Udo Burger - "Cigar" standing exercise

I’m currently reading “The Way to Perfect Horsemanship” by Udo Burger and there is one exercise which I think would be very good for the headstrong mare I’m leasing. To quote from the book:

“Sins of the past, which have upset a horse, can be redeemed by the same method, of frequently letting him stand perfectly still, completely unrestrained. My old master Oskar Stensbeck used to educate head-strong horses by riding into the manege, coming to a halt, and letting the horse quitely ‘chew’ the bit from his hand; he would then light a cigar and read his newspaper until the cigar had burnt out. During all this time, he would never let the horse move from the same spot. Then he would quietly dismount and have the horse led back to his box. This “meditating exercise” for the horse, alternated with periods of walking with the reins adjusted to a contact, was one of our favourite lessons, the benefits of which were felt for the rest of their life by both horse and rider.”

OK, sounds simple enough - ride into the ring, halt, and let the horse stand on a loose rein for a length of time then dismount and go back to the barn.

A few questions though:

  1. He mentions “alternating with walking” and I’m a bit confused if the standing exercise should be one entire session or if it could be used throughout sessions, for example stand 10 minutes, walk a bit, stand 10 minutes more. Or if it means one session standing, then next session relaxed walking, repeat.

  2. I do not plan to smoke nor read while in the saddle and as I don’t smoke cigars I’m not sure how long we should stand for. 10 minutes…? Google says a cigar takes 30 minutes to an hour?

  3. Has anyone tried this exercise with an older horse that has ingrained tension/spooking issues and if so how did it go?

  4. What happens if the horse spooks halfway through - should I start the time over?

It sounds so simple but I often think my mare could use some meditation in her life. We’ve gotten much better with spooks while riding as I’m spending the whole ride keeping her mind busy, shoulder ins, circles, getting a feel for when she feels like spooking etc. But now we are having spooks while standing after the ride, when other riders are dismounting or the trainer is giving us a recap and the reality is there are times in her life where she will need to occupy her own mind and that’s why this very-simple exercise has piqued my interest.

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You could recite a rhythmic, rhyming poem while just standing there. Personally I would start small, ask for immobility for a short time, maybe one recitation of a short poem or the lyrics to a song (you could also sing.) Patience is needed, the horse won’t relax as much if you are feeling anxious, impatient or antsy. For longer periods you could recite the poem again and again, or memorize a longer poem.

This will keep you breathing and your body relaxed, not exactly like smoking a cigar but close enough. The rider’s physical and mental relaxation are necessary for this to work, plus the rider being willing to be bored, bored, bored. One advantage about reciting a poem is that your horse won’t be as bored as he would be just standing there wondering what in the world you are trying to do.

It is important to let the horse chew the reins through your hands as he lowers his head and neck, if you just drop the reins the horse won’t start his physical relaxation response as well as when he “chews” on the bit (I really think the horse’s tongue is what is doing the “chewing” since I do not hear the horse grinding on the bit even though his jaw is opening and closing some).

And congratulations on reading Udo Burger! I learned a lot from his book, in particular how to time my aids properly. My riding improved by leaps and bounds and the horses were happier with me.

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I used to be at a place with a very chatty BO. She would come to the arena doors with a question and half an hour later we’d still be standing there chatting*. It’s a very effective way to teach a horse to relax while hanging out. Reducing spookiness, not so much, imo. That said, chilling at halt can be a first step :slight_smile:

In terms of how to approach misdemeanors, every time the horse moves, put it back in place and carry on with the conversation. They learn that it takes less effort to just stand there until asked to move.

*this happened only when horse was cool enough (during walk warm up or cool down) to do so. Hot horse chatting consisted of stand and chat a minute, walk a small circle on a loose rein while chatting a minute, repeat.

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Captain Littauer advocated something similar for installing relaxation in young horses. Mount the horse, and rather than immediately moving off, just chill and fumer une cigarette.

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Like all training exercises, this one will depend for effectiveness on the feel and timing of the rider. It’s impossible to say in abstract how long it will take on any given horse.

If your horse is already jumpy in the arena you might want to start on the ground. Get the horse to a place where you can say whoa, then back off 5 steps on the lead rope, and horse will just stand there relaxed, not fidgety or trying to follow you.

Teach this in a quiet arena then try out in a busy arena. You will learn a lot about your horse and your body language by teaching this. Maybe teach her a distinctive voice cue for standing like “stand” or “wait.”

When you start in the saddle give the same cue and wait the same amount of time to let her relax. And when you gather her up to start, be methodical and gentle.

On the ground you should also teach a command to break the trance and approach you. I usually say whoa to immobilize them and then whistle to come to me. I also do use clicker treats but not for everything. Clicker training can change a horses attitude to what’s being asked.

Good pros can accomplish a lot with body language and intention. For us ammies, clicker and voice cues can help bridge those moments when our body cues aren’t as clear as they should be.

My coach has us take standing breaks where she discusses theory and the ride. Often our lessons run over an hour for that reason. It’s good for the horse to totally relax.

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I screwed this up so very badly with my current horse that I have to go get her every time. I mean it’s great to be able to hop off and go do something (move an obstacle, pick up a hazard/pull vines down on the trail, etc.) but it sure sucks when you find yourself a ways away and she just stands there going, "No. I am parked. You can make all the gestures and noises you like, but I am not moving. Yeah, those semaphore flags? Pshaw. I CAN’T SEE THEM BECAUSE I AM PARKED.’

I swear it’s a game and she laughs and laughs every time I try to do a recall.

By the same token, about once a year or so she will remind me that she has her own ideas and will break her “stand” and wander off purposefully. Never fail it is due to something I should have understood and managed better. About this time last year she reminded me that she needs personal self-grooming time in her stall when she’s shedding and she wandered off at a purposeful walk around a corner, down the hall, around another corner and down the barn aisle back to her stall instead of standing while I hung her blanket up. Smart horse knows she is not allowed to do yoga on concrete footing so she took herself to her yoga allowed zone.

And then there was last fall when I brought her in early for a bath. She was mad. I knew it. I ignored her and didn’t crosstie her figuring her manners would overcome her anger. Not that day. Again, left with me hanging on to her just soaped up tail, around 2 corners at a purposeful walk, checked behind to see if I was gaining on her (I was) and the moment she was straight, trotted off down the barn aisle, past her stall and back to her field.

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Quietness starts on the ground. Can your horse just stand, quietly (not moving legs, head, tail all the time) and not tuned out, just waiting and accepting the situation in a participatory manner? Can your horse do the same at the mounting block and wait for you to cue to walk off? What about if it takes you 2 seconds longer to get ready and cue? 5 seconds? 10? 30?.. Many horses are so used to rider “helping” all the time, they keep the rider busy instead of waiting on the rider for next task.

By the same token, that very exercise can be nerveracking and dangerous if done improperly, imo. A frustrated, anxious horse not allowed to move forward, will move - sideways, up, back…

In my experience, incorporating treats appropriately and sparingly, leads to a quicker re-focusing of the horse’s mind from “flight”/impatient “thoughts” to focusing on me, relaxing in eating activity, and waiting/trying to earn the next treat. It is a much more positive way to train the mind and body of the horse for me.

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Yes. Udo Burger might have been fine on the saddle or he might have assumed his horses already all had excellent ground manners. The rest of us should confirm and teach ground manners first.

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Hehe… and to think that my busy-footed, reactive mare has learned that a “coffee break” is to be had if she just stands still near the instructor. In fact, all of my horses have learned that discussions of theory and pedagogy between two people are an awesome break. I’d be surprised to learn that your horse, just in the course of taking some lessons, OP, wouldn’t learn to enjoy standing still.

But being alone, I think you just have to give her that “ride” of standing there all day. To me, the cigar and newspaper were about giving the rider a basis for putting his mind and body in “Park” for a long time. I think that’s the same reason folks have a particular posture or mantra, or even a series of yoga moves: Those are the means to an end for attaining a meditative state.

The spooking standing still after a ride tells me that your horse needs this exercise in spades. She has not been taught the acceptance horses must learn when asked to wait. She may or may not have the same problem in hand or tied. Meh, no matter; just fix her inability to Just Chill and practice the acceptance of waiting, which will lead to relaxation, wherever she lacks it.

As far as when to walk or stop or how long. I think you are waiting for that feeling of flat-footed, still acceptance from the horse. You want their posture and feeling under you to be how they are when standing in the pasture after breakfast, almost asleep. It will be hard for both of you to wait that long, hence the need for a cigar and newspaper and enough riding that you just keep putting her back when she moves. Then, when she achieves a modicum of stillness, it will be hard for you to wait just a little bit longer to really seal the deal.

When I’m doing this, I insist on all four feet on the ground, not moving. But when I have a horse that has a little bit of practice at this, I then try to make myself wait for a deep sigh. That’s a sign of acceptance. If you get an exhale and then some licking and chewing and/or blinking, you really have it.

I love the “get right off and walk out” part of this training. Surprise the horse with a reward and/or an activity that leaves her in that super-relaxed state you just achieved. Don’t get her relaxed and then jack her mind back up with a training ride.

I have known pros that have made a practice of working on relaxation. One Western Pleasure guy used to say he did “fire drills” with horses. He’d saddle them up, they’d start to worry, he’d take them off the cross ties and then unsaddle them and put them back. I knew another pro who used to undress the worried horse in the ring. So if this horse (or any other) did something really right in the lesson, he’d pull up, praise the horse, get off, strip the tack off and turn the horse loose, then and there. You could tell the horses this made an impression on because they’d stand there for a minute wondering what just happened and re-playing the video in their mind. The already relaxed horse who didn’t need this so much was the guy who was quick to “shift gears” and walk away to roll.

Hope this helps. Just read your horse and go slower when she’s going mentally faster. It will bring the speed of her mind to the speed of yours, but if will take some time and some good timing/good interpretation of her from you.

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Reining horses are taught the chill movement, comes first in their training.
That is to stand there until asked to move on, any time, anywhere.

That forms the basis of all their training, as the greatest fault for a reiner and, because of the repetitive nature of what is taught, anticipation is something that is not desired and penalized.
A reiner has to first, above all, from the first handling, learn patience and to wait for direction.

It is not so easy to teach a horse, especially a very young horse, to chill and stand there, as it can quickly become a resistance if confused.
Installing a solid forward is considered essential to any we do with our horses, as it should.
We sometimes forget to teach a horse to wait and reward a bit of anticipation, thinking it promotes that desired forward we want.
A careful trainer will know the difference.
The technical parts of riding, why we do what we do, is something that takes understanding the concepts and what and how we go about all we do with horses.

How to teach, to go and to stand and wait are important skills and best given careful thought to what we want to achieve and how to get there.

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Thanks everyone for your responses, who knew there was so much to learn about just standing still…

A little background, the mare has very good ground manners and good groundwork in general - she’ll stand tied or on the lunge, walk and halt, back up, turn on haunches on ground. She can also stand still most of the time but she does get very tense and reactive (which is one of the reasons I like riding her and she is helping me with my dressage in tons). We also have a new indoor arena (one of the tarp-covered ones that kind of moves in the wind and frankly is a bit unsettling) and she is very nervous in there, especially near the ‘scary corner’ which has a view of the ‘horse-eating’ horse walker.

So I gave it a go today and I think it went pretty well:

I wasn’t able to walk her into the indoor and had to get on once inside, but once I was on we stood in the middle of the ring facing the scary corner and stopped. She did not move the entire time so the standing part was not an issue in the end so the goal was “relax.” A horse was in the walker and she was very alert and tense. What was probably the most interesting part of this exercise for me was how closely and clearly I was able to feel her body movements. At the beginning I could feel her heart racing under my legs - I don’t think I’ve ever noticed a horse’s heartbeat while in the saddle before so this was pretty cool. It was racing pretty fast and made me realize how stressed this place made her though.

After 10 minutes she chewed on the bit a little bit and let out a big sigh. However something moved outside the arena and her head popped right back up, staring at the corner. So we waited some more.

In the end we stood for 40 minutes. Around 20 minutes she shifted her weight for the first time. After 25 minutes or so she started chewing a bit, looking back at me, but then head right back up and a little tense again. Around 35 minutes some more chewing and head dropped but then right back up. At 40 minutes more chewing and head dropped for longer - I dismounted, loosened the girth, and walked her back to the barn.

It went by a lot faster than I thought it would - I spent some time feeling her out, scratching her withers and butt, sighing and yawning myself, taking pictures on my phone, and joking with my trainer who had been warned I was just going to stand there today.

I think we’re going to try again tomorrow and see if we can get more relaxed in less time. It’s kind of nice to give her a break too - she’s a hardworking horse and I think having time to process everything is going to be very good for her.

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Treats help relax some horses.
Since you already did ok without, maybe better not go there and find they don’t help her after all.

That was long time, curious you didn’t just try for a bit then change to slow walk, maybe dismounted, do other, but it worked for you, so that is good.

I tried to read that book, but found it too…flowerly. I like the TRT method with its premise of relax the body and the mind will follow.

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Just another happy little update today:

The day after I did the ‘cigar’ exercise we went back into the indoor for a quick groundwork session. We did some more standing and this time, to cover my bases, I brought some sugar cubes. The moment she relaxed I would give her a sugar, then we’d walk a bit then stop, relax, sugar. Went through 5 or 6 cubes. We did a lot of standing next to the scary corner - she was still a little nervous when we walked in (but way more relaxed than the day before) and was breathing quick but after 15 or 20 minutes she was pretty zen so we called it a day.

I’m not sure if the second day tainted my scientific study but tonight we had our FIRST RIDE IN THE INDOOR WITH NO SPOOKS! There were two zooming ponies and two other horses flipping out and it was windy to top it off but the mare took it all in stride, started and finished on a loose rein, it was like night and day.

Perhaps unrelated, but she also walked up to me in the pasture tonight to be caught which was a first.

The cigar exercise seems to be a game changer for me and I find it fascinating how it’s so simple. 5 stars.

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So wonderful when things start working well.

Thanks for such a good update.

Those chill skills for you to teach and your horses to learn will work any place, your whole life, with any horse.

Makes life nicer for all. :sunglasses:

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I find horses LOVE a positive interaction, they do not mind working hard as long as it is fair and not scary. Your mare probably likes to work but not the constant tension she was experiencing, you showed her she can relax and trust you and her work, so she is willing to come work with you! Great job! Don’t forget to repeat and build on the lesson of relaxation, before she gets “nuts” again!

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@NYCspaz, I am so thankful that you posted about this exercise. I hadn’t heard about it before, and it sounded perfect for my situation. I’m restarting a 12yr old from scratch, and he can be quite tense, looky, and rather ADD. Two days of this exercise on the ground has made a huge difference.

Day 1: I moved him to a new barn this winter, and this week was the first time I had the chance to introduce him to the outdoor arena. I led him twice around the arena in each direction so he could get a feel for the new space, then brought him to the middle to stand. He kept wanting to move and he screamed a few times for his friends across the way. Eventually, he started responding to “whoa” and “stand”, chewed, yawned, and lowered his head. After he held it for a bit, I gave him a treat. On the way back to the barn, he was looky again and broached my personal space, and after a correction he was well behaved but still tense, but I was overall pleased with his self control.

Day 2: Entered the arena and went right to the middle to stand, facing away from his pasture. He did well, moving a foot only once or twice, and eventually lowered, yawned and chewed. After staying low and relaxed for a bit, he got his treat. I then turned him to face his pasture and his friends. He looked for a bit, but then lowered, yawned and chewed. Once he held it, he got his treat and we exited. On the walk to the barn, his pasture mates came galloping to the fence line, egging my horse on, but he was 100% with me and totally ignored them. He actually walked slowly and respectfully through the gate (he has gate phobia and tends to rush through). After removing his halter and releasing him to his pasture, he stood for scratches and cuddles, and stuck his neck over the gate as I left, wanting more.

WOW what a difference in just 2 tries. It’s going to be standard practice before any training session from now on.
I agree with you - 5 stars!

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I find that often book titles promise stuff that they do not provide in the book–especially the picky physical details that can influence the horse in ways that distress the rider.

“The Way to Perfect Horsemanship” by Udo Burger, for once in the history of literature about riding horses, this title does not lie, at all.

When I read this book I told the supervisor of another branch of my section about it. This lady rode Western (and did not have much schooling herself), but I told her that she would find very useful information in it. I asked if she wanted to borrow it, she did, and she read it. She found stuff that made her Western riding much better and much more effective.

This book is in the top three books (out of over 100 titles on equitation) that I pick up whenever I run into a problem with my riding or with training/retraining a horse. (The other two titles are “Common Sense Horsemanship” by Vladimir Littauer, and “Give Your Horse a Chance” by d’Endrody.) Usually I end up with a solution that works, one that the horse finds intelligible and comfortable, and one that makes sense to me and is rather easy to implement.

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@Cheap_Trick wow I was hoping someone else would give it a try and I’m so glad the joy is being shared! We should get matching t-shirts once our numbers grow. I think the key sentence in the paragraph is “sins of the past, which have upset a horse, can be redeemed…” My mare has has been a lesson horse for 10 years and is turning 15 this year so has had her fair share of sins made against her. Since yours is 12 I think there is something to the age, I’m wondering how it would go on a younger horse now.

How long did you end up standing for?

@Jackie_Cochran yes this book is basically changing my life and I’m only halfway through it. I have post its all over it to re-read and I think I might re-read it every year now. It’s helped me a ton with my contact as well - last night was the first night I finally understood using leg to get the contact into the hands even though I’ve been familiar with the concept for decades. Thanks for the other book recommendations, I’ve added them to my list!

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I am so glad that the cigar exercise works for you all.

I’ve never felt the need to use it on the horses I trained myself, probably since I ride Forward Seat (“Common Sense Horsemanship” had been my ‘bible’ for over 50 years) so I never drove my horses insane (this statement is not a reflection on g-you, I did not know I had MS, I just had trail riding experience when I got my first horse, I knew NOTHING at all).

However around 8 years ago I did pick up an interesting method that is sort of related to the cigar exercise from a more Western site–the count to ten rule. I started using this when retraining a ruined elderly (twenties) Arabian school horse. The way it works is that I give a new aid, every time the horse even just starts responding I stop all action and count to ten. This little “trick” enabled me to cut the time necessary to teach this mare anything new down to ONE THIRD of my old method of immediate praise. Of course it turned out that this mare had become addicted to praise, I solved that by praising her for figuring stuff out after the count to ten.

This mare was also EXTREMELY reactive to anything new in the ring, or when anything was moved inside the ring. I started counting to ten every time she “froze” in fright and did not tell her to approach the thing that scared her until I finished counting, I became totally passive on her back. At first it took two or three counts to ten before she relaxed, then it got down to one count to ten, and then one wonderful day she decided that new/moved stuff was not that scary after all and stopped reacting to everything new in the arena. This improvement continued until I stopped riding her when she got to be 34 or so. So if you are pressed for time this is an alternative scenario to the cigar exercise. At first I did this around 20 times in a 30 minute lesson, and as the months passed and she learned to trust me the necessary time got shorter and shorter and she ended up getting sort of impatient with me “Hey, I’ve GOT IT, it isn’t scary, lets move on!”

Right now I have Udo Burger’s other book “The Rider Forms the Horse” sitting in my bookcase until I get my sh*t together, find my anatomy and books on how horses move, so I can “see” and integrate what he is saying. This second book is much more expensive than “The Way to Perfect Horsemanship” and is probably more pertinent to dressage riders than Forward Seat riders. Someday I will get myself together and read this book, and I am SURE that I will learn a lot from it.

Because Udo Burger is good, good, good.

I am so glad that I picked up the first book, it took my riding up to the next level, in that I got IMMEDIATE results for things I had been trying to do for decades (like actually getting the horse on the bit non-abusively.)

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