RECALL & BACK UP IN RHYTHM

INTRODUCTION

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.

AIM

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.

PREREQUISITES

  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/

VIDEO

#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.

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

  • 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.

NOTES

  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.

SLICES

  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.

GENERALIZATION

  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

INTRODUCTION

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.

AIM

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

PREREQUISITES

  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.

VIDEOS

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

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

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

NOTES

  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.

SLICES

  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.

GENERALIZATION

  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

INTRODUCTION

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.

AIM

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

PREREQUISITE

Horse and handler are clicker savvy.

VIDEOS

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

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

  • 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. 

NOTE

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.

GENERALIZATION

  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

INTRODUCTION

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.

AIMS:  

  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.

PREREQUISITES:

  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.

VIDEOS: 

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

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

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • 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.

NOTES:

  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.

SLICES:

  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.

GENERALIZATIONS:

  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.

ONE RAIL REFINEMENTS

  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.

INTRODUCTION:

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.

AIMS:

  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.

PREREQUISITES:

  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.

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • 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.

GENERAL NOTES

  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.

SLICES:

A: STANDING COMFORTABLY IN A CORNER

  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.

B: TEACH AN ANCHOR TASK

Video clips

Clip 1: on right side of horse

Clip 2: on left side of horse

NOTES:

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.

SLICES:

  • 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.

C: LATERAL FLEXION TO A TARGET and D. THE VOICE SIGNAL

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.

D. ADD VOICE SIGNAL

NOTES:

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.

E. RESPONSE TO ROPE OR REIN SIGNALS

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.

GENERALIZATION

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

Introduction

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.

AIM

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.

PREREQUISITES

  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.

VIDEO

#262 HorseGym with Boots; Line Dance Front Feet.

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

  • 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.

NOTES

  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.

SLICES

  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.

GENERALIZATIONS

  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.

WHY TEACH THIS?

  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.

PREREQUISITES:

  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.

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • 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.

AIMS:

  • 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:

https://youtu.be/eSlin8ZYcRA

Notes:

  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.

SLICES: 

  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.

INTRODUCTION:

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*.

WHY TEACH THIS?

  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.

PREREQUISITES:

  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.)

VIDEO:

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

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • 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.

AIMS:

  • 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.

NOTES

  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.

SLICES:

  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.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • 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.

Book Launch!

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The e-book is available for a FREE download until midnight (11.59 pm) on Monday December 13 PACIFIC TIME. Be sure to work out when this is in your time zone.

The photo below is the cover for the paperback.

Ringing a Bell

Introduction

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.

Aim

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

Prerequisites

  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.

Videos

#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.

Notes

  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.

Slices

  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.

Generalizations

  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

Introduction

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.

Aim

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

Prerequisites

  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.

Videos

#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.

Notes

  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.

Slices

  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.

Generalizations

  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

Introduction

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.

Aim

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

Prerequisites

  • 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.

Videos

#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.

Notes

  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.

Slices

  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.

Generalizations

  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

Introduction

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

Introduction

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.

Aim

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

Prerequisites

  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.

Videos

#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.

Notes

  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.

Slices

  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.

Generalizations

  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.

Aim

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.

Prerequisites

  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.

Notes

  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.

Slices

  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.

Generalizations

  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.

Picking Things Up

Introduction

Some horses show a natural inclination to pick things up, in which case we can ‘capture’ the behavior with well-timed click&treat. The challenge with such horses is to quickly put the task ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’ to counteract a tendency to pick up anything and everything in the hope of earning a treat.

Others, like my horse Boots, learn to pick things up because it earns a click&treat. For such horses, we can thin-slice the whole process, starting with sniffing an item, taking an item out of our hand, and so on. Such thin slices might also help to put the task ‘on signal’ for the keen horse.

Aim

On request, the horse picks up items , holds them, and presents them to our hand.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse has a strong history of positive reinforcement for standing with front feet on a mat. #8 HorseGym with Boots: Duration on the Mat. Click here.
  2. Horse and Handler have developed good table manners standing quietly together. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
  3. 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.
  4. For Generalization with the bell as in the second video clip, handler and horse agree on a clear ‘recall’ signal. February 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Simple Recall Pt. 1. Click here.

Videos

#224 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Things Up.

#231 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Up a Bell.

Materials and Environment

  • A venue where the horse can relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • A variety of items safe and easy for a horse to pick up.
  • One or two objects that can serve as platforms so we can gradually put the items closer and closer to the ground. E.g. chair or a tub turned over.
  • Horse at liberty if possible.
  • For some horses, rubbing something that smells nice to the horse on the item can gain initial interest, but make sure it does not encourage the horse to eat your item, especially if it is something like a cloth.

Notes

  1. Three repeats of the slice you are currently working with is usually plenty. A tiny bit often is the key. The horse will think about it and be willing to try again next time. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
  2. Each time you click, remove the item behind you to take it ‘out of play’. This will give the horse time to enjoy his treat and let you know with a consent signal (Prerequisite 3) when he is ready to do a repeat. Also, it will be obvious to him when you preset the item into view again.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. We are building a little chain of behaviors: pick up – hold – move item to my hand – release item to my hand.

Slices

  1. With the horse parked confidently on a mat so he knows you want him to stand still, offer your item: click&treat any willingness to sniff the item.
  2. Look for and click&treat any tendency to move his lips around the item. As always, take the item ‘out of play’ as you click&treat
  3. Look for and click&treat any tendency to open the mouth and use the teeth to investigate the item.
  4. Look for and click&treat any instance that you can momentarily remove your hand and the horse doesn’t drop the item. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up, and go back to click&treat a couple of times for the previous slice the horse IS able to do, before finishing the session.
  5. Once you can remove your hand momentarily, gradually build duration of him holding the item one second at a time. We want the horse to eventually hold the item until we put our hand out to receive it. Three seconds is good. Five seconds is great. Also praise and click&treat any indication that the horse is moving his head toward your hand to deliver the item to you.
  6. At this point, we can introduce a voice signal for picking up an item. I use the word, “Pick”. I also eventually introduce the voice signal, “Hold”, once the horse can hold the item for three or more seconds without dropping it.
  7. Once 5 above is smooth and reliable over several mini-sessions, introduce something that can act as a platform about halfway to the ground and put the item on it. At first you may need to keep your hand on it or near it by pointing to it and using your voice signal. Gradually move your hand further away. Pointing to the object along with the voice signal makes a useful multi-signal.
  8. We’d like the horse to move his head toward our hand to ‘deliver’ the item to us. Gradually move your receiving hand a bit further away so the horse raises/turns his head a bit more to ‘deliver’ the item to you. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up and return to the slice where he can be successful.
  9. When 7 and 8 above are smooth, organize a platform a bit closer to the ground and repeat.
  10. When 9 above is smooth, put the item on the ground and ask him to pick it up and hand it to you.

Generalizations

  1. Set out a series of items and move along to to pick each one up.
  2. Ask the horse to pick objects like ropes or rags off a fence or similar. Some people have fun setting up a ‘clothes line’ with cloths for the horse to take off.
  3. Ask the horse to walk a step or two holding the object. Boots had great difficulty with this. She happily picked things up and gave them to me, but the idea of moving holding something in her mouth was totally foreign to her, maybe because we never used a bit when riding. I started out asking her to walk-on after giving her a willow twig which she ate as she walked. Then we progressed to one step holding an old riding crop; click&treat. When one step was solid we added steps one at a time. It took us all winter of playing with this during our morning walks before she felt comfortable carrying an object for about 15 steps.
  4. Ask the horse to recall a few steps, to ‘deliver’ the object to you. This is the beginning of teaching ‘fetch’.

Navigating Gates and Gaps

Introduction

Gates come in a variety of shapes, orientations, and sizes. Teaching our horses to calmly negotiate gates in different situations gives us excellent training opportunities.

Aims

Horse confidently:

  1. Waits while the handler passes through the gate, comes through on request and turns 180 degrees once through the gate.
  2. Moves though a gate ahead of the handler and turns 180 degrees to face the handler.
  3. Moves though a gate ahead of the handler and waits without turning.
  4. Backs through a gate.

Prerequisites

  1. Smooth walking shoulder-to-shoulder and confident HALT. Number 16 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions. Click here.
  2. Horse has learned to ‘wait’ until handler gives a new signal or clicks&treats. Mainly as in this clip: #8 HorseGym with Boots: Duration on the Mat. Click here.
  3. Smooth 180-degree turns. Number 23 in my Blog Contents List: 180 Degree Turns. Click here.
  4. Handler and horse agree on a clear ‘recall’ signal. February 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Simple Recall Pt. 1.Click here.
  5. Horse and handler have a ‘move away from me please’ signal paired with a ‘whoa’ signal while the handler is behind the horse. #213 HorseGym with Boots: Send & Halt. Click here.
  6. For generalizations, we have taught the finesse back-up. Number 40 in my Blog Contents List: Finesse Back-Up. Click here.
  7. For generalizations, the horse understands a back-up signal when the handler is behind the horse. #105 HorseGym with Boots: Trailer Simulation with Dead End. Click here.

Videos

Clip 1: #237 HorseGym with Boots

Clip 2: #238 HorseGym with Boots

Clip 3:  #239 HorseGym with Boots: Click here.

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.
  • Six or eight low markers around which the horse can turn 180 degrees without the lead rope getting snagged. 5L containers of water or blocks of firewood work well.
  • A familiar mat.
  • Halter and lead at least 12 feet or 4 meters long. Light cord works fine.
  • Two tall objects to create a gap (gate simulation) or a fence/wall and one tall object.
  • A rope or similar to simulate a gate.
  • A variety of real gates.

Notes

  1. Navigating a gate requires a chain of small individual tasks. We teach the individual tasks, then link them together.
  2. As we link the small tasks, our Click Point* shifts along so the horse does progressively more before each click&treat.
  3. It’s important to stay with each slice and each small task until our signals are clear and consistent and the horse responds readily.
  4. Once a maneuver is smooth on one side of the horse, we teach it again on the other side of the horse. I like to teach each small task on both sides as we go along.

Slices

  1. Ensure that the horse confidently targets a mat with his feet to earn a click&treat.
  2. Set up a low marker object with a mat nearby. Start at the mat and ask the horse to walk around the marker with you and return to the mat, so you are doing a 180-degree turn together. Click&treat at the mat.
  3. When 2 above is smooth, do the same exercise without the mat. At first, ask for a HALT about where the mat used to be; click&treat the halt.
  4. Set up a line or circuit of objects to walk around to practice 3 above. And also generalize to different places if you can.
  5. When 3 and 4 above are smooth, hang back a bit and send the horse around the marker on his own. The Click Point is now shifted to when the horse returns to you after walking around the marker.
  6. Once 5 above is solid, send the horse away from you between two markers instead of around a marker. This is the first approximation of a gate.
  7. When 6 above is smooth, ask the horse to HALT and WAIT on the other side of the gap from you. The ‘halt and wait’ becomes your new Click Point. Go to the horse to deliver the treat.
  8. Create an obvious gap with two tall objects (or fence/wall and one tall object). Place a low markers on either side of the gap for the horse to walk around as he did in 3 above. Repeat 7 above using this gap.
  9. Negotiate the gap in both directions.
  10. Introduce the idea of the horse waiting on one side of the gap while you walk through the gap first. Once you’ve walked through, pause, then invite the horse through the gap and around the marker so he ends up beside you. This becomes the new Click Point when the handler goes through the gate first.
  11. When 10 above feels smooth, add a rope to simulate a gate. Play with opening the gate toward you and away from you.
  12. When the gate opens toward you, ask the horse to go through the gap first plus turn to face you and WAIT. Then you go through the gate and shut it. Click&treat.
  13. When the gate opens away from you, ask the horse to WAIT while you move through first, then ask him to come through and turn so he is beside you and facing the gate as you close it. Click&treat.
  14. Use a ‘gate’ gap to teach sending the horse through the gate but not turning around. If we long-rein or drive our horse, we won’t want him to turn after going through the gate. So teach him to walk through the gap while you stay behind him, plus halt and WAIT in the facing away position (Prerequisite 5). Go to the horse to deliver the treat.
  15. Ask the horse to back through a gate. Begin with walking him through the gate, then back up through it. Eventually walk to the gate, then ask him to turn so the gate is behind him and ask him to back through.
  16. When all the above are going smoothly, move on to practicing with as many real gates as you can.

Generalizations

  1. Play with simulation gates at liberty.
  2. Play with real gates at liberty if you can safely do that.
  3. Ask the horse to WAIT on one side of the gap while you walk through it and turn to face him. Ask the horse to recall through the gate. (Prerequisite 4).
  4. Play with simulation gates on a slope.
  5. Gradually make your ‘gate spaces’ narrower and narrower.
  6. Teach backing through gates with a signal while you face the front of the horse (Prerequisite 6).
  7. Teach backing through gates with a signal from behind the horse (Prerequisite 7).

4 Corners Pattern for Exercise

Introduction

If we have a non-ridden horse because we prefer not to ride, our horse is retired or recovering from injury, or we love small ponies, donkeys, or mules, it can be tricky to ensure regular adequate continuous movement in a way that is not boring.

Walking out in-hand is ideal if we have safe places to go. But lack of time or weather might not make this a regular option. Or the handler may not be able to walk long distances due to injury, infirmity, or age.

Horses in the wild move a lot, especially during the seasons when fodder is scarce and water sources are limited. Grazing horses continually move along one step at a time as they search out the nicest grass.

When we have to restrict grass, feed hay, and keep our horse in a relatively small space, we obviously also severely restrict the natural continuous gentle movement that accompanies grazing and life unrestricted by fences.

In a natural situation, most horse movement is walking. Occasionally they trot. Gallop is generally in response to a perceived threat. The play drive of younger horses may initiate occasional energetic movement. Some horses are by nature more energetic than others. As with people, daily sustained movement is a cornerstone of good health.


If we can’t do sustained walking out and about, we can organize novel walking patterns at home in a limited space.

Wanting horses to move consistently at faster gaits is a human construct. While brisk trotting and a good canter or gallop are great to occasionally increase the heart rate and clear out the lungs, we can easily maintain or improve our horse’s welfare with regular sustained walking and a bit of trotting.

Sustained walking means twenty or thirty minutes of continuous movement. Steady walking increases circulation and helps the horse ‘blow out’ to clear his breathing system. Horses living in a peaceful group in a paddock will do some walking, but it is not usually sustained.

Aim

To create interesting walking and movement routines for our horse in a relatively small area.

Prerequisites

  1. Confident with walking shoulder-to-shoulder. Number 16 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions. Click here.
  2. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
  3. Horse is comfortable standing across and walking across solid rails. Number 18 in my Blog Contents List: Placing the Feet Accurately Using a Rail. Click here.
  4. While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse follows the movement of the handler’s body axis away from the horse to navigate turns. Number 31 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth 90-Degree Turns. Click here.
  5. Established clear signals for weaving obstacles. #170 HorseGym with Boots: Body Axis Orientation Signals. Click here. There are more clips about weaving in my YouTube playlist called: Weave and Tight Turns.
  6. If you want to add in the ‘wait’ game for variety, ensure the horse understands a ‘wait’ signal to stay parked while we move away. This clip is in my playlist called Obstacle Challenges for Clicker Trainers: October 2017 Challenge Park & Wait. Click here.
  7. If you want to walk or trot together at liberty: see Number 68 in my Blog Contents List: 20 Steps Exercise: Click here.

Videos

#169 HorseGym with Boots: Walk and Hock Gym with Obstacles is found as Number 21 in my Blog Contents List. It is a simple circuit around the perimeter of a defined area.

The next two video clips divide a defined area into four quarters and describe a pattern of movement that makes exercising our horse more interesting. We can add moves our horse knows into the pattern and change our obstacles and objects around to create a variety of novel situations.

This clip demonstrates the pattern of movement through the ‘four corners’ arrangement. #232 HorseGym with Boots.

This clip shows the pattern walking with a horse. #233 HorseGym with Boots.

Materials and Environment

  • A venue with good or reasonable footing. If it’s dry, the corner of a grazed paddock can work well. An arena is excellent. A round pen can also be cut into quarters. Once the handler has the pattern in memory, it can be carried out anywhere and include natural features of the landscape.
  • Ideally the horse can see his buddies but they can’t or don’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • An assortment of safe objects and obstacles. The only limit is our imagination.
  • Halter and lead, with the lead kept draped unless used momentarily to give the horse directional information.

Notes

  1. The prerequisites above cover the basics. We can, of course, add other tasks our horse knows. Or we can use one part of the pattern to work on something new.
  2. The idea is to use voice, gesture, body language, breathing and energy changes to signal the horse, not halter pressure via the rope. However, we can use rope pressure to give the horse momentary guidance so that he can more quickly figure out what will result in the click&treat.
  3. Each pattern contains 12 right angle turns. When we’ve mastered the basic pattern we can factor in halts, back-ups, sidestepping and a variety of other movements.
  4. To begin with, have the horse on the outside of the turns. Eventually you may want to do the pattern with counter-turns at each corner.
  5. The pattern is done once on the left side of the horse and again on the right side of the horse. It’s easiest to start in the center each time.
  6. When you begin to do the pattern with counter-turns, start again at the beginning with click&treat for each elegant turn.
  7. The arena in the video clips is 30 meters long and 20 meters wide. Therefore walking this pattern once is about 200 meters. Walking it on either side of the horse gives us 400 meters. If we walk the pattern first with no stops for special tasks (400 meters) and again on right and left sides adding special tasks, we’ve walked 800 meters. If you have a larger area, it will be easy to walk over a kilometer within your restricted space.
  8. To first learn the pattern, it’s helpful if the handler walks the basic pattern on their own or with another person (or dog) standing in for the horse. There are 12 corners in the pattern. We don’t stop in the center again until we’ve walked the whole pattern. We can add variation by facing any one of the four directions to begin the pattern.

The pattern starts and finishes in the middle of the area. The 12 turns are numbered. We don’t stop in the middle until we’ve completed the whole pattern. We can add variety by facing a different direction to begin the pattern.

Slices

  1. You may want to begin by asking the horse to walk the basic pattern with you for several days, before introducing objects and obstacles. It can be helpful to have markers at the four turning points which are not in the four corners, as well as a center marker.
  2. Stand in the center with zero intent. Click&treat for standing quietly. If you are on the horse’s left side, you will be turning left 12 times. If you want to teach a ‘turn left’ voice signal, use it just before your body language shifts into the turn. At first, exaggerate the shift of your body axis into the turn. We want the horse to shadow our movement so that touch on the halter via the lead rope is seldom needed. Click&treat each smooth turn. The stop for delivering the treat and walking on again add another dimension of flexibility. Eventually click&treat only for especially crisp turns.
  3. As the horse becomes familiar with the pattern and all the turns are nice and clean, I tend to click&treat only for the specific tasks I’ve added into the pattern.

Standing in the middle of our work area, ready to start. Bridget is on the horse’s left side and they will turn left 12 times. The open hoop is our center marker.
  • Match your walk to the horse’s natural walk. Boots’ natural walk is 5km/h. Smoky’s natural walk is about 7km/h. It was always interesting when leading both of them at the same time.
  • Once you know the pattern, set up the obstacles you want to begin with. Start with items your horse knows well. To maintain interest over time, add new things and/or change where they are in the circuit.
  • Click&treat often enough to keep the horse walking with you in a willing manner. To begin with, I click&treat each brisk right-angle turn as well as successful negotiation of every obstacle. Once the pattern is well-known, I tend to click&treat for the more challenging obstacles or any new ones I’ve added since last time.
  • Once it is smooth walking on the horse’s left side, repeat on his right side. That will include 12 turns to the right. We can add a ‘turn right’ voice signal.

Generalizations

  1. Once the horse understands the pattern we can use it at liberty (Prerequisite 7). Some people may like to teach the whole thing at liberty.
  2. Add objects to weave along the center lines.
  3. Teach again asking for counter-turns at each corner.
  4. Add trotting if you are fit to run with your horse or are riding the exercise. Begin with trotting the straight lines through the center. That will give you four upward and four downward transitions within each circuit.
  5. Add challenge with sloping ground.
  6. If you’ve taught your horse to lead smoothly when you ride a bike, the pattern can be adapted.
  7. We can use one or two of the corners in the pattern to ask the horse for any behaviors we have in our repertoire. They could be stationary behaviors or movement we can do in a smallish space. This video clip illustrates some of the things Boots and I sometimes practice in the corners (#235 HorseGym with Boots: 4 Square Generalizations.)

Drive-By Grooming

Introduction

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

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

Aim

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

Prerequisites

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

Video

#194 HorseGym with Boots:

Materials and Environment

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

Notes

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

Slices

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

Generalizations

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

Overview of Equine Clicker Training

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combined Reinforcement

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

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

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

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

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

Video Clip: Target & Tickle

Capturing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free-Shaping

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

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

Here are a few examples of free-shaping:

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

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

Luring

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

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

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

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

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

Modelling

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

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

Examples include:

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

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

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

Guided Shaping

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

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

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

Guided Shaping with Targets

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

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

Here are some examples:

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

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

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

Our Hand as a Target

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

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

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

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

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

Guided Shaping with Touch and Gesture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero Intent in Action: Red Lights and Green Lights

Introduction

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

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

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

Aims

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

Prerequisites

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

Videos

#243 HorseGym with Boots: Zero Intent in Action

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

Materials and Environment

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

 Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUMMARY

Handler

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

Horse

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

Illustrations

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

Generalizations

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

Consent Signals: Target Cheek to Brush for Grooming

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Aim

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

Prerequisites

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

Videos

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

Materials and Environment

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

Notes

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

Slices

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

Generalizations

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

Straddling a Rail

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Aim

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

Prerequisites

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

Videos

#222 HorseGym with Boots: Prep for Straddling Rails

#223 HorseGym with Boots: Straddling Rails

Materials and Environment

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

Slices

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

Generalizations

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

Treasure Hunt

Introduction

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

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

Aim

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

Prerequisites

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

Videos

#227 HorseGym with Boots: TREASURE HUNT

#236 HorseGym with Boots: TREASURE HUNT GENERALIZATIONS

Materials and Environment

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

Notes

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

Slices

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

Generalizations

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

The WAIT Game

Introduction

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

We can then generalize by asking the horse to:

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

AIM

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

PREREQUISITES

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

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

Generalizing mats to different places.

https://youtu.be/wdptBQ0EtK4

VIDEOS

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

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

Wait: https://youtu.be/ktwTUGvXNwM

Once it is solid with halter and lead, it is fun to generalize to liberty.
An older clip from when Boots was first learning this.

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

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

Movement Routine 12 – Rags as Focus

INTRODUCTION

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

AIM

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

PREREQUISITES

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

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

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

VIDEO CLIP

NOTES

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

TASKS

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

GENERALIZATIONS

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