Neu Perspectives

Down in the Dirt

Laying Down a Horse

Laying down a horse is a popular tactic for selling horses. It’s impressive, but what’s the benefit from a true horsemanship perspective?

I’m sure plenty of folks who have been to a horse sale lately have seen some consignors laying down their horses during the bidding. We love a good show, and our attention spans are shorter than ever before as a society. In order to keep people hooked, people need to show as much as possible in a small amount of time when it comes to selling horses.

Technology has allowed for this in recent years. Lately, I’ve viewed many a video via the internet of gentle horses for sale. They lope, they track a cow, they usually turn around. And to prove how good-minded these horses really are, the rider often cracks a whip, slides off the back of the gelding or mare to the ground, rides around without a bridle and even lays the horse down on command.

Impressive, right? 

But beyond mere entertainment value, I think laying a horse down poses an interesting question to prospective buyers. 

“Why would I really want or need a horse to be able to do that?” 

laying down a horse
Luke, Louie and Mae Neubert lay down a horse in their home arena. Photo by Kelli Neubert

Are we missing out if we ride something that can’t fall to the ground on command at the squeeze of the wither or the lift of a rope? Is it useful in any way to pay a premium for a horse that knows how to lie down? Or is it just a smoke and mirrors presentation to squeeze a few more shares and dollars out of a horse? 

All that I can share is my experience, and (although I don’t make a habit of videoing it) I like to teach my horses to lie down. It’s time and labor intensive. It requires patience and creativity from horse to horse, and it can be dangerous if not done in a cautious manner. But to me, it highlights the horsemanship goal of having an equine think through a challenging task and reap the rewards of the desired answer (relief). It’s another thing for a horse to work at and learn from, and for us it is something challenging to do. It promotes flexibility—both mental and physical—as it works both their minds and their bodies and turns a task that is quite concerning into a form of reward. 

Horses are vulnerable when they are without their legs. Their legs are a means of transportation and a way to protect themselves. Instinctually, if a horse is lying down, he is much more prone to being attacked or injured from other animals. So automatically, a horse that allows us to lay him down easily has learned to release some tightness and insecurity.

It is a physical workout for the horse in the process. Their bodies aren’t used to holding such strange, yoga-type positions for extended periods of time. It also teaches us as horsemen to reward the slightest try, and build on it. (In this instance, just the thought of sinking an inch closer to the sand warrants relief from the handler.) Many of us in the horse business remember how legendary horseman Ray Hunt had a breakthrough with his horse Hondo by laying him down.

Martin Black lays down a horse.
Idaho horseman Martin Black lays down a horse. Photo by Kate Bradley Byars

I’ve seen it affect some horses greatly, and for others, it doesn’t change much. Sometimes I think it can help a horse “let down” uneasiness toward scary things. A horse that’s exposed to stimulants such as people walking to him, plastic tarps and crinkly sounds often improves after he learns how to accept such things when down. 

It’s extremely important to have the right, experienced help when teaching a horse how to lie down properly. Timing and safety is everything in this process, and the amount of work to accomplish this task varies greatly from horse to horse. Does it always mean an all-around incredible animal both outside and in the show pen when they know how to lie down on command? No. But I feel like in general, it’s an asset when a horse knows how to do it, and can accomplish the task in a quiet, accepting and relaxed state.

And shoot, if that social media video does its job and you end up with the incredible gelding who does it all, it’s nice to know that if things ever go south when you ride around sans bridle, he can drop to the ground on command! 

1 thought on “Down in the Dirt”

  1. I watched and listened to Ray Hunt preparing a horse to be ready for the experience of laying down. It was a lengthy process as the horse had a lot of resistance about a lot of things. The preparation took quite a while and did not include attempting to lay him down. He believed, it seems, that you can build greater resistence in a horse that would benefit from the process if the horse isn’t prepared. I would be interested in your thoughts on that. Also could you encourage your horse to lay down when you didn’t want him to if it was overdone?


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