still able to move their feet.

    When a horse is SO aggressive that they need to be "tarped" as it's called in my part of the country, I think it's much more humane to put the horse down. On the spot, bullet in the head. If the horse is so dangerous that throwing them down and leaving them under a tarp is the only way you can manage them, why have them around? Are you going to keep them forever to ensure that they never *snap* and decide to eat humans? How would they feel if this reformed outlaw decided 2 years down the road to revert back to their old ways, and crippled or killed someone as a result? Nothing is permanent in a horse. Just because they act calmer or less lethal after having their lives pass before their eyes does not mean that they'll stay that way for ever and ever and ever. I don't buy it.
    It's not as if horses are so scarce that you can't go find another one...

  41. Hobbles aren't meant to be a correction for bad behavior. Hobbles are used by working cowboys to keep their horse in one spot. Example: cowboy has to rope a 1100lb cow out in the middle of 300 acres that's having trouble calving. Cowboy ropes cow, ties cow down. Puts hobbles on horse, proceeds to pull calf. This may take 10 minutes, it may take an hour. There's not always a handy dandy hitching post or tree or trailer out in the middle of no where, so unless his horse is a ground tying champ that he trusts implicitly, he hobbles that horse before he goes to play vet with the momma cow. Hobbles teach a horse patience, and can teach them not to fuss and fight if they get an ankle or leg hung up in something. All of our using geldings are hobble broke. They respect the hobbles, and understand that they mean 'Stay here!' They can still move if they want to--my husband's sorrel horse can go just as fast with them on as he can without. It's nothing but a matter of respect and training. If you've trained them to respect them, they will. They're not a cure all with that fairy dust Mugs talked about, would be cooler if they were!

  42. Very good, interesting post.

    I've never seen this method do any good. I only saw it once I made it to college.
    Once, I came home to my roommate's boyfriend laying down his ~15 year old mare because she was "being a bitch". I don't think that's the right way, although it didn't seem to have any lasting effects one way or the other on her, and didn't look overly traumatizing. She'd probably done that a few times.

    I took a "breaking and training class" in college last semester. (we won't mention what school I attend.) In this class, we took completely unhandled weanlings and halter broke them, then took long yearlings/two year olds who'd been handled about 5 days in their life, and broke them to ride (yes I know, yearlings. That wasn't the worst of the class.) I could go on and on about the professor that taught that class. Long story short, "laying them down" was a good solution to him, especially for horses whose feet you couldn't pick up. Third or fourth day we'd been handling weanlings, he laid one down because the girl couldn't pick up his feet. He flipped it over almost into a fence. That weanling was NOT the same afterward. Before, it loved people, a real up in your business, "in your pocket" horse. Not so much after that.

    My long yearling I was assigned to break was a pain about picking up one back foot. So one day, prof takes her from me, pulls up the back foot and lays her down WHILE SHE IS TIED TO A FENCE. First time, she kicked him while laying down and got back up :). So he laid her down again. Still tied. She looked a lot like she was going to pass out from the halter pressure, and she was groaning. I had never known horses could make such awful sounds until that class. They hobbled her back foot to front foot, whipped her till she got up, untied her, and led her around the arena like that. I had never been so angry in my life. Needless to say, I had an even worse time picking up her foot after that had scraped all the skin off. Other than that though, I honestly couldn't see any lasting effects. She was a dull filly before that, and the same afterward. Although she was harder to catch the next time I worked with her. Can't blame her.
    That prof laid almost all the horses down at some point. Some it obviously affected, others it didn't. Most, I couldn't say whether it was that or the multitude of other abusive/poor training they were put through that effected them.

    I agree with what Half Dozen Farm has said. Maybe as a last ditch effort. Maybe. I think this is a completely overused method, used by cowboys who want to look tough, or "teach the horse a lesson." It has disgusted me every time I've seen it. I think some horses it would have lasting effects on, others not so much. Horses are incredibly forgiving animals. I think a sensitive, reactive horse could easily be ruined forever by something like this.

    Sorry for such a long post!

  43. Great post. Thought-provoking and well-written, and definitely not lacking in opinion (and that's a good thing!)

    I've never seen a horse "laid down." I know people who have done it as part of trick-training, which I guess is a thing for some people, and I didn't much like the way it looked even then. I'll admit I'm naive to the rationale the proponents of routine "laying-down" are using, so I can't actually comment on whether or not I think it would work. It sounds, essentially, like the same thing as flooding, overwhelming the animal with stimuli (in this case, fear).

    The Evidence-Based Horsemanship line has intrigued me. I'm not sure how evidence-based it can really be -- I know there's some good studies on equine behaviour and learning being done, but are they really scalable or relatable yet? Will they ever be? Maybe the book addresses that.

  44. Flyin on Time - I think you should mention the name of the school - maybe the abusive 'professor' should be 'outed'.

  45. Great thought provoking post. I have never seen it, I have heard stories of it - some say it works, some say not so much. I just pray to the powers that be, that I never need to see it, do it or be part of it.

    How is that for putting my head in the sand?

  46. I don't agree with the throw them down part of it, but I'm wondering if because I have seen a different approach to it and the result if that has colored my thinking on it.

    I have a friend that does it, she worked with her horse for about a month to get her to lay down and do it on cue. So she didn't force it and did it in steps and rewarded the horse when it did what was asked. The horse will lay down now and when she goes down she rolls and wiggles then lays there, then she waits until she's asked to get up. There was no change in attitude and is still generally a MARE, and i don't say that in a good way. So where is the line of bad and good? When its used as a training technique as apposed to being used to get your horse to do something as a trick? One the horse gets a reward for doing something you want and one is that the horse is being punished for something? Can they be put together to fix a bad behavior?

  47. Very interesting topic -- I've only experienced something similar to what SweetPea described. The horse was being a jerk; he started to rear and buck in the arena and the handler not wanting to get an arm torn from its socket let go of the lead. Horse flipped himself over onto the dirt, got back up, shook off, and you could tell that throwing himself to the dirt like that had gotten his attention. The fact that he did it to himself was key instead of someone trying to wrestle/force it on him.

    I've seen old films showing it being done (usually with the horse tied and unable to move at the end) and it's always been pretty violent -- the horse is in pure flight frenzy as his feet are taken out from underneath him. It's an awful brutal way to establish dominance.

    Because of the parallels between tarping/laying a horse down and that mental no-man's land that happens right before a prey animal is killed by a predator, the technique has to "rewire" some triggers in the brain. Extended time in the dissociative state probably rewires things even more, turning the horse into a mere shell as that tarped orphan in Mug's post. Neurological imaging would probably tell the story, but it would be one hell of a cruel experiment.

    It seems like it would be more humane to euthanize than to steal and crush the essence of what makes a horse a horse.

  48. I find it very interesting how many people I see here who have never seen a horse laid down and have exactly the same thoughts about it that I had before I saw it done. Seeing a tool like that used well certainly complicates those kinds of opinion.

    There is a slightly wider topic that the discussion is coming onto here which is that of flooding. For example, the tarp thing is a flooding technique. There are loads of others- a lot of standard training techniques are flooding oriented but it can be very harmful to a horse's wellbeing and it's pretty much never necessary.

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  50. I have laid my horse down on several occasions and after the first time he actually went down with just me holding his foot, once down began eating grass out of the side of his mouth.
    Other times he was left alone untied for several minutes which he seemed to enjoy. I actually did a indian dance around him with no binding or ropes and he just laid there until he decided to flip and roll before rising to his feet.
    That does not sound or look like a animal with fear or dullness.
    I think it depends on the horse because when my friends tried it on their horse's the result was not the same-I believe their horse's were afraid.

  51. Also the reason I did this is because it does teach the horse patience when tangled. That actually happened while camping when he got his leg caught in a corral panel for 2 hours before I realized it was him banging "ching, ching, ching for 2 hours.
    He waited for me to come get a 100lb panel off him and waited patiently till I did. I would hate to think what would have happened if he had gone bonkers.

  52. I think a lot of people aren't quite getting it. There is a difference between teaching a horse to lay down, or a horse getting caught and falling, or any of these other scenarios and the situation Mugs is talking about. Mugs is talking about throwing a horse to the ground to dominate them, to prove that the human is in control. I have seen it done, and every time it was by someone who was gonna 'show that horse who is boss!' They were in a hurry, didn't want to bother with all that training and working, just wanted the horse to do what they wanted. Sometimes they got that. They got a broken, obedient nag they could whip around and wouldn't put a foot wrong.

    But sometimes they got a horse who was so terrified, who fought so much that they injured or killed them self trying to get free. Or was strong enough they just couldn't force them, and became a horse who knew humans would do bad things, and couldn't be trusted. (and couldn't make the horse do anything) I've met lots of ponies whose owners have tried this strong arm treatment only to get the finger from the pony.

    Before you think I am a bleeding heart, I have laid horses down in the grass myself, but every time it was a horse who had a dangerous rearing problem. But it was simple, I set them up with long reins through the stirrups, they reared, I pulled their nose to the saddle and pulled them down on the ground. Only once did I have to do it twice. They lay there in shock for a moment, then get up a lot more mannerly. But that wasn't domination, taking control of them, it was consequences. If you rear, I'm going to pull you over. Your choice on that.

  53. I have a cute little paint horse who was "laid down" prior to me buying him(and unknown to me)/ I bought him last August from a woman in Texas, she was scared to death of him, and I bought him cheap. When I tried him out, he was didn't seem to know much but he was calm and he was good. I think he was unsure and just wanted out of there, because the next day I rode him at home and he had a lot more pizazz/finesse.

    I got him home and treated him like any of ours, and we got along pretty good. No idea he was "satan incarnate". I had him for a few weeks before I started hauling him. People came out of the woodworks with faces as white as ghosts to tell me about his history, who has owned him, and what he has done. They thought I had drugged him because he was so non monstrous.

    He was 5 when I got him, and close to 10 people owned/trained on him in the past year. He charged his breeder's daughter in a roundpen, and then the breeder. She sent him to two trainers and traded him for another horse (that fell through).

    A local pretty dang good barrel racer's horse got out and hit by a car, so the breeder gave my horse to her. She had him for 6 months, and after the 5th or 6th ride on him, he started cowkicking her while she saddled him, and if she tried to back him out of a trailer he would smush her in the front of it. I think pretty highly of her, she's become one of my closest rodeo pals and she seems to always treat her horses fair, but my horse still don't care for her much and he knows her better than I do. The girl gave up on him, so the breeder gave him to her barrel trainer (who trains horses for big time people) and he was the one that laid him down or flipped him. He called it a come-to-jesus meeting.

    After putting a few rides on him, he put him on the backburner in his father's pasture. His father gave him to the woman I bought him from, and the first night with her, he cornered her in a stall and kicked her.

    I didn't know any of this until a month after having him. We've just really hit it off great. He broncs every once in a while if he's feeling fresh, but I'll growl and he stops. He's still got that spunk and a personality, a lot of fire to him, and he's too smart for his own good. He got to where he wanted to cowkick while saddling, but would cowkick on the opposite side of me. One timely pop with a quirt, and he stopped. He will back up out of a trailer or under saddle now, and he tolerates baths. He is the kind of horse that will come after you if you beat on him, I learned that after getting frustrated and popping him with the leadrope. He pinned his ears and snapped at me, and now I find a better way to get him to do what I want.

    He's extremely linebred(inbred) though, his grandsire on both sides is the same horse, and his grand-dam is his great grand-dam on the other. That may have something to do with his "tenacity".

  54. Ok so here is where I'm at. I have a 4 year old Paint/clyde gelding that I bought from an auction. When I got this horse you couldn't get 20 feet from him or he would jump a fence to get away. We got him to the point where he would come to you for treats and let you put him in a 10 by 10 pen and touch his shoulder. So I finally found a trainer to take him last month to halter break and he is having a lot of the issues being listed here. He is scared shitless of people touching him, and attacks them to get the point across. He is in such a state of fear that he will do ANYTHING to get away. So here are my options at this point, either I give him away to someone who thinks they can train him, which I really don't want to do because if I sign him over I cant control what happens after that. Or the other option is to put him down. I cant afford to send a grade gelding to a bunch of different trainers just to see if someone can take him on. I don't want to make it about economics but my fiance and I have 9 horses all told, so investing upwards of $5000 into training for a very uncertain one is not fair to the rest who need it. I love this horse, which is why euthanasia has been made an option. I took him off the meat truck once so I don't want him to end up there again. I guess to the point of my story is I don't believe in debarking a dog, but if someone has tried everything and the choice is debark or put down then I would debark. I know this method isn't at the top of the list, but if it could keep my horse alive then I think it might be worth trying it. I would love to know what people think about a situation like ours, and if there is anything else we could do... But please understand that I haven't included a ton about him because it would be to long a response, but he is at the point where most people have said put him down because he is dangerous, so this is not a rush decision we have made. We have run out of options on him. :(

  55. Anon,

    You may want to post this at the Mind Meld.

    Obviously he has been touched at some point, since he is a gelding (are you sure, or just don't see anything? They can hide pretty well ;-)

    I think economics are a legitimate consideration. You say you love him already... why? Do you love the thought of his potential, or him?

    In simplest terms: If it's the thought of what he *could* be, you need to find a way to spend the time, the money, or put him down. If it is the latter, plan to have him in a place where he can self wear his feet as much as possible, once a year have him darted and do any necessary veterinary and hoof stuff. Accept he may never accept you.

  56. Bif Thanks for the reply I will have to move it over there. I have had this guy for 2 years, and it took us till now to feel we could send him to a trainer. Honestly it is his personality when he is out in the field playing with his buddies as well as his talent. We got him as a colt, and the only vet willing to come geld him was an old school cattle vet who was a Ninja about things and finally got him done. Its a good thing we got him done when we did because the talent I speak of is clearing a 5'5" fence to get to the mares before he was gelded. :/

  57. my friend has also used this method on another horse that was horrible about kicking at you at any time you got around him. Biting and lunging at you were also bad habits with him. She worked on getting him to give up his movement with his feet. first hobbling and then with the laying down. He wasn't a 100% trustworthy after that, but he no longer tried to kill you with his feet and touching him wasn't a reason to take a hunk of meat out of you. Weirdly enough after this horse colicked really bad one night and had a seizure. I stood by him through it all, and just talked and rubbed him, we couldn't get a vet out and we were gonna load him up to take him to the hospital, after all that he went through that night, he never tried to bite me or kick me ever again. I could actually go up to him and hug him and love on him. No one else could.

  58. Here you go Wildcat:

    Busta eating his grass after he went down.

  59. Anonymous with the troubled horse, you could check out Friendship Training, it works brilliantly with fearful horses and has helped many who people were told to put down because they were dangerous. It is helping me enormously with my spooky untrusting gelding.

    The website is and they also have a yahoo discussion list. it may sound a bit 'out there' at first reading, but my goodness, it works.

    Good luck

  60. In reference to the reaction Ozhorse is talking about, its called Tonic Immobility. Most often, its a response to direct threat save in cases such as say, the limp reflect of a young kitten or puppy when grabbed by the scruff such as their mother might do to move them. However bear in mind, their mother isn't likely to move them unless she feels her current spot is unsafe in the first place.

    I can't really expound too much upon the possibility of tonic immobility in horses, as my own research on it was related to humans & sleep paralysis, and I don't want to get too far out of my depth but its an interesting thought.

    It does however shore up Mug's idea that this is a highly traumatic event, rather than the opposite.

    Really interesting topic!

  61. A very good post once again, Mugs.

    I cannot really comment on this as I have never seen it done.
    However, I suppose there is a difference if you train your horse to do it in a friendly atmosphere, or if you do it as a way to dominate the horse?

    Risking to break the spirit in a horse must be the very last resort. A horse without spirit is not a horse anymore.

  62. The fundamental point that I derive from this post is that there are better ways to achieve your goals. While laying a horse down seems peaceful, it could cause a great deal of psychological harm by truly breaking a horse's spirit. Just because it hasn't in all cases doesn't mean that it was the best strategy. It also has a great deal of potential to cause physical damage if the horse decides to resist and ends up skinning itself by fighting the restraints. Read the account by Flyin on Time above - not all horses submit easily to this treatment. Overall, it just doesn't seem worth it.

  63. Very interesting post. I've seen horses dropped as a training tool several times. I've seen it done very badly & I've seen it done well. My trainer dropped my filly. She wasn't nasty, she just had no respect. I'd done too good a job of desensitising her as a foal. She floated well, was halter broken, would stand to have her feet done, etc, but that was the furthest I'd pushed her. When it came time to break her to saddle she was just like, 'nuh uh, you're a human. You're fun to play with and you give treats but no way in heck are you making me do something I'm not overly keen on.' Again, not nasty, but my trainer was worried about her general attitude & said there was a major blow up in her future. She also thought that working through said blow up would destroy her trust in people more than laying her down right from the start. She put a rope from the halter, around her girth, then around one front leg. Then she put a bit of pressure on the rope to put her off balance and she just flopped to the ground. Trainer then, touched her all over, sat on her, then let her up and mounted. You could see the cogs ticking, "holy crap! WTF was that! I'll behave, she might do it again!" She's most certainly not 'broken'. She's bright, intelligent, interested in her surroundings, loves people and is a brilliant saddle horse. I've also taught her to lie down on command as a trick, which she does quite happily and will sometimes go to sleep, so she's definately not traumatised. It's a hard one. As I've said I've seen it done by people other than my trainer and walked away feeling sick because it was nothing more than abuse.