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Line Dance Shoulder-to-Shoulder


In the photo above we are using a rail to consolidate line-dancing shoulder-to-shoulder. Once past the rail, the horse earns a click&treat. The rail helps in that: a) I don’t ask for too much, b) the horse quickly realizes that a click&treat happens when he sidesteps past the rail, and c) it encourages straightness.

Try stepping sideways by stretching out your arms to the side while you cross your legs. Then cross your arms while stepping apart with your legs. This is how a horse organizes his body when he move sideways keeping his body relatively straight. Front legs apart while back legs cross over. Hind legs apart while front legs cross over.

If horses tried to cross both front and hind legs at the same time, it would be easy for them to lose balance and fall over.

As mentioned when discussing sidestepping face-to-face with the horse, moving sideways in rhythm is not something horses tend to do in their everyday life. It may therefore take the horse a while to get his legs organized when we first teach this movement. Our horse may have to think hard to get this sorted, so be especially patient and celebrate small successes.


  1. The horse understands body language, voice and a gesture/touch signal at the girth to move sideways away from us as we sidestep toward him.
  2. The horse understands body language, gesture and voice signals to sidestep toward us.


  1. In case you have not yet taught basic sidestepping, see Number 29 in my Blog Contents List: Sidestepping. There is a link to my Blog Contents List at the top of the page.
  2. Targeting shoulder to hand is the background needed to initiate movement toward us with a hand gesture signal. See Number 27 in my Blog Contents List: Target Shoulder to Hand.

The training plan for this can also be found in Chapter Twelve in my book: Horse Training: Fun with Flexion using Positive Reinforcement, in case you have that book.

  • Hip to hand is the other part we need. See Number 28 in my Blog Contents List: Targeting Hindquarters to our Hand. It is Chapter Thirteen in the book mentioned above.

Once we have shoulder to hand and hip to hand, we can introduce the idea of the whole horse moving sideways toward us.


#280 HorseGym with Boots: Line Dance in Motion.


  • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
  • Horse in a learning frame of mind.
  • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
  • Halter and lead unless teaching at liberty.
  • A lane a few meters long with a barrier in front and behind. For example, a fence and raised rails, a fence and a line of barrels. We can use fencing tape between tall cones or jump stands, as long as the horse is comfortable working around fencing tape which is not electrified.


  1. It’s important to warm the horse up with general activity before asking for yields like this. As we develop and maintain such exercises, our horse’s flexibility will gradually improve.
  2. Most horses find this easier on one side. At first, be happy if he can only sidestep with his body at a 45-degree angle to the barrier. With frequent short practices, he will develop the muscles and flexion to be straighter. Boots’ ability to sidestep has been built up over years.
  3. A horse with arthritis and/or past injuries may have restricted or severely limited movement for this type of work.
  4. Doing a little bit often gives reliable results and keeps the horse keen to seek out his next click&treat. As usual, we are teaching a habit in response to a signal, so we never want to make the horse sore or reluctant.
  5. For the slow-dancing routine, we only need a few steps away and a few steps toward us.


Sidestepping Away

  1. Set up a lane with a barrier behind and in front of the horse so that moving sideways is an easy option for him to choose. Have it wide enough to be comfortable for the horse.
  2. Have a nose target or a barrier a few sidesteps away on each end of the lane so that the horse has a destination where he knows he will get his next click&treat. I used our shelter because it ensured that I did not ask for too many steps at once. The horse quickly realized that reaching the other side of the shelter resulted in a click&treat.
    • If the horse finds one side easier, start on that side. Using your orientation facing the horse’s side, ensure you have smooth yielding of shoulder and hindquarters, then consolidate a light touch/gesture signal at the girth to ask the whole horse to move over (Prerequisite 1).
    • Once 3 is smooth, begin to align yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse. At first, you may need to face him for the original signal but strive to change to using a gesture or light touch while you stay shoulder-to-shoulder. Three-five sidesteps is plenty.
    • When 4 above is good, teach it again from the beginning on the horse’s other side.
    • When 5 above is good, remove either the front or rear barrier. Work on both sides.
    • When 6 above is good, work without the barrier props. Work on both sides. Be careful not to ask for too much. Celebrate small successes.

    Sidestepping Toward the Handler

    1. Set up as for 1 and 2 above.
    2. If the horse finds one side easier, start on that side.
    3. Using your orientation facing the horse’s side, ensure you have smooth targeting of shoulder and hindquarters in rhythm, then develop a gesture signal to ask the whole horse to sidestep toward you. (Prerequisites 2 and 3). At this point, don’t worry about your body’s orientation to the horse. Use whatever signals the horse finds easiest to understand. Celebrate hugely when you get the first sidestep toward you.
    4. When 3 is coming along nicely, teach it all again from the beginning on the horse’s other side.
    5. When 4 is good using the props, remove either the front or rear barrier. If the horse tends to back up, remove the front barrier first. If he tends to inch forward, remove the back barrier first.
    6. When 5 is smooth, remove both barriers.
    7. Now it’s time to focus more on your position so you can stay shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse as much as possible, but don’t make it a big deal.


    1. When the task is sound in a familiar training area, play in different places.
    2. Work on a slope horse facing uphill.
    3. Work on a slope horse facing downhill.
    4. Work with the horse parallel to a gentle slope.

    Precision Leading

    Synchronicity is a fundamental horse behavior. Horses living naturally stay in visual contact and move together. A warning snort by one horse will immediately alert all other horses within hearing. One horse startled into action will immediately be joined by the rest of his group. The body awareness of horses, like that of schooling fish and flocking birds is so acute that even at top speed on uneven terrain they don’t run into each other.

    Horse body awareness is so well developed that even in full flight they do not run into each other.
    Photo by Gigi on Unsplash

    It’s possible for us to become part of this incredible sensitivity if we train ourselves to become clear and totally consistent with our body language. Once a horse realizes that our body language is significant and reliable, he tends to watch it closely. If we systematically strive to improve our body language, we will reap the benefits when we lead our horse.

    We inevitably need to lead our horses from A to B. We might be leading our horse:

    • Between paddocks.
    • Between stable and paddock.
    • Into and out of stalls.
    • To and from our training area.
    • Along a road or track for a walk.
    • Alongside other horses.
    • On the uneven road verge or ditch if large or unusual traffic comes along.
    • Through gates of varying width.
    • Through a narrow space.
    • In a new area the horse has not seen before.
    • Into a familiar area which suddenly has new things in it.
    • Up and down slopes.
    • Around obstacles.
    • Through water.
    • Across ditches or gullies.
    • Into and out of a truck or trailer.
    • Around a vet facility.
    • Between cars and horse trailers.
    • Past or among strange horses and strange people.
    • Past pigs or donkeys or other animals unfamiliar to the horse.
    • Past loud or aggressive dogs.
    • Near children.
    • If we take our horse for walks, we may be in bush or forest with logs to step over, water to cross, other trail users to meet and pass.
    • If we trail ride, we may have reason to dismount and lead the horse in narrow, unusual and sometimes dangerous places with poor footing.

    I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list, but it makes the point that it is definitely in our interest, and in the horse’s interest, to make precision leading part of our horse’s repertoire.

    The ‘gates’ in this exercise are pairs of markers set up in a random pattern. The task is to organize the approach to each gate, so the horse can navigate it fluidly. We start with the gates well spread out and roomy to walk through.

    I’m using a variety of markers to create a series of ‘gates’. The direction of our body axis is essential information for the horse to know whether he will be going straight, turning toward us or making a counterturn to head toward the next gate (as in video below).

    This first short video looks at how we can use clear, consistent changes of our body’s axis as a major signal for the horse.

    As always, there are quite a few PREREQUISITES. If you want/need to review any of the key prerequisites, I’ve put direct links to them at the end of this blog.


    • Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals in a relaxed manner.
    • Horse responds to soft rope signals.
    • Horse backs up willingly with the ‘finesse back-up’ and/or ‘shoulder-to-shoulder back-up
    • The horse understands the significance of the handler clearly changing his/her body axis to indicate direction.


    • 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. A shorter 8-foot lead makes it easier to keep a soft drape in the rope.
    • A series of five or more gates made with pairs of markers such as cones, tread-in posts, pieces of firewood, rocks, containers of water (5-liter plastic containers of water are especially useful), barrels, jump stands, rags – anything that is safe to use.
    • Each time we set up this exercise, we can put the gates in a different configuration. The number of gates is only limited by the size of the training area.
    • Once well established at home, we can expand the idea to new venues.


    1. Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, gesture, voice and halter-touch signals that allow the horse to smoothly navigate through each gate.
    2. Horse begins to seek out the next gate by reading the handler’s body language and gesture signals.
    3. Clear communication for:
    • Walk on through the gate.
    • Halt between the ‘gate’ markers.
    • Halt and back through the gate.


    #158 HorseGym with Boots: PRECISION LEADING


    • Very short frequent sessions work best. Stay with each slice until it feels ho-hum to both of you.
    • Before asking the horse to negotiate the gates, walk through them yourself and visualize the order in which you will ask the horse to do them. Also explore the best way to approach each gate from various directions. The less hesitancy in your actions, the easier it will be for the horse to read your intent*. It’s fun, and hugely helpful, to have a second person be your pretend horse. Even better is for you to be the horse and have a friend guide you through the gates using body language only.
    • Set out five or more gates well spread out, with a good-sized gap for each gate so it’s easy for the horse to walk through.
    1. Walk to each gate in turn and ask the horse to halt between the markers; click&treat each halt. If he wants to stop to sniff and investigate any of the markers, allow him all the time he needs to satisfy his curiosity. Wait with zero intent* for an ‘okay to proceed*’ signal. [Terms with an Asterix (*) are defined in the glossary which you can access through the link at the top of the page.] In this situation, the ‘okay’ signal is when the horse brings his attention back to you. He may also sigh or breath out audibly.
    2. When 1 is smooth, halt in every second gate you come to; click&treat.
    3. When 2 is smooth, halt in every third gate you come to: click&treat.
    4. As the horse shows he is ready to do more, carry on adding one more gate before the halt followed by click&treat, until you can do a whole series with one click&treat at the end of the series.
    5. When 4 is good on one side of the horse, start again with slice 1 on the other side of the horse.
    6. When 4 and 5 feel smooth and light, ask the horse to back up two or three steps after a halt in a gate. Work up to a series of occasional ‘halts followed by a back-up’, in-between walking forward through the gates.
    7. Mix up:
      • Walking straight through gates.
      • Halting in a gate and walking on.
      • Halting in a gate and backing up.
      • Trotting through some or all the gates.
      • Put gates in different venues and/or use different markers.
    8. We can also use the gate as a stopping place to practice the WAIT.
    Pausing in a ‘gate’ to play with increasing the duration of the WAIT GAME.


    Zero Intent and Intent: https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2018/11/30/dec-2018-challenge-no-intent-and-intent/

    20-Steps Exercise: [#68 in the Blog Contents List] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/09/05/20-steps-exercise/

    Smooth Walk-on and Halt Transitions: [#16 in the Blog Contents List.] https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT

    Soft Response to Rope Signals exercise: [#86in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2022/01/03/developing-soft-response-to-rope-rein-pressure/

    Smooth 90-degree Turns: [#31 in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2019/06/29/smooth-90-degree-turns-handler-on-the-inside/

    Smooth Counter Turns: [#35 in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2019/09/30/smooth-counter-turns/

    Weave Prep – more detail about using our body axis orientation. [My YouTube playlist called Weave and Tight Turns contains more clips about how I gradually developed these skills]: https://youtu.be/dQ4Qkz74pcQ

    Finesse Back-Up: [#40 in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/02/02/finesse-back-up/

    Mat Madness

    In the photo above, I’ve asked Boots to put all four feet onto our plywood mat.

    With so many new people taking up equine clicker training, I will find some of my favorite blogs from years ago when I started sharing them. The first video clip below demonstrates 22 different tasks we can play using a mat as a focal point. A mat allows us to have a specific conversation with our horse. If we have an exact idea of what we’d like, it is easier to shape the horse toward our goal and reinforce him for each small slice toward the goal behavior. Some further relevant YouTube clips are listed at the end.

    Different types of mats are best suited to particular tasks. In this clip we use a plywood board, an old bath mat and pool flotation mat. Rubber door mats are good in that they don’t bunch up like the bath mat does.

    The challenge for you is to choose one task and create a training plan to teach the horse as seamlessly as possible. When your first task is mastered, choose another one. Some tasks are much more complex than others. Most of them (but not all) require the horse to know the task before adding the mat into the picture.

    Hints: Start with what the horse can already offer. Work in multiple mini-sessions. Three attempts are often ample for one mini-session. Stop when you get a good response or ‘try’. Maybe you can fit several mini-sessions into one longer session when you are doing chores other things with the horse. Work on new tasks one at a time.

    Experiment until you and your horse agree on a clear signal for each task. Pay attention to your consistency using the signal. I struggle with staying consistent, but when I achieve it, things suddenly get much better.

    Some people life to teach everything at liberty. I like to start most things with halter and lead so I can easily give the horse more clues about what will earn the click&treat, causing less frustration.

    List of 22 Tasks: The list below is in the same order as shown on the clip.

    1. Horse targets mat as his own idea, at liberty. https://youtu.be/xMaZWt5gK2o

    2. Use a gesture to send the horse to a mat.

    3. Walk together around the mat before asking the horse to target the mat.

    4. Person asks horse to wait, goes to stand on the mat, then returns to the horse.

    5. Person asks horse to wait, walks to stand on the mat, then asks horse to recall to the mat.

    6. Mat moved to a different venue, encourage horse to target the mat at liberty.

    7. Short recall to the mat, handler facing the horse but not standing on the mat.

    8. Short back off the mat; handler facing the horse.

    9. Back off the mat; handler shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse.

    10. Back off the mat; handler behind the horse.

    11. Handler on the mat, horse circles to the right and left and halt on the circle.

    12. Front feet stay on the mat, yield the hindquarters, from right and left sides.

    13. Walk across mat and halt with hind feet on the mat.

    14. Yield hindquarters off the mat, from right and left sides.

    15. Yield hindquarters onto the mat, from right and left sides.

    16. Yield forequarters off the mat, from right and left sides.

    17. Yield forequarters onto the mat, from right and left sides.

    18. Left front foot onto a mat.

    19. Right front foot onto a mat.

    20. Right hind foot onto a mat.

    21. Left hind foot onto a mat.

    22. Handler in front of the horse, ask horse to back both hind feet onto the mat.

    These clips may also be helpful or interesting.

    #9 HorseGym with Boots, Putting the Mat Target on Cue (on Signal). https://youtu.be/eEGayCdECeQ

    #10 HorseGym with Boots, Generalizing Mats. https://youtu.be/wdptBQ0EtK4

    #11 HorseGym with Boots, Mat-a-thons. https://youtu.be/Lj9xrwVtRUQ

    #15 HorseGym with Boots, Parking with Duration & Distance. https://youtu.be/CYJwu-CyIVE

    Starting with a Shy or Timid Horse


    It’s tempting to think of horses as big, strong creatures – which they are. But in reality they are just giant squirrels, constantly on the lookout for danger and aware that flight is their best response to anything unusual. So building confidence with every new situation is everything.

    Eternal vigilance is what keeps prey animals alive.

    A Familiar Feed Dish

    Using a familiar feed dish can help if we are working with a shy or timid horse, or one unused to humans. We can use free-shaping to capture the behavior of taking a treat from the feed bucket. If he is not yet interested in eating carrot or apple strips, use handfuls of soaked chaff or whatever bucket-food he is getting, or twists of good quality hay, or freshly plucked long-stemmed grass if you have access to this.

    Here is the Thin-slicing for a Possible Training Plan.

    1. Place the feed dish between you and the horse. The horse’s response will show you how close you can be without causing him to move further away. 
    2. While watching the horse, be careful not to stare directly at him, but to turn a bit sideways to him and observe him discretely with your peripheral vision.
    3. Wait in a relaxed manner until the horse looks at the feed dish – click and quietly move to the feed dish and toss in a treat. Then immediately move twice as far away as your former position, giving the horse more than the personal bubble size he needs to feel safe enough to approach the feed dish. It’s good if the treat makes a sound when it hits the dish. If the wait time is quite long, take a chair. Sometimes a person sitting in a chair is less threatening than a standing person.
    4. Wait for the horse to retrieve the treat. If he can’t do it yet, move further away or go do something else and come back later. He’ll usually check the dish while you are away.
    5. Approach the feed dish until the horse moves away (if he hasn’t already). As soon as the horse stops moving away, stop as well and shift your body sideways so you are not directly facing him. Watch for him (without staring at him) to look at the feed dish – click as soon as he does and quietly move to the food dish and toss in a treat, then glide away again to a distance that respects the horse’s current personal bubble.
    6. Repeat 10-20 times or as long as the horse shows interest. He will gradually begin to connect the click with the food treat about to be tossed into his dish.
    7. Each horse is different. Some horses easily shrink the size of the space they need to feel safe and soon approach the dish readily. Others will find it harder to build confidence.
    8. It’s possible to do this procedure on the other side of a fence from the horse. This is protected contact for us, but it can also make the horse feel safer from his point of view.
    9. Gradually we can shift the ‘click point’ to wait for a step toward the food dish, then sniffing the food dish. At the same time, we may be able to gradually decrease the distance we have to move away before the horse will retrieve the treat.
    10. Eventually we can sit in a chair with the bucket near us, then right beside us, then on our lap and the horse will come to retrieve his treat from the bucket.
    11. From there, we can introduce our hand into the bucket and get him used to the idea that he can pick food off our hand.
    12. Eventually we can dispense with the bucket.
    13. It’s essential to work with each horse’s timeline, no matter how long it takes. Each horse is unique. If we give him the time it takes to make up his own mind that approaching the dish (and eventually us) results in good things, he will have a positive outlook to our presence.

    The treat has been dropped into the green bowl and now the person will move away just a step or two because the horse is confident enough to come to the bucket as soon as he knows a treat has been put into it.

    Reflections on the Influence of the Environment

    Unless you are using cloned pigeons or cloned rodents in controlled laboratory conditions, the study of animal behavior is an inexact science. Each animal we interact with is a unique entity derived from its genetic make-up and the environment’s effect on those genes since the meeting of the egg and sperm.

    All living things are the result of constant interaction between genetic possibility and the ever-changing environment.

    And of course, the nature of the egg and sperm depends on the past genetic and environmental influences on the parents, and so on – back in time.

    Ongoing research shows that environment has more influence on genetic expression than previously recognized. When we are with our horse, we are part of his/her environment.

    For a domestic horse, each person is a unique part of his environment.

    What he eats, drinks, breathes, his access to movement and mental stimulation (or lack of same) all underpin the nature of the horse standing beside us. Does the horse live among a group of horses? Did he grow up in a mixed-age herd?

    Is the horse getting enough sleep? Can he fully relax often enough? Can he freely choose a comfortable temperature – shade, sun, out of the wind, protection from strong rain or bitter cold?

    Is the horse getting enough good quality sleep?

    Does he have the space to move at any gait whenever he feels the need? Is he able to eat and rest in the natural horse rhythm? Horse don’t do ‘square meals’ and 8-9 hours of continuous sleep. They observe/eat/rest, observe/eat/rest in a continuous rhythm over 24 hours.

    And of course, what he feels directly relates to his behavior of the moment. Alert or relaxed? Vigilant and fearful can lead to panic. Perceived threat is just as real as actual threat.

    Does he feel hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, or need to urinate or defecate? Is he in physical pain? Is he feeling separation distress, social isolation, loneliness?

    We must remain constantly aware of the horse’s bodily functions rather than treat him like a bicycle.

    Is he feeling frustration at containment and restraint, which can turn into rage and desperate actions seeking escape, often leading to injury? Is maternal care thwarted due to early weaning? Is the mare in season and coping with mating urges? Is the stallion in proximity to mares in season?

    Have we carefully, safely, taught all about tying up and other restraints such as staying in small spaces? Is there an outlet for the play drive?

    When We Turn Up with Food Treats

    The ‘environment’ is not only ‘out there’. We are part of the horse’s environment. Both the handler and the horse have an external environment and an internal environment. Horses can sense a handler’s confidence or fear, anxiety or calmness, in a nanosecond. Before we interact with our horse, we need to become aware of our emotional state. If we are not feeling calm and accepting of what the horse is able to offer us today, we are best to sit quietly and bring these up before we inflict ourselves on the horse.

    Horses are innate experts at reading body language. That skill developed over the millennia as an adaptation for herd life. Group life means that all the group members need the same resources. During some seasons, scarcity leads to competition between group members.

    Humans have the same awareness of the significance of body language once we put aside the ‘noise’ of our talking. We have ‘gut responses’ to people which are based on their body language and the aura which surrounds them.

    Horses know the difference between assertion and aggression. They understand approach and retreat. They understand warnings and capitulation. If we have a horse, it becomes our job to learn the details of horse body language and the specific nuances of the body language of the horse(s) we handle.

    Horse body language is extremely nuanced.

    All living creatures tend to repeat whatever they find rewarding. The reward might be physical comfort, company or no company, a restful situation, drink, food. This is because a rewarding situation activates a fundamental ‘seeking circuit’ in the brain – the bit that works in the subconscious to keep us alive. But we the learn to consciously seek out that reward again.

    Horses, being designed to eat steadily over 24 hours, find food highly rewarding unless something in the horse’s external or internal environment is critically out of balance.

    We can use food rewards with a horse without a CLICK or MARKER sound of our choice, but the click marker signal is a safety feature for the handler. It also, later on, allows us to build chains of individual behaviors with a CLICK at the end of the chain. I’ll reflect a bit more on that in another blog.


    The following two videos look at some basics to consider when we delve into equine clicker training.

    Setting Up Our Training Environment

    Internal and External Environments

    Putting Slow Dancing Together, plus Extras

    When I teach these maneuvers, I teach them one at a time. Then we begin to link two of them together. For example, I do the Do-Si-Do so I can repeat the Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet on the other side of the horse. But doing the line dancing on the other side could easily fit in after one of the Recalls to Heel, presuming we remember which side we did the first time – something I tend to forget.

    Most days I practice a few of the tasks, or some aspects of a task, but I’m careful not to do too much of one thing. Now and then I put a lot of them together.

    By regularly returning to each task on its own, as well as to different combinations of two or three of the tasks, we keep the whole thing fresh.

    We can put the slow-dance routine together in any order that we like. We want to keep it fun for us, as well as keep our horse supple and interested.

    Perfection is Not in the Equation

    Perfection is never part of the equation. Some days things will go smoothly, other days they won’t. People and horses have good days and less good days.

    Simple Bow

    We developed the Simple Bow which gives us a consistent way to begin a series of Slow Dancing movements and a way to let the horse know that we’ve come to the end of a sequence.

    The Simple Bow – fun to use as a start and finish for our Slow Dancing routines.


    This is a review of the ten Slow Dancing tasks we developed over the year. I’m sure there are others you can also incorporate.

    This video clip shows an example of the whole routine. #282 HorseGym with Boots: Whole Slow Dance Routine at Liberty.

    Accurate Placing of Feet

    We started with a review of placing the feet accurately using a rail on the ground. As well as make the horse more aware of what each foot is doing, it is a nuanced exercise that helps the handler become more aware of their orientation to the horse as well as their body language, energy level, gesture, voice and touch signals.

    We have halted with one front foot over the rail.

    Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet

    Next we looked at Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet. In moderation, this a good exercise to keep suppleness in the horse’s amazing shoulder musculature.

    Line Dancing in position with the front feet. Doing it regularly on both sides gains and maintains symmetry.


    We then looked at the Do-Si-Do, which is a yield of the hindquarters, then bringing the front of the horse past us so we end up on his other side, followed with a yield of the forequarters. I often fit it in as our second task because it allows us to do Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet on the horse’s other side.

    It can take a while to get this flowing nicely but once it does, it’s a great stretching exercise. And it helps handlers develop super awareness of their body position and timing.

    Do-si-do: This is hard to show with still shots. I’m asking for a hindquarter yield on the horse’s right side. As she comes around, I step back (third photo) so she she can bring her head in front of me and put me in her left eye, at which point I will ask for a forequarter yield. In this case we would finish up facing the cows.

    From our position shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse, we can ask for half a hindquarter yield so we end up face-to-face with the horse, which sets us up for the Recall and Back-Up In Rhythm or any of the face-to-face tasks.

    Recall and Back-Up in Rhythm

    Once we have established a back-up signal while face-to-face with the horse, we add the recall. It is a fairly sophisticated exercise. It is valuable because it asks the horse to shift his weight and balance backwards and forwards in a quiet, no-stress context. Once the horse is adept at this, it’s fun to do a few of these whenever we have the horse warmed up.

    We teach the ‘wait plus recall’ and the ‘back-up’ separately, then put them together.

    Sidestepping Face-to-Face

    While we are face-to-face with the horse, it is easy to morph from Back-Up and Recall into Sidestepping Face-To-Face. First we carefully teach the horse how to smoothly move sideways keeping his body straight while we are in position beside his ribs. Once the horse understands the concept and a voice signal, it is not hard to teach the same movement while we are facing him.

    This exercise helps suppleness of the hip as well as the shoulders. If the horse finds it difficult in either direction (or both), it usually indicates chronic stiffness or possibly new or residual soreness. A little bit often (if the horse is not showing soreness) is a good idea, but only if the horse is already warmed up with straight-line walking and trotting.

    You can see by her tail that this is demanding physical and mental work. She is doing such a good job of keeping her body straight. I only ask for a few steps each direction before a click&treat.

    Recall to Heel

    We ask the horse to WAIT and walk a short distance away. From WAIT, we Recall the horse who walks to us, then past us on one side, makes a U-turn behind us so he ends up standing beside our shoulder on the other side (‘at heel’).

    Boots walked toward me, moved past my right shoulder, turned 180 degrees behind me to end up alongside my left shoulder.

    We also sometimes play with making the U-turn staying on the same side. When the horse is standing beside our shoulder, we can easily move into The Spiral.

    The Spiral

    The Spiral is a task my horse Boots made up for us and for some reason she seems to like it a lot. We had spent quite a bit of time walking spiral circles, making each time round the circle either larger or smaller.

    Just for fun one day I wanted to see how small we could get the circle. We ended up with my back tight against her shoulder, turning on the spot while she curved around me as much as a horse is able to curve. The big celebration and triple treats telling her how clever she was probably set it up as a future favorite exercise.

    As long as we stay within the horse’s ability to bend comfortably at the hip area, and ensure that the horse is already warmed up, it is a fun task to do often.

    We start with a large circle and gradually make the circle smaller until we can turn on the spot with the horse moving tightly around us. If the horse is not able to keep his hind end on the arc of the circle, we are asking more than he is able to do at the moment. Done regularly, flexion usually improves if pain or past injury is not a factor.


    The Balancera exercise is another of our favorites. We built it up slowly with many short practices over the years. It is physically the same as the Back-Up and Recall except that the handler is at the horse’s shoulder. The main difference is that we start with several steps forward (I use between 3 and 10) followed immediately by the same number of steps backing up.

    To turn it into the Balancera task, we repeat with one less step forward and backward each time until we are rocking forward one step and rocking back one step. It is another unique ‘balance shift exercise’ done in the context of quiet concentration. I count the steps out loud and the horse seems to hone in on the sound of the numbers.

    Here we are in the process of shifting our balance from walking forward to walking backwards. I have dropped my weight into my hips and am raising my outside hand to signal for backing up. We do one less step each time until we are doing one step forward and one step back. This exercise helps the horse become a master at reading our body language and intent. Start with a high rate of reinforcement and only a few steps.

    Line Dancing Shoulder-to-Shoulder

    The Balancera has us in position beside the horse’s shoulder, which is where we need to be to do Line Dancing Shoulder-To-Shoulder. Our usual body orientation when asking the horse to sidestep is probably facing his ribs.

    It’s not too hard to stay shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse instead. We have to adjust the way we give the signal to let the horse know our intent. We need the signal different from the signal we use for Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet.

    In this frame, with the very interested cattle, Boots is sidestepping toward me. I found staying shoulder-to-shoulder for this part harder because our signal is my raised hand for her to target. It can get smoother once a voice signal is well established. We often practice this with a rail under the horse’s belly, which gives the horse a destination – i.e. click and treat once past the rail.

    The Twirl

    This brings us to the tenth Slow Dancing task, which is The Twirl. For this we leave the horse in a Wait and walk away so we can face the front of the horse with space between us (as we do for the Recall to Heel).

    When Boots first learned this, it remained one of her favorites for a long time and she is always happy to do it. When we play the ‘Send Out at Trot, then Recall‘ game, she will easily do three twirls on the way back to me.

    For the Slow Dance routine, we do The Twirl slowly. As she does her turn I also turn 360 degrees and we end up face-to-face again; click&treat. The task can be generalized across a longer distance and at trot.

    Boots is doing a turn on the forehand (twirl) while I also spin around. Note how carefully she keeps her ear and eye on where I am. As she comes around we celebrate the effort with a click&treat. This became one of her favorites when we first learned it and I had to promptly put it ‘on signal only’, so she didn’t randomly show it off to people and startle them.


    The Twirl and the Whole Sequence


    In the photo above I am doing my twirl at the same time as Boots is doing her twirl. She is always careful to keep an eye and ear back so she knows where I am. As soon as she comes around to face me again she earns a click&treat.

    The ‘twirl’ in this context is a turn on the forequarters. A ‘spin’ usually describes a turn on the hindquarters.

    It’s great fun to recall our horse and ask him to do a twirl as he comes in. Once Boots knew this task, she enjoyed showing it off, at walk and trot.

    The Twirl is the last task of the dance sequence we worked on for the year. Now we can chain all the tasks together. At first we did the tasks in the same order each time. Eventually we could mix them up.


    1. To have the horse able to remain calm and connected when we touch a rope to his legs and wrap a rope around his body.
    2. As the horse recalls at liberty, we have a signal for the horse to do one or more twirls during his approach.


    1. As usual, we must have each of the prerequisites in excellent shape so we can smoothly build this multi-part task.
    2. Horse is relaxed with a long rope moved along and wrapped around his body and tossed over his head. #22 HorseGym with Boots: Rope Relaxation. https://youtu.be/6Y34VlUk0Iw. And #121 HorseGym with Boots: Stick & String Confidence. https://youtu.be/WIpsT4PPiXo
    3. Horse and handler have developed a good WAIT. Number 65 in my Blog Contents List. (The link to this is at the top of the page).
    4. Horse responds readily to handler’s ‘recall’ signal. Number 90 in my Blog Contents List. This training plan details mainly teaching the recall. https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2022/05/01/recall-back-up-in-rhythm/. Also: Simple Recall Part 1 at https://youtu.be/XuBo07q8g24. And #240 HorseGym with Boots: Wait and Recall. https://youtu.be/_gxXZ7J7eAE


    #256 HorseGym with Boots: Teaching the Twirl. https://youtu.be/tenhwp6tQmI


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
    • Horse in a learning frame of mind.
    • Handler is relaxed.
    • Halter and long lunge line or similar, long enough to wrap right around the horse.


    1. As with all our training, this is a task to build up slowly over time, so the horse looks forward to it because it results in a click&treat that he enjoys.
    2. Two or three repeats each training session is plenty. Over weeks and months, it will become a solid part of your repertoire.
    3. If things don’t go well, work out which of the prerequisites needs more development. Complex interactions with our horse simply consist of the basics done really well.
    4. The beginning of video #256 shows a fun way of doing a twirl using a food lure. But I don’t recommend this. To teach a twirl while the horse is moving toward us, or even from a halt standing in front of us, it is much easier for the horse to understand if food only appears at the end of the twirl via a regular click&treat.
    5. Often the most recent thing we are working with becomes the horse’s favorite thing to show off. Be aware that your horse may want to show off his twirl when you are not prepared for it, especially if other people are nearby. He can run his butt into you without meaning to. Also, other people might be threatened when the horse offers to move his butt this way. In other words, be prompt about putting the twirl ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’. Don’t reward it unless you’ve asked for it.


    1. Once the horse is comfortable with a rope touching him all over his body (Prerequisite 1), attach one end to his halter and bring the rope around behind him and along his other side as shown in the video clip.
    2. Ask the horse to wait with the rope around him. Click&treat staying at zero intent, starting with one second and building up to about five seconds.
    3. Face the horse and introduce an arm/hand gesture and a voice signal as you apply a halter touch signal via the rope to cause the horse to turn away from you and turn on the forehand until he faces you again. Click&teat (major celebration).
    4. Each session with the horse, repeat 3 above two or three times. As the horse begins to recognize your arm/hand and voice signals, ease off on the halter pressure via the rope until you no longer need to use it.
    5. Ensure that your basic RECALL is smooth (Prerequisite 3).
    6. When 4 above is smooth, play without the lead rope and slot in a little recall before you ask for the twirl. If it falls apart, simply and quietly reset to using the wraparound lead rope again, as lightly as possible. Horses learn at different rates and handler skills are variable. Usually if we strive hard to perfect our own skill with giving clear, consistent signals, the horse magically improves.


    1. Play in different venues.
    2. Play on a slope.
    3. If the horse keenly recalls at a trot, ask for a twirl before he reaches you. Boots would happily fit in two or three twirls, one after the other, before reaching me.
    4. Do half a twirl and morph it into a back-up. This was an interesting Horse Agility challenge from www.thehorseagilityclub.com. Here is the clip:

    The Whole Sequence Clip

    #281 HorseGym with Boots: All the Slow Dancing Tasks https://youtu.be/mDjUAH6jzbA

    The Balancera Exercise


    In the photo above, Boots and I are walking a few steps forward shoulder-to-shoulder. We will then pause forward movement and step backwards an equal number of steps remaining shoulder-to-shoulder.

    Horses have an inherent ability to move in synchronization with each other. We can play with this wonderful ability. One way is to devise an exercise where the ‘walk on’ signal balances smoothly with the ‘back up’ signal.

    This is fun to work with once both our ‘walk on’ signals and our ‘back up’ signals individually result in fluid moving together shoulder-to-shoulder. We simply bring those two tasks together to form a sequence of dance steps.

    We pause forward movement momentarily, so the horse’s body has time to organize itself to step backwards. It can look and feel rough at first, but by spending a short time with it often, the change-over can become calm and polished.


    To fluidly change from walking forward to backing up, staying together in the shoulder-to-shoulder position.


    1. Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ signals when the handler is beside his neck/shoulder. See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth Walk-On and Halt Transitions. (Access my Blog Contents List via the tab at the top of the page.)
    2. Horse understands touch, voice and gesture ‘back-up’ signals. See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List: Finesse Back-Up.
    3. My Playlist: Backing-up (in my YouTube channel: Hertha Muddyhorse), has further clips which show teaching the back-up in a variety of ways. Click here.


    There is a third video at the very end of the blog.

    #173 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 1 of 2.

    #174 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 2 of 2.


    • 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 8-foot lead (kept loose as much as possible, as we want to use body language for communication, not rope pressure).
    • A selection of barriers toward which we can walk the horse and ask for ‘halt’.
    • A safe fence or similar to work beside.
    • Materials to build a simple dead-end lane. You may have a corner or a fence and an open gate to use as two of the three sides of a dead-end lane.


    1. * Boots’ demonstrations on the videos is the sum of many short sessions over a long time. When teaching something new, we stay with each slice of the task until it feels easy and smooth, then move on to add in the next slice.
    2. * Whenever anything feels ‘broken’, go back to the slice where both the horse and the handler feel confident, and work forward from there again. Click&treat at a rate that keeps the horse continuously successful at earning his next click&treat.
    3. * Teach everything again (from the beginning) on the other side of the horse. You can do this with each slice, or you can get it all good on one side and then repeat all the slices on the other side.


    1. Check you can ‘walk on’ together fluidly, staying in position shoulder-to-shoulder.
    2. Check you can ‘halt’ together fluidly, staying in position shoulder-to-shoulder.
    3. Set up a lane and walk the horse through it in both directions. Horse is in the lane, handler on the outside.
    4. When 3 above is ho-hum, walk the horse into the lane and ask for a halt about halfway along; click&treat.
    5. Repeat 4 above, asking the horse to wait a second longer before the click&treat, until he comfortably waits up to 4 or 5 seconds.
    6. Block off the lane with a barrier about half a horse’s length inside the lane. Walk the horse into the lane and halt at the barrier; click&treat.
    7. Hold the rope in the hand nearest the horse. Lift your rope hand straight up and jiggle the rope lightly to put a distinctive touch signal on the halter. If you have taught a voice ‘back’ signal, use that as well. At first, watch for any movement backwards, even a body shift back, to click&treat. Since the way forward is blocked off, it will make sense to the horse to step back.
    8. Repeat 6 and 7 above, gradually building up to several steps back.
    9. Once 8 above is good, block off the lane a little further along in stages until the horse is halting right inside the lane. Repeat 6 and 7 above aiming for a fluid, confident back-up out of the lane.
    10. Now we want to switch the halter-jiggle signal to a hand signal. At the same time as you lift the rope hand (nearest the horse) straight up to jiggle the rope, lift your outside hand to the horse’s eye level and make a backward gesture with it. Also use your “back-up” voice signal. Click&treat for stepping back. Return to click&treat for just one or a few steps at first, then gradually all the steps needed to exit the lane.
    11. Repeat, using the outside hand and voice signals BEFORE you lift your rope hand to put jiggle energy into the halter. The moment the horse begins to step back, stop jiggling the rope but ask for another step or two with the outside hand and voice signals.
    12. When the horse moves back readily with just your outside hand gesture and voice signal, fade out the rope-jiggle. It’s there to be used in times of need.
    13. Now we want to combine the steps forward, pause, steps backward with one click&treat after doing both. Walk into the lane, halt at the barrier, signal for the back-up; click&treat for any back-up that is offered. Because we are introducing new complexity (changing a parameter), we relax our criteria for number of steps back.
    14. Gradually, over many very short sessions that always end on a good note, ask for more steps back after the halt before you click&treat. Work up to about 10 steps.
    15. When 14 above is in good shape, practice with a lane of ground rails. Still have a barrier at the front (e.g., a fence). Most horses usually veer right or left when they back up, due to the natural asymmetry of their bodies. One hind leg pushes off harder, so their hind end will veer away from the stronger leg.
    16. By frequent backing through a lane of ground rails, we help the horse organize his body to stay straighter. I regularly use this task as part of our gymnastic work.
    17. Practice with a barrier only on the far side of the horse. This gives you another opportunity to note which way his hind end tends to veer.
    18. Generalize by halting facing a fence or any free-standing barrier, then backing up without the prop of a lane.
    19. When you feel the time is right, ask for a halt away from any barriers, followed by a back-up. Celebrate hugely when you get this. Done with finesse, the horse becomes light and keeps his full attention on your body language so he can maintain the synchronization. I always click&treat after this task.
    20. Gradually build up to 10 steps forward (click&treat) and 10 steps back (click&treat) but vary the number of steps each time you do it. Work toward this over many short sessions.
    21. Once 20 above is smooth, begin the actual Balancera exercise. We’re changing a parameter, so start with about 3 steps. Ask for 3 steps forward, then three steps back before the click&treat.
    22.  When 21 above is good, ask for 3 steps, 2 steps, then 1 step forward and back before the click&treat. This is the Balancera. With frequent short practices, the horse becomes more adept at shifting his weight from forward to backing up. This takes considerable energy and effort, so treat it gently. The horse will soon realize that the click&treat happens after the 1 step forward and back, even when you start with ten steps.
    23. When 22 above is smooth, gradually ask for more steps to begin with, then reducing by one step until you are doing one step forward and one step back; click&treat.
    24. Most of all, keep it fun. Stay within the horse’s ability that day.

    The Spiral


    Horses on their own tend to move in straight lines unless they are engaged in play or disputes. But they move a lot as they graze and to access water. A study of wild horses in Australia found that mostly they walked. Sometimes they trotted. Occasionally, they cantered or galloped.

    Horses in captivity often have restricted freedom of movement. Anything we can do to encourage movement adds color to a horse’s day. This spiral exercise is an interesting task we can make part of our repertoire. It encourages and maintains flexibility.

    Horse can only bend laterally (to the side) in three places on their body. (1) from the junction of head and neck and along the neck muscle. (2) at the base of the neck. (3) Between the final lumbar vertebra and the sacrum which consists of five fused vertebrae. Bend in this last area is extremely limited.

    The bending sites.
    Bending mainly the head.
    Extreme bending of neck .
    The ‘haunches in’ exercise develops the little bend possible between the last lumbar vertebra and the sacrum by the horse learning to stretch a hind leg to step well under the belly as in the next photo.
    Horse doing her best to keep her whole body on the arc of the tiny circle she is walking around me. She is placing her right hind leg as far under her belly as she can.

    As with all the other tasks that we teach, the key is to do a little bit often. Over weeks and months, the horse’s suppleness will gradually improve and can easily be maintained with frequent short repeats of a variety of stretching tasks.


    The horse moves in a tight curve around the handler who turns on the spot.


    1. Horse and handler smoothly walk together in the shoulder-to-shoulder position with the handler on either the right or left side of the horse. See numbers 16 and 68 in my Blog Contents List at the top of this page.
    2. ‘Rule of Three’, which is a way to organize training sessions to maintain high interest and motivation. See Number 46 in my Blog Contents List.


    #273 HorseGym with Boots: The Spiral. https://youtu.be/sQ-ELVlIzZA


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    • Horse and handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
    • Halter and lead for the teaching phase.
    • An object to mark the center of a circle.


    1. * Start with as large a circle as the horse finds comfortable. If he starts to swing his hindquarters out of the arc of the circle, the circle is too tight for the horse’s current ability to flex laterally.
    2. * Short sessions as often as possible, as well as exercises such as weaving obstacles, figure 8’s, 90-degree turns (Number 31 in my Blog Contents List) all help with lateral flexion.
    3. * Playing with 180-degree turns also helps (Number 23 in my Blog Contents List).
    4. * Click&treat as often as you need in order to keep the horse interested and engaged.
    5. * The horse may be much stiffer in one direction. If one side seems especially difficult for him, check out the possibility of current soreness or historical injuries.


    1. Set a marker (not a mat that the horse expects to stand on) into the center of your training area.
    2. Walk the horse in a large circle around the marker with you on his left side, which means your circle will be walking anti-clockwise.
    3. Very gradually reduce the size of the circle each time you come around, in a gradual spiral fashion.
    4. Watch carefully for the point at which the horse’s hind end is no longer following the arc of the circle. That tells you when he is beginning to find it too hard. We don’t want him to develop the habit of swinging his hind end out, so when you reach this point, spiral your circle outwards again.
    5. With frequent short repeats, done amongst other things you are doing with your horse (see Rule of Three – Prerequisite 2), you will be able to gradually achieve tighter circles with the horse keeping his whole body aligned on the curve.
    6. Remember, horses have extremely limited bending at the hip area. In the video you can see how Boots moves her outside leg way to the side so she can draw her inside leg well under her belly to keep herself on the curve of the circle.
    7. When you can turn on the spot beside the marker with your back against the horse’s shoulder, while the horse curves around you, you have achieved the task.
    8. Repeat from the beginning on the horse’s right side. As mentioned in the Notes, you may find one side much stiffer.


    1. Play without a marker but in the same area.
    2. Play at liberty.
    3. Play with it in novel venues.
    4. Play on a slope.

    Recall to Heel


    This is a fun task we often teach our dogs. We call the horse toward us, then ask him to walk past our side, turn 180 degrees behind us and slot into the ‘heel’ position on our opposite side.

    In the photo above, Boots has walked toward me, passed my left shoulder and is about to slot herself into position standing beside my right shoulder.

    In the photo below, Boots has walked toward me, passed my right shoulder and is about to slot herself into position standing beside my left shoulder.

    Boots is about to step into position beside my left shoulder where she will earn her click&treat. To make it easier for her I can move forward a step or two.


    The horse walks to us, then past us, turning behind us to end up standing beside our shoulder.


    1. Horse and handler have developed a good WAIT. Number 65 in my Blog Contents List which you reach via the tab at the top of the home page.
    2. Horse responds readily to handler’s ‘recall’ signal. See Number 90 in my Blog Contents List: Recall and Back Up in Rhythm.
    3. Horse understands ‘walk on’ voice and gesture signals. See Number 16: Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions and Number 68 in my Blog Contents List: 20 Steps Exercise. We want this in place so we can ask the horse to walk past us and around, rather than coming to halt in front of us.
    4. Horse has perfected the 180-degree turn. See Number 23 in my Blog Contents List: 180 Degree Turns.
    5. Horse and handler have developed clear WHOA signals in a variety of situations. See Number 33 in my Blog Contents List: Willing Response to a Voice Halt Signal.


    #274 HorseGym with Boots: Recall to Heel. https://youtu.be/Giut6wim9KE


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
    • Horse in a learning frame of mind.
    • Halter and 12′ (4m) light lead-rope to start with.


    1. * Have the horse warmed up before asking for 180-degree turns.
    2. * You can also teach this using a target, but as is often the case, phasing out the target can present its own challenges if the horse’s mind is fixated on following the target. I prefer to teach with gesture, body language and voice signals, helped at first with a lead rope.
    3. * Check that your WAIT is in good shape.
    4. * Check that your RECALL is in good shape.
    5. * Check that your WALK ON gesture and voice signals are in good shape.
    6. * Check that your WHOA is in good shape.
    7. * Check that your 180-degree turns are in good shape and the horse knows your voice signal for turning (I use “Around”).
    8. * Devise a signal for asking the horse to walk on past you rather than halt in front of you. Practice this with another person standing in for the horse so you can get it fluent. I adapt my WALK ON arm/hand gesture that I use for walking on when we are shoulder-to-shoulder and that seems to work okay.
    9. * I use a halter and lead to initially teach things like this. I can use the lead rope to indicate that I want the horse to walk past me and then turn behind me. That means he never gets confused about what will earn his next click&treat. Once the horse realizes that the click&treat happens when he shows up on my other side, the lead rope is no longer necessary.


    1. Halter and light lead on the horse.
    2. Ask the horse to WAIT while you walk a few steps away in front of him. Turn, pause, then ask for a RECALL.
    3. Before the horse reaches you, signal with gesture and voice that you’d like him to walk on past you. As he does, step forward so it is easy for him to make a U-turn behind you. Then walk a couple of steps forward to draw him into a nice position alongside your opposite shoulder: click&treat.
    4. Teach it consistently on one side and when that is smooth, teach again from the beginning on the other side.
    5. As the horse gets fluid with this task, you can gradually not step forward as he comes around. But if he gets lost, always resume stepping forward so he is not ‘wrong’.


    1. Work at liberty.
    2. Work in new venues.
    3. Work on a slope.
    4. Recall across rails or through a gap/tunnel or over a tarp.
    5. Teach moving into the heel position after a recall without stepping around behind the handler.

    Belly Crunches

    In the photo above Boots is doing a belly crunch to target her withers to my hand.

    I first learned about belly crunches from Alex Kurland’s work.

    1. We began with the horse behind a low barrier. I stood nearby at neutral (zero intent) and watched casually, with click&treat for any upward or backward shift of weight.

    2. I did this IN THE SAME SPOT for a minute or two once or twice a day. Usually as a ‘last thing’ at the end of a session and just before afternoon feeding time. Having ‘usual times’ seems to make the horse look forward to having ‘another go’.

    3. Once we were getting a strong weight shift back, I began to sit down to bring the horse’s head a bit lower. Previously we had ignored head position as the horse was experimenting with different possibilities. Her head position lowered when I sat down because the treats were offered lower.

    4. At some point, the crunches became a part of her personal repertoire because she would offer them if she wanted to initiate an interaction. I usually click&treat each such offer and it became one of our safe default behaviors that she could easily offer at will.

    5. I’d never do more than about what is on this clip at one time.

    6. From the Intrinzen group, I learned to ask for the crunches standing beside the horse’s shoulder, butt and behind. We already had such a long and strong history of reinforcement that she readily adjusted to my different positions.

    In the video I am using fairly subtle body language to ask for each crunch. I put my arms down and stiffen my torso and lean slightly toward her.

    Belly Crunch to target her butt to my hand.

    Line Dance Face-to-Face


    Horses move sideways by crossing one pair of feet while the other pair is spread. 

    The hind feet cross over while the front feet are apart.

    Moving sideways in rhythm is not something horses do much in their everyday life. It may therefore take the horse a while to get his legs organized smoothly when we first teach this movement.

    You can get a sense of how it feels if you step sideways crossing your legs. While your legs are crossed, spread out your arms. While your legs are apart for the next step, cross your arms. If you’ve never done this before, it is tricky to synchronize at first. Horses have to adjust four legs. I’ve seen horses needing to think hard to get this sorted, so be especially patient and celebrate small successes.

    We usually first teach sidestepping in position beside the horse, facing his ribs and asking the front and rear ends to move over independently. We gradually build up this skill until we can ask the horse to move first hind end and then front end – in rhythm, ideally keeping his body in one plane (Prerequisite 1).

    Moving sideways encourages suppleness via gymnastic stretching of the muscles. It helps develop the horse’s spatial awareness, his foot awareness and his body awareness.

    Sidestepping is useful for safe maneuvering on the ground – negotiating gates and for asking the horse to line up with a mounting block for mounting and dismounting.

    It is also a fun maneuver to add into our slow-dancing routine.


    Sidestepping to the left and right with the handler in front of and facing the horse.


    Usually we first teach sidestepping facing the side of the horse. For sidestepping away we teach touch and gesture signals at the girth area.
    1. In case you have not yet taught basic sidestepping, Number 29 in my Blog Contents List (link at top of page) presents a detailed training plan for teaching sidestepping with the handler beside the horse as in the photo above.
    2. Horse is relaxed with touch signals given with our hand or a body extension (stick). See #87 HorseGym with Boots: Relaxation with Body Extensions. https://youtu.be/nkwxYwtCP_Y


    This clip demonstrates a way to teach sidestepping while face-to-face with the handler. #276 HorseGym with Boots: Line Dancing Face to Face. https://youtu.be/wc53IZfUBkc

    This next clip puts together the first five tasks of the Slow Dancing routine.

    #277 HorseGym with Boots: First Five Dance Moves. https://youtu.be/UW_oE85ZhsM


    • Work area where the horse is relaxed.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
    • Low barrier between horse and handler, a few meters long.
    • Halter and lead.
    • Stick to act as a body extension.
    • Horse well warmed up before asking for these yields.


    1. Some people may prefer to have the horse target ribs to a body extension rather than move away from a touch signal given by a body extension. I use the ‘moving away from a touch signal’ because it is easier to give the horse a clear signal while maintaining the position in front of the horse. As well, it’s usually the signal taught as a riding signal for moving sideways.

    2. It is also much easier to morph the stick gesture into an arm gesture rather than try to fade out a long hand-held target. I soon didn’t need the stick. I then gradually toned down my arm gesture as the horse learned to tune in to my intent and my body language of crossing over my own feet plus a voice signal, “Across” and the direction of my body moving.

    3. I like to begin new tasks with a rope and halter but use touch on the halter via the rope as little as possible. The halter and lead are there in case the horse needs clarity about what I am expecting him to do. After a while I lay the rope over the horse and when that is all smooth I work at liberty.

    4. Most horses will find this easier on one side. Aim to eventually become equally smooth on both sides. Check out Right-Side Neglect* and Right-Side Anxiety* in the Glossary.

    5. At first, be happy if he can only sidestep with his body at a 45-degree angle to the barrier. With frequent short practices, he will develop the muscles and flexion to be straighter. What you see Boots doing in the video clips has been built up over many years with frequent flexion practice in different guises.

    6. It’s important to warm the horse up with general activity before asking for yields like this.

    7. If the horse shows resistance to a specific move, it is essential to get muscles and joints checked out. Arthritis and/or past injuries may restrict or severely limit certain movements.

    8. As we gradually develop and then maintain these sidestepping exercises, our horse’s flexibility will gradually improve.

    9. Doing a little bit often gives the most reliable results. As usual, we are teaching a habit in response to a signal. We never want to make the horse sore or reluctant.


    1. Find or set up a low barrier a few meters long. In the video I used a long plank, but a low fence or a rope/tape between two tall cones or other uprights would do the job.
    2. The handler is face-to-face with the horse, with the low barrier between them. Gently use a long stick to create a touch/gesture signal at the girth area to ask the horse to sidestep from left to right, away from the touch/gesture signal.

    At first, click&treat for any inclination to step sideways. As the horse catches on to the idea, gradually ask for more until you are able to click&treat every time the horse reaches the end of the barrier or markers you’ve set up. The end of the barrier gives the horse two ‘destinations’ where he knows he will stop and get his click&treat. Like us, horses like to know what is going to happen before it happens.

    • 3. Repeat 2 above going from right to left.
    • 4. Repeat 2 and 3 above until the horse is smoothly sidestepping a few meters to both the right and left. As mentioned in the notes above, he may find one side harder. Accept what he is able to do and work gradually from there.
    • 5. When 4 above is ho-hum, use ground rails as a barrier between you and the horse. The purpose of the barrier is to let the horse know that stepping forward is not part of the task.
    • 6. When 5 is good, ask the horse to step the front feet across the ground rails and ask him to sidestep along the ground rails. This will help him stay straight rather than inch forward or backwards.
    • 7. When 6 is smooth, ask for sidestepping face-to-face with no barrier between you.
    • 8. When communication is excellent, play in different venues.
    • 9. When it all feels ho-hum, play at liberty.


    • Play at liberty
    • Play in different venues
    • Play on a slope

    Develop ‘the box’ exercise as in this clip. The clip was made a while ago when I first taught Boots about sidestepping with me while I was facing her: #275 HorseGym with Boots: Thin Slicing ‘The Box’ Movement. https://youtu.be/1CiUBJQf-JM



    Having smooth ways of asking a horse to back away from us and to come toward us on request is worth its weight in gold. We teach each of these separately and then meld them together into rhythmic dance steps to use as a suppling exercise.


    The horse distinguishes clearly between our signals for backing up and coming toward us (recall) and readily repeats a few steps of each in a rhythmic fashion.


    1. Horse has learned a solid WAIT. See Number 65 in my Blog Contents List at https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/12/16/the-wait-game/
    2. Handler has developed clear, consistent back-up signals so the horse backs up readily when face-to-face with the handler. See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List for details about teaching backing up. https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/02/02/finesse-back-up/


    #271 HorseGym with Boots: Recall & Back with Rhythm. https://youtu.be/7TVgr6_oXlI

    The next clip puts together the first four slow-dancing moves we’ve worked on: Bow, Line Dance in position, Do-si-do to change sides, Rhythmic back-up and recall.


    • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
    • Two or more rails. Low markers at the ends of the rails can be helpful at the beginning. A safe fence is also helpful to keep the horse straight.
    • Halter 12′ (4m) long, light lead during the teaching process.


    1. Before starting this task, we need a solid WAIT (Prerequisite 1).
    2. We first teach a solid face-to-face back-up in a variety of situations using a high rate of reinforcement, so it becomes a favorite task for the horse. Ideally, we do a little bit every time we are with the horse (Prerequisite 2).
    3. The slices in this training plan outline teaching the recall and then putting the recall and back-up together in a rhythmic way.
    4. Teach everything on both sides of the horse.
    5. Use a rate of reinforcement that keeps the horse continually successful.
    6. Essential to keep a float (smile) in the rope unless using it momentarily to clarify our intent for the horse.
    7. Keep sessions short in among other things you are doing with the horse.


    1. Set up your rails (or hose or rope) as in the photo in the Introduction. Use a fence on one side if you can.
    2. Walk the horse parallel to the ground rails furthest from the fence, while you walk between the rails and the fence. At the end of the rails, ask him to make a U-turn toward the fence and step into the lane created by the fence and rails. Walk backwards to draw the horse to you. Click&treat when he reaches you. The fence will encourage him to make a precise U-turn rather than a loose and sloppy one. Set the width of the gap to suit the horse’s current flexibility.
    3. Gradually send him around the end of the rail from further away, as illustrated in the video clip, until you can stay with your feet stationary at one end of a rail.
    4. As he makes each U-turn, add a consistent voice signal. I say “Around” for the turn.
    5. As he begins to come toward you, develop a clear, consistent body language signal and a voice signal. I say “Come In” for the recall and bring both arms forward and down to make a round shape with my arms.
    6. When it all feels smooth, use a pair of rails away from a fence.
    7. When 6 is ho-hum, use just one rail.
    8. When 7 is ho-hum, use just a low marker to send the horse ‘around’.
    9. Now we want to tidy up our WAIT task so we can ask the horse to stay parked while we walk away – so we can recall him (Prerequisite 1).
    10. Once the recall is solid in lots of situations, we want to either teach or polish our back-up while we are face-to-face with the horse (Prerequisite 2).
    11. Once we have clear, consistent back-up body language and voice signals established, and the horse responds willingly, we can begin to put the back-up and the recall together in a rhythmic fashion.
    12. Set up two parallel rails about a meter apart. Ask the horse to wait at one end of the rails; click&treat. Then ask him to recall between the rails; click&treat. Walk a loop together and repeat a couple of times.
    13. Ask the horse to walk between the rails and halt between the rails. Then ask him to back up a step or two; click&treat. Then another step or two; click&treat. Then recall him forward again, between the rails. Walk a loop and reset a couple of times.
    14. When it feels right, ask for a recall; click&treat, then ask for a back-up; click&treat. Work with just a few steps at first. As the horse becomes more adept, gradually increase the number of steps, but stay within the horse’s ability.
    15. Ask the horse to walk with you almost all the way through the lane of rails so you can ask for the back-up first; click&treat. Then recall; click&treat.
    16. Once 15 is smooth, chain together one back-up and one recall before the click&treat (or one recall and one back-up).
    17. Work toward chaining two repeats of back and recall. Then maybe three repeats before the click&treat. But always stay within the horse’s capability. Rushing will wreck things.
    18. When it is ho-hum using the parallel rails, do the task without them. Go back to Slice 14 and work forward from there.


    1. Play with it in different venues.
    2. Play on a slope.
    3. Add one or more rails which the horse crosses during the recall and back-up.

    Dancing the Do Si Do


    Once the horse and handler have mastered smooth forequarter yields and smooth hindquarter yields, we can build the DO SI DO. It consists of asking for a hindquarter yield first. Then, as the horse’s hind end is moving away, we stand upright and move back slightly so the horse brings his head through, and we end up in his other eye.

    It is a way of changing sides by the horse doing the moving. Once that is achieved, we add a yield of the forequarters.

    If the horse’s lifestyle keeps him supple, this series of movements is a good stretching and bending exercise. If the horse finds it hard, we have useful feedback to use in our planning.


    The horse is able to execute a smooth 360-degree hindquarter yield followed immediately by a smooth 360-degree forequarter yield.


    1. Horse and handler agree on signals to yield the hindquarters. See Number 83 in my Blog Contents List.
    2. Horse and handler agree on signals to yield the forequarters. See Number 84 in my Blog Contents List.


    #270 HorseGym with Boots: Do Si Do. https://youtu.be/EJ2w_sX_uOk


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.


    1. Use a rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat) that allows the horse to easily work out exactly what he has to do to earn his next click&treat.
    2. As the horse begins to understand the sequence of movements, gradually move the click point along until eventually there is one at the end of the whole series of movements.
    3. Whenever the horse gets ‘lost’, immediately return to click&treat for what he can do and work forward gradually from that spot.
    4. Do a little bit often, as this is hard work for the horse.
    5. Be aware that when we give signals with the non-dominant side of our body, they may not be as clear and precise as when we use the dominant side of our body. We can improve this once we are aware of it. In the same way, the horse may find yielding in one direction more difficult. If you notice a difference, begin teaching using the direction he finds easier. Later, do a few extra repeats on the difficult side.


    1. Ask the horse to yield is hindquarters with body language, energy and a gesture signal (and voice if you like – I use the word “Away”) about a meter out from his side. Move along with him, keeping your relative position and using ‘constant on’ signals (body orientation, arm gesture and energy) until you want him to stop (at which point you stand up straight and stop all signals). Click&treat.
    2. Click&treat each single step away at first, then gradually work toward click&treat for a full 360 turn. How long it all takes to get smooth with this part of the task depends on previous training and how clear our signals are.
    3. At some point, stop following the hindquarters around, stand upright in one spot and move back a bit so that the horse can bring his head through the space in front of you, which puts you on his other side – in his other eye. Click&treat. Spend the time (via many short sessions) to get this part smooth.
    4. Teach 1-3 above from the beginning on the horse’s other side. He may find one direction harder.
    5. When 1-3 above are in good shape, gently build and consolidate your forequarter yield by itself until you have a smooth 360-degree turn on the haunches. Start with click&treat for one good step and build from there.
    6. Repeat 5 above on the horse’s other side. Again, he may find one direction harder.
    7. When all the above are going well, after completing slice 3 (and click&treat on completion of slice 3), ask for the forequarter yield. Just a step or two at first, before a click&treat, but gradually work toward the full turn on the haunches.
    8. Work toward a 360-degree hindquarter yield (turn on the forehand) followed immediately by a 360-degree forequarter yield without a click&treat stop in the middle. We can call it achieved when a full 360-degree yield in both directions is ho-hum.
    9. Work with 8 above starting on the other side of the horse.


    1. Practice in many different places.
    2. Practice on a slope.
    3. Start with forequarter yield and morph into hindquarter yield.
    4. Once we have the simple bow, line dancing in place with the front feet, and the do si do mastered, we can chain the three tasks together.

    The Simple Bow


    It’s fun to teach a simple bow to use at the beginning and end of a movement routine. The bow itself becomes a clue for the horse that a chain of tasks is about to begin and equally it tells him when the chain of tasks is finished.

    We can teach the simple bow by capturing any downward movement of the head with a click&treat. Or we could use ‘luring’ while changing our posture as we put a treat on the ground, plus add a voice signal.


    The horse mimics the handler’s bow from the waist by lowering his head, then raising it again.


    Horse and handler are clicker savvy.


    This clip uses the process of luring, which is detailed in the thin-slicing steps below.

    #269 HorseGym with Boots: Simple Bow. https://youtu.be/vwtxTdWaRRQ

    These two clips show the process of free-shaping.

    #257 HorseGym with Boots Head Lowering 1. https://youtu.be/AoqtJj2X1bU

    #258 HorseGym with Boots: Head Lowering 2. Putting it on signal. https://youtu.be/Ol-BHB1QCnw


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • It can help to park the horse on a mat, if he knows about mats, to let him know that moving his feet is not required. 


    When we use the luring with food system, we will be placing a treat on the ground and we don’t want to put it on sand or loose dirt. If that is all you have available, perhaps use a mat or similar on which to put the treat.

    SLICES (for teaching with luring)

    1. Stand the horse in a spot where he feels comfortable; click&treat. Maybe have his front feet parked on a mat.
    2. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse; click&treat.
    3. Practice a bit of duration standing quietly together at zero intent with head forward; click&treat for x number of seconds, depending on where you are with developing this task.
    4. Quietly remove a treat from your pouch or pocket, ideally during a moment the horse is busy eating his previous treat, so he doesn’t notice you getting the treat.
    5. Show the horse the treat in your hand then bow from the waist to put the treat on the ground for the horse to find.
    6. Wait until he lifts his head and has eaten the treat. Repeat, adding a voice signal to go with your body language. If you’ve previously taught head-lowering you may already have a voice signal.
    7. Once the horse responds to your body language and voice signals, click as the head goes down, but feed the treat as the head comes up again as you straighten your body. For this we don’t want ‘duration’ of keeping the head down.
    8. Teach on both sides of the horse.


    1. Practice in many different places.
    2. Practice around different distractions.
    3. Incorporate into any routines you do as ‘begin’ and ‘end’ points.

    Placing the Feet using a Single Rail


    In the photo above we are using a line of 5-liter containers as our ‘rail’.

    This is another exercise that helps a horse with proprioception – knowing where his feet are, what they are doing, and how much energy is required.

    Equally, it is a superb exercise for the handler to refine communication skills. All training with a horse is about building a mutual language. If we are consistent with our body language and energy changes, the horse will use these as his main cues for following our lead. For further refinement we add gesture signals and perhaps voice signals.

    Sometimes people think, “Oh, I’ll try that”. They do an exercise once or twice and think that it’s ‘done’. They totally miss the point that exercises like this are little workouts for both handler and horse that need to be done often, always stiving for more refinement of handler communication until it feels like magic with the horse at liberty.

    For this exercise there are five different basic tasks, but since we do them in the horse’s left and right eyes, we have ten tasks. Then we consolidate the tasks by doing them in two directions for each eye, giving us a total of 20 tasks.

    Once the five basic tasks are mastered, there are eight refinements we can add. Doing these on either side of the horse gives a total of 16 refinements.

    This series of tasks also makes a good warm-up or cool-down exercise. And they can be stretching and accuracy exercises if time is short to do other things.


    1. Handler works on using clear, smooth ‘walk on’, ‘halt’, ‘wait’ and ‘back up’ signals using a single rail as a focal point.
    2. Handler uses ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ body language to create short WAIT times between requests.
    3. Horse develops confidence with walking across a rail (or similar).
    4. Horse gains confidence standing with a rail (or similar) under his belly.
    5. Horse practices placing his feet carefully in response to handler signals.


    1. Horse leads smoothly beside the handler’s shoulder. See Number 68 in my Blog Contents List. The link for my Blog Contents List is at the top of the page.
    2. Handler and horse agree on ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ signals. See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List.
    3. Handler and horse agree on clear ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals. See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List.
    4. Handler is aware of The Rule of Three. See number 46 in my Blog Contents List.
    5. Horse and handler agree on a back-up signal, either with the handler turning to face the horse – See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List, or the handler staying in the shoulder-to-shoulder position – See the first clip in Number 32 in my Blog Contents List.
    6. Handler knows to stay with each small task until it is ho-hum, before asking for a different task.


    #267 HorseGym with Boots: One Rail Basics. https://youtu.be/wMwBqiaBruI

    #268 HorseGym with Boots: One Rail Refinements. https://youtu.be/L1fdlegEHFo


    • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • A single rail or several single rails (or similar) laid out a good distance apart.
    • Halter and lead or liberty. A light, shorter lead is easier to manage.


    1. A little bit of these tasks during one training session is plenty. If it’s all done quietly with no fuss or drilling, the horse will think on it and remember what behaviors earn a click&treat. The Rule of Three can be useful.
    2. Asking a horse to lift a front foot to back across a rail means that he is moving it back against the pressure of his whole body which is not easy. Ignore any touching of the rail at this stage as the horse draws a leg back. Frequent short practices will strengthen the muscles and ligaments so lifting the foot up and back becomes easier for the horse.
    3. To help the horse strengthen, and maintain the strength, to lift his feet easily, we can lay a raised rail or similar in a gateway that the horse uses regularly during his everyday life. I’ve done this with two gates, and it seems to do a good job at helping to maintain suppleness. I leave a small gap for my wheelbarrow to squeeze through.
    4. When confusion arises, it is because we are not clear enough or are going faster than the horse is able to absorb the new learning. Horses working for a food reward are usually super-observant of all our body language as well as carefully taught and executed voice and gesture signals. We must continually strive to ‘speak’ clearly with our body language, orientation and gestures every time we request an action (or inaction). Otherwise, the horse will only ‘hear’ a mumble and be confused, just as a person mumbling to us is frustrating and makes us give up trying to understand.
    5. Once all the tasks are going smoothly, we can mix them up in any order, which teaches us to be crystal clear for the horse and has the horse watch us carefully to pick up the next signal that will lead to a click&treat.
    6. When we use the less dominant side of our body, our body language and gesture signals tend to be less clear until we become super conscious of what we are doing. If you are right-handed and haven’t usually done much on your horse’s right side, there will be a lot of learning going on for both of you.
    7. I find it useful to take written memo cards out with me when first doing a series of moves like this.
    8. In-between moving, build it WAIT time before asking for the next movement. I.e., MOVEMENT – WAIT (x number of seconds) – MOVEMENT.
    9. In the video clips I only show each request once to keep the clip short. When in the teaching (acquisition*) phase, three repeats in a row is usually a good number to work with.
    10. If the horse finds one of the slices difficult, spend as many short sessions as necessary to build his confidence before asking for anything new.


    1. Walk right over the rail, halt a few paces beyond the rail, click&treat. Walk a loop and repeat a couple more times. Or you could have more than one rail laid out in your training area and walk to each rail in turn to get the repeats. I used one rail in the video clips for ease of filming with a set camera.
    2. Halt with the rail under the horse’s belly, click&treat; pause for a WAIT, walk on forward over the rail, walk a loop (or move to next rail) so you can repeat a couple of times.
    3. Halt and WAIT before stepping over the rail, click&treat; pause and WAIT, walk on over the rail and into your loop or on to the next rail.
    4. Halt immediately after all four feet have stepped over the rail, click&treat; pause and WAIT, walk on into your loop or to the next rail.
    5. Halt with the rail under the horse’s belly, click&treat. Pause and WAIT, ask the horse to back his front feet across the rail, click&treat; pause, walk on forward over the rail. Be gentle teaching this. If you have taught a ‘Lift’ voice signal for foot care it can be useful here.
    6. Repeat 1-5 above but this time approach the rail(s) from the opposite direction.
    7. Repeat 1-5 above walking on the horse’s right side.
    8. Repeat 7 above (on his right side) in the opposite direction.


    1. Work in different venues.
    2. Repeat slices 1-5 trotting.
    3. Play at liberty once you’ve built up good communication for each task.
    4. Work on a slope.


    1. Walk all four feet over the rail and halt. Back only the hind feet over the rail; wait; walk forward again.
    2. Walk all four feet over the rail and halt. Ask the hind feet to back over the rail, then the front feet.
    3. Approach the rail but turn in front of the rail to set up the horse to halt/wait with his hind feet at the rail but not over it.
    4. As 3 above, then ask the horse to back all four feet across the rail.
    5. If you’ve taught sidestepping (see Number 29 in by Blog Contents List), ask the horse to step his front feet over the rail at one end and sidestep along the rail. If you are facing the horse’s ribs ask him to sidestep away from you. You can also ask him to sidestep toward you if you’ve taught this previously. You can also build a signal for sidestepping along a rail while you are face-to-face with the horse.
    6. Straddle the rail. See Number 67 in my Blog Contents List.
    7. Ask one front foot to stand across the rail and WAIT. See if you can do it with either foot. Then either ask the horse to lift the foot back over the rail or walk on forward.
    8. Back one hind foot over the rail and wait in that position; walk forward. Work to be able to do this with either hind foot.

    Mainly, HAVE FUN developing your communication skills.

    Developing Soft Response to Rope/Rein Pressure

    Photo above shows how we started teaching voice signals for turning right and left using a target. When the voice signals were established, I added a light rope touch – creating a multi-signal.


    It’s not uncommon for a horse to have bad feelings or mixed emotions about halters and ropes. My book, WALKING WITH HORSES has a detailed section about developing a horse’s willingness to put his nose into a halter. This is a task that needs thoughtful teaching.

    Confidence with halter and lead rope is critical to help horses deal well with life in captivity. Essentially, we want putting a halter and rope on our horse similar to putting on our ‘work clothes’ – an outfit or uniform suitable for the type of work we do. When we work for an organization or with other people, we adjust our behavior to what is appropriate at our job.

    In the same way, a horse carefully educated about halters and ropes will recognize that he is wearing his ‘uniform’ and relate it to certain ways of behaving. Mainly, it limits his behavior choices. Ideally it also encourages him to pay careful attention to requests made via messages send along the rope.

    We can use the rope to send text messages. But, obviously, we must first carefully teach the horse what the ‘letters’ of our text mean. The lighter the pressure of our ‘texting’, the lighter the horse’s responses can be. In other words, the horse can only be as light in his responses to rope messages as we are light in sending them.

    A rope is a way of ‘holding hands’ with our horse, not a tether kept tight to stop the horse escaping our influence. There is nothing so heartbreaking as see a gasping dog at the end of a tight leash or a horse struggling to understand why the tightness of the rope won’t go away, no matter what he does.

    The key to lead rope handling is that the rope is always slack except for the brief moments it is sending a message to the horse. The instant the horse complies with our request, the slack is returned to the rope. It is the instant release of rope pressure plus the simultaneous click (and the accompanying treat) that enables the horse to understand which task we are requesting.


    1. To have the horse comfortable standing in a safe corner.
    2. To teach a ‘head straight’ anchor task that precedes our request to turn the head.
    3. Use a target to teach head flexion to right and left; no rope.
    4. Add ‘right’ and ‘left’ voice signals to the task.
    5. Teach soft lateral flexion (turning the head right or left) using gentle touch on the halter via a rope until it feels equally smooth to the right and the left.
    6. Generalize the task to different places and situations.


    1. Horse is comfortable wearing a halter. (See Number 7 in my Blog Contents List. The link is at the top of the page.)
    2. Horse is comfortable with a lead rope.
    3. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    4. Horse understands standing on a mat with duration. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
    5. For the early sessions, it’s helpful to have the horse standing with his butt in a safe corner so that backing up and swinging the hind end away are not options. The first slices will therefore involve making sure the horse is comfortable and relaxed standing in a corner.


    • A work area where the horse is relaxed.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • A safe corner the horse can stand in confidently. A safe corner is one where there is no chance of the horse putting a leg through wire or rails if he steps back or sideways. Hedges, sides of buildings or a corner made with barrels or jump stands plus rails tend to be safest. Even a raised rail or a log behind the horse with a small barrier on the far side of the horse might be enough of a corner.
    • A familiar mat to ‘station’ or ‘park’ the horse.
    • A familiar hand-held target.


    1. When eventually using the touch signal via the rope or rein, be ready to click&treat for even the tiniest turn of the head at first. If we miss the horse’s first attempt to solve a puzzle, he can think his idea was wrong, and it can take a while for him to try it again.
    2. When we lead, long-rein or ride a horse, it does not take much movement of the head to cause the horse to change direction. What we are doing here is not an extreme flexion exercise. It is an exercise to see how softly we can give what will become our ‘please change direction’ signals once the horse is moving.



    1. Introduce the horse to each corner in small, easy steps. Thin-slice the process to what your horse needs. Use a familiar mat to indicate where you would like his front feet to be. Three kinds of corners are shown in the videos clips.
    2. If the horse readily yields hindquarters and forequarters we can use these to adjust his position (see Numbers 83 and 84 in my Blog Contents List).
    3. Or we can lead him through the corner and back him into it.
    4. If using a rail, we can walk him over the rail and halt with the rail behind him.
    5. Play with as many safe corners as you can find or set up, to generalize the ‘corner task’ to different situations.


    Video clips

    Clip 1: on right side of horse

    Clip 2: on left side of horse


    In the same way that music is made up of notes and the pauses between the notes, we must have pauses between asking the horse to repeat the same task. Because the horse is at halt for this challenge, the anchor task creates the pauses between our requests.

    We begin teaching the anchor task once the horse is comfortable standing in a corner, on a mat, with reasonable duration.

    An anchor task is what we do to ‘set the stage’ for what we will do next. For example, when I play with targeting body parts to my hand with Boots, our anchor task is lifting a front knee to my hand. It tells her what game we are about to play. Another ‘stand quietly waiting’ anchor task might be to always hang a special nose target in the spot you would like the horse to stand (park) while you tack up.

    As an anchor task for this behavior, I’ve chosen to rest my nearest hand lightly on Boots’ withers while she keeps her head forward. It is the position my hand would be if I were to lift the reins in preparation to giving a signal while riding. You might prefer a different anchor task.

    In our case, this is a bit tricky because I use the same anchor position I use when we do belly crunches while standing beside the horse. The handler’s body orientation is often a large part of an anchor task.

    I decided that Boots is far enough along in her training to learn to pause in this anchor position and wait for the next signal to find out whether a crunch or head flexion is the hot topic of the moment. You’ll see that we have a couple of conversations about this.


    • Stand beside horse’s withers.
    • Lightly rest your near hand on the withers.
    • Click&treat when the horse’s head is straight, or he is in the process of moving his head into the ‘straight’ position.
    • Step forward to deliver the treat so the horse keeps his head straight, then step back into position beside the withers.
    • Repeat until the horse confidently stays facing forward until you click&treat for 3-4 seconds.


    Covered in video clips 1 & 2 as above. Clip 2 is on the left side of horse.

    1. Hold the target out of sight behind your back and review the anchor task.
    2. When the horse stands reliably with his head forward in the anchor position, bring the target forward so he has to turn his head a little bit to touch it: click&treat & step forward so the horse straightens his head to receive the treat, putting the target out of sight behind your back.
    3. Step back beside the withers and put your hand back on his withers: click&treat for head forward until that is firmly established again (3-4 seconds). Be patient about establishing (and frequently re-establishing) this step because clever horses will want to skip straight from your anchor (hand on withers) to telling you that they know what to do – turn toward you (as Boots does in Clip Two).
    4. Repeat 2 and 3 above until the horse reliably waits for you to produce the target before turning his head. If he turns without your signal, spend more click&treat on facing forward. Make sure you keep the target out of view behind your back. If bending is harder, spend more click&treat on asking for the bend.



    You will obviously want different voice signals for right and left. Voice signals need to be short, clear, and sound different from other voice signals you use. I use “and Gee” for right. I use “and Left” for left. “Haw” for left sounds too much like “Whoa” which we use a lot. The “and” in front of the key word is a bit of a preparatory signal that lets the horse know a request is coming. My voice emphasis is on the key word.

    • Some horses do better if you teach something thoroughly on one side, then repeat from the beginning on the other side.
    • Some horses may cope well with doing a little bit on each side from the beginning.
    • Some handlers do better when teaching the task thoroughly on one side first.


    Video Clip 3 introduces the rope:

    1. Stand beside the horse’s ribs just behind the withers, facing forward, rope in the hand closest to the horse. Keep a drape or ‘smile’ in the rope. Ensure that the horse can stay facing forward with relaxed body language for 3-4 seconds in the presence of the rope: (click&treat).
    2. When 1 above is ho-hum, say your voice signal and gently use both hands to ‘milk’ the rope, putting light pressure on the halter, looking for the slightest ‘give’ of the horse’s nose toward you. Release (click&treat). Step forward to deliver the treat in a way that has the horse straighten his head again.
    3. Work with 1 and 2 above until the horse waits for the touch signal on the halter and willingly yields his nose. If he turns before you give the rope signal, spend more click&treat time on keeping the nose forward.
    4. If he begins to turn his head as soon as you move back into position behind his withers, also go back to click&treat for a straight head.
    5. Some horses catch on very quickly. Others may need multiple short sessions.
    6. Teaching a horse with no rope experience is usually easier than teaching a horse who has had rough treatment with ropes. In the second case, you must adjust your training plan to help overcome any anxiety the horse carries from previous handling.


    Video Clip 4 includes generalizations:

    1. Once the whole task is smooth and ho-hum on both sides of the horse, move away from the corner but still use a mat. Do the task in a variety of different places.
    2. Once 1 above is good in a variety of places, omit the mat and again work in a variety of places and spaces.
    3. Replace the rope/halter touch signal with a distinctive hand signal that can be used to draw the horse right or left at liberty.
    4. Once the horse understands the halter touch signal via the rope, plus the voice signal, the anchor task can morph into just standing quietly together.
    5. Use the touch and voice signals while in motion to change direction, keeping the pressure on the rope as light as possible.
    6. Building a strong history of response to directional voice signals is most helpful if you are planning to teach long-reining and if you take part in Horse Agility.
    7. These five short clips called Soft Rein Response give further ideas about how we can generalize the task further using reins but without being mounted.

    Line Dancing with the Front Feet


    An interesting aspect of horse anatomy is that their shoulder blades are not linked to each other with bone. Horse shoulder blades are embedded in muscles, tendons and ligaments. The spine passes between them. In other words, horses have no equivalent to our collar bone.

    This ‘line-dancing’ exercise helps keep the muscles and ligaments in the shoulder area supple.

    We can introduce this task once our horse knows the tasks of yielding the forequarters on request and targeting the shoulder to our hand. We ask for one movement yielding the near front leg away from us and a second movement bringing the near front leg back into its normal position.


    When we cross our leg toward the horse we’d like him to move his near front leg across in front of his far front leg. When we uncross our leg and draw away from him, we would like him to bring his leg back into normal position.


    1. Horse and handler understand ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ body language. See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List – the link is at the top of the screen.
    2. Handler and horse have worked out Consent Signals so the horse can tell the handler when he is ready to repeat the task. See Number 11 in my Blog Contents List.
    3. Horse and handler agree on a signal to yielding the forequarters. See Number 85 in my Blog Contents List.
    4. Horse and handler agree on a signal for asking the horse to target his shoulder to our hand. See Number 27 in my Blog Contents List.
    5. Handler is aware of the Rule of Three to help set up training sessions that don’t turn into drilling. See Number 46 in my Blog Contents List.


    #262 HorseGym with Boots; Line Dance Front Feet.


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed.
    • Ideally he can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.


    1. When first teaching a task like, this it helps to always do it in the same place until our signals are consistently smooth and the horse is fluent with the task. I started in our open-fronted shelter because it meant that we could do a short daily practice even when the weather was unpleasant.
    2. Ensure the prerequisites above are all well established.
    3. Once the horse understands the concept, I introduce the voice signal “Across” for moving away and “Return” for bringing the leg back.
    4. Be aware that when we give signals with the non-dominant side of our body, we tend to be stiffer, less precise, and therefore less clear. Awareness of this means we can work on improvement.
    5. It’s important to only do a few of each of these per training session. The Rule of Three, as in Prerequisite 5, is a useful guideline. The brain consolidates new nerve pathways during times of rest. We never want training to become drilling. We want the horse keen to try something new we are teaching because he is keen to earn his next click&treat. If he loses interest we have gone too fast or for too long.


    1. Do a few repeats of click&treat for standing quietly together in your chosen area, using your ‘no intent’ body language during the ‘wait’ time. We need to remember to include this task in every session with our horse, no matter what we are doing.
    2. Cross your feet to model the behavior you want and gently touch the horse’s shoulder to ask him to move his shoulder over, so his near front leg crosses in front of his far leg. Click&treat this movement and at the same time uncross your legs and lean away from the horse to encourage the horse to return his leg to its starting position – feed the treat.
    3. If the horse steps away with both front legs or goes straight into a full turn on the haunches, we probably need to reduce the energy of our signal and time our click exactly to when the near leg lifts and begins moving in front of the far leg.
    4. Once the horse has the idea, shift the timing of your click to when the horse returns his leg into the start position – two behaviors chained to become the complete movement we want.
    5. Pause at zero intent for a little while before asking again. We can click&treat for standing quietly at zero intent any time it seems helpful.
    6. Repeat 2 above. If you get two or three good repeats. Pause. Then teach it again from the beginning standing on the horse’s other side. To maintain suppleness in both shoulders we must work hard to get both sides moving equally freely. If one side is stiffer, it is valuable information for us. Do a few more repeats on that side. And be aware of Note 4 above.
    7. When our signal is smooth and the horse is responding easily most of the time, ask for two ‘Across & Returns’ before the click&treat. Stay with two until it feels ho-hum.
    8. When two is easy, ask for three. You can gradually ask for more if you want to. I tend to stick with three or four on each side as our daily shoulder-stretching exercise.


    1. Do the task in different places.
    2. Work on a slope, standing either uphill or downhill.
    3. Add another element such as standing across a rail.

    Yielding the Forequarters

    Yielding the front end is an act of polite submission between horses. Bold, confident, imaginative horses especially, or fearful horses, may however not be keen to yield their forequarters. They may want to stand their ground and ask, “You and who else is going to make me move?”

    Horses engaged in games nip at each other’s legs and neck in an attempt to make the other horse ‘give way’, so scoring an advantage. This can be good-natured play or in the case of stallions, it can be a serious dispute drawing blood. When young horses living a natural life play this game it teaches them where they stand in the social order among their peers and this knowledge stays with them. A predetermined social order results in a more harmonious group life with reduced confrontational behavior.

    Depending on your horse’s character type and the relationship you have, he may be reluctant to move his front end away, or he may do it easily. By using clicker training, the horse can see the instant benefit (click&treat) of yielding his shoulder.

    People teach the shoulder-yield in different ways. The process outlined below uses props and positive reinforcement by starting with mat destinations that already have a strong reinforcement history.

    Some people use a hand-held target to lure the horse into the movement. However, I use a hand-held target for stretching exercises while the horse stands still, so also using it to ask for movement would contradict the stretching exercises.


    1. Safety. We want to develop a signal that easily moves the front end of our horse away from us.
    2. Smooth counter-turns to aid flexibility to change position easily. It also helps to create smooth weave or serpentine tasks.
    3. Aids proprioception (awareness of where feet are, what they are doing and how much effort is involved).
    4. Allows us to easily position the horse for foot care.
    5. Builds into a full turn on the hindquarters.


    1. Horse keenly targets mats with his front feet. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
    2. Horse smoothly steps across rails. (See Number 18 in my Blog Contents List.)
    3. Horse understands ‘Whoa’ signals and can stand relaxed on a mat. (See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List.)
    4. Handler clearly moves into and out of ‘zero intent’ so the horse knows when he can relax in a ‘wait’ and when he is being asked to move. (See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List.)
    5. Handler has developed the habit of holding the lead rope in the hand nearest the horse.


    • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • A safe fence or barrier in front of the horse.
    • Something to make a barrier to create a corner. I used plastic jump stands in the video clip, but a raised rail, barrels or a couple of big cardboard boxes would do the job.
    • Two mats. Place one mat in the L-shaped corner and lay the second mat at 90-degrees from the corner mat, a few steps away from the open side of your L-shaped barrier.
    • A rail for the horse to step over to get into the corner.
    • Halter and lead or liberty. A short lead rope is easiest to manage.


    • Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, voice, touch and gesture signals.
    • Horse crosses front feet to yield the shoulder away from the handler on request.
    • Horse can eventually do a 360-degree turn on the haunches in either direction.

    Video Clip:



    2. TEACH EVERYTHING ON BOTH SIDES OF THE HORSE. Remember, we often give clearer signals on one side because of our own one-sidedness, so be sure to focus on being equally clear on either side of the horse.
    3. If one side is harder, stiffer, do a bit extra on that side, over many sessions, until both sides feel even.


    1. Walk into the corner, with you on the open side of the L-shaped barrier. Ask the horse to target the mat with his front feet; click&treat.
    2. Stand together with zero intent* for a few moments (it’s good to vary how long you stay at zero intent each time), then ask the horse to turn with you to exit the corner and head for the second mat you have set at right angles to the mat in the corner. At this point, you are drawing him with you out of the corner. Click&treat the halt at the second mat. For this slice we are showing the horse that the task is to move himself over to target the second mat.
    3. Add a rail for the horse to step over to reach the mat in the corner. The rail will make it less convenient for the horse to step back when you ask for the shoulder yield. In the video, I raised this rail a little bit to make more of a barrier. Proceed as in 1 & 2 above. Click&treat each halt at the mat in the corner and every time the horse targets the second mat with his front feet. FOR THE FIRST ONE OR TWO LESSONS, REACHING THIS POINT MAY BE AMPLE AT ONE TIME.
    4. When 1-3 above are smooth, adjust your side barrier so it has a space at the front where you can stand beside the horse’s shoulder. Walk the horse to the corner mat, with you now on the the barrier side, and end up standing in the gap you made beside the horse’s shoulder.
    5. Quietly place one hand on or toward the horse’s cheek or neck and the other hand on or toward his shoulder. Breathe in and raise your energy as you do this. Send your ‘intent’ (that the horse should move his front end away) out of your belly button. You are asking him to turn away from you and walk to the second mat for his next click&treat.
    6. Repeat once or twice and that is plenty at one time. Repeat in very short bursts. Two or three times during a training session, interspersed with other thing you are doing, is good. Frequent short practices work best.
    7. Each time you walk the horse into the corner to target the mat, put your body into ‘zero intent’ and click&treat a few times for standing quietly with you. Vary how long you stay at ‘zero intent’ each time.
    8. Re-arrange your props so you can do slices 1-7 on the horse’s other side.
    9. If you can, repeat 1-7 in different locations.
    10. Replace the high side barrier with a rail on the ground. The front barrier is still high. You’ll continue to use the second mat as your ‘destination’. Reaching either mat always earns a click&treat.
    11. When the horse smoothly moves out of the corner by yielding his shoulder and heading for the second mat, we can change a parameter. We will now click for the first step of the shoulder moving away. Ideally, we want the horse to step the near front leg in front of the far front leg. As soon as you see this happening, click&treat. In the video clip you’ll see how surprised Boots is to get clicked at this point (rather than moving all the way to the second mat) and she has a little ‘jolt’ to regain her balance when she hears the click which tells her she can stop to collect a treat. Teach in on both sides. Often one side feels harder.
    12. When the horse is smooth moving his shoulder over a single step as in 11 above, remove the side rail and the rail behind. But keep the front barrier in place. Hopefully he will not have formed a habit of stepping back when you ask for the shoulder to yield. Practice without side and back rails on both sides. Click&treat once for the first step yielding the shoulder, then again upon reaching the second mat.
    13. Once the horse smoothly yields the shoulder on both sides without the side and back rails, omit the barrier in front and work with two mats. If that is too big a leap, have a low raised barrier or just a ground rail as a front barrier.
    14. When 13 is good on both sides, work with one mat. Start with the front feet on the mat, then, one step at a time, ask for a full turn until the front feet end up on the mat again. Click&treat as often as often during the turn as you need to to keep the horse successfully earning his next click&treat. Click&treat too often is better than not often enough. We want to keep the shoulder-yield movement as pure as possible, without creeping back or surging forward becoming part of the behavior loop.
    15. When 14 is good, play at liberty without a mat. Click&treat for one good yielding step until that is excellent both sides, then ask for two and stay with two until they are excellent, etc. until you can get 180 degrees before the first click&treat, then the other 180 degrees, click&treat. Keep your ‘yield shoulder signal’ ON for the number of steps you want, then turn it OFF at the same moment you click, then treat. You want to use a ‘constant on’ signal for the duration of your request. If we are really consistent, eventually just our energy toward the horse’s shoulder will be enough of a signal for many horses.
    16. The day will come when you feel ready to ask for a full 360-degree turn with one click&treat upon completion. Objective reached.

    Yielding the Hindquarters

    In the first photo above, I am using intent and a hand signal to ask Boots to move her hind end away from me. In the second photo, she has responded by stepping her right hind leg under her belly. I have removed my signal and clicked, and am in the process of getting a treat out of my pouch.


    In horse language, yielding the hind end can be a ‘calming signal*’ – one horse telling another horse that he is moving away and therefore not a threat. Bold, confident, horses may not be keen to yield their hindquarters. They may prefer to first check out the other horse’s resolve by testing the boundaries.

    (Words with an asterisk – * – are defined in detail via the GLOSSARY link.)

    In some situations it is instinctive for horses to move their hindquarters toward pressure rather than away from it. Moving the hindquarters toward another horse is a sign of assertiveness. In reaction to a predator it is fear aggression. When dealing with predators such as wolves who dash in to hamstring large prey, a hind end swing with a well-aimed kick might injure the predator and/or break his resolve.

    Your horse’s character type, his past experiences with other horses and his previous training experiences will all influence how he responds to a request to move his hind end away from a handler.

    There are a couple of ways to approach this task. The slices* outlined below suit a horse who is well used to handling and being rubbed all over. With some horses, it is common sense to build in mobile protected contact* by carrying a body extension*. Once the horse understands the task and the owner is aware of how the horse will respond, using body orientation and hand touch or hand gesture, along with intent, is usually enough of a signal*.

    To help the horse understand that we want his front feet to remain roughly in the same place, we can start with his front feet on a mat, presuming that keeping front feet on a mat has a strong history of reinforcement*.


    1. Safety. Especially in tight places, we need the horse to understand the concept of moving his butt end away any time we ask for it.
    2. Helps proprioception (awareness of where feet are, what they are doing and how much effort is involved).
    3. Builds into a full turn on the forequarters.
    4. Handy for all sorts of specific maneuvers such as navigating gates, shoulder-in, lateral movements, staying ‘straight’ on a curved path while lunging, setting up for canter departs.


    1. Horse keenly targets mats with his front feet and stands on a mat in a relaxed manner. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
    2. Horse smoothly steps across a rail. (See Number 18 in my Blog Contents List.)
    3. Handler clearly moves into and out of ‘zero intent’* so the horse knows when he can relax in a ‘wait’ and when he is being asked to move. (See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List.)


    #260 HorseGym with Boots. https://youtu.be/AkjIT8Tjxw0


    • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • A safe fence or barrier in front of the horse.
    • To begin with, a rail for the horse to step over situated so it is behind him when his front feet step onto a mat. This helps discourage the idea of backing up rather than moving his hind end across.
    • Halter and lead. A short lead rope is easiest to manage.


    • Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, voice, touch, and gesture signals.
    • Horse crosses near hind foot in front of the far hind foot to move his butt away on request.
    • Horse can eventually do a 360-degree turn on the forehand in either direction.


    1. Stay with each slice until it feels smooth and easy for both of you.
    2. Teach everything on both sides of the horse. Remember, we often give clearer signals on one side because of our own one-sidedness, so be sure to focus on being equally clear on either side of the horse.
    3. If one side is harder/stiffer, do a bit extra on that side, over many sessions, until both sides feel even.
    4. Keep the sessions short, three – five minutes maximum. This is quite a demanding, concentrated task.
    5. Always be prepared to back up to an easier slice when the horse loses confidence. This is often the hardest part of training a complex task.


    1. Walk the horse across a rail to park his front feet on a mat. Click&treat.
    2. Keeping your energy as low as possible, rub him all over with your hands or a body extension; click&treat for standing still. Keep an upright posture while you do the rubbing because it makes the change into your ‘asking’ posture more distinct.
    3. When 1 and 2 are good, stand with your belly beside the horse’s ribs and turn your body axis slightly toward the rear of the horse. Drop your head and shoulders to direct your focus, with strong intent, at the horse’s hindquarters. At the same time, touch him lightly on the side of the hindquarters. Click&treat for a step over or, in the beginning, even a weight shift away from your hand or the body extension.
    4. If the horse pushes into your touch, quietly stay in position without releasing the extra pressure created by his move against the pressure. Wait in position until he works out his other option – moving away from the pressure.
    5. Each horse will be a little different. Each will have a ‘best place’ where your touch makes most sense to him. Be confident to experiment a little bit to seek out where the ‘best place to touch’ is for a particular horse. As always, try to keep your body language and signals as consistent as possible. At times I slip up with my body language in the video clip and became unclear for the horse.
    6. Once the horse understands the touch signal, it is usually easy to also teach a gesture hand signal we can use further away from the horse.
    7. Intersperse click&treat for standing still with Zero Intent* (while you rub) with the hindquarter-yield task. Try to keep your energy as close to zero as you can while you rub him. If the horse tends to escape your rubbing touch to move his hind end, do more of the rubbing = click&treat. If the horse is reluctant to move his hind end, do a bit more of asking him to move it = click&treat. We only want the horse to yield his hind end when we specifically ask him to move it, not whenever we put our hands anywhere near his back end.
    8. After one or two repeats of 3 above, walk a small circuit, click& treat for returning to the mat and begin again. We are looking for the near hind leg to step across under the belly in front of the far hind leg, without the front legs shuffling very much. (Time 4:46 in the video clip shows this in slow motion.) When you get one step like this, CELEBRATE hugely, and take a break. It could happen the very first time you ask.
    9. For a few sessions, stay with achieving one good step under and across, on both sides of the horse.
    10. When the time feels right, remove the mat, and ask for two steps. Stay with two steps (on either side) for a few sessions.
    11. At some point the rail behind and the fence in front will become redundant.
    12. When two steps is solid, begin to ask for quarter circles (90 degrees), then half circles (180 degrees). Celebrate. Stay with these for several sessions.
    13. When half circles feel easy, ask for a full turn (360 degrees). Celebrate.
    14. Ask for the task in different places.


    • Become aware of when using this task can be helpful (e.g., positioning horse for foot care, moving safely through gates).
    • Teach at liberty.
    • Teach with the front feet up on a pedestal.
    • Teach with the front feet standing in a roomy, low-sided, soft rubber tub.
    • Teach with the front feet in a hula hoop.
    • Teach from further and further away, using body language and gesture signals.

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    Ringing a Bell


    This is one way to teach a horse to ring a bell. It has the bell suspended at nose height so it is easy for the horse to move it with his lips. Some horses may easily pick up a bell attached to an object and nod their head to cause it to ring.


    On request, the horse nuzzles a bell to cause it to ring.


    1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    2. Horse understands putting his nose on a variety of targets to earn a click&treat.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Revisit the Rule of Three in Chapter 1: Click here.


    #229 HorseGym with Boots: Ringing a Bell as a hand-held target.

    #253 HorseGym with Boots: Ringing a Bell. This clip introduces the bell hanging freely.

    #252 HorseGym with Boots: Bell Ringing.

    #231 HorseGym with Boots:  This clip looks at introducing the idea of picking up the bell and walking with it.

    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 large bell that can be hung.
    • Something on which to hang the bell so it is freely suspended at the height of the horse’s nose.
    • For generalization, a bell attached to a rope or similar easy for the horse to pick up.


    1. 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.
    2. With tasks like this we can fit several mini-lessons of three repeats in-between chores or other things we are doing with our horse.
    3. When the bell is a hand-held target, remove the bell behind you to take it ‘out of play’ each time you click&treat. This will allow the horse time to enjoy his treat and let you know with a consent signal (Prerequisite 3) when he is ready to do it again. Also, it will be obvious to him when you present the bell into view again.
    4. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
    5. Click for any interest in the bell, even if it’s just sniffing the bell, then gradually click&treat for any sign of moving his lips to nuzzle the bell, even if it is not yet ‘ringing.


    1. Ring the bell yourself, followed by a click&treat for the horse. We want to let him know that the sound of the bell results in a click&treat. We also want to be sure that he is not spooked by the sound of the bell.
    2. If you think he might find it startling at first, use protected contact. Start ringing as softly as possible and make it louder as the horse shows confidence.
    3. Attach the bell to a hand-held stick so you can hold it out as a target. Click&treat when the horse puts his nose on it. This is outlined in video clip #229.
    4. Repeat 3 above with a major celebration if the horse nuzzles the bell enough to make it ring.
    5. Once it is reliable on one side of the horse, teach it again standing on his other side.
    6. Attach the bell to an object where it can hang freely at the normal height of the horse’s nose. This is outlined in video clip #253. Click&treat for targeting the bell.
    7. Wait in ‘zero intent’ until the horse nuzzles it enough to make it ring. Time your click as closely as you can to the very first bell sound. If this is not happening, try taping a string to the bell which you can quietly pull to make the bell ring a tiny bit as the horse puts his nose on it: click&treat at the very first bell sound. We want the horse to make the connection between the bell sound and the click&treat so he is motivated to make the bell ring himself.
    8. Once the horse is nuzzling the bell enough to make it ring, gradually withhold the click&treat, one second at a time, to encourage him to ring it for a bit longer. We might consider the task ‘complete’ if we get up to five seconds of bell-ringing.


    1. Set up the dangling bell in new venues and around other distractions. It could be part of a ‘circuit’ of different tasks.
    2. Once the horse is ho­-hum about ringing a dangling bell, we can generalize to him picking up a bell and walking with it as in video clip #231.
    3. Once the horse is carrying the bell attached to a soft item easy for the horse to carry, play with that in different venues. It could become part of your ‘Fetch’ games.
    4. Teach him to use his nose to ‘ping’ one of the little metal devices some shops use to let you announce that you need attention.
    5. Teach the horse to ‘play’ a keyboard with his lips
    6. Teach the horse to squeeze a bicycle horn for another novel sound.

    Kill the Tiger


    This is a fun trick once your horse is good at picking up rags from the ground or off a fence. However, we have to be careful to put it solidly ‘on cue’ or ‘on signal’ so that the horse doesn’t generalize the task to pulling off his saddle blanket if he is a ridden horse.

    I call it ‘Kill the Tiger’ because we only do it with the striped car seat cover we used in the video because, again, I don’t want her to generalize the idea to saddle pads or horse covers.

    It’s another trick to keep our horse amused if it is too wet, windy, hot or cold to do more active things. The process of putting this trick ‘on signal’ consolidates our ‘wait’ signal. It’s also a lateral flexion exercise.


    On request, the horse pulls a large cloth off his back and delivers it to our hand.


    1. Horse understands a ‘pick’ signal which we’ve taught for picking items off the ground as in Number 73 in the Blog Contents List: Picking Things Up. Click here.
    2. ‘Zero Intent’ is well established. Number 10 in the Blog Contents List: Intent and Zero Intent. Click here.
    3. Horse and handler agree on a ‘wait’ signal. Number 65 in the Blog Contents List:  The Wait Game. Click here.
    4. Horse is confident about having large cloths draped all over his body.


    #226 HorseGym with Boots: Kill the Tiger.

    #254 HorseGym with Boots: Kill the Tiger 2.

    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 large cloth or similar easy for the horse to grab.
    • Perhaps a mat for parking the front feet to clarify that we don’t want the horse to move his feet.


    1. Ensure that the horse has a sound understanding of the prerequisite tasks. Give them the time it takes rather than focus on the end behavior too soon.
    2. Three repeats are usually plenty to start with. The horse will think about the task and be willing to try again next day. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
    3. Click&treat with a frequency that keeps the horse being continually successful with the slice of the task you are working on.
    4. Decide on a specific cloth or gunny sack or similar that you will always use for this exercise. It’s a task we don’t want to generalize to anything we put on his back.
    5. It’s probably easiest to teach this thoroughly on one side of the horse, then begin again on the other side.


    1. Ask the horse to pick your chosen cloth off the ground; click&treat. Repeat a couple of times to ensure this prerequisite is smooth and reliable and that he understands your ‘pick’ voice and gesture signals.
    2. Ask the horse to take the cloth from your hand when you give your ‘pick’ signal.
    3. Make sure the horse is relaxed with your chosen cloth draped all over his body.
    4. Lay the cloth over his back and ask the horse to ‘wait’, using your zero intent body language.
    5. Gently pull the cloth forward with your hand so it is easy for the horse to reach with his mouth and ask the horse to ‘pick’ it off his back. At first you may need to pull the cloth partially off. Click as soon as he grabs it and treat after he releases the cloth to your hand.
    6. Repeat 5 above a few times each session. As the horse gets to understand the task, gradually use your hand less but make sure the cloth is relatively easy for him to reach. We want him to be successful each time.
    7. At this stage you will often get the horse keen to ‘pick’ the cloth as soon as you put it on his back (or even before you can get it on his back), so we must emphasize the WAIT GAME from Slice 5 and frequently put the cloth on his back for a few seconds and take it off again without asking him to ‘kill the tiger’.
    8. When the task is ho-hum for the horse on one side of his body, teach it again from the beginning on the other side.
    9. Since this is a flexion exercise, routinely do a couple on each side of the horse. If one side feels stiffer, do a few more on that side.


    1. Ask the horse to walk along with the ‘tiger’ on his back before you ask him to ‘kill the tiger’.
    2. Gradually extend the ‘wait’ time before asking him to pull the cloth off his back.
    3. Generalize to pulling a rope off his back.
    4. Generalize to other venues.

    How We Introduce Something New is Critical

    Before We Start

    Ideally, we consider the following points before we start.

    • We have thin-sliced the task into its smallest teachable parts and have an idea of where the early click points will be.
    • We have organized a training environment where the horse is able to relax. Ideally, he can see his herd mates, but they are not able to interfere.
    • We have thought about which part of the horse’s body we need to influence, and we’ve planned possible signal(s) to use (energy levels, body posture, body position, gesture, touch, words, strong intent). My book, Conversations with Horses, An In-Depth Look at Signs and Signals between Horses and their Handlers, looks at this topic in great detail.
    • The environment is set up to make it as easy as possible for the horse to understand what we want (use of a ‘lane’ or a corner; where we place the mat target or a nose target; use of barriers on the far side of the horse; where we position our body).

    We want to make the desired behavior as east as possible for the horse to do. Setting up the training environment to achieve this means we are already halfway there.

    For example, if water is challenging for the horse, we can start with walking through a box of rails on the ground, then put unusual surfaces down, like a tarp or these plastic bottles, before moving on to water.

    If, instead, the horse learns evasive moves during our first fumbling with a new task, our education program has suddenly become more complex and longer. A bit of thoughtful planning can make things much easier for us and for the horse.

    Ideally, we first try out our ideas with another person standing in as the horse. Or we can trial our process on a more experienced, forgiving horse. That allows us to eliminate some of the early trial and error in relation to our positioning and body language. 

    By practicing with a person standing in for the horse, our horse does not have to put up our first fumbling as we learn new motor skills.

    It allows us to be clearer for the horse when we first introduce something new, rather than confuse him because we have not yet worked out a smooth way to proceed.

    The first step is always to make sure the horse is relaxed and in a learning frame of mind. If something has brought up his adrenalin, we do calming procedures or something active until he’s used up the adrenalin and can return to relaxation. If he is uninterested, we need to make ourselves and our treats more interesting. Or stop and just hang out. Maybe the horse is tired due to the weather or other activities.

    Or we wait to start the new thing in a later session. If the horse gets tense during a training session, we must first look closely at our own emotional state and the energy we are communicating to the horse, often unconsciously. Both handler and horse need to return to relaxation before continuing.

    We start teaching each slice of the whole task with click points determined by what the horse is able to offer already. As both horse and handler get smooth with each tiny additional slice leading toward the whole task, we gradually chain the slices together and shift the click point until the whole task can be achieved with one click point at the end.

    When we begin teaching something new, we start by finding a beginning click point. For some things, this may be a very rough approximation of the final goal behavior, e.g. just a tiny drop of the head when we begin to teach head lowering right to the ground.

    This is illustrated in the first of two Head Lowering video clips in my Free-Shaping Examples playlist. Click here.

    We gradually shift the click point toward closer and closer approximations of what we want until we achieve the goal behavior.

    Good timing of the click allows the horse to become more and more accurate. Once the horse understands a task that we are free-shaping, like the head-lowering example, we add a signal (cue) so we can ask for the task and also put in ON CUE so that the horse learns that a click&treat will only follow if we have asked for the task to be done.

    When teaching something new, the focus of click&treat is on the new learning, but we can still click&treat good execution of things the horse already knows.

    Short clip about introducing water as an unusual surface.

    Consolidation of New Learning & Developing Fluidity

    The Consolidation Phase begins when the horse generally understands our intent, our signals and usually responds willingly with the move we want. 

    At this point, we can keep up interest and enthusiasm by providing an extra click&treat whenever any part of the task is done really well. 

    To put a new task into long-term memory (for horses and for people) it needs to be practiced at least 9 or 10 sessions in a row; ideally over 9 or 10 days in a row. Some tasks will take longer, depending on their complexity. If we can’t have a session every day, we need to accept that it will take longer to build a new behavior solidly. Keeping a written record becomes essential.

    How many ‘repeats’ we should do during one session is hard to pin down because it depends so much on:

    • What we are teaching.
    • The character type, age and history of the horse.
    • The skill of the handler.
    • The nature of the handler-horse relationship.

    For some tasks, a rule of thumb might be three practice repeats in a row, unless the first one is perfect and calls for a major celebration. Clicker-savvy horses are usually keen to work until you decide to stop, but even a keen horse can use a short break after 10 repeats of learning something new.

    If the horse is in the initial learning stage, a tiny improvement over last time is a valid click point, followed by celebration and doing something relaxing. During the whole training session, we could return to the ‘new learning’ task three times, in-between doing other things. 

    Generalizing walking in water out and about.

    Playing Fetch


    Some horses easily walk along carrying something in their mouth. Other horses find this a foreign concept. For such horses we must work through a series of slices to build up a new skill. My horse, Boots, has never worn a bit for riding, so walking with something in her mouth was a truly new experience.

    Some horses learn this quickly at liberty. Others gain security by being on halter and lead (kept loose) so we can give more guidance as we walk along together.

    This is only a possible training plan – each person/horse partnership must tweak the ideas to suit their situation – Individual Education Plans are different for each horse.


    On request, the horse moves to an item we have tossed away, picks it up and returns it to us.


    • 1. The horse understands the task of picking items up off the ground and handing them to you. (See Number 73 in the Blog Contents List for the detailed Training Plan).

    #224 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Things Up. https://youtu.be/gis3PF7OLlM

    #255 HorseGym with Boots: Picking up Cones. https://youtu.be/pHAPExzdUPk

    • 2. Horse and handler are comfortable going for walks together.


    #231 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Up Bell. https://youtu.be/x_Jk570Pnlc

    Short clip showing combining PICK UP with WALK TOWARD ME.

    #234 HorseGym with Boots: Playing Fetch. https://youtu.be/9L8xszYARaM

    Clip showing the various slices of the Training Plan.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Places to walk together.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Lightweight items easy for the horse to hold.
    • Halter and lead to go for walks.


    1. With this exercise, we are chaining a whole series of tasks together to build a new skill: 1) pick up, 2) walk holding the item, 3) release the item into the handler’s hand without dropping it, 4) turn holding the item, 5) move toward the item when it is thrown out and pick it up, 6) turn to walk back to deliver the item to the handler.
    2. Several repeats one after the other, of the slice you are currently working on, is usually plenty. A little bit often builds an enduring habit and the horse will be willing to take part next time you bring out your item(s). If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose the horse’s willingness to engage again.
    3. Each time you click, remove the item behind you to take it ‘out of play’. It will then be obvious to him when you preset the item into view again.
    4. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
    5. Any time the horse loses confidence, go back to what he can do confidently and gradually work forward again. Horses instantly pick up any emotion of frustration or annoyance or anger, so be sure to practice emotional neutrality except for gleeful celebration when things go well.
    6. A horse can’t be ‘wrong’ until we have carefully taught him what we want in a way that he can understand and does not make him anxious.


    1. Take your horse for a walk and occasionally halt and ask him to take the item out of your hand, hold it for x number of seconds (starting with one second) before asking him to release it back to your hand; click&treat.
    2. While taking your horse for walks, occasionally ask him to hold, then carry the item for one step, then release it to your hand. With some horses this slice may take many, many repeats. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up and try again, asking for it back BEFORE he drops it, even if so far you haven’t been able to walk one step ­– i.e., return to Slice 1 for a while.
    3. Once you have a single step and it is good 90% of the time, ask for two steps, and so one, adding one step at a time over as many sessions as it takes to maintain the horse’s willingness to try again. It’s easy to rush these early slices. To build a confident, lasting behavior, we do a little bit often over many days, weeks, months, depending on your horse.
    4. Gradually add more steps, one at a time, before asking for the item back. If he drops it, ignore it with zero reaction, pick it up and go back to what the horse can do confidently. Slowly work forward again from that point.
    5. Once he will walk beside you carrying the item for 15-20 steps, we’ll change a parameter* by slowly walk backwards so the horse turns and walks toward us, hopefully still carrying his item. Have a big celebration the first time he turns without dropping it.
    6. When he can reliably hold the item as he walks with you, turns toward you as you walk backwards, and walks toward you, we can add the ‘picking up’ part. We use the ‘pick’ signals we taught as in video clip #224. Ask him to pick  the item up and walk along holding it. Because we’ve changed a parameter (please pick it up first), we again click&treat for one step walking, and as before, build up to numerous steps gradually.
    7. Fetch: when he picks it up readily and walks with it, start to toss it a wee bit further away. Go to him as he picks it up, receive it from him and click&treat right away.
    8. When 7 above is good, after you toss the item away, walk into a position that makes it easy for him to walk toward you after he’s picked it up; accept it from him; click&treat. Gradually position yourself a bit further away ( and eventually at different angles to him) so he takes two steps, three steps, and so on to deliver the item back to you. When you change the angle note how well he can orientate himself to deliver the item to you.
    9. Once the horse understands that the task is to fetch the item and return it to you, wherever you are, toss out the item and stay where you are so the horse picks it up and turns to bring it back to you.
    10. Some horses will get into this game with enthusiasm. Others will do it in a sedate manner to earn their click&treat.


    1. Use a variety of item that are easy for the horse to carry.
    2. Play in a variety of venues.
    3. Add variety like walking over rails, backing up, or weaving while carrying an item.

    Importance of Putting Behaviors On Signal or On Cue

    In the above photo, if I did not have ‘PICKING UP A CONE’ so it happens only when I give the Cue/Signal for picking it up, it would be hard to use cones as arena markers for other activities.

    To become an adept and safe equine clicker trainer, it is essential to learn to put learned behaviors ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’ as quickly as possible. We want the horse to wait for our signal before offering the behavior.

    A horse throwing his learned behaviors at us might feel like fun at first, but it can rapidly get out of hand and become dangerous when the horse choses an inappropriate moment. For example, when I taught Boots to ‘spin’, it was quite startling when she wanted to show it to me and visitors all the time, while standing right beside us!

    It pays to think carefully about the possible consequences of specific behaviors before we teach them. It pays to be aware that we can get into trouble, especially if the horse is a confident, imaginative and high-energy type of horse. 

    The most recent thing you have taught your horse often becomes his favorite move because that behavior has recently been strongly rewarded.

    Such horses may perform a learned behavior then ‘demand’ the treat. It’s important to make sure the horse does not develop this option. The treat is always a reward for something you have asked the horse to do. It can’t be demanded.

    Reminder, always Click BEFORE you reach your hand toward your treat pouch or pocket. If you don’t, the horse’s attention will be on watching your hand rather than focused on what you want him to learn.

    Once you have a strong relationship and your clicker training repertoire is well established, you will have built up a connection that suits you and a particular horse. For example, if I sometimes forget to click&treat a behavior that falls into our list of things I usually/always click&treat, Boots makes sure to remind me with a gentle nudge.

    No other training method elicits the enthusiasm and fun that can be had with well-planned and well-executed clicker training. Many horses playing click&treat games never want their sessions to end. Rather than having to worry about ‘ending the session on a good note’, clicker trainers must teach an ‘end of session’ routine to let the horse gently and clearly know that the session is finishing.

    Although the ‘marker’ does not have to be the sound of a mechanical clicker, using a distinctive mechanical clicker when first teaching something new has the advantage of greater clarity for the horse. It also helps make the handler extremely observant about where to place the current click point.

    Once the horse knows a behavior and your signal for it, it doesn’t seem to matter if a tongue click or a unique, consistent sound/word is used as a bridging signal instead of a mechanical clicker.

    Putting every new behavior ‘on signal’ as soon as you can, will gradually reduce the horse’s desire to throw the new move at us as soon as he sees us (much like a child dying to show us his new painting).

    Usually, a horse will have one or two favorite behaviors that he pulls out to see if he can get the vending machine to pay attention. Boots’ smile is the one she always tries first. It’s good to develop a few relatively quiet ‘default’ behaviors like this that you can reward when just going to say hello to your horse or generally checking up on him.

    Boots using her smile to see if a treat will be forthcoming.

    The following two clips are from a while ago. The detailed notes mentioned at the end have now morphed into my books.

    Foot Awareness for Improving Proprioception


    Proprioception is the awareness of where our body parts are in space, what each is doing, and how much energy the movement is using.

    Here is a definition from the Internet:

    Proprioception enables us to judge limb movements and positions, force, heaviness, stiffness, and viscosity. It combines with other senses to locate external objects relative to the body and contributes to body image. Proprioception is closely tied to the control of movement.

    I’ve collected together an assortment of video clips I’ve made over the years that include ideas we can use to encourage the horse to be aware of where his feet are and what they are doing.

    Quite a few of the clips are part of a training series and I’ve chosen just one of the series to illustrate the overall task. By going to my YouTube channel – herthamuddyhorse – you can find my assortment of playlists containing series of numbered clips to show the thin-slicing I used to achieve the final task. Message me if you need help to find a particular series.

    Good proprioception relates to all sorts of things, but mainly to overall balance and suppleness.

    Horses that grow up in rough hill country develop good proprioception as a necessity for survival. Horses raised in confined areas without needing to move much to find enough food don’t have the opportunity to develop excellent proprioception.

    In the same way, athletes become good at their sport by developing the aspects of proprioception that especially relate to that sport. If our lifestyle lacks regular movement, our body suffers the same way as that of a stabled horse.

    Video Clips

    #88 HorseGym with Boots: Foot Awareness. https://youtu.be/7bEkFk0w_gk

    A few tasks that play with improving foot awareness.

    #89 HorseGym with Boots: Balance on 3 Legs. https://youtu.be/x1WKppV3N_0

    Playlist: Challenges for Clicker Trainers: August 2017 Challenge: Precision with a Single Rail. https://youtu.be/bJzwDq-NvtE

    Playlist: Foot Awareness: Thin-slicing the 1m Board. https://youtu.be/pLLqtbQJqMs

    #220 HorseGym with Boots: Counting with the Front Feet Clip 1. https://youtu.be/hHpQgsUOINA

    #246 HorseGym with Boots: Counting with the Hind Feet. https://youtu.be/rMsRVL_M33w

    Playlist: Foot Awareness: Single Obstacle Challenges Hoops 3. https://youtu.be/xc-4yGiWDxk

    Playlist: Challenges for Clicker Trainers: September 2017 Challenge: Figure 8. https://youtu.be/QrberCzAO6c

    Playlist: Challenges for Clicker Trainers: November 18, Sidestepping Clip 1. https://youtu.be/Joxp9bYzMRc

    Playlist: Foot Awareness: S-Bend Final Clip. Click here.

    #199 HorseGym with Boots: Unusual Surface with Bottles. https://youtu.be/3LTmUSa0Y1M

    #184 HorseGym with Boots: Back Between Rails. https://youtu.be/FGh7_MeFHcQ

    #95 HorseGym with Boots: Backing down Slopes. https://youtu.be/M9pEFnDSbwc

    Ponying from a Bike or Scooter


    When my hips gave up riding horses but not riding my bike, it made sense to teach Boots to ‘pony’ from my bike. Usually people ‘pony’ a second horse while riding another horse.

    It’s a skill developed for pack horses or to exercise two horses at the same time. When my son was very small we rode together with his pony on a lead. Leading a horse from a bike or scooter rather than another horse comes with its own hazards and challenges.


    The horse walks/trots confidently and safely led by a person on a bike or a scooter.


    1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    2. Horse and handler agree on voice and breathing signals for ‘walk on’, ‘halt’ with the handler beside the horse. Number 16 in the Blog Contents List.
    3. Horse and handler agree on voice and gesture signals for ‘back up’ while the handler is beside the horse. Number 32 in the Blog Contents list.
    4. Horse and handler have a good command of prompt transitions upward and downward using voice signals.
    5. Horse is relaxed about a dragging rope. It’s inevitable that we will drop the rope at some point to stop being pulled off our bike. #60 HorseGym with Boots – specifically the second half of this clip. Click Here.
    6. Horse and handler agree on voice signals for ‘right turn’ and ‘left turn’. #137 HorseGym with Boots: Click here.
    7. Horse and handler agree on signals for ‘go around and turn’. This is important to have smooth because as much as possible, we want ourselves between the horse and anything ahead that he might find worrisome. If he needs more space, we want him to move away from us, not into us. # 250 HorseGym with Boots: https://youtu.be/3oqPs4LM5AM and video clip #251 below.
    8. If riding on public roads or tracks, we must ensure that the horse has been given the time and opportunity to be comfortable around cars, motorbikes, trucks, dogs, pushchairs, other people on bikes, tractors, hikers, and children while the handler is walking with the horse. We need to feel secure with other road users approaching from in front or from behind. Trailers with flapping plastic are an ultimate test. Essential to get used to flapping plastic at home.


    #247 HorseGym with Boots: Boots and Bicycle. Older video – short.

    #228 HorseGym with Boots: Intro to Bike. Recent video.

    #230 HorseGym with Boots: Bike on the Road. Recent video.

    #251 HorseGym with Boots: Changing Sides. Recent video.

    #249 HorseGym with Boots: Scooter Outings. Recent video.

    #248 HorseGym with Boots: Bob meets Bicycle. Click here. Older video featuring a young horse seeing a bike for the first time.

    Materials and Environment

    • We need a safe enclosed place where it’s possible to use free-shaping to introduce the horse to the bicycle and establish the basic protocols using a lead rope.
    • A helper is great to have at the beginning.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Quiet tracks, trails or roads to expand confidence. For public roads, the key is usually choosing the quietest part of the day.
    • Walk with the horse on the routes you will take, for many days, weeks, months, so the route is as familiar as possible. I’d walked or ridden our routes for a long time before ponying on my bike.
    • Bicycle or mobility scooter or similar.
    • Be especially sure the horse is not hungry before you set off. For some horses, a light mesh grazing muzzle can be a safety feature if the horse tends to dive for grass. Use it first walking out so it is not directly related to the bike. Munch-N-Go make a muzzle that is light and its easy to slip a treat into the side.


    1. It’s important to take the time to get all the prerequisites established. Although I put up monthly challenges, each challenge is just an idea that you may like to work toward. The real magic is in getting the prerequisites into good shape, which can take months or years, depending on many factors.
    2. Keep each session short. Three repeats is often plenty. Many short sessions keep the horse keen to ‘do it again’ next time.
    3. Click&treat often enough to keep the horse continually successful with what you are asking him to learn. Build duration gradually, but always be conscious of increasing duration as you can.
    4. Create a strong habit of using your voice signals all the time when they are appropriate, not just with the bike. Our “Whoa” response has saved my bacon numerous times. The “Back-up” with voice and gesture signals is essential. We don’t want the horse crossing in front of us unless we are inviting him to change sides.
    5. You may be fortunate enough to have tracks and trails where the horse can accompany you on your bike without the need for a lead rope. Some horses, like mine, will gravitate to the closest grass and stay there. If you are limited to public roads or tracks, safety with the lead rope is a must.
    6. When I take my horse out and about in the neighborhood, we have grazing destinations. If there is no grass, I take an ample supply of carrots and horse pellets which we stop to enjoy at the furthest point of our outing. In other words, I don’t expect the horse to randomly go with me. I give her a destination that makes sense to her. Horses who can move freely always know where they are going and why. We remove much of this self-determination from them when we want to do something with the horse. Working with destinations is a way to return it in a small way. See also Number 17 in my Blog Contents List: Destination Training.


    1. Have someone walk with your bike and you follow behind with your horse wearing halter and lead. Allow the horse to decide how close (or not) he will get to the bike. As soon as you see/feel interest or less tension (sighing, blowing out, lower head, softer body) – click&treat.
    2. Repeat 1 above until the horse is confident enough to walk right up close to the back of the bike, with click&treat for each sign of greater confidence.
    3. Ask the person wheeling the bike to slow gradually to a stop so the horse can touch his nose to the bike if he’s ready for that step; click&treat. Repeat a few times to consolidate.
    4. Have your helper ride the bike and repeat 1-3 above.
    5. At this point, if it feels safe, take off the lead rope so the horse makes his own decisions about approaching and/or following the bike.
    6. Without a helper: Walk with the bike yourself. Click&treat any movement of the horse toward you and the bike. The aim here is for him to want to come and target your hand or the bike to earn a click&treat.
    7. When 6 is smooth, ride the bike. Click&treat coming over plus any offer to move with you and the bike. At this point, it’s helpful to expect little but click&treat each tiny sign of increasing interest and confidence.
    8. Gradually work on duration of staying with you and the bike. Setting up a roomy reverse round pen is helpful at this stage – protected contact for you as the horse gains confidence. You bike inside the barrier while the horse follows outside the barrier. You can use foot targets in set places on the path of travel where you will always stop to click&treat, so the horse knows that there is a destination – a stop point if he stays with you. Eventually have just one foot target on the perimeter of the reverse pen.
    9. When the horse stays with you on the bike willingly and with confidence, see if you can speed it up so he trots. Sometimes transitioning to a higher gait brings out a spurt of excited energy. It’s good to test this out while you are in protected contact inside the reverse pen. It’s also a good place to work with upward and downward transitions using voice signals. Use your downward transition (trot-walk or walk-halt) voice signals as you approach the foot target when slowing down makes sense to the horse. Use your upward transition signal (halt-walk) as you leave the mat and your walk-trot signal a little while after you leave the foot target when the horse is anticipating reaching it again.
    10. Build duration without the reverse round pen by using foot or nose targets as destinations. Start with them close together and gradually put them further apart. If you used this method for teaching good leading behavior while walking with the horse, the horse will already be familiar with the concept.
    11. Introduce the lead rope into the situation. At first, walk the bike while leading the horse. When you introduce a new element to a situation, always go back to click&treat more often (in this case, anytime the horse is coming along smoothly for a few steps), then gradually less often as the horse gains confidence.
    12. When ponying from the bike at home in familiar places is smooth, venture out on the road first walking the bike. As mentioned in the prerequisites, ensure that you have walked with the horse many times on the public roads you plan to bike with your horse, so that dogs running out, horses or cattle galloping in adjoining paddocks, vehicles, children, and so on, have all been met before and worked through.
    13. When walking with the horse and bike is smooth, one day it will feel right to get on your bike. Keep the early sessions going away from home and returning home short – celebrate your safe return. It takes a long time to build confidence (yours and the horse’s) but it can be lost in a nanosecond.
    14. When you reach the farthest point of your day’s outing, allow the horse grazing time or stop for a generous jackpot of treats, before heading home again. This gives the horse a sense of ‘destination’ as outlined in NOTE 6.
    15. Slowly build up confidence with the types of landscapes you have for biking or scootering with your horse. Shorter distances done often are preferable to long distances less often.
    16. If you have graduated to a mobility scooter or similar, play with it at home first. Play with having the horse follow it with you while another person drives it. Walk the horse on the left side and the right side of the scooter, first with you nearest the scooter, then with the horse nearest the scooter. Practice the ‘walk on’, ‘halt’, ‘back-up’ transitions. Practice the ‘go around in front and turn to change sides’ maneuver (Prerequisite 7) from both sides until both sides feel smooth.


    1. Different venues.
    2. Electric bike.
    3. Four-wheeler – avoid horse having to breathe in exhaust.
    4. Golf cart.
    5. Introduce a rider to horse’s movement without having to ‘be in charge’.
    6. Ride one horse and lead a second horse.

    Signals versus ‘Cues’ or ‘Stimuli’

    This is an extract from my book, Conversations with Horses: an in-depth look at signals and cues between horses and their handlers. Please see the BOOKS tab above to easily preview any of my books.

    Defining a Signal

    In the horse world, there are several terms used for the signals we give horses. One is ‘aids’ which is commonly used when riding. The term ‘cue’ seems to have become popular with clicker trainers.

    Much more about Clicker Training is available in my book, How to Begin Equine Clicker Training. The term ‘stimulus’ comes from animal behavior laboratories.

    I prefer the term ‘signal’ because it suggests that a message is sent and the ‘correct’ or intended message is received by the other party.

    If a Morse code sender carefully sends his message, but the person at the other end does not know Morse code well enough to decode the message accurately, then the signal has failed. The garbled message may well lead to troubled times.

    In other words, if a signal does not relay the desired message, then whatever we have used as a signal is not acting as a signal. By definition, a signal must communicate the person’s message and be received as such by the other party, in this case, the horse.

    If it is not working as intended, the signal needs to be adjusted or changed so the message sent equals the message received.

    When we are with the horse, he is busy sending us signals about his emotional, mental and physical well-being. If we can’t pick up these signals accurately, then the horse becomes frustrated and misunderstood and often retreats from willing interaction by trying to leave or ‘shutting down’. He becomes reactive rather than responsive.

    Cues and stimuli are constantly bombarding all of us. A signal is something we want to stand out from everything else the horse is noticing and everything else we are noticing. We want the horse to easily separate our signal from all the other many cues that are constantly flowing in.

    At the same time as we are communicating our intent with our signals, the horse is trying hard to communicate his intent and his feelings with his body language. The more ‘in tune’ we can get with the signals our horse sends us, the better our two-way communication can become.

    In this work, I will use the term ‘signal’ rather than ‘aid’, ‘cue’ or ‘stimulus’. I’ll also refer to all horses as ‘he’ for ease of reading, unless I’m talking about a specific mare or filly.

    Like the rest of us, horses thrive on clarity and consistency of communication. 

    Building a relationship with a horse is like locating a set of keys to unlock a door so the horse’s true nature can come out.

    The horse’s total well-being depends on how well we can help him adapt to the peculiar life a horse must live in a human-centered world.

    While we are trying to get to know our horse better and understand his emotional, mental and physical boundaries, the horse is doing exactly the same with us.

    He is trying to read our intentions so he can be ready to react or respond, according to his perceptions. The more we understand about the signals we are giving the horse, the more we can develop a mutual language.

    Boots is reading my body language and gesture signals for stepping onto the balance beam.

    The more we realize that much of what we are communicating to the horse is in our unconscious body language, the more we can ‘still’ our body between meaningful signals. 

    ‘No Intent’ body language tell the horse that all we are doing is standing together quietly.

    We would like the horse to respond confidently to our requests rather than become anxious, reactive and bracing against the pressure of our signals. 

    The horse would also prefer to respond rather than become anxious, adrenalized and feeling the need to react by trying to escape, push through pressure or mentally and physically ‘shut down’ – hiding inside himself. 

    A horse needs a sound foundation of knowledge to enable him to cope with the very strange things people expect of their captive horses. 

    To do this we need to:

    • Take the horse through a careful education program 
    • Set up a teaching schedule suited to the individual horse’s background and ability and adapted continually to the feedback the horse gives us 
    • Give him every opportunity to master each small step of a large task, before asking him to string all the parts of a big task together. 

    This cutting of a whole task into its smallest teachable parts can be referred to as ‘thin-slicing the task’. 

    My book, How to Create Good Horse Training Plans, looks in detail at thin-slicing and writing Individual Education Programs (IEPs).

    For each step of the teaching process, we must make sure we are sending a clear message rather than a confusing mumble. Therefore, a key element for the success of any teaching and learning program is ensuring that our signals are consistent and clear.

    Horses are so sensitive that if we alter a signal even a little bit, they often think it means something else. The more things we teach our horse, the more carefully we need to think about the signals we use.

    We can give our horse the best deal by becoming more aware about:

    • The specific types of signals we can use
    • How we are orientating our body
    • How we can refine our signals as the horse becomes confident
    • How to use a ‘signal bundle’ or ‘multi-signal’
    • When we are ‘nagging’ rather than communicating.

    As mentioned earlier, it is the most natural thing in the world to expect the horse to change so it does what we want. However, in reality, it is by changing what we do that yields the results we want. 

    There will be variations in horse behavior based on each horse’s innate character type, his personal history, his relationship with the handler and the situation of the moment.

    Horses will always be horses and will respond in the way that horses respond. Being prey animals, their main concern is safety.

    Before we can cause change in the horse, we must become hyper aware of what we are doing while the horse is watching.

    Whenever we are in our horse’s view, he is picking up all sorts of signals from us – our posture, our energy level, our intent, what we usually do that time of day, any specific signal we may be giving and so on.

    Once we learn to pay close attention to the horse’s body language, we get better at understanding the signals the horse is sending us.

    A signal is a direct, purposeful communication between horse and handler. If we’ve carefully taught a signal for backing up, then the horse will back up when we give that signal. 

    Boots understand the ‘raised fingers’ signal to mean ‘please back up’. I may be using a “Back” voice signal at the same time, which means I’m using a multi-signal to be especially clear.

    If the horse raises his head and points his ears with strong concentration, we pick up his signal that something in the environment has his full attention. 

    The horse’s body language of raised head and ears focused strongly forward tells us that some cue or stimulus in the distance has captured his whole attention.

    First, we learn the horse’s language – his signals. Then it is up to us to teach the horse the language he needs to remain safe and comfortable in the human world – our signals.

    Since we have taken the horse away from his natural lifestyle and made him our captive, it is up to us to become fluent in Universal Horse Language and learn to use it effectively. To be effective we need:

    • An understanding of different horse character types.
    • An understanding of our particular horse’s character type.
    • Awareness of our body language and the different ways we use signals.
    • Knowledge about horse senses and sensitivity.
    • As much knowledge as possible about a particular horse’s background experiences.
    • To write good training plans which can be turned into individual education programs (IEPS) designed for a specific horse.
    • Adept use of body language, body extensions, ropes, reins.
    • Timely application of release reinforcement.
    • Adept use of reward reinforcement along with release reinforcement.

    There is detailed information about using reward reinforce-ment in my book, How to Begin Equine Clicker Training.

    The more fluent we are about understanding horse body language and the mechanics of both release (negative) and reward (positive) reinforcement, the better a teacher we can be for our horse.

    It is hard for the horse to learn from someone who doesn’t have a good understanding of who and what they are teaching.

    Before we head into an overview of the signals we use with horses, followed by a detailed look at each signal type, we need to look in detail at how horses sense and perceive their environment. (The next part of the book delves into this.)

     Once we are conscious of the biological differences between horse and human perception, it is easier to allow horses the leeway they need to feel safer in our company.

    Counting with the Hind Feet

    This task is an excellent exercise to work on the timing of our ‘click’ and melting into ‘zero intent’ to wait for the horse’s ‘consent signal’ to do a repeat. The task forces us to focus on the timing and consistency of our On/Off gesture signals. It is also an excellent mobilization exercise for the horse.

    Boots and I played with this occasionally for over a year, especially when time was short or the weather was rough, but also as a regular ‘end of session’ exercise. We did this after a year of working on confident ‘counting’ with the front feet as in Prerequisite 3 below.


    When I face the back of the horse and point to his hind feet with my inside hand, using an On/Off gesture signal, the horse lifts a hind foot when I point and sets it down when I remove my hand signal.


    1. Horse and Handler have developed good table manners standing quietly together. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
    2. 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.
    3. Horse and handler are already confident ‘counting’ with the front feet. Click here.
    4. Triple Treat: #16 HorseGym with Boots. Click here.
    5. Horse is comfortable rubbed all over with a long object (video clip below).

    Videos: Counting with Hind Feet

    #246 HorseGym with Boots

    #243 HorseGym with Boots. The following clip shows the detail of working with ‘zero intent’ and waiting for the horse to give a ‘consent signal’ that tells us he is ready to try again.

    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 long-handled target to introduce the idea of lifting a hind foot to touch a target (which we eventually fade out).
    • A shorter target to accentuate the On/Off gesture signal (also gradually faded out).
    • A mat at first, to help the horse understand that we want him to stand still.
    • A safe fence or barrier alongside which we can stand the horse.
    • A variety of other barriers to use for generalization.
    • Two raised rails (or similar) to stand between.


    1. It’s important to stay with each slice of this task until the horse is fully ho-hum with it. In other words, repeat each slice a few time over as many short sessions as it takes for the horse to respond smoothly to your ON/OFF signal. If we take the time it takes to establish each slice, all steps of the overall task will be embedded in the horse’s long-term memory, giving us relaxed responses.
    2. Timing of the click is essential at first. It is the only way the horse can understand what you want him to do (lift his foot). Try hard to click as the foot is coming UP. If you’re unsure about your timing, practice by bouncing a ball and clicking when it leaves the ground. Or practice with a person standing in for the horse. Eventually we can relax the timing and click for the completion of one UP and DOWN movement. In the video clip you will notice that at one point I had to specifically wait to click after the foot returned to earth. Each horse will show his own little foibles.
    3. I don’t mind which foot the horse lifts. I prefer if he uses both. If a horse seems to use the same leg most of the time, make a big deal (triple treat / celebration) when he uses the other one. This is a mobilization exercise, so using both legs is good.
    4. When starting with this task, use the same location, same mat, same targets (until faded out) until the horse is truly confident with what you are asking.
    5. Often, it’s helpful to start on the horse’s left side, but we need to build the pattern standing on his right side as well. Spend a little more time on the side that feels harder. I like to teach each slice on both sides as we go along. An option is to teach all the slices on one side then teach them all again from the beginning on the other side. Or teach several slices on one side and then on the other side.
    6. Any time there is confusion (horse and/or handler), return to where you both feel confident and gradually work forward again. I had a terrible time remembering to use my inside hand for the gesture signal. When I used my outside hand I thoroughly confused my horse because gestures with my outside hand already had two different meanings, as shown on the video clip.
    7. Consistently use the hand closest to the horse (the inside hand) for your signal.
    8. A major part of the signal is the turning of our body to face the horse’s hind feet while we remain at his shoulder. As I turn, I add a voice signal, “Counting Rear”, to help differentiate this task from other things I do facing the back of the horse.
    9. It took us a long time (months) to put all these pieces together, with a short practice most days. I started in a consistent place as mentioned in Note 4.


    1. Stand the horse alongside a safe barrier in a place that you can use consistently for each session. The barrier stops the horse thinking we want him to move his hind end away. Ask him to park his front feet on a mat.
    2. Set the stage for the exercise by asking the horse to count with his front feet – a major prerequisite for success with this task.
    3. Turn so you are facing his hind end. Holding your long-handled target in the hand nearest the horse (inside hand) gently touch it to his hock; click as you touch and deliver the treat as you move the target out of play behind you.
    4. Repeat 3 above with Click&treat for any movement, even a shift of weight off that foot. When first teaching this, remember to click as the foot lifts UP.
    5. As the horse begins to understand that you click&treat when his foot comes up, hold the target near his hock, not touching it. The movement of your arm will become the horse’s clue.
    6. When 5 above is good, use a shorter target to point to the hind foot. Or shorten the target you have been using – or use the same-looking end on a shorter stick (a different-looking target may confuse an extremely sharp horse). Boots did not find this a problem.
    7. When 6 above feels ho-hum, go to an even shorter target and/or introduce the wiggling of your finger along with the target.
    8. When 7 above feels confident, refine your gesture to just lifting your arm and wiggling your finger. Immediately the horse lifts his foot, click, return your signaling hand to its OFF position lying on your belly, feed the treat with your other hand.
    9. When getting one foot-lift is reliable, and it feels right, ask for a second lift before the click&treat. Huge celebration if you get it. Remember we are using an ON/OFF signal, so put your signal hand into neutral on your belly before asking for the second lift.
    10. Vary between asking for one lift and two lifts. I count out loud as the horse lifts the foot: “One, Two” with a voice emphasis on the number I will click&treat if it is more than one. The horse learns that a soft counting voice means a request for another ‘lift’ is coming up.
    11. When 10 above feels ho-hum, ask for a third lift before the click&treat. Again, a huge celebration.
    12. Over time work up to as many lifts as you want. I usually stick with a maximum of five standing on the left and five standing on the right, but I vary the number requested each time we do it and might occasionally ask for six or seven.
    13. Once you have reliable lifts standing alongside a familiar barrier, generalize to other locations where you can stand the horse with a safe barrier along his far side to maintain the idea that he doesn’t need to move his body.
    14. Once 13 above is relaxed, stand the horse between rails raised to gradually wean away from a high barrier.
    15. The task is ‘finished’ when you can easily count your decided number of lifts on either side of the horse without needing any props.


    1. Play with the exercise in different venues.
    2. Play on a slope.
    3. Incorporate it into your WAIT game or your Four Corners Exercise. Click on the Blog Contents List at the top of the page to access these (Number 65 and Number 71 on the list).
    4. Use it as a mobilization exercise when it’s too hot, cold, windy, wet to do much else.