Updated: Mar 16, 2022
The most important gaits for a driving horse are the woah and stand. Imagine you're having a lovely drive and suddenly a wheel falls off your carriage. Your horse hears the commotion and feels the change of draft behind him and he spooks. He takes off running terrified. You shout "WOAH WOAH WOAH!" and he continues running... You end up upside down in a ditch (terrifying!!!) Or... Imagine you're trying to climb up into your brand new marathon carriage, excited to drive the shiny new vehicle the first time. You're horse steps off without being asked. You trip, fall down, your horse spooks at the commotion, runs away with your brand new carriage... Well, you know how sad that will make you! The most important gait a driving horse can have is a woah and stand. These are 2 separate commands, should be trained separately, and used correctly in accordance with which gait you are in need of. Remember to keep training sessions short! 15-20 minutes is more than enough time. Be respectful that every horse's learning time is different. Some horses will quickly pick these things up, some horses are a little slower on the uptake. Patience. Patience makes perfect. If you do not have time or patience today, work tomorrow instead. There is always another day.
Let's talk about WOAH first. Woah is the act of the horse going from being in motion to motionless. Teaching it is easy to break down into short, simple steps: 1) Stand facing your horse slightly off to one side of him. Make sure you are using a comfortable halter and leadrope made of cotton or other material that will not hurt your hand should your horse pull away. 2) Walk your horse towards you for a few steps and then place firm pressure on his halter to stop him and tell him "woah"
3) Immediately make his feet stop moving and praise him for stopping his feet. He does not need to stay there long as we are only trying to teach him to stop moving... once we have taught him to stop moving, we'll teach him to stay that way with the stand.
Now let's teach the STAND. Stand is the act of staying motionless after you have Woah'ed. 1) Once you're horse is understanding that woah means to stop his feet, add the word "Stand" as soon as his feet have stopped. 2) If he moves a foot, simply put the foot back. If he walks off, circle him around back to the original spot, woah him, and tell him once more, stand. Repeat this step until he stays standing for a few seconds. Then praise him. 3) As a reward for standing, allow your horse to move off. Treats and happy verbal praise are excellent, but the biggest reward for standing is you allowing your horse to move off from where you asked him to stand. 4) Increase the length of time your horse stands. I find with my training horses I'm happy with their ability to stand when I can tell them stand and their feet do not move while I take some time to contemplate the week's dinner menu for my family and write a shopping list. When they will stand while I do that, I'm happy with the stand. That's it! You can never spend too much time working on woah and stand, even with seasoned horses. Share in the comments below any tips or tricks you like to use when teaching woah/stand and let me know how your progress is going with your horses!