Drive-By Grooming

Introduction

This is a fun way to work on the clarity of our voice, touch, and gesture signals for walk on, halt, and back up. If we have a tall horse (or we are short) it can make grooming the upper parts of the horse much easier.

Having our feet ‘planted’ in one place means we have to refine our signals to make them super clear for the horse.

Aim

To groom the upper areas of both sides of our horse while standing on a raised platform (or keeping our feet on a mark on the ground if we have small equines).

Prerequisites

  1. Horse confidently comes to a mounting block or similar structure without the need for a mat. #240 HorseGym with Boots: Wait and Recall. Click here.
  2. Horse confidently targets his cheek to a brush. #242 HorseGym with Boots: Target Cheek to Brush. Click here.
  3. Horse understands a ‘move forward please’ signal paired with a ‘whoa’ signal while the handler remains in one spot. #213 HorseGym with Boots: Send & Halt. Click here.
  4. Horse is familiar with backing up one step at a time and moving forward one step at a time. Number 37 in my Blog Contents List. One Step at a Time. Click here.
  5. Horse understands hand and voice signals for backing up when the handler is beside the withers. #173 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 1 of 2. Click here.
  6. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: Click here.
  7. Number 46 in my Blog Contents List: Rule of Three: Click here.

Video

#194 HorseGym with Boots:

Materials and Environment

  • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse and Handler are clicker-savvy.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • A mounting block or anything safe for the handler to stand on. If you have a small pony, stand on a marker of some sort, so you are not tempted to move your feet other than turning as necessary.
  • A safe fence or similar barrier.
  • Grooming gear.
  • To start with guided shaping, use a target that’s easy to handle and take out of play (tuck into a belt or pocket), or a halter and lead.

Notes

  1. Short sessions of Slice 1 can be done alongside the other slices. But stay with each of the other slices until you are both confident with it. Better to go a bit too slow than to go too fast.
  2. Have each task working smoothly on the ground before putting them together and eventually adding the platform to stand on.
  3. The timing of the click is the only thing that tells the horse how to earn the treat, so strive to get your timing as accurate as you can.
  4. When the horse moves ahead of you, or backs up so he is behind you, we want him to halt and wait ‘on the spot’ when he hears the click. You go to him to deliver the treat.
  5. Remember to celebrate each approximation toward the final goal. Start with a high rate of reinforcement. As the horse gets to understand each task, ask for a bit more before each click&treat.
  6. But always be prepared to slow down and increase the rate of reinforcement if the horse (or the handler) gets lost. I always do this task with a high rate of reinforcement because Boots has never been keen on grooming.

Slices

  1. Ensure that your horse willingly comes to you when you call him while you stand on a pedestal, mounting block or marker. Usually this includes have taught a ‘wait’ so that you can move easily between your standing places (Prerequisite 1).
  2. On the ground, ensure that your horse willingly targets a brush in your hand, both with his nose and with his cheek (Prerequisite 2). This is a great task to teach your horse about consent signals (Prerequisite 6) by doing a little bit often (Prerequisite 7). A consent signal for brushing by the horse might be touching his cheek to your brush. Do all this standing on the ground.
  3. On the ground, ensure that your horse understands a signal for moving forward one step and back one step while you are beside him (Prerequisites 3, 4, 5).
  4. On the ground, play with asking the horse to move forward one or two steps with an arm gesture or a touch signal just behind the withers. We can teach this by standing back from a nose target and using the gesture or touch signal to request the horse to move to the target and wait there for you to move to him to deliver the treat. (Prerequisite 3). Eventually phase out the nose target. Click for one or two steps forward away from you when you use your touch signal behind the withers.
  5. On the ground, play with asking the horse to back up a few steps while you are at or behind his withers (Prerequisite 5). Work alongside a fence in a corner or build a dead-end lane to make it easier for the horse to understand what you want.
  6. Once all the tasks above are in place on the ground, add the mounting block or pedestal.
  7. When 6 above is smooth on one side of the horse, ask the horse to back up far enough so you can ask him to walk forward on the other side of the mounting block so his other side is nearest you.
  8. Once you have your ‘ready to brush’ Consent Signal in place (Prerequisite 6), use it for drive-by grooming while you stand on the mounting block or pedestal. Boots’ consent signals are coming over to me on the mounting block or pedestal and touching the brush with her cheek when I hold it out.

Generalizations

  • Move your mounting block to different locations.
  • Vary whether you start grooming on the left side or right side.
  • Stand on different pedestals to do drive-by grooming.
  • Play with asking him to come to the mounting block from further and further away.
  • Teach another person the signals so they can brush your horse.

Overview of Equine Clicker Training

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

People are often confused with the scientific/mathematical terms: Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement used in the study of behavior.

‘Negative’ means ‘bad’ in much of everyday language, but used in the mathematical sense, as it is here, it simply means removing (subtracting) something from a situation.

We touch the horse’s chest to ask him to step back and when he does, we remove our hand from his chest and drop our energy (-R).

‘Positive’ in everyday language means something ‘good’. But used in the mathematical sense, as it is here, it simply means adding something to a situation.

The horse comes to us and we give him a strip of carrot. We have added the carrot to the situation (+R).

Horses (as do we) behave in ways that stop/lessen the pressure of directional touch, gesture, voice, or energy sent toward them. This is negative reinforcement (-R): we remove the pressure of the signal when the horse complies.

Of course, horses may also seek touch if they love to be groomed, scratched or massaged, so some forms of touch may be positive reinforcement (+R). Young foals often find scratching very reinforcing. They quickly learn to repeat behaviors that result in a good scratch.

Horses (as do we) behave in ways that ensure they get more of something they like. When we train horses, we usually use a small food treat to reward a behavior that we want. This is positive reinforcement (+R): i.e., we add the treat to the situation.

We build up complex behaviors by marking each tiny step of the learning process with the marker sound we’ve chosen (click or word) and delivering a treat. Eventually the horse will be able do the whole task smoothly with one click&treat at the end.

How often we click&treat (rate of reinforcement) depends on the complexity of the behavior we are working with. We have to click&treat often enough to keep the horse being continually successful with working out what will earn his next click&treat.

Combined Reinforcement

We can use a touch on the chest, remove our touch as the horse steps back (-R), plus mark the stepping back behavior with our special sound, then deliver a treat (+R). This is ‘combined reinforcement’ because we have used -R and +R together to help the horse understand just what he needs to do to earn another click&treat.

It could be that if -R is reinforcing and +R is reinforcing, using both together in the name of clarity is more than twice as reinforcing for the horse.

Because we are essentially asking the horse to learn a foreign language, striving for clarity is essential. If a horse can only perceive a vague mumble, he will be inclined to zone out, either with his feet, or mentally if he is held by ropes or fences.

When we are riding, we use the energy and inclination of our body as signals for the horse. We use reins or a neck rope to give touch signals. When we train with touch, gesture, voice, body language and our body’s energy, we are using negative reinforcement. When the horse responds, we remove the signal. If we add click&treat to develop the response we want, we are using combined reinforcement.

Combined Reinforcement: Boots learned to ‘smile’ when she reached up to my hand held aloft and I tickled her Upper lip. When she moved her lips, I clicked and gave her a treat. Soon she was offering the smile, and now uses it as one of her ‘consent signals’*

Video Clip: Target & Tickle

Capturing

Some equine clicker trainers try hard to teach everything using only what they see as being +R (positive reinforcement). This has led to a burst of creativity to work out how we can teach horses by giving them a choice about taking part in what we want to do.

Capturing a complete behavior with a click&treat is possible for some behaviors. Things that horses do naturally can be captured. For example:

  • Touching the nose to a target.
  • Downward dog stretching.
  • Lying down.
  • Staying in the ‘sit’ position which is part of a horse getting up from lying down.
  • Walking along with us.
  • Investigative behavior with new objects.
  • Coming when called.
  • Head down. Click here.
  • Backing up – if we are patient enough to wait until it happens naturally.

There are probably others, but for more most things we want to teach we use free-shaping* and guided shaping*. Items with an asterisk (*) are defined in the Glossary section.

Capturing a behavior: A horse’s natural curiosity will cause him to investigate something new with his nose. We can capture this moment with a click&treat. Once targeting is established with a strong history of positive reinforcement, we can use the willingness to touch or follow a target to train a variety of more complex behaviors. In other words, we can use the target for ‘guided shaping’*.

Capturing a behavior: Boots has learned that this stretch always earns a click&treat. I noticed she usually stretched like this after a nap and managed to ‘capture’ it three days in a row with click&treat. Then she began offering it often.

Capturing a behavior: If the horse will walk one step beside us, we click&treat after one step. Gradually we build up the ‘walking together’ by click&treat for two steps, then three steps, and so on, staying within the horse’s comfort zone and understanding. If we lose the behavior, we’ve gone too fast.

Free-Shaping

For free-shaping we click successive approximations of what we eventually want. For example: look at tarp, walk toward tarp, sniff tarp, put one foot on tarp, walk onto tarp, trot across tarp. We stay with each approximation until the horse is ho-hum with it, then move our click point along the continuum.

Free-shaping allows us more of an agenda than capturing a finished behavior.

Here are a few examples of free-shaping:

  • Approaching a mat or a tarp. We click&treat each tiny step toward the horse confidently standing on these. Click here.
  • Putting on a halter. We start with a horse willingly targeting a halter, then proceed from there. Click here.
  • Playing Step Aerobics: Click here.
  • Walking along with a bike: Click here.
  • Belly Crunches: Click here.
  • Developing consent signals: Click here.
  • Picking something up. Ideally we don’t want the horse tied up as in this clip, but in some situations we don’t have a choice. Click here.

Free-shaping: We are playing with picking up a cone and bringing it to me.

Luring

Luring can be useful in some situations. If the horse is anxious about approaching a tarp, we can put a treat near the tarp and eventually on the tarp, then let the horse make up his mind about stepping on the tarp in his own time.

We can teach a horse to self-load into a trailer using luring by feeding first near the trailer, then on the ramp, then progressively more in the trailer until the horse is right in and the bucket of feed and hay are at the front of the trailer.

Using this system means the horse has time to overcome his anxiety about entering and exiting a small space. It takes careful planning, but the result can be a horse totally calm about entering and backing out of a trailer.

When I used this method, the horses managed their daily trailer loading sessions independently while I did the chores. By allowing horses the time to make up their own minds about a situation, we give them back some of the control we take from them by having them in captivity.

Luring: We can add a treat to a new situation and let the horse build his confidence in his own time.

Modelling

Horses are experts at reading the body language of their herd members. After all, a foal raised with his mother and other herd members learns what to do and what not to do by observation and modelling their behaviors.

A handler that the horse knows and trusts can tap into this by modelling the behavior she’d like the horse to copy. When a click&treat follows the horse’s first attempt to model a behavior, he often picks up the new move with enthusiasm.

Examples include:

  • Putting the feet on an obstacle.
  • Standing quietly with no intent.
  • Walk/jog when we walk/jog.
  • Halt when we halt.
  • Turn when we turn.
  • Beginnings of jambette.

Modelling: Boots was keen to follow my suggestion when I put my foot up on the object.

Modelling: If we click&treat the first effort at matching leg-lifts, the horse often becomes keen to do it again to earn another click&treat.

Guided Shaping

For guided shaping, we use a target, gesture, hand touch, touch on a halter via a lead rope, and energy changes in our body to give the horse information about what will earn him his next click&treat.

We click&treat each small step toward the finished behavior. Then we gradually link the small steps together until the horse can carry out the whole behavior with one click&treat at the end.

These cues we start with, once refined and once the horse understands and accepts them, become signals for requesting the specific behavior. We must be careful to put each behavior ‘on cue’ so the horse understands that a click&treat only happen if the task has been requested.

Guided Shaping with Targets

Using targets is a great way to motivate horses. This is +R where we add two things. The target to gain the horse’s interest, then the click&treat when the horse meets our objective. In a way, using targets is a specific type of luring.

We can use hand-held targets, stationary targets set at nose height, and foot targets.

Here are some examples:

  • Follow a hand-held target.
  • Walk/trot between stationary targets.
  • Follow target onto a trailer, wash-bay or stall.
  • Introduce movement around a reverse pen. Click here.
  • Voluntary stretches to reach a target. Click here.
  • We ask the horse to target gear we want to use before we use it, e.g., halters, ropes, covers, saddle blankets, saddles, harness parts, balls, wheelbarrows, vets, worming syringes. When I put gear on my horse, I always ask her to target each piece of it (click&treat) before we use it.
  • Come to a mounting block.

Once the horse has a strong history of positive reinforcement for touching his nose to a target, we can use it to encourage him to explore new situations.

Using a target for stationary flexion of parts of the body. Note that we are using a mat target to build the idea of keeping the feet still to do the stretching.

Our Hand as a Target

Although targets are super useful to teach the horse a variety of movements, they are an intermediate stage of training. We don’t want to have to carry a target with us forever.

We can begin to teach the horse to walk with us by presenting a target, click after a pre-decided number of steps, remove the target out of play behind us and deliver a treat.

As we present the target, we also use body language, breathing, voice, energy level changes. Once these are well established using the target, the target is easily replaced by an arm gesture to accompany the body language, breathing and energy change (energy up for ‘walk on’ and energy down for ‘halt’).

We can use our extended hand as a recall target. And we can use our hand to teach the horse to target various of his body parts to our hand. These include chin to hand, ear to hand, cheek to hand, knee to hand, shoulder to hand, hip to hand. Click here.

Hand as Target: Boots has moved her head to target her ear to my hand. I click, then feed the treat in a position that has her straighten her head again.

Guided Shaping with Touch and Gesture

When we use touch and gesture to explain to the horse what will result in a click&treat, we use ‘combined reinforcement’. We add the touch or gesture energy, remove it as the horse complies and simultaneously click&treat.

At first the horse often gives us just an approximation of what we want as the finished behavior. We click&treat all of these approximations. This is often called ‘rewarding the smallest try’. The horse is then usually keen to repeat the behavior and over time the click&treat point moves closer and closer to the ‘finished’ behavior.

When the touch and/or gesture signals (-R) are intricately linked with marking & rewarding (+R), the touch and gesture are information for the horse about how to earn his next click&treat.

Used thoughtfully in this way, negative reinforcement gives clarity to our teaching. The energy of our touch/gesture signals is minimal.

We can often teach a task or behavior using Capturing, Free-Shaping, Luring, Modelling, and Shaping with a Target. Once the horse understands the task, we add distinct, consistent voice, touch, and gesture signals.

Gesture Signal: I’m using my focus, arm gesture and energy to ask Boots to move her hind end across. This was one of the steps in the process of teaching her to sidestep along a rail.

Touch signal: Asking the horse to back up using touch on the halter via a lead rope. She is about to step back with her left front and right hind legs. We should teach our horse a variety of signals for backing up, both at liberty and with rope or reins.

Summary

It is an interesting learning experience to work out how we can use just positive reinforcement (+R) to teach our horse many of the things he needs to know. Once he understands the task, we add consistent voice, touch, gesture, breathing, body language signals so that we can put the task ‘on cue’ or ‘on signal only’ or under ‘stimulus control’.

When we begin using positive reinforcement, many horses become very keen and begin to throw behaviors at their handler in the hope of scoring a click&treat. This has to be handled carefully by only clicking&treating when an action has been requested. If we randomly hand feed at other times, the horse will of course be confused.

Some horses find this process of ‘putting a task on cue’ very frustrating so we have to plan our training carefully. We need to work in small bursts, develop ‘end of this session’ signals and ensure that the horse is never hungry before we begin a clicker training session. Click here.

Once the horse knows several tasks, we can switch between tasks to avoid this sort of frustration.

Equine clicker training is fun and built on a simple scientific principle, but it is never easy. Horses are complex beings and each horse brings his own twist to the table, as does each handler.

On top of all this, we have to be realistic about the situations most horses face sooner or later. We have to carefully prepare them to understand how to respond to various forms of negative reinforcement. We need to do this at home so when a tricky situation arises away from home, we have a full toolbox to deal with it.

Zero Intent in Action: Red Lights and Green Lights

Introduction

The concept of giving our horse a choice about whether or not he wants to do things with us is a novel idea at first. Until we delve into training with positive reinforcement, it is the norm to expect the horse to put up and shut up when we want to ride him or do anything else with him.

Horses are recreation or sport for us, but often we are not recreation or enrichment in their lives. In many situations, horses generally either learn to put up with human demands, no matter how painful or stressful for them, or they are passed over for a more ‘willing’ horse.

By learning about ‘consent signals’ and learning to wait for them, we can enhance a horse’s well-being by giving him back a little bit of the choice we remove from him when we keep him captive, away from the natural dynamics of life in the wild.

Aims

  1. To develop the handler’s ability to switch into neutral (to show the horse zero intent) by taking up a distinct body position, removing attention from the horse and draining energy out of the body.
  2. Improving how well we tune in to a horse’s consent signals and noticing more quickly when he shows us that he is not ready or able to proceed.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  2. Horse has learned to ‘wait’ until handler gives a new signal or clicks&treats. Number 9 in my Blog Contents List: Mats: Parking or Stationing and Much More. Mainly this clip: #8 HorseGym with Boots: Duration on the Mat. Click here.
  3. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here. This clip is also the second clip below.
  4. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Number 11 in my Blog Contents List: Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals. Click here.
  5. Handler understands ‘Trigger Stacking’: This is a situation faced by people and horses. If we are in a calm mood, we usually handle a first stress event easily. If soon after, a second stress happens, then maybe a third and fourth (as easily can happen with horses in captivity), the limit of stress tolerance for that individual is eventually reached and the person or animal reacts. The reaction can be violent outward expression of anger and frustration (tantrum). The reaction can also be retreat from interaction with the external world, as seen in horses who have ‘shut down’. Each of the stress-causing events or items is called a ‘trigger’, hence the term, ‘trigger-stacking’.
  6. Walking shoulder-to-shoulder. Number 16 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions. Click here.
  7. Triple Treat to celebrate a good effort: #16 HorseGym with Boots: Triple Treat. Click here.
  8. Number 46 in my Blog Contents List: Rule of Three. Click here.

Videos

#243 HorseGym with Boots: Zero Intent in Action

#153 HorseGym with Boots: “Zero Intent” and “Intent”

Materials and Environment

  • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Hand-held target to start with.
  • Barrier between person and horse to start with.
  • Once mastered, we can apply these skills to any activity.

 Notes

  1. The horse may communicate with more than one consent signal. The nature of the consent signal might depend on the nature of the activity you are doing.
  2. The two AIMS above work together. Once the horse understands that you will wait until he is ready, he will become more and more adept at using his ‘Green Light’ go-ahead signal or telling you that he is not ready to proceed. You may pick up his earlier signals that he prefers to exit the activity (either mentally or physically).
  3. If the horse feels he gains something from an interaction, he will tend to want to stay and play. At first we use rewards (usually treats) that he finds reinforcing. Once a horse learns a few tasks and routines, doing them also has a reinforcing effect, but we have to keep using the primary reinforcer (usually food) judiciously. This means that we have to click&treat often enough to keep the horse successfully doing what we are asking.
  4. Video clip #243 uses an extremely specific behavior as an example. But we can develop and recognize a variety of consent signals.
  5. Consent might be turning the nose toward the handler to indicate that chewing is finished and the horse is ready to repeat whatever we are doing. Boots demonstrates this on the video clip. Important not to confuse this with the horse mugging for treats. You’ll notice that after turning to me she turns her head away again.
  6. Consent might be willingly staying ‘parked’ in a relaxed manner while we groom, tend feet, gear on and off, mount and dismount, ask for a ‘wait’, ground tie, stand tied up, travel or do a parked mobility task like ‘counting’ as in my clip.
  7. Consent might be willingly walking or trotting with us on the ground, with or without halter and lead.
  8. Consent might be willingly coming to a mounting block, lining up and standing so the handler can mount.
  9. Consent might be putting the head down so that we can rub inside the ear or put head gear on more easily.
  10. Consent might be dropping the nose into a halter.
  11. Consent might be a quirky behavior like a smile or lowering the head.

Slices Part A: The Handler’s Red Light and Green Light

1. When we begin clicker training, our first task is to establish politeness about receiving treats. Even when clicker training is well established, it is useful to review this exercise regularly.

Standing on the other side of a safe barrier, we ask the horse to do something simple he does naturally, like touch his nose to a target. We click for the action and remove the target out of play (out of sight behind us) as we deliver the treat with a firm, flat outstretched hand that causes the horse to keep his head straight and away from us. Repeat over many short sessions (about 10 treats-worth).If the horse is first learning this, we promptly present the target again, until the horse clearly understands that when he touches the target and keeps his head facing forward, he will hear our marker sound and we will deliver the treat to him – i.e. he doesn’t reach toward us searching for the treat.

2. When 2 is smooth, we begin to take up a ‘zero intent’ body position for a second or two after we’ve delivered the treat and before we present the target again.

3. ‘Zero intent’ is the handler’s Red Light (relax). It means that what we want is to stand quietly together. When the horse remains standing with his head straight we present the target again as our Green Light (action) that lets the horse know we are asking him to repeat touching the target to earn another click&treat. Gradually, one second at a time, lengthen the time you stay at ‘zero intent’ (Red Light) until 5 seconds is easy.

4. We do a little bit of ‘stand together with click&treat for keeping your head straight‘ every time we are with the horse.

5. When the slices above are smooth, we can apply ‘zero intent’ to walking along together (Prerequisite 4). Walk on, halt, click&treat for the halt, take up ‘zero intent’ posture for X number of seconds. Start with one second again and lengthen time gradually. Then walk on to another pre-set destination.

6. Walking between mats is a good way to start this exercise, but soon your voice and body language will be enough, as long as you are consistent. See Number 68 in my Blog Contents List: 20 Steps Exercise. Click here.If you are not consistent with your voice, gesture, breathing and body language signals, the horse will hear you like a ‘mumble’. And we know how frustrating it is to listen to someone who is mumbling so we can’t make out the message.

7. As you get adept with dropping into ‘zero intent’ body language, you will notice more and more places you can apply it.

8. In summary, standing or walking with zero intent is our Red Light (relax). The horse knows he is not being asked to do anything except stand or walk quietly beside us. We change to Green Light (action) whenever we signal the horse to do a specific behavior or chain of behaviors that will result in a click&treat.

Slices Part B: The Horse’s Red Light and Green Light

  1. The horse’s Red Light is different from the handler ‘zero intent’ Red Light. The horse’s Red Light is either inactivity or excessive activity due to distraction, changes, hunger, confusion, pain, boredom, exhaustion, trigger stacking. It is a caution/stop signal from the horse to us.

In the video clip, Boots’ Red Light was the distraction caused by interesting activity on the road while she was safely at home. It caused her full attention to drift to the road activity.

2. Out in other environments, a horse’s Red Light could be stopping for observation, or running the Red Light if the situation causes him to move suddenly.

3. The horse’s Red Light tells us that he is either momentarily distracted or he is out of his comfort zone. We can either wait out the distraction, as I do on video clip #243, or we can change what we are doing until the horse can return to his comfort zone.

A distracted horse is not in learning mode (responsive). He is concerned for his safety (reactive). We must organize things so he can change from reactive to responsive as best as we can in any given situation.

4. The horse’s Green Light is when he can bring his attention back to the handler and can respond to handler signals, rather than react to other things in the environment.

5. If we want to get along with our horse by listening to him, we acknowledge what is causing his distraction with our attention and body language. Then we wait (wait = our Red Light), taking up as close to zero intent body language as we can in the situation.

6. As we wait, we watch for the horse’s Green Light to tell us that he is ready to carry on with what we were doing. At that point, we can activate our Green Light – our signal to the horse for whatever activity or task we are doing which will yield a click&treat.

7. We can sometimes help the horse switch from his Red-Light alert to Green- Light readiness if we click&treat the moment his attention comes back to us. I didn’t do it in the video clip, but I often do this when we are out on the road.

SUMMARY

Handler

  • Red Light = standing or walking together quietly, relaxation – nothing else required.
  • Green Light = signal/cue asking the horse to do something else.

Horse

  • Red Light = I’m distracted, unable, anxious, fearful – please give me time. It might also be a question: we don’t usually do this, do we? We always stop here, don’t we?
  • Green Light = I’m ready to listen and respond to your signals.
  • Orange/amber light = first signs of the horse’s unease.

Illustrations

‘No Intent’ body posture: hands quiet on belly, attention off horse, cocked knee, energy drained from body, looking nowhere.
Intent: very beginning of asking her to move her shoulder away – hands moving in a gesture signal, body upright, focus on horse’s neck, breathing in.
Zero intent sitting down while teaching lip-lifting to check teeth. Note her ‘lip wiggle’ consent signal telling me she is ready to repeat.
We gradually moved from touching her muzzle, putting both hands around her muzzle, momentarily lifting a lip, to holding her lips apart for longer and longer, adding one second at a time.
Staying parked on a mat despite distractions can be a consent signal.
This is a Red Light moment with Boots. Jogging along calmly with the bike changed into excessive energy.
When I got off the bike and walked, she was able to relax and give me her ‘smile’ consent signal – her Green Light to carry on. This earned a click&treat.
We were then able to finish the session with her walking calmly alongside the bike.
Practice at home allowed us to eventually bike safely on the road.

Generalizations

As mentioned already, the more you practice your ‘no intent’ body language, the clarity of your signals, and the more accurate you get listening to the horse’s body language. You will notice the horse’s Orange/Amber light before it turns into Red Light. It becomes easier to apply the Red Light/Green Light concept to any activity.

Consent Signals: Target Cheek to Brush for Grooming

Introduction

When we want to give a horse the option to take part in an activity or not, we can learn to wait for the horse to give us a consent signal that tells us when he is comfortable for us to go ahead.

This task looks at setting up a consent signal for grooming. Some horses love to be groomed. Others not so much.

There are a variety of reasons why a horse may not be relaxed about grooming.

  • A traumatic grooming experience, e.g. punishment for restless movement. ‘One Time’ trauma learning is a real thing.
  • Grooming while tied up if tying up itself causes anxiety. Being in cross-ties may feel a bit like a straightjacket – we have removed all options for movement.
  • Grooming before activities that the make the horse feel nervous, afraid, uncomfortable, in pain, and/or exhausted.
  • Grooming with tools the horse finds uncomfortable.
  • General inexperience or discomfort with being around people or a certain person.
  • A combination of any of the above.

Aim

To establish the horse targeting his cheek to a brush as a consent signal that he is okay for us to proceed with grooming.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  2. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
  3. Horse understands the concept of targeting body parts to our hand. Click here.
  4. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: Click here.

Videos

#241 HorseGym with Boots: https://youtu.be/-TK4VqCnvL4

Materials and Environment

  • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • A soft brush.
  • Mat (optional).

Notes

  1. Your horse may develop more than one consent signal. You will note in the video that Boots uses two. One is turning toward me to let me know she is finished chewing and ready to repeat. The other is moving her lips in what we call a ‘smile’ but sometimes she does it very discretely and it is just a wiggle of her lips.
  2. Note that we are chaining two tasks. Consent for one (target cheek to brush) becomes the consent for the second task (grooming).
  3. Notice how her body language changes when I start grooming.
  4. If the horse is mat savvy (parks willingly on a mat) you can use a mat when you begin this exercise. But if the horse is worried about grooming, we may not want to make the mat part of a worrying process.

Slices

  1. Begin with asking the horse to target his chin to your hand as per Prerequisite 3. This lets him know which game you are about to play.
  2. Change to asking him to target his cheek to your hand, using the process outlined for the chin.
  3. Once 2 is ho-hum, hold a soft brush for him to target with his cheek.
  4. Once 3 is ho-hum, brush a few strokes after the click&treat for targeting cheek to brush. Sometimes I begin brushing while delivering the treat with my other hand, then click&treat again for accepting the brush strokes.
  5. Gradually brush a bit more before the second click&treat (the first is for touching cheek to brush). Be super aware of thresholds of discomfort. If the horse needs to move, he is over threshold and we’ve gone too fast.
  6. Depending on how the horse feels about brushing, it may take many short sessions for him to become more comfortable with brushing, or it might happen very quickly. Spring shedding time is often when grooming is appreciated most.
  7. Teach the whole process from the beginning on the horse’s other side.

Generalizations

  1. Practice in different places.
  2. Add a variety of brushes.
  3. Use a similar process to get the horse comfortable with cloths, ropes, sticks rubbed all over his body.

Straddling a Rail

Introduction

This is an interesting exercise to help refine the timing of our signals and the ‘click’ (or whatever marker sound we have chosen) that lets the horse know when he is doing exactly what will result in a treat.

Boots and I first learned this task years ago and play with it occasionally. If a task is taught well enough to be in a horse’s deep memory, it seems it is never forgotten. Usually a bit of guidance to clarify which task I’m asking for is enough to bring back the memory. When I made these video clips we hadn’t revisited straddling a rail for several months.

However, we play with ‘shoulder/hip yield’ and ‘shoulder/hip toward me’ often, so our signals for these are current – well-honed and well-practiced.

Straddling a rail is an exercise useful for balance, foot awareness and general proprioception. We teach it in tiny slices that keep the horse being continually successful. In other words, we celebrate each approximation.

Aim

The horse confidently moves his feet individually to straddle a rail lengthwise.

Prerequisites

  1. The horse understands yielding the shoulder. This clip is in my Obstacle Challenges for Clicker Trainers PLAYLIST: April 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Yield the Shoulder. Click here.
  2. The horse understands targeting the shoulder to our hand. Number 27 in my Blog Contents List: Target Shoulder to Hand. Click here. 
  3. The horse understands yielding the hindquarters. This clip is in my Obstacle Challenges for Clicker Trainers PLAYLIST: May 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Yield the Hindquarters. Click here.
  4. Horse understands bringing hip toward hand. Number 28 in my Blog Contents List: Targeting Hindquarters to Our Hand. Click here.
  5. Horse is comfortable standing across and walking across solid rails. Number 18 in my Blog Contents List: Placing the Feet Accurately Using a Rail. Click here.
  6. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. Number 29 in my Blog Contents List: Sidestepping. Click here.
  7. Handler is aware of teaching in short segments. Number 46 in my Blog Contents List. Click here.
  8. Triple Treat for celebration: #16 HorseGym with Boots: Triple Treat. Click here.

Videos

#222 HorseGym with Boots: Prep for Straddling Rails

#223 HorseGym with Boots: Straddling Rails

Materials and Environment

  • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and lead to clarify signals during the teaching (acquisition) stage unless you prefer to teach everything at liberty.
  • Rail: a half-round rail is ideal because it doesn’t roll/move while the horse is figuring out where and how to move his feet.

We can mound sand at the ends of a round rail to minimize rolling or chock round rails with bits of wood or stones at either end.

A long rail, or two short rails end-to-end, make it easier for the horse at the beginning. We could also use a tightly rolled tarp to stand in for a rail, or a thick rope/hose.

Notes

  1. Ensure that the horse can carry out the prerequisite tasks calmly and accurately.
  2. Give each slice of the ‘straddle’ the time it takes rather than focus on the end behavior.
  3. Doing a few repeats of ‘hip/shoulder away’ and ‘hip/shoulder toward me’ each session will keep them topical and smooth.
  4. Click and treat each approximation at first. Celebrate when you get either front feet or hind feet (or both) straddling the rail.
  5. Three repeats at one time are usually plenty to start with. The horse will think about it and be willing to try again next day. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again. (See Prerequisite 7.)
  6. Decide whether you will initially teach the task by asking the horse to yield shoulder/hip away from you or if you will ask the horse to bring shoulder/hip toward you. Don’t mix them up until the horse has a sound understanding about where you want his feet.
  7. Be careful to not ‘correct’ or make the horse feel wrong as he figures out what you want him to do with his feet to earn his next click&treat. He can’t be wrong because he doesn’t yet know what you want him to do.

The lack of ‘click’ tells the horse that he hasn’t quite got it yet. If he feels lost, increase your rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat) and lower your criteria – i.e., click for all approximations toward the finished task and stop after a good effort for that session. Then he will be keen to try again next session.

Slices

  1. Run through your ‘hip/shoulder away’ and/or ‘hip/shoulder toward me’ routines away from the rail, to set the scene.
  2. Introduce the rail by walking across it in both directions. Then park parallel to it several times — on both sides and facing both directions.
  3. Start with the side and direction that feel easiest.
  4. Ask for either front or hind end to straddle the rail. Click&treat for all and any approximations. Your horse may offer to do the full straddle right away – major celebration.
  5. Then quietly ask for the other end to straddle the rail. Don’t worry if he moves one end off the straddle to adjust his balance so he can straddle with the other end. You will notice in #223 video clip that Boots does this a couple of times.
  6. Also don’t worry if he steps his whole body across the rail. Simply breathe deeply, relax, and reset the task. If the horse moves both front or hind feet across the rail, try giving a less-energetic signal.
  7. The key is to quietly reset and try again. Finish on a good effort and go away from the rail to do something else.
  8. Resist the temptation to ask again to see if you can do it again. At first a ‘good effort’ may still be far from the finished movement. That doesn’t matter. If the horse is willing to try in a relaxed manner, you have a ‘good effort’.
  9. If it becomes a muddle, walk away, do something easy with a high rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat). Then return to the rail and start again or leave it until the next session. (See number 5 in the NOTES.)
  10. Explore different ways of coming off the straddle – turn and sidestep off, back off, walk forward with the feet staying on either side of the rail, and so on.
  11. Once the horse is adept at straddling the rail, click&treat for duration. Start with one second and increase duration one second at a time.

Generalizations

  1. Once the horse understands the task, it can be fun to also explore other ways of signaling the ‘straddle a rail’ task.
  2. I was delighted when Boots offered to sidestep into the straddle as at the end of clip #223, because I’d never asked her to do that before. We do, however, practice plain sidestepping regularly.
  3. Walk forward to straddle the rail.
  4. Back up to straddle the rail.
  5. Mix up ‘hip/shoulder away’ and hip/shoulder toward me’.
  6. Straddle different kinds of rails.
  7. Different venues.
  8. On a slope – facing downhill and facing uphill.

Treasure Hunt

Introduction

This is a fun activity when we don’t have a lot of time with our horse. Or we can use it to begin or finish a longer training session.

We can expand the task as much as we like, depending on the space we have available to lay out the ‘treasures’.

Aim

Horse confidently follows a trail of markers to find a treat under or alongside each marker.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse is relaxed enough in the venue for his curiosity to be engaged.
  2. Horse readily targets the ‘markers’ you will use when you hold them in your hand. In the clip I used small plastic plant pots that are easy for the horse to push aside and easy to see.
  3. Horse is used to picking treats off the ground (not sand or open soil).
  4. Horse understands a signal to move away from the handler so we can ask him to explore markers on the ground. This clip demonstrates touch and voice signals to ask the horse to move forward away from me. Instead of a halt signal, the horse moves on to seek out the circuit of treasures. Click here.
  5. A strong WAIT with duration is helpful if we want to set up a treasure trail without having to contain the horse physically. See The Wait Game: Click here. Alternately, we can teach ground-tying to a high standard: Click here.

Videos

#227 HorseGym with Boots: TREASURE HUNT

#236 HorseGym with Boots: TREASURE HUNT GENERALIZATIONS

Materials and Environment

  • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Ideally the horse is at liberty, but if that’s not possible, the horse can be on a long light lead and encouraged to do the exploring for each treasure while we tag along behind keeping the lead out of his way.
  • Targets we can place or hang around our training area, e.g. rags or plastic drink bottles if we need to teach the horse to move out ahead of us.
  • A surface from which the horse can safely pick up treats, e.g. grazed paddock, solid footing areas (not sand). If only a sand or soft soil area is available, we can lay out mats or similar to put under each marker.
  • Markers to put over each treat. The purpose of the markers is to have the horse use his initiative to move the marker to find the treat. In the video clips I use small plastic plant pots. Any small pot or pottle will do – margarine containers, even something as large as one-liter ice cream containers or cut down milk containers. Make sure that it is safe and easy for the horse to move the container aside with his nose to reach the treat, especially when first introducing the task.
  • Treats to put with each marker. These can be carrot/apple strips, pieces of celery, an unshelled peanut, horse pellets.
  • Halter and long, light lead if you can’t have the horse at liberty.
  • Halter and short lead if you want to ask the horse to wait while ground-tied.
  • Mat, pedestal, or balance beam if you want to use a WAIT spot while you set out the treasure trail.
  • For generalization, stones or pieces of wood to set out as marking points.

Notes

  1. At first, use single obvious treats such as a large strip of carrot or any vegetable or fruit your horse likes. Once the horse understands the game, it is easy to switch to a few horse pellets or an unshelled peanut under each marker.
  2. Ensure the horse can easily move the marker with his nose.

Slices

  1. As a first task, we have to teach the horse (or refresh) a signal indicating to ‘seek’ by moving away from us toward a target. Begin by hanging targets at nose level around your training area and have the horse walk with you between the targets, with a click&treat for putting his nose on each one. Rags or plastic drink bottles make good targets.
  2. Once 1 above is ho-hum, stay back a little bit as you approach each target and develop a hand gesture paired with a voice signal to let the horse know you would like him to move ahead of you to ‘seek’ the target. I use a light tap behind the withers as a touch signal, as well as an arm/hand gesture. Click when he touches the target and walk forward to his head to deliver the treat. This builds up Prerequisite 4 – horse confidently moves forward away from you.
  3. Play with having the horse target the type of marker you will use on the ground, while you hold it in your hand.
  4. With the horse nearby and watching (behind a gate or tied or held by a helper), be obvious about putting a treat on the ground nearby and cover it with the marker the horse has been targeting in your hand.
  5. Encourage the horse to move forward away from you to ‘seek’ and explore the marker to discover the treat under it. Some horses may need you to ‘help’ move the marker during the first one or two trials. As the horse begins to understand the game, gradually hang back until he can do it on his own.
  6. Begin to create a trail of multiple markers. Put them close together at first, then gradually further and further apart. If your horse lives on a track, you might lay the trail around corners.

Generalizations

  1. Lay out the treasure hunt in different venues.
  2. We can use rocks or pieces of firewood to mark the site of each ‘treasure’ and occasionally move these around to change the puzzle. We may need to guide the horse from marker to marker the first few times. Start with them close together and gradually put them further apart. This system means we don’t have to pick up the markers each time.
  3. We can add complexity by using a variety of markers as long as we teach each one separately at first.
  4. We can add interest by putting a variety of treats or fresh herbs/willow twigs into a series of cardboard boxes scattered around in different places each time. These are more visible and work well if we set them up before releasing the horse(s) into the space. However, be careful not to use boxes with staples and the glue in the carboard is not safe to eat. Some boxes will also have been sprayed.
  5. When the horse finishes seeking out a line of treasures, we can add a recall back to us, which earns a click&treat celebration.
  6. When trailering a horse to a venue, have him wait in the trailer while you set out a circuit of treats with familiar markers. Then as soon as he exits the trailer, encourage him to come with you to do the treasure hunt. By having something familiar to do right away, the idea of a new/different place can be less worrying for the horse. I used to do this without markers and found it hard to remember exactly where I’d put the strips of carrot, so markers are helpful.
  7. We can ground-tie the horse or ask him to stand on a mat, pedestal, or beam for the ‘WAIT’ while we set out the treasure hunt. This gives him a definite place to be. Of course, we’d have to spend time teaching ground-tying or WAIT duration first.
  8. We can set out rails between the markers to encourage more varied movement. The horse will usually step across them if they are in direct line to reach the next marker.

The WAIT Game

Introduction

Once we have taught our horse to park on a mat, we can begin to teach WAIT. WAIT is parking with duration. Along with duration, we can teach WAIT while we go further and further away from the horse.

We can then generalize by asking the horse to:

  • Wait in unusual places including over, between or on obstacles.
  • Wait to be invited through gates, into and out of wash-bays and stalls.
  • Wait as a way to explain ‘being tied up’ to the horse.
  • Wait for mounting/dismounting or harnessing/unharnessing.
  • Wait while we go out of sight.
  • Wait to enter a trailer/truck and wait to be asked to exit a trailer/truck.
  • Wait during husbandry care – grooming, tending feet, vet procedures.
  • Wait while we adjust our camera position.
  • Wait while we move around obstacles we are using for training.
  • Wait anytime and anywhere. Maybe paired with ground-tying.
  • Wait while we talk to another person.
  • Wait for our turn at a competition.

AIM

Horse and handler agree on WAIT signals and horse is able to WAIT in a variety of situations.

PREREQUISITES

Horse understands that going to a mat yields a click&treat. https://youtu.be/xMaZWt5gK2o

Horse is keen to target feet to a variety of mats in a variety of venues. https://youtu.be/GotLjG8931I

Generalizing mats to different places.

https://youtu.be/wdptBQ0EtK4

VIDEOS

Park and Wait: https://youtu.be/UvjKr9_U0ys

The horse can’t be wrong when he is learning something new. We have simply not YET explained what we want clearly enough in a way that he can understand. Never make him feel wrong if he needs to move.

Wait: https://youtu.be/ktwTUGvXNwM

Once it is solid with halter and lead, it is fun to generalize to liberty.

Parking out of Sight: https://youtu.be/X4rmbVvE6nw

You can see that Boots is not yet comfortable with me staying out of sight for long. We are in her paddock, not somewhere strange and new.

Movement Routine 12 – Rags as Focus

INTRODUCTION

For this routine we lay the rags out in a line. Only the horse weaves the rags while the handler walks parallel to the rags. Each request for sidestepping is followed by walking a circle, to give variety and vary the flexion throughout the routine.

AIM

To link weaving, standing together quietly, walking circles together and sidestepping.

PREREQUISITES

  1. We have stepping on a mat strongly ‘on cue’ or ‘on signal’ or ‘under stimulus control’. #9 HorseGym with Boots: Putting Targets ‘On Cue’: Click here. More info about putting targets ‘on cue’: #5 HorseGym with Boots: Putting Nose Targeting ‘On Cue’. Click here.
  2. Smooth transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions. Click here.
  3. While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse changes direction in response to handler moving his/her body axis toward the horse or away from the horse. #170 HorseGym with Boots: Body Axis Orientation Signals. Click here.
  4. Weaving. #70 HorseGym with Boots: Only Horse Weaves. Click here.
  5. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. Sidestepping. Click here.
  6. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and relatively short lead (~8′) when not working at liberty.
  • Six rags (or any even number) laid out in a straight line with enough space between them so the horse can easily weave the rags.

VIDEO CLIP

NOTES

  1. Only the horse weaves the rags. The handler walks a line parallel to the rags.
  2. Click&treat as often as appropriate to keep the horse continually successful.
  3. This is concentrated work, so after doing the routine on one side of the horse, it’s best to do something relaxing before working on the other side.
  4. For the sidestepping tasks, you could be in front of the horse as I am in the video clip, or on the side asking the horse to either move away from you or toward you.

TASKS

  1. On the left side of the horse, weave the rags in both directions. Put in a halt and a few seconds of ‘wait together’ at each end of the weave.
  2. Walk a circle to line the horse up with his belly beside the first rag.
  3. Ask the horse to sidestep so the first two rags pass under his belly.
  4. Walk a circle to line up the horse’s belly with the third rag.
  5. Repeat the sidestepping across two rags followed by a circle to line up for the next two rags until you reach the end of the rags.
  6. Use a jackpot or Triple Treat to indicate the end of the routine on the left side of the horse.
  7. Repeat on the horse’s right side.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • If you can run with your horse, trot the weaves.
  • If the horse understands sidestepping with various signals, mix up the way you ask for it.
  • Work on a slope if you have one handy.
  • Do the routine with imaginary rags. I do this often and if I’m careful to keep my signals consistent, it’s amazing how well it works once the horse knows the routine.

Keeping Track of Our Progress

The format below has the benefit of being quick to fill in. Most of us have busy lives into which we must fit our horse time. Once our mind switches over to other parts of our life, it is easy to forget the detail of what we specifically did with our horse and how the session felt. The horse and the handler each get a ‘score’ which is just a shorthand way of recording a ‘session assessment’.

We can use symbols or emoticons to indicate how we felt, how we thought the horse felt and weather details (make sure you create a key for your symbols). Hot, cold, wind, wet all affect how a session goes. If we train in various places, we can have a symbol for each place. If there is a time-break in our training due to life and/or weather interfering, we can note this as well.

The sort of detail mentioned above is priceless when we look back on it. We can see how many sessions we did to get from introduction of a new task to having it fluent and generalized to different situations.

If we keep charts like this in our tack room or car there is an increased chance that we will fill it in right away while the session is still fresh in our mind.

The second chart below is an outline showing one possible way to score each session’s progress. Some people may prefer a ten-point scale so more nuances can be recorded.

It probably works best for each person to make up a scoring details page that best suits their environment and their horse and how they like to record things.

Note that the ‘score’ is just a quick way to define our assessment of a session. It helps indicate where we are while working through a process.

Resetting Tasks

We first played with this task at liberty and Boots scared herself when her leg touched the pipe on her left as she backed into the space. She jumped forward.
She jumped forward a step or two and then stopped. I was standing well back (you can just see the toe of my shoe) in case this happened.
We quietly reset the task with the help of halter and lead, with click&treat for each step back and she quickly regained her confidence. I’m standing to the side in case she feels the need to suddenly come forward.

The task above is a good one to prepare a horse for being restricted behind, as in a horse trailer. It is also a task for preparing a horse to back between cart shafts.

Rather than correct something that did not go well, we learn to reset* a task without placing a negative value judgement on what the horse just did. This makes a huge difference to how horses perceive their training.

While he is learning a new task, a horse can’t be wrong, because he does not yet know what you want.

Clicker-savvy* horses often don’t want their sessions to end. The positive vibrations that go with good clicker training make it fun rather than a chore.

Clicker training gives us a way to let the horse know instantly, by the sound of the marker signal* (click), when he is right. It takes away much of the guessing horses must do as they strive to read our intent* (which is often fuzzy to them).

A horse’s perceptions and world view are quite different from human perception and world view. While we are with our horse, the more closely we can align our world view with that of the horse, the easier it is for him to understand us and comply with our requests.

There is much more about this in my book: Conversations with Horses: An In-depth look at the Signals & Cues between Horses and their Handlers available as an e-book or a paperback.

Key Features of Equine Clicker Training

Clicker training is not a quick fix for problems. It is a carefully crafted language between horse and handler used during every interaction. People often have to let go of what they have always done in order to make room for a new way of interacting with their horse(s).

If frustration becomes part of the equation, for the horse or the handler or both, it is usually a sign of going too fast and expecting too much too soon.

The solution is usually to slow down, think things through, decide on the exact behavior required and write a careful shaping plan to achieve that behavior.

Keeping emotions (horse and person) on the calm/relaxed/joyful side of the emotional continuum is a major part of effective clicker training.

Movement Routine 11: Fence for Focus

INTRODUCTION

As we build up a collection of routines, we can:

  • Improve on tasks we’ve done before.
  • Add a new aspect to a task, e.g. different handler position.
  • Do tasks in a different order.
  • Introduce new tasks.
  • Add trot to some of the tasks.

AIM

This routine links together a finesse back-up, targeting shoulder to hand, sidestepping, counterturn circle, ‘wait’ while the handler walks around the horse plus signaling a back-up from behind the horse.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Smooth ‘Walk on’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions (staying shoulder-to-shoulder). https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. Finesse Back-Up. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5XL
  3. Target Shoulder to Hand. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5SH
  4. Smooth Counterturns. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5WK
  5. Horse has learned to ‘wait’ until handler gives a new signal or clicks&treats. Mats: Parking or Stationing and Much More. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9
  6. Horse and handler agree on clear ‘stay’ signals. https://youtu.be/UvjKr9_U0ys
  7. Horse understands a back-up signal when the handler is behind the horse. https://youtu.be/501PSnAA-po
  8. Triple Treat. https://youtu.be/FaIajCMKDDU

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and 12′ (4m) or longer lead if not working at liberty.
  • A safe fence line to work alongside.

VIDEO CLIP

Movement Routine 11: Fence as Focus (filmed at liberty)

NOTES

  • Be sure that you have mastered each task before chaining them together.
  • Chain pairs of tasks to begin with, then gradually join the pairs together.
  • Click&treat at a rate that keeps your horse being continually successful. As he learns the routine, ask for a bit more before each click&treat.

TASKS

  1. Walk shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse nearest the fence.
  2. Smoothly turn to face the horse and ask for a Finesse Back-up. Eventually work up to ten steps back.
  3. Ask the horse to target your hand with his shoulder to turn him 90 degrees so his butt is against the fence.
  4. Ask the horse to sidestep one direction, then in the other direction. You could be facing the horse, at his side asking him to yield away or at his side asking him to step toward you.
  5. Take position alongside the horse’s head/neck so you can ask him to walk a counterturn half-circle with you, then halt. A counterturn has the handler on the outside of the turn.
  6. Put the rope over the horse’s back, take if off, or ground-tie if your horse knows that. Ask the horse to ‘wait’. Walk forward and right around the horse. Click&treat when you return.
  7. Complete the counterturn circle so you are both once again parallel to the fence; the handler will be nearest the fence.
  8. Ask the horse to ‘wait’ with clear voice and gesture signals. Walk backwards and around behind the horse to end up standing beside his hip furthest from the fence.
  9. Ask the horse to back up while you move to remain beside his hip. Alternately, you could keep your feet still and ask the horse to back up until his head is at your shoulder.
  10. Use your ‘end of routine’ routine to let the horse know the routine is finished for now.
  11. If you started walking on the horse’s left side, teach it again walking on his right side. One side may feel harder.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Work alongside as many different safe fences as you can find.
  • When it is super smooth with halter and lead, play at liberty.
  • Use a line of ground rails instead of a fence.
  • Do the routine in an open area with no fence or ground rails.

Counting with the Front Feet

Introduction

You may have heard the story about a horse called Clever Hans who could add, subtract, multiply and divide. I think it was eventually found that Hans responded to eyebrow signals from his person to let him know when he should start and stop lifting his foot.

My horse, Boots, and I won’t reach such a level of sophistication, but teaching ‘counting’ can be fun. It also forced me to refine and clarify the way I presented my signals, as well as improve the timing of my ‘click’.

Leg lifts without moving are a good way to play with mobilization. Viewing the video clips, I notice that lifting one leg engages her whole body.

‘Counting’ is a game we developed over many months with several starts and stops to focus on other things. It’s an engaging game for a few minutes at a time when the weather is too hot, wet, windy, or cold to be out and about.

The key, as for most of equine clicker training, is to have many short sessions, two or three minutes long, over many, days. By keeping it short, the horse begins to look forward to the new game as a relatively easy way to earn clicks&treats.

NOTE: Items with an asterisk {*} are described in the GLOSSARY which you can access at the top of the home page.

Developing Boots’ Individual Education Program* for ‘Counting’ helped me:

  • Be more aware of deciding and stabilizing my body orientation, which is a key part of any signal. Horses are super aware of body positioning.
  • Refine the nature and energy of my signal for this task. We do a lot of different things, so it is tricky to keep all my signals ‘clean’.
  • Improve the timing for when I turn the signal on and off.
  • Remember to take up my ‘zero intent*’ position to wait for the horse to tell me when she is ‘ready to repeat’ (Consent Signals*)
  • Relax when the horse attends to external distractions and wait for her to bring her attention back to me.

This exercise is an extension of tasks we developed to create confidence with standing on three legs for hoof care. Details of this are available in my book, Confident Foot Care using Reward Reinforcement.

Once Boots readily lifted a leg when I pointed to it, it was not a big leap to ask for two lifts in a row before the click&treat*. She is presently on her way to counting to ten. Which lets us have fun doing simple math questions when the grandchildren visit.

Aim

To have the horse understand a signal for lifting a front leg (either one) and able to repeat lifting the leg up to ten times on request (number is optional) before a click&treat.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse and handler are clicker-savvy.
  2. Handler uses clear body language to indicate ‘intent’ and ‘zero intent’. Click here.
  3. Horse is relaxed about foot care and willingly lifts his feet for cleaning/trimming. Or this task can also be part of improving balance on three legs.
  4. Horse has developed one or more ‘Consent Signals*’ to let the handler know when he is ready to go ahead with what we are doing. Click here.
  5. Horse understands touching a target with his nose, his knee, and his foot. #89 HorseGym with Boots: Balance on Three Legs looks at foot targeting. Click here.

Videos

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • A space where the horse can stand relaxed and confident.
  • A safe fence (not electrified or wire) or similar barrier.
  • A target safe for foot targeting and easy to handle. I find a piece of cloth slipped into the leather end loop of an old riding crop makes a nice lightweight target. Bulky things like pool noodles are harder to hold and harder to remove from view to ‘take out of play’.
  • A rail on the ground may be helpful in some cases.

Notes

  1. Using props when we begin a new task makes it much easier for the horse to understand what to do to earn his next click&treat. Use of well-planned props takes us halfway to achieving our aim.
  2. Once the horse understands the task, we gradually fade out the props.
  3. Pawing is not the same as counting with a discreet signal from the handler for each ‘number’ counted. If pawing becomes an issue, repeated click&treat for ONE lift of the foot may (over many short sessions) may make it clearer for the horse.
  4. I start each session (once we can count more than ONE) with click&treat for ONE, and work up the numbers to our present limit.
  5. I like to encourage the horse to use both front feet for the counting. Boots sometimes uses both and sometimes mostly one foot. Using both gives better distribution of the muscle movement throughout the body.
  6. HANDLER SKILL: Your horse may begin to offer foot lifts once you’ve started this game. Boots does it in the video clips. This ‘offering’ is precious. It shows you that the horse understands the game and is volunteering to start. If I’m ready, I count such an ‘offer’ as ONE and begin to signal for TWO and so on.
  7. HANDLER SKILL: Click as the horse is in the act of lifting his foot. Good timing is not always easy and can always be improved. Don’t worry if you don’t get it exactly right each time. Focus on the upward movement of the foot. Once you are conscious of this, and with practice, your timing will improve.
  8. HANDLER SKILL: Carefully check your body orientation to keep it the same each time you begin to ask for ‘counting’. Horses are super aware of how our body is orientated. Consistent orientation is a large part of signal clarity.
  9. HANDLER SKILL: Ensure that you always use the hand closest to the horse to give the ‘lift foot’ signal. Which hand you use is highly significant to the horse. I use the hand furthest from the horse to give a signal for ‘shoulder away’.
  10. HANDLER SKILL: The signal for each ‘foot lift’ is an ON-OFF signal.
  11. HANDLER SKILL: As you click, remove the target (and later your hand/finger) to behind your body to consciously take it ‘out of play’ – the OFF part of the signal. When you present it again for the next ‘repeat’ it will catch the horse’s attention as your ON signal. Once you are using your finger, make your moving finger the ON signal and learn to tuck your finger way for the OFF signal.
  12. HANDLER SKILL: I begin the task by using a voice signal. I say, “Counting – Fronts” and quietly count each foot lift, exaggerating my voice for the number I will click. Boots has learned that while I say the number softly, she will need to do another one – in other words, she listens for my loud, happy final number plus click. I’m also teaching her to count with the back feet, where I start by saying, “Counting – Rear” and my body orientation is quite different.
  13. HANDLER SKILL: In the clips you will notice that occasionally Boots pauses. She is not being slow or stubborn, she is thinking. Be sure to give your horse ample thinking time and sometimes they like a bit of time to enjoy their last treat before resuming the game.
  14. HANDLER SKILL: Always click before you reach for the treat or the horse will learn to watch your hand rather than focus on what you are teaching. This is especially important for this task because your hand moving slightly forward with a finger wiggling will become the ON signal as you fade out the target prop.
  15. HANDLER SKILL: Feed the treat away from your body. Try to position your treat hand so the horse straightens his head to retrieve the treat.
  16. HANDLER SKILL: If the horse is distracted, wait with ‘zero intent*’ body language until the horse brings his attention back to you – hopefully using a ‘consent’ signal*. Sometimes the waiting feels like a long time, but it is usually only a few seconds. Pay attention to whatever has caught the horse’s attention by looking at it keenly, then breathe out deeply. This shows the horse that you have noticed his concern but are not worried about it.
  17. HANDLER SKILL: Teach everything on either side of the horse. One side may feel more difficult. The horse may be less comfortable with you on one side. We are usually less smooth giving signals when we use the non-dominant side of our body. I like to teach each slice of this task on both sides before moving on to the next slice. While the horse is learning, I am learning to be more particular about everything mentioned in these notes.
  18. HANDLER SKILL: Stay with X-number of leg lifts until it feels like the horse is ho-hum with that number, even if you stay at ONE or TWO for what feels like ages. Nothing derails our training as quickly as going faster than the horse is able to absorb each new slice and put it into deep memory.
  19. HANDLER SKILL: If you get a nice series of ‘counting’, resist the natural urge to ‘do it again to see if we can do it again’. Stop when it feels really nice and wait until your next session.

Slices

  1. If you already have a space where the horse stands comfortably relaxed, start with Slice 2. If not, we first need to establish a place we can use consistently for teaching this task. One way is to ensure your horse is comfortable standing between a safe fence and a rail on the ground. Walk him through the space in both directions. Then halt in the space; click&treat, in both directions. The fence and rail help show the horse that you don’t want him to move sideways. When he is relaxed in the space, start with Slice 2.
  2. Set the scene to let the horse know that ‘targeting’ is the game of the moment by asking him to target his nose, a knee, then the back of a front foot to your target.
  3. Repeat touching the foot to the target ONCE with a click&treat each time. Somewhere between three and five repeats is plenty at one time. (See The Rule of Three. Click here. )
  4. When the horse readily lifts his foot once, ask for twice before the click&treat.
  5. When the horse readily ‘counts’ to TWO, ask for THREE before the click and treat.
  6. And so on, to as high a number as you like, always staying within the horse’s ability and interest level.
  7. As you reach a higher number (over five), the horse may pause more often to think. He may be thinking about which foot to lift next.
  8. When it feels like the horse has a good understanding of the task, gradually introduce a finger wiggle with the hand holding the target. Horse peripheral vision is magic at picking up movement, so they will notice the finger wiggle easily.
  9. Gradually lessen the movement of the target stick toward the horse as you wiggle your finger. Eventually you’ll realize that you no longer need the target stick – that your hand/finger movement has become the signal.
  10. Remember, bringing your hand forward and the wiggling your finger is your ON signal. Put your hand ‘away’ and out of play is your OFF signal. Then when you bring your hand with wiggling finger forward again, the horse will notice it as your ON signal to do another ‘count’.

Generalizations

  1. When the horse is ho-hum about his ‘counting’ task in the familiar spot you have been using, move to different venues. You may want to begin with fence and rail props in a new venue. Horses let us know when the props are no longer needed.
  2. At some point you can begin to mix up the number you ask for – sometimes THREE, sometimes FIVE, occasionally SEVEN, and so on.

Fitting Head Gear

Many people know the structure of the horse’s skull, but some people don’t. It’s possible to unknowingly inflict discomfort and pain, sometimes causing severe physical trauma to the soft tissues and nerves that lasts the horse’s lifetime.

We can see that the solid bone on the front of the horse’s nose does not go all the way down. The bone down from where the molars start is thin and precarious. It is surrounded by cartilage carrying the many nerves from the horse’s lips and whiskers.

These nerves of touch, smell and taste enable the horse to graze safely – both the horse’s physical safety in terms of touch and relaying information about smell and taste.

Even if we prefer to play with our horse(s) at liberty, it is essential for their life in captivity that we take the time and make the effort to ensure that they are comfortable having head gear put on and taken off. And be confident with ropes and leading.

It is traumatic to see a young horse who was haltered and the halter left on until it deformed the growing skull. The pain involved is unthinkable.

There are numerous risks involved with leaving halters on. Breakaway attachments can be an option if leaving a halter on can’t be totally avoided.

The following video takes a quick look at making sure that our head gear fits well with minimum discomfort.

It is hard to overstate the sensitivity of the horse’s mouth and muzzle area. While bits cause mouth trauma (physical, mental and emotional), headgear like knotted rope halters, cross-over nosebands or regular nosebands fitted too low also cause discomfort and pain.

It pays to remember that a horse with his mouth tied shut can’t ‘blow out’ freely, or cough to clear his trachea. Rope halters with knots need to be treated with gentle hands. Side-pull halters or bridles pull the inside of the cheek against the horse’s teeth, so must also be used with gentle hands. We all know what an ulcer inside our mouth feels like.

It is the nature of horses to suffer silently. Perhaps if they squealed like pigs it would be easier for us to refine our way of being with horses.

Human-Horse Disfunction

Photo above. Boots in a moment of worry when her hind end touched the pipe. We were practicing backing into a dead-end space.

A momentary disconnect as Boots checks out the lovely smell of chaff in the barrel.

Horse-Human disfunction

Most horse-human dysfunction is due to lack of clarity from the human side of the relationship due to one or more of the following reasons.

  1. Our behavior around the horse is inconsistent.
  2. We are not able to read the horse’s body language well enough to understand what he is communicating to us about his physical, emotional and mental state.
  3. We have not set up the environment to make it easy for the horse to understand what we want him to do.
  4. Our signals to ask the horse to do something are inconsistent, poorly thought out or poorly taught.
  5. The task is not thin-sliced enough.
  6. Prerequisites are missing.
  7. We expect too much too soon.
  8. Human emotions get in the way.

Most horses are happy to comply with our requests if:

  • We teach what we want thoughtfully and carefully in a way that the horse can understand.
  • We ensure our signals are clear and consistent.
  • We have well-timed release of signal pressure/click followed by the treat.
  • We teach at a pace that the horse can absorb; not too fast.
  • We teach at a pace that maintains the horse’s interest; not too slowly.

As the handler gets better and better at thin-slicing* a large task into its smallest teachable parts, it becomes easier and easier for the horse to learn by being continually successful. It’s this aspect of learning that makes a horse look forward to his sessions.

Learning the Mechanics of Clicker Training

Timing of the click and smooth, prompt treat delivery are harder than it looks at first glance.

Practice with a Person

It’s ideal (perhaps even essential) to learn the process of when/how to click and how to deliver the treat with a person standing in for the horse. The more adept we are with the mechanics of treat delivery before heading out to the horse, the more our horse will buy into our confidence that we know what we are doing.

We want to practice with another person until we have the mechanics of click timing and treat delivery in our muscle memory. Then, when we start with the horse, we can focus more clearly on the horse and the consistency of our actions.

Simulation with a Person

The first step to becoming a clicker trainer with good timing skills is to get our head around how to carry out the click&treat routine smoothly.

We need to practice enough to put the sequence of events into our muscle memory. If we are familiar and confident with what we are doing, the horse will buy into our confidence.

Neither person is allowed to speak.

You can put the clicker on a string around your neck or on a string around your wrist so you can let go of it to use your hand. However it takes lots of practice to smoothly slip the clicker back into position so that ‘letting go’ doesn’t interfere with good timing* of your next click.

Slices:

  1. Have your hand ready on the clicker (if using a clicker).
  2. Present the target a little bit away from the person, so he or she must reach toward it slightly, to touch it.
  3. Wait for the person to touch the target with their hand (be patient).
  4. The instant they touch it, click or say your chosen word or sound.
  5. Lower the target down and behind your body to take it out of play.
  6. Reach into your pocket/pouch for the treat (maybe use coins or bits of cardboard or mini chocolates).
  7. Extend your arm fully to deliver the treat.
  8. Stretch your treat hand out flat so it is like a dinner plate with the treat on it.
  9. Keep your arm and flat hand firm, so your pretend horse can’t push it down as he takes the treat.
  10. When your pretend horse has taken the treat, relax and pause briefly, then begin again with slices one and two (hand on clicker, present target).
  11. Ignore any unwanted behavior as much as possible.
  12. Turn a shoulder or move your body/pouch out of reach if the person pretending to be your horse tries to mug you for a treat (in case you are using chocolate). Your pretend horse must learn that he or she earns the click&treat only by touching the target. If your ‘pretend horse’ is strongly invasive, put a barrier between you.
  13. Multiple short sessions (up to three minutes long) at different times during the day allow your brain and your muscle memory to absorb the technique, especially the finer points of timing.
  14. If your helper is willing, let him/her be the teacher and you take a turn being the horse. Playing with ‘being the horse’ is often a huge eye-opener. The ‘horse’ is not allowed to ask questions or make comments but he can use body language to express his opinions.
Playing with different people will be as different as playing with different horses.

Movement Routine 10 – Rags as Focus

Photo: Task 6; U-turn around one rag.

INTRODUCTION

This routine presents a novel way to walk ever-decreasing circles. It also includes weaving and 180-degree turns.

AIM

Smoothly carry out a routine walking together in a variety of configurations.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Walking together shoulder-to-shoulder. Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions. Click here.
  2. While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse changes direction in response to the handler moving his/her body axis toward the horse or away from the horse. #170 HorseGym with Boots: Body Axis Orientation Signals; Click here.
  3. Weaving. #70 HorseGym with Boots: Only Horse Weaves; Click here.
  4. Smooth 180 Degree Turns: Click here.

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and relatively short lead rope (8′).
  • Rags: I used six rags in this video clip for easier filming and to avoid boring viewers, but you can use as many as you like and make the circle as large as you like.

VIDEO CLIP

#215 HorseGym with Boots: Movement Routine 10 Rags as Focus; https://youtu.be/HpMSjqYdagk

NOTES

  1. I like to memorize the sequence of tasks by walking the pattern without the horse and/or with a person standing in for the horse. It also works to visualize the sequence often.
  2. Make the circle a size that suits your horse. We want him to be able to do the weave part easily. As he gets more adepts, you can gradually make the circle smaller to encourage more bend.
  3. I found it a challenge to remember which rag we were going to leave out next as we made the circle smaller. Having different colored rags made it easier.
  4. Boots is now so good about recognizing that the rags are not mats, that I could walk on the rags or inside the rag circle without her stepping on them. If your horse tends to step on the rags, walk on the outside of the rags so he is further away from them.
  5. Use a rate of reinforcement that keeps your horse continually successful. This can be very often when you first introduce the routine. As the horse gets to know the routine, gradually decrease your rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat).
  6. Be careful not to drill. Multiple short sessions will keep the horse keen to do it again next time.

TASKS

  1. On the horse’s left side, starting from the center of the circle, ask the horse to weave the rags while you remain walking inside the rags.
  2. When you’ve weaved through all the rags, walk a full circle around all the rags.
  3. Walk a second circle leaving out one rag.
  4. Walk a third circle leaving out two rags, and so on, systematically, until you reach your last circle around just one rag.
  5. Walk to the center of the circle for a rest; click&treat.
  6. From the center, walk straight ahead and do a U-turn around the nearest rag and return to the center.
  7. You’re now facing the opposite direction, so choose another rag in front of you, walk toward it and do a U-turn and return to the center.
  8. Use your ‘end of routine’ routine so the horse knows it is the end of the routine. I use a Triple Treat.
  9. Repeat on the horse’s right side. You may want to do something else before you repeat this on the other side because it is such concentrated work.

GENERALIZATIONS

  1. When it feels smooth, work at liberty.
  2. If you are able, set up a big circle and do some of the routine at trot.
  3. Add the task of ever-increasing circles.
  4. Work on a slope if you have one handy.
  5. Use more rags.
  6. Set the rags into a rectangle or a triangle to encourage more variety of movement. Or have one end round and the other end with two right angles.

Using Hoops for Foot Awareness – and More

Hoops are handy obstacles to use for teaching a variety of skills. They are easy to set up and store. We can use them in numerous contexts. They can help us achieve a variety of objectives. For example:

Handler:

  • Identify prerequisites for each exercise.
  • Practice thin-slicing the tasks.
  • Practice writing a training (shaping) plan for each configuration.
  • Hone our timing of the click.
  • Make our signals as clear and consistent as possible.

Horse:

  • Develop foot awareness.
  • Gives a defined spot to learn the ‘wait’.
  • Generalize signals (cues) to new situations.
  • New puzzles to work through – mental stimulation.
  • Flexion exercises.

Boots and I have played with hoops on and off for quite a while, as in the following video clips.  For a 15hh horse hoops about one metre across work well for trotting through, but we also use smaller ones for some of the other activities.

The hoops are made with plastic water pipe with the ends held together either with the right-sized twig pushed into the ends or a stretch of hose either one size smaller to fit inside the ends or one size larger to form a sleeve across the ends. To make them more visible I wound electrical tape around them.

Clip 1

 

Clip 2

 

Clip 3

 

Clip 4

 

Clip 5

Developing Relaxed Food Retrieval

Photo: Relaxed treat retrieval is the essence of clicker training.

Lunging for the Treat = Anxiety or Assertive Horse Behavior

Some horses are always polite, others not so. Something in their background may have created anxiety around food. But the character type of the horse is also involved. Each horse lies somewhere along a shy ——– assertive continuum. A horse on the assertive end will be keen to follow his nose to the source of the food, which is obviously a helpful survival behavior.

For effective clicker training we have to carefully navigate this crucial aspect of using positive reinforcement in the form of food. The handler must feel safe and the horse must feel safe and have a sound understanding of when a food treat will be offered. It requires us to be careful and consistent and willing to explore options.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of having a way to let the horse know when we want him to stand with us quietly. We need to teach him when our body language indicates that all we want is to stand together in a relaxed manner, and when our body language is asking him to do something which will earn a click&treat.

  1. Be safe. Organize a barrier between you and the horse so you can move back out of range if he gets excited about the idea of food rewards. Depending on the horse and your expertise, you may not need the barrier for long, or you may need it for quite a while.

If your horse is energetic, use the energy by setting up a roomy reverse round pen and teach the horse to follow your target as you walk or jog along.

A reverse round pen is one where the handler stays inside the pen and the horse moves around the outside of it. Or you can do the same on the other side of an existing fence. For this, you want to click for the actual movement, rather than catching up with the target. For example, click after three steps, then five steps, and so on until you get whole circuits or stretches of fence before the click&treat. Find out more about using reverse pens here: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-64e

  1. Make sure that the horse is not hungry. We want the horse interested in clicker work, but not over-excited or aroused by the thought of food tit-bits. In other words, make sure he has ample access to grazing or hay before you start a clicker training session.
  2. Check out your food delivery technique.
  3. Does it take too long to get your hand into and out of your pocket or pouch? Can you find easier pockets or a more open pouch?
  4. Do you move your hand toward your treats before you’ve clicked? This causes problems because the horse will watch your hand rather than focusing on what you are teaching.
  5. Be sure to only feed treats if they have been earned and you have clicked. Ask the horse to do something before giving a treat, either have him touch a target or take a step or two backwards; click for the action and deliver the treat.
  6. Avoid feeding any treats by hand unless you have asked for a behavior and clicked for it. When not clicker training, put treats in a feed dish or on the grass.
  7. Often, we can influence the horse’s position by holding our treat-delivery hand where we want the horse’s head to be rather than where he has stuck his nose.

In the beginning, we ideally want him to have his head straight to retrieve the treat. If he is over-eager, it can help to hold the treat toward his chest, so he must shift backwards to receive it.

This is the clearest way to let the horse know that lunging at your hand for the treat won’t benefit him. It also begins to build the habit of stepping back when you shift your weight toward him, as in the photo coming up. It’s a great way to begin teaching the ‘back’ voice and body language signal.

Video: Encouraging stepping back to retrieve the treat.

In some cases, it can help to have a halter on the horse, so we can take hold of the side of the halter after the click, giving us some control of where the horse puts his mouth. See the section called ‘Developing Good Table Manners’ that is coming.

It can help to run your closed treat hand down the horse’s nose from above, asking him to target your fist before you open your hand right under his lips so he can retrieve the treat.

When you do this, use a bit of upward pressure to stop the horse pushing your hand down. If your hand does not stay firm, it can cause a horse to get anxious about where his treat is and cause him to push down harder or become grabby.

  1. It may also work to bring your fist (closed around the treat) up under his chin and have him target your fist before you flatten your hand (and apply upward pressure) so he can retrieve the treat. Often one of these little intervening steps can help build the habit of polite treat-taking.
  2. A bit of experimentation will determine what works best with a specific horse.
  3. If the horse is overly keen, try using treats that he doesn’t consider quite so yummy. Be sure to set up your routines so the horse has ample time to graze or eat hay before each session.
  4. With consistency and patience on the handler’s part, over-enthusiastic treat-taking usually improves once:
  5. The horse understands that a click only happens when he carries out a request you have made.
  6. A treat always follows the click.He’ll learn that a treat will only follow if there has been a click first. That is why we must be totally consistent with when and how we click&treat.
  7. The horse’s character type and current emotional state will influence how he takes the treat. If a horse who usually takes the treat softly becomes grabbier, he is giving us information to take on board. Alternately, a horse who starts out grabby may over many sessions become relaxed about retrieving his treat, once he understands how the system works.
  8. Prompt, cleanly-executed treat delivery is always important. If things are not going smoothly, the first things to check are inconsistency and sloppy treat delivery. It helps to video what is happening, so you can look closely at your body position, orientation, timing* and treat delivery.
  9. Another approach is to put the treat in a container after each click. It can either be a food bucket in the horse’s pen, into which we toss the treat, or a flat dish or scoop we hold out for the horse to retrieve the treat, then remove again. Some boarding facilities have a ban on hand feeding, which is a little hurdle to overcome. There is a video clip about this here: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-651

What to Check for:

  1. Timing of your click to the action you want.
  2. Smoothness getting the treat out of pocket or pouch while you take the target ‘out of play’.
  3. How promptly you present the treat to the horse.
  4. How you hold out the treat to the horse and how firm you keep your hand so the horse doesn’t push it down.

 

Developing Good Table Manners

A video clip called Table Manners for Clicker Training in my Starting Clicker Training playlist illustrates how we can use the timing of the click to improve politeness around treat retrieval. The clip shows Smoky, early in his clicker training education, with Zoë who had never done it before. Click here.

The method shown on the clip can be improved by not waiting so long to click&treat again. When we begin teaching a horse about keeping his head facing forward rather than toward us, we want to click&treat the moments when the horse remains facing forward and the moments when he turns his head away from the food source.

In some parts of the clip we waited for Smoky to turn toward Zoë and then turn away again before she clicked. Doing this runs the risk of having the horse think that turning toward the handler first is part of what we want him to do. In this exercise, we also want to mainly click&treat the act of keeping his head facing forward.

Summary: to develop good table manners while we stand beside the horse’s neck or shoulder, we click&treat for:

  • The horse turning his head away from us into the ‘straight forward’ position.
  • The horse keeping his head straight, away from us.
  • The horse keeping his head straight for longer, building up duration one second at a time.

Be sure to teach good table manners standing on either side of the horse as well as facing the horse. Begin the table manners training in protected contact, i.e. standing on the other side of a fence, gate, or stall guard.

Or have the horse tied up if that is your safest choice. When it is all going well with protected contact and you feel safe, change to standing with the horse.

It may take lots of very short sessions before the horse is able to relax into the ‘head forward’ position while we stand with zero intent* beside his shoulder.

Do a little bit of this ‘Polite Table Manners’ exercise every time you are with your horse to keep it strong in the repertoire.

As mentioned earlier, I prefer to introduce the idea of click&treat by asking the horse to do something more specific such as touch his nose to a target object.

Whether or not we are using protected contact in the form of a fence or gate, it’s easier to introduce the target if we stand in front of the horse and a little bit to one side.

If the horse is tied up, it may be easier to stand beside the horse to present the target.

Maintaining politeness around food is always part of the clicker training equation. It’s good to teach food manners standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse as soon as the horse has clearly made the connection between the click and the treat.

  1. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’

It’s hard to overstate the importance of having a way to let the horse know when we want him to stand beside us quietly. We need to teach him when our body language indicates that all we want is to stand together in a relaxed manner.

One way to do this is to stand with both hands laid flat across our belly button, and our energy as close to zero (deflated) as possible, breathing quietly, relaxing our hips. We look down or gaze softly into the distance.

If you do this consistently, the horse will soon recognize this posture as your ‘neutral’ signal when you have zero intent and all you want is for him to stay quietly parked. (See the Blog: ‘Zero Intent and ‘Intent’: Click here.)

My body language is at ‘zero intent’. My stance and hands lying quietly on my belly tell Boots that the task is to stand quietly. My focus is soft and away from the horse. My breathing is quiet.

 Every time we are with our horse, we should spend a few minutes focused on taking up our ‘zero intent’ position with click&treat reinforcement for the horse standing quietly without offering any behavior except standing quietly.

Over many sessions, we build up the ‘waiting quietly’ time, second by second, to fifteen or twenty seconds.

It is hard to overemphasize how important this is as part of our everyday interactions.

Hand Feeding at Other Times

It’s important not to hand feed the horse unless we have asked for something specific which we can click&treat. If we randomly hand feed when we are not clicker training, the horse will be confused, and problems can arise.

As with everything, it is up to us to be clear and consistent all the time. If we visit the horse or check up on him and want to give him a treat, we can put it in a feed bin or on the grass.

20 Steps Exercise

Photo: Our horse walking with us confidently is basic to everything else we want to do.

INTRODUCTION

This is one of my favorite exercises. It is fun to do as a warm-up or a cool-down or if horse time is short. If you are energetic you can eventually do it trotting.

This exercise encourages the horse to walk with us in position beside his neck or shoulder. It is a way of teaching ‘leading’ without the need to put pressure on the lead rope or use a lead rope at all. We can teach this exercise totally at liberty once the horse is clicker-savvy.

The more precise we can be with our body language, the easier it is for the horse to read our intent.

When we invite the horse to walk with us in the ’20 Steps Exercise’ we adjust our pace to the horse’s natural pace, so we can walk ‘in step’ with each other.

When we do this task at liberty, it’s easy for the horse to let us know if he is not in the mood to do things with us because he can peel off in his own direction.

If you have a safe, enclosed area, and protected contact is no longer needed, starting at liberty is ideal.

If the horse is exuberant and protected contact remains a good idea, you can still do this exercise with the horse at liberty by using a reverse round pen (person in the pen, horse moves around the outside of it) or a stretch of paddock fence. If your fencing is electric tape, make sure it is turned off. Lots more about reverse pens here: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-64e

Doing a little at a time keeps this exercise fresh and lively in the repertoire.

If protected contact is a good idea, we can set up a reverse round pen with uprights and fencing tape. The horse moves around the outside of the ‘pen’ while the handler stays inside. We can make it a size that best suits the task we are working with.

AIMS

  1. Handler refines clear ‘walk-on’ and ‘halt’ body language, energy level and voice signals.
  2. Horse willingly mirrors the handler’s energy changes and stays in position with his neck/shoulder area beside the handler.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Handler is aware of using breathing and body energy level to indicate ‘energy up’ before moving off and ‘energy down’ before coming to a halt.
  2. Handler had decided on clear ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ voice signals.
  3. Handler has developed a consistent ‘walk on’ arm gesture.
  4. Handler uses clear preparatory body language before coming to a ‘halt’, e.g. slowing down, breathing out and dropping weight into the hips.

Optional: These prerequisites are nice but not essential. This task is a way of achieving or improving the three skills below.

  1. Horse walks smoothly beside the handler’s shoulder.
  2. Horse understands ‘Whoa’ voice, breathing and body language signals.
  3. Horse willingly responds to ‘Walk On’ voice, breathing, gesture and body language signals.

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • A safe, enclosed area for working at liberty.
  • If protected contact is the best choice, use a reverse round pen or use a paddock fence, whichever suits your situation best.
  • If there are no other options, use halter and lead, keeping a non-influencing drape in the lead rope. A light-weight lead is preferable.

VIDEO CLIPS

December 2017 Obstacle Challenge: 20 Steps Exercise.

 

#30 HorseGym with Boots illustrates Boots helping Zoë learn the process with halter and lead.

SLICES

  1. Standing beside the horse’s neck/shoulder, do the following pretty much all at the same time:
  • Raise torso and look ahead.
  • Breathe in deeply.
  • Gesture forward with the hand furthest from the horse.
  • Step off with your outside leg to walk one step using ‘draw energy’ to encourage the horse to move with you. The horse can more easily see movement of your outside leg.
  • Halt after one step by breathing out and releasing your energy; click&treat when your feet are stopped. If the horse has moved out of position accept that for now – deliver the treat as close as possible to where you want him to be.
  1. We will click&treat for EACH halt.
  2. If the horse is a bit surprised and moves out of position, move YOURSELF back into position beside his neck/shoulder and start again, raising torso breathing in, gesturing and stepping off to walk on. Slow down, breathe out, and drop into your hips to stop. If you are consistent, the horse will begin to take note of your breathing and posture.

If you are on the other side of a barrier or fence from the horse, walk on and click&treat any indication that the horse is willing to come join you, then start again with 1 above.

  1. If you are not in protected contact, it’s ideal to start with the horse between the handler and a safe fence, so the option of swinging the hindquarters away is removed. I didn’t show this part in the video clip.

If protected contact is necessary and the horse is unsure about what you want to do if you try using a reverse round pen or paddock fence, we can use a lane. A lane can work well because it reduces the horse’s options. The horse walks in the lane and the handler walks on the outside of the lane.

Lanes can be set up with fencing tape and uprights next to an existing fence or made with bits and pieces like the one in the photo below.

We can usually make learning easier for the horse by organizing our training environment so that what we will click&treat is easy for the horse to discover. Here ware are using a lane to initiate walking side-by-side together.

Next Slices

  1. When one or two steps together is smooth, take three steps before the halt, click&treat.
  2. When three steps together are smooth, take four steps before the halt, click&treat, and so on.
  3. Each time you walk on, begin counting at ‘one’ again.
  4. Stay with four-five steps until moving off together is smooth and the horse stays in position beside you for the halt.
  5. Adjust how many steps you add before each halt and click&treat. It will depend on how fast the horse catches on to the pattern, the clarity and consistency of your signals, as well as how the horse is feeling that day.
  6. With some horses you can soon add steps in 2’s, 3’s or 5’s to reach the twenty steps.
  7. If the horse gets lost or seems to forget, go back to where he can be successful and work with a smaller number of steps until you gain true confidence.
  8. Gradually work up to 10, 15, then 20 steps before each halt, click&treat.
  9. Asking for 20 steps before the click&treat, carried out on both sides of the horse, is usually plenty at one time. But there is no reason we can’t do several sets of 20 steps if the horse stays keen.

Be sure to teach this walking on either side of the horse. One side may be easier. Start again from the beginning (along a fence or in a lane) for the second side. Some horses easily transfer new learning to the other side. Other horses find everything harder on one side.

Handlers usually must also focus to consciously produce clear, consistent body language with the less dominant side of their body. If the horse’s and handler’s stiffer sides coincide, everything will feel a bit harder at first.

When a task feels equally smooth on either side of the horse, a big milestone has been achieved.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • If you started with a lane, move from the lane to working alongside a fence.
  • Play the game in an open area, away from a fence-line.
  • Teach, then add drawing the horse into arcs and turns with the horse on the outside of the turn. See also: Smooth 90-Degree Turns: Handler on the Inside: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
  • Teach, then add walking arcs and turns toward the horse (counter-turns). See also: Smooth Counter Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5WK
  • If you can run, play with it at trot. It’s best to begin this in protected contact in case the horse finds it exciting.

 

 

Alternative to Hand-Feeding Food Reinforcement

REASONS

There are several reasons why feeding the treat from our hand may not be the way forward with either a person or a horse new to clicker training.

For example:

  • The horse is new to people and has no idea about eating from a person’s hand.
  • The person is nervous about offering food from their hand.
  • The horse tends to mug the person once he realizes they have food in a pocket or pouch.
  • The horse is not gentle about taking the food from the hand.
  • Some horses are shy of people’s hands due to experience, or they don’t like taking food from a person’s hand.

In such situations, we can set up protected contact with a handy bucket or dish into which we toss the treat after the click.

We want the container situated so it’s easy to toss in the treats. We also want to use a container from which the horse can easily retrieve the treats.

In the video I’ve put a shallow round-bottomed bowl into the trough that sits on the gate. The depth and corners of the trough make it hard for the horse to retrieve a small strip of carrot or horse pellets.

In the video, I use the word CLICK (and clicker) to stand in for any marker sound you have chosen to use with your horse.

Charging the Clicker

‘Charging the Clicker’ is the first thing we must do when be begin clicker training. We want the horse to relate the sound of our ‘marker sound’ with the idea that a bit of food always follows that sound.

Some horses pick this up very quickly. Others need many short repeat sessions before they make the connection. For horses taught to wait to be told what to do next or get into trouble, the idea of offering a behavior may be a new idea.

This video clip demonstrates just one way of ‘Charging the Clicker’. It has the advantage of using protected contact – a barrier between horse and person. Until we start using food reinforcers with a horse, we don’t know how he will respond to the idea.

Protected contact keeps the person safe and some horses feel safer if a handler is on the other side of a fence. Using a hand-held target means the horse can easily find the YES answer that results in a click&treat.

To me, it feels more meaningful to the horse to ‘charge the clicker’ this way, rather than by waiting for the horse to move his head away from the handler. Using a target gives the horse a tangible destination for his behavior. Asking him to keep his head away from the treats goes totally against the nature of how horses find nourishment. It requires a ‘no’ answer rather than the ‘yes’ answer provided by touching nose to a target.

Once the horse understands the click&treat dynamic, we can work on keeping the head facing forward rather than seeking out the treat pouch.

We can also use this set-up when things are not going well. The horse may have developed the habit of mugging for the treats – pushing his nose into the person. It is totally normal horse foraging behavior – to follow their nose to a likely food source.

By using a bucket or dish, we separate the location of the retrievable food from the person’s body. That alone is a good reason to begin with this technique. Once the horse understands the concept and we understand how the horse is responding to the idea of working for food reinforcement, we can work toward offering the food in our outstretched hand. We can make the switch to hand-feeding while still in protected contact.

Video Clip

Reverse Pens

Photo: using the fence around a grazing area as a reverse pen.

A reverse pen is set up so the horse moves along one side of a barrier and the handler moves on the other side. People come up with all sorts of ways to make reverse pens. Larger is better for reverse pens so that the horse is not working on a tight bend. It’s important to change direction often. The video clips coming up show several ways of setting up a reverse pen.

Any fence line that allows delivery of the treat across or through it can be used for reverse pen exercises. In a couple of the video clips I used the fence around the area Boots is grazing so I had nothing extra to set up. If the horse is comfortable working across electric fence materials (not electrified) we can easily set up (and take down as necessary) pens of any size or shape.

Reverse pens are useful for:

  • Keeping ourselves in protected contact while in motion.
  • Some horses also feel more secure if the handler is on the other side of a fence at first. 
  • Working without halter and rope.
  • Discourage the horse moving his shoulder into the handler.
  • Encourage the horse to develop muscles that help him stay on a circle and not ‘fall in’ with the shoulder or to navigate corners elegantly if we use a rectangular or triangular reverse pen.
  • Using a hand-held target to encourage walking with us, gradually morphing into a hand gesture.
  • Consolidating ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ multi-signals (also see https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT).
  • Creating duration – maintaining a gait for longer.
  • Playing with transitions: halt to walk to halt; walk to trot to walk; trot to canter to trot.

Often reverse pens are round, as in Connection Training’s ‘Around the Round Pen’ exercises. But they can also be rectangular or triangular, giving the horse the different challenge of organizing his body to negotiate the corners effectively.

Using a Hand-Held Target to Encourage Walking with Us

If we are going to use a hand-held target and a reverse round pen to encourage the horse to walk with us, we want to click&treat for the movement, not the catching up to and putting nose on the target. We don’t want to turn it into a chasing game. We present the target to encourage forward movement, click for the number of steps we decided to take before moving off, put the target down behind us out of sight, then deliver the treat.

 Building Duration Walking with Us

#210 HorseGym with Boots: Reverse Pens Clip 4; Duration Walking Together

Details

We must decide how many steps will earn a click&treat before we begin. That is:

  1. We present the target.
  2. Walk ‘X’ number of steps (previously decided – kept within the horse’s present ability)
  3. Click.
  4. Remove the target while we reach for a treat.
  5. Feed the treat.

Start with one step; click&treat. Add one more step at a time as long as the horse shows interest. Stop to do something else if his interest wanes or wait until your next session. Start each session with a few steps and gradually add more.

Keep the sessions short and as you present the target, also use your body language, big breath in, energy raised and your voice ‘walk on’ signal.

Fading out Hand-held Targets

While targets are a great tool to initiate all sort of behaviors, it is important that we teach voice, body language and gesture signals once each behavior is established, so we don’t need to rely on carrying a target.

By consistently using your ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ multi-signals, you will soon be able to fade out using the target, keeping your hands free. Your voice, energy and body language tell the horse what you would like him to do. Voice and body language ‘halt/whoa’ signals (as well as the click) tell him when you would like him to halt.

Using Foot Targets

If the horse has a strong history or reinforcement for putting his front feet on a mat, we can use that to work with a reverse pen. Using a mat target has the advantage of leaving our hands free. This clip looks at using mats after the first minute.

In the following video clip, I began with the horse on a lead because that can be another way to start. Not everyone has the facility to work safely at liberty. The video clip explains the process: #162 HorseGym with Boots: Introduction to Liberty Circles.

Once the horse understands our body language, gesture, voice and breathing signals, we can use them whenever we lead the horse. For walking side-by-side at liberty, we can develop the Twenty Steps Exercise: https://youtu.be/xYYz0JIpZek

The mat idea works with riding as well as with groundwork.

Some More Reverse Pen Clips

In the next two clips I’m using the fence around the area that Boots is grazing, so there nothing extra to set up/take down.

Over and Between Things

Other Shapes of Reverse Pens

Movement Routine 9 – Fence as Focus

Photo: changing direction by targeting shoulder-to-hand.

INTRODUCTION

This routine combines quite a sophisticated series of tasks. Putting it together encourages the handler to make signals are as clear as possible. It encourages the horse to be mentally alert and as physically adept as possible. It wasn’t possible to do warm-up activities with Boots before my videographer was available for the first video clip. Doing general warm-up first is always recommended.

AIM

To link a series of tasks into a sequence: stand together politely, back away from handler, recall, target shoulder to hand, lateral movement, walk-on signals from behind the withers.

PREREQUISITES

  1. ‘Walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. Horse and Handler have developed good table manners standing quietly together. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO
  3. Horse and handler agree on a back-up signal when face-to-face. This clip is in my ‘Backing Up’ playlist. March 2018 Challenge: Backing Up Part 1; https://youtu.be/6YYwoGgd_0Y
  4. Horse and handler agree on a recall signal. https://youtu.be/XuBo07q8g24
  5. The horse understands targeting the shoulder to your hand. Target Shoulder to Hand: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5SH
  6. Horse understands bringing hip toward hand while moving forward. Targeting Hindquarters to Our Hand; https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Tk.
  7. Horse and handler have a ‘move away from me please’ signal paired with a ‘whoa’ signal while behind the horse. #213 HorseGym with Boots: Send & Halt; https://youtu.be/SNsafwDR2oY
  8. Triple Treat: #16 HorseGym with Boots: https://youtu.be/FaIajCMKDDU

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and lead at least 3m (12′) long. I find using light cord works well, or a cut down light lunge line.
  • A safe fence or similar barrier.

VIDEO CLIPS

#205 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 9: Fence as Focus; https://youtu.be/0tXSl1s-xaI

 

#206 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 9: Fence at Liberty; https://youtu.be/VhydILQNhXo

NOTES

  1. Ensure confidence with each task before starting to link them together. If things don’t go to plan, do a quiet reset and start again.
  2. Link pairs of tasks at first, then add the first pair to the second pair, and so on.
  3. First, memorize the sequence of events by walking the pattern without the horse or ask a person to stand in for the horse.
  4. Use a rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat) that keeps your horse being continually successful as much as possible. As he learns the routine, ask for a bit more before the next click&treat but always be prepared to click&treat more often if the horse needs you to clarify your intent.

TASKS

  1. Walk along shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse nearest the fence.
  2. Halt and stand together quietly for up to ten seconds before the click&treat.
  3. Step around to face the front of the horse and ask for several steps of backing up and halt. Eventually aim for ten steps back while you keep your own feet still. When first teaching this, go to the horse to deliver a click&treat for the backing, then return to where you were.
  4. Ask the horse to ‘wait’ for up to ten seconds while he is away from you. Increase the time gradually, going to him to deliver a click&treat during the teaching stage.
  5. Ask for a recall. Click&treat when he reaches you. Eventually you will be able to do tasks 3, 4 and 5 with only one click&treat after the recall, but to begin with these are three distinct tasks.
  6. Move in front of the horse to face him, ask him to walk forward toward you as you walk backwards, then use your ‘hindquarters toward me’ signal to ask for lateral movement toward you as you step backwards. Be happy with a few steps at first. Gradually ask for more steps as the horse develops these muscles over time.
  7. After the click&treat for 6, ask the horse to change direction by targeting his shoulder to your hand.
  8. Repeat 6 in the opposite direction.
  9. Relax and lead the horse to line up next to the fence. Halt with the horse nearest the fence and the handler standing just behind the horse’s withers.
  10. Ask the horse to ‘walk on’ away from you with a voice signal and/or a touch signal behind the withers. The idea is not to move your own feet. Celebrate even one step forward away from you. Gradually, over multiple sessions ask for more steps, one step at a time. I like to teach an auxiliary touch signal on the rump for ‘walk on’, which is useful for long-reining or driving. See Prerequisite 7.
  11. Celebrate the end of the sequence with a Triple Treat or jackpot.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Practice in different venues if you can.
  • When it is super smooth with rope and halter, play at liberty.
  • Move away from the fence to do the routine.
  • Chain the tasks in a different order.

 

 

Movement Routine 8 – Rags as Focus

Photo: The first task is to weave the rags together.

INTRODUCTION

Maintaining mobility is an important aspect of keeping horses in captivity. Usually they live without the freedom of movement over large areas with varied terrain. We can take a small step to encourage whole-body movement with short routines done often but never turned into a drill.

AIM

To combine weaving (serpentines) with sidestepping, backing up and recall using rags as markers.

PREREQUISITES

  1. ‘Walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. We have established clear mutual signals for weaving obstacles. https://youtu.be/mjBwyDsVX6Y. As well as this clip,there are several more in my playlist called Weave and Tight Turns.
  3. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. Sidestepping: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RL
  4. Horse understands a ‘wait’ signal to stay parked while we move away so we can do a recall. Park & Wait: https://youtu.be/UvjKr9_U0ys
  5. Horse understands signal for backing up face-to-face with handler. March 2018 Challenge: Backing Up Part 1: https://youtu.be/6YYwoGgd_0Y
  6. Horse recalls after staying parked. https://youtu.be/XuBo07q8g24

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and a lead long enough so we can keep a nice drape in the rope but not so long it gets in the way. 12′ (4m) is a useful length.
  • Six rags laid out in a straight line far enough apart to allow comfortable weaving of the rags walking the pattern together. As the horse becomes more supple, the rags can be put closer together.

VIDEO CLIPS

#203 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 8, Rags as Focus:  Click here.

 

#204 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 8 at Liberty: Click here.

NOTES

  1. It helps to memorize the sequence of tasks by walking the pattern without the horse. If you have a willing human friend, take turns being the horse or the handler. Usually, as handler precision improves, horse precision improves.
  2. The aim is to keep the rope with a nice drape or loop as much as possible, so the horse is getting his signals from our body language and signals rather than rope pressure. We want the horse to find his own balance rather than be pushed or held into a certain outline.
  3. Click&treat at a rate that keeps your horse being successful. As a horse learns a pattern through frequent short repetitions, we can gradually ask for a bit more before each click&treat.

TASKS

  1. Handler on the horse’s left side, weave the rags together.
  2. Turn at the end of the rags and weave in the opposite direction.
  3. Walk a circle around the last rag to end up between the last two rags plus several steps beyond them.
  4. Halt, then ask the horse to back up between the rags. If he backs up on his own, go to the horse to deliver a click&treat.
  5. Ask the horse to sidestep to put him in line with the middle of the next two rags.
  6. Ask the horse to ‘wait’ while you walk between the rags to the end of the rope.
  7. Ask the horse to ‘recall’.
  8. Ask the horse to sidestep so he is in line with the middle of the next two rags.
  9. Halt, then ask the horse to back up between the rags. If he backs up on his own go to the horse to deliver a click&treat.
  10. Ask the horse to sidestep so he is in line with the middle of the next two rags.
  11. Ask the horse to ‘wait’ while you back away to the end of the rope.
  12. Ask the horse to ‘recall’.
  13. Ask the horse to do the final sideways so he is in line with the middle of the last two rags if you are using six rags.
  14. Ask the horse to back up.
  15. Do an established ‘end of routine’ celebration. I use a ‘Triple Treat’.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Repeat with the handler on the horse’s right side for the weaving.
  • Practice in different venues.
  • Use more rags.
  • Play at liberty.
  • Have only the horse weave – handler walks a straight line.
  • Practice on a slope.
  • Carry out the same sequence of tasks without marker rags.

Movement Routine 7 – Fence as Focus

Photo: Parking for up to 10 seconds with the handler standing behind. This is the seventh task of the routine.

INTRODUCTION

This routine refines 90-degree turns, stepping sideways, parking, and backing up with the handler in two different positions.

AIMS

  1. To improve the precision of handler/horse communication by linking a series of tasks into a sequence.
  2. To do a series of gentle gymnastic moves to engage the horse’s mind and muscles.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. Smooth 90-degree Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
  3. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. Sidestepping: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RL
  4. Backing up with handler shoulder beside withers and beside hindquarters. https://youtu.be/501PSnAA-po and https://youtu.be/MWAH_Csr960
  5. Horse understands a ‘wait’ signal to stay parked until further notice. Mats: Parking or Stationing and Much More: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9
  6. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and a lead long enough so you can keep a nice drape in it but not so long it gets in the way. Or work at liberty.
  • Safe fence line or similar.

VIDEO CLIP

#201 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 7 – Fence as Focus. https://youtu.be/548G5Ektt4c

 

NOTES

  1. I find it easier to memorize the sequence of tasks like this by walking the pattern without the horse and then visualizing the sequence often. If you have a human friend, take turns being the horse or the handler. Usually, as handler precision improves, horse precision improves.
  2. The aim is to keep the rope with a nice drape or loop as much as possible, so the horse is getting his signals from our body language and signals rather than pressure on the halter. Then it will be easy to morph into working at liberty.
  3. Click&treat at a rate that keeps your horse being successful. As the horse learns a pattern through frequent short repetitions, we can gradually ask for a bit more before each click&treat. For this routine I began with click&treat at each halt, then gradually did a bit more before a click&treat.

TASKS

  1. Handler closest to fence, walk along shoulder-to-shoulder and make a U-turn, staying on the same side of the horse, which will put the horse closest to the fence. Walk to your starting point; halt.
  2. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse, beside or just behind his withers, ask the horse to back up several steps; halt.
  3. From halt, with the handler on the inside of the turn, make a 90-degree turn and walk 4 or 5 steps, halt. Repeat three more times so that you have walked an entire square with a halt at each corner, ending up where you started.
  4. From halt, walk the first two sides of the square as you did in 3 above, but with no halt at the corner. Halt at the end of the second side. The horse is now parallel to the fence.
  5. Move to face the horse and ask for sidesteps to the fence; halt.
  6. Ask the horse to stay parked with your ‘wait’ signal. Walk up to a couple of meters behind the horse and take up your ‘no intent’ position. Start with only a couple of seconds of ‘wait’ but try to gradually build up to ten seconds. Over multiple sessions gradually increase the distance you move away.
  7. Walk to stand beside the horse’s butt (facing the same way as the horse) and ask for several steps of back-up.
  8. Jackpot on completion of the sequence.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Ask for a few more steps during the back-ups (tasks 2 and 7).
  • Walk a larger square (task 3).
  • Ask the horse to wait longer when he is parked (task 6).
  • Walk further away after asking the horse to ‘wait’ (task 6).
  • Start the exercise with a trot along the fence (task 1).
  • Ask for the second back-up (task 7) from further and further behind the horse.
  • Work at liberty or add halter and lead if you started at liberty.
  • Work on a slope if you have one handy.
  • Change the order of the tasks.

 

Movement Routine 6 – Rags as Focus

INTRODUCTION

This routine has us alternating frequently between the left and right sides of the horse. The objective is to develop our ‘walk on’, ‘halt’ and ‘turn’ signals to make them as clear and precise as possible.

AIM

To improve handler precision by linking a series of tasks into a sequence.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT)
  2. Smooth 90-degree Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
  3. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. (Sidestepping: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RL)
  4. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. (‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO)

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and a lead long enough so we can keep a nice drape in it but not so long it gets in the way.
  • Six or more rags marking out a roomy circle. Have an even number of rags.

NOTES

  1. For this routine, it helps if the rags are a different color.
  2. Make the circle as large as you like. It is small in the clips for ease of filming.
  3. I like to memorize the sequence of events by walking the pattern without the horse and then visualizing the sequence often (a good substitute for counting sheep to go to sleep!) If you have a human friend, take turns being the horse or the handler. Usually, as handler precision improves, horse precision improves.
  4. Walk should-to-shoulder with the horse for all the tasks except the last two.
  5. The aim is to keep the rope with a nice drape or loop as much as possible, so the horse is getting his signals from our body language and signals rather than rope pressure.
  6. Click&treat at a rate that keeps your horse being successful. As a horse learns a pattern through frequent short repetitions, we can gradually ask for a bit more before each click&treat.

VIDEO CLIPS

#196 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 6, Rags as Focus: https://youtu.be/tqmY4RPKLrc

 

#197 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 6 at Liberty: https://youtu.be/KnXk8WEhXiA

 

#198 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 6 without Rags: https://youtu.be/ZSfK3i2Zq04

 

TASKS

  1. With the handler nearest the rag and on the horse’s left, stand together beside one of the rags.
  2. Walk a full circle around the rags (anticlockwise).
  3. On completing a full circle, turn into the middle of the circle and halt. Move to the horse’s right side.
  4. Vary how long you stay at the halt each time you halt in the circle’s center. Be clear with your ‘no intent’ body language during the standing together, and your ‘intent’ body language when you want to walk on again.
  5. Walk forward and curve around to circle the rags in the opposite direction (clockwise). Handler walks closest to the rags.
  6. On completing one full circle, turn into the middle again, halt and change to the horse’s left side.
  7. Walk forward and curve into an anticlockwise circle, but this time halt at every second rag. Vary how long you stay parked at the rags.
  8. After one circuit halting at every second rag, turn into the center of the circle again and change to the right side.
  9. Repeat 7 (stop at every second rag) but walking a clockwise circle.
  10. On completing the circle, turn into the middle of the circle and halt.
  11. Ask the horse to back up between two rags, halting when his belly is between the rags. In the clips, I face Boots to ask her to back up, but we could back up shoulder-to-shoulder.
  12. Ask the horse to sidestep either right or left so that one of the rags passes under his belly.
  13. Large Celebration on completion of the sequence.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Practice in different venues.
  • Change the size of your circle.
  • Add more rags to your circle.
  • Build in walk-trot-walk transitions.
  • Repeat each task before changing to the next task.
  • Add walk-trot-walk transitions.
  • Add halt-trot transitions.
  • Add trot-halt transitions.
  • Play with it at liberty.
  • Carry out the sequence of tasks in an open area without marker rags. For the three halts along the circle (tasks 7 and 9), halt after each quarter circle.
  • Practice on a slope.

 

The Rule of Three

Introduction

The time I spend with my horse does not always exactly follow the ‘rule of three’ described here. However, in general and especially when I have a specific training project, I find that the ‘rule of three’ makes it easier to:

  • Structure our time together.
  • Keep us learning new things.
  • Build in the movement that is key to the horse’s welfare.

A training session usually works well if it consists of three general parts:

  1. Something new we want to teach.
  2. Something we want to improve.
  3. A few things that the horse already knows how to do well, often used for warm-up or cool-down.

The ‘rule of three’ suggests practicing three repeats in a row, unless the first one is perfect and calls for a celebration.

The ‘rule of three’ is an ideal way to teach something new, work on improving something else and maintain the horse’s enthusiasm to tackle the harder work by frequently relaxing back into doing things he knows well. It helps if the tasks are quite different.

If the ‘new’ and ‘to improve’ tasks have limited movement, it is good to have more energetic well known tasks. If the ‘new’ or ‘to improve’ tasks are energetic, then it may be more helpful to use quieter well known tasks.

In the following video clip, this is our ‘new task’: the horse to sidestep along the rail away from me while I keep my feet still. In the past I’ve always moved along with her. Now I’d like her to confidently move across to the barrel by herself.

 

In the video clip, this is our ‘task to improve’ because it is a long time since we played with the balance beam.

 

In the video clip, weaving a row of markers was one of the several, ‘tasks we already know well’, that we did for relaxation and more sustained movement between the new learning.

During the overall training session, we return to the new task three times, with up to three repeats each time. We also return to the task we are improving three times and do up to three repeats each time. When the horse is in the learning stage, each tiny improvement over last time is a ‘release/click point’.

In-between the new task and the task we want to improve, we do things the horse already knows well and where he can easily earn his clicks&treats or down time. We might walk out and about, stop for a spot of grazing, flexion exercises or gymnastic type routines for overall body fitness, or just hang out together.

Rule of Nine

One of my evergreen training protocols is to ensure confident responses over nine consecutive training sessions before moving on to the next part of the training sequence.

For some tasks, communication may become smooth before nine sessions – but carry on for nine anyway.

For other tasks it may take a long time to get confident responses over nine consecutive sessions. Every horse is different. Every handler is different. Every horse-handler combination is different.

Also see Blogs number 44 and number 13 in the ‘Blog Contents List’ tab at the top of the page for more about planning and thin-slicing.

Movement Routine 5 – Fence for Focus

Photo: Task 3: Walking a half-circle away from the fence.

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this series of movement routines is to regularly have the horse doing a series of gentle movements that aid his overall flexion and suppleness.

We need to consider both physical suppleness and mental suppleness. Mental suppleness is about the horse’s ability to understand the signals for each task and to move calmly between tasks.

Once the horse is adept with each of the tasks in the routine, this whole routine takes about two minutes. But it might take weeks or months of short daily practices to teach each element of the routine to the proficiency needed to link them all together.

I like to mark the end of a routine such as this with a celebration which in our case is a triple treat (details in Prerequisite 8).

AIM

To link this series of tasks into a sequence:

  1. Walk together.
  2. Recall toward fence.
  3. Walk a half-circle
  4. Yield shoulder to put horse’s butt at 90 degrees to fence.
  5. Back butt against fence.
  6. Two steps forward, one step back.
  7. One step forward, one step back; repeat once.
  8. Yield shoulder so horse faces fence and morph into sidestepping away.
  9. Sidestep in the opposite direction.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT)
  2. Horse can smoothly U-turn into a recall when the handler changes from walking forward to walking backwards. (https://youtu.be/XuBo07q8g24)
  3. The horse understands yielding the shoulder. (Yielding the Shoulder: https://youtu.be/eSlin8ZYcRA)
  4. Horse backs up easily to put his butt against a solid barrier. (#186 HorseGym with Boots: Backing Against Objects: https://youtu.be/SBcdVtV-eCo)
  5. Horse is familiar with backing up one step at a time and recalling one step at a time. (One Step at a Time: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5X6)
  6. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping away from the handler. (Sidestepping: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RL)
  7. Horse understand a signal for sidestepping toward the handler. (Target Shoulder to Hand: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5SH and Targeting Hindquarters to Our Hand: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Tk)
  8. Triple Treat: #16 HorseGym with Boots: https://youtu.be/FaIajCMKDDU

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and 10′ (3m) or longer lead.
  • A safe fence or other barrier. For this challenge, we ask the horse to back his butt against the barrier, so something solid like a wooden fence, a wall or a hedge is best. We could also use a line of barrels or a raised rail.

VIDEO CLIP

NOTES

  1. Be sure that the horse is confident with each task before starting to link them together. We never want to make the horse feel wrong. He can’t be wrong because he doesn’t yet know what you want. Do a quiet reset and start again if things don’t go to plan.
  2. It is usually helpful to link pairs of tasks at first, then add the first pair to the second pair, and so on.
  3. I like to memorize the sequence of events by walking the pattern without the horse and then visualizing the sequence often (a good substitute for counting sheep to go to sleep!) If you have a human friend, take turns walking the sequence being both the horse and the handler.

TASKS

Use a rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat) that keeps your horse being continually successful as much as possible. As he learns the routine, ask for a bit more before the next click&treat but always be prepared to increase the rate of reinforcement again if the horse needs you to clarify your intent.

  1. Walk along shoulder-to-shoulder with the handler nearest the fence.
  2. Gently change to walking backwards, asking the horse to make a U-turn toward the fence, so he is walking toward you.
  3. Stop walking backwards and ask him to halt in front of you.
  4. Move to the side that allows you to easily walk a half-circle together, with you on the inside of the circle.
  5. Halt when you have walked a half-circle away from the fence. Ask the horse to yield his shoulder 90 degrees so his butt is toward the fence.
  6. Ask the horse to back up until his butt (or tail) is against fence.
  7. Ask the horse to take two steps forward toward you, then ask for one step back.
  8. Now ask for one step forward, followed by one step back; repeat once.
  9. Ask the horse to yield his shoulder 180 degrees so he faces the fence and morph that movement into stepping away from you sideways.
  10. Ask the horse to sidestep toward you or move to his other side and ask him to sidestep away from you.
  11. Finish with a big celebration (e.g. a Triple Treat).
  12. Repeat from task 1 walking on the horse’s other side.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Practice in different spots and/or different venues.
  • When it is super smooth with rope and halter, play at liberty.
  • Move away from the fence to do the routine. Change task 6 to ask for a set number of back-up steps or have a ground rail as a back-up destination.
  • Chain the tasks in a different order.