The first day working with Cohn Livingston was very productive. He did a lot of in-hand work with Douwe, getting him to respect his space and respond to his cues with some lunging on the lead line and quick changes of direction so he wouldn’t lean as much into his shoulders. He made Douwe work awhile and then led him to the pedestal. The goal is that the horse eventually associates the pedestal as a resting place that they would be happy to stand on. If you make the horse work and then put them on the pedestal and let them rest and relax for awhile they will start to look for it and want to stand on it. However, in the beginning the horse must respect the handler because you can be in a dangerous position if the horse decides to step or jump off or over the pedestal. Douwe got on with his front feet very well but the difficulty was putting his hind legs on.
He is a big horse and he needed to really tuck his hind end under to be able to stand on that small pedestal. Douwe can be a bit stubborn and defiant so he made Cohn work pretty hard to get him to do what he needed to do. He used the whip to tap the hind legs and would also pick up his foot and help place it on the pedestal. You have to have really quick timing to reward the horse when he makes the right decision and also quick to correct him when he doesn’t. When you are trying to get the hind legs up on the pedestal it is normal for the horse to want to step off with the front legs. This has to be quickly corrected by making the horse back up very quickly, flustering the horse so he is a little scared to come over the front. This is also very important when you teach piaffe in-hand because you cannot hold a horse on the spot, he needs to think you are a wall in front of him that he is not allowed to pass. This is done by backing the horse up and having them totally respect your body language, voice, and whip aids from the front. It took about an hour but Douwe finally got all 4 feet on the pedestal. His muscles were quivering a little bit as he worked really hard to find his balance. Standing on the pedestal is excellent for their abdominal muscles and lengthening their topline. The horse is really lifting his back and keeping the hind end engaged.
Once Douwe got onto the pedestal it was pretty easy to keep him there. We pet him a lot and allowed him to have some quiet time. I expected him to try and get off if we walked away but he didn’t. He was so quiet that Cohn had me go all around him, even through his legs. He never even flinched!