Photo: Teaching the horse to target a pool noodle with his hind foot to help his confidence with standing on three legs is one half of the task.
Photo: The other half of the task is to teach relaxation while being rubbed all over with a pool noodle, keeping all feet on the ground.
Keeping the Balance
For everything we teach our horse, we have to be mindful of also teaching the opposite. If we teach a very good ‘whoa’, it is also important to teach an excellent ‘walk on’ signal.
For most things we teach, we have to also teach a counter-balancing task.
- If we teach ‘head down please’, we also need to teach ‘head up please’.
- If we teach ‘back up please’, we need to teach, ‘come forward please’.
- If we teach targeting a mat with the front feet, we have to teach happily stepping off the mat and walking away from it. Some horses get strongly attached to their mats.
- If we teach a turn followed by a ‘halt’, we have to teach a turn followed by a brisk ‘walk on please’.
- If we teach entering a trailer, we need to carefully teach exiting the trailer.
- If we teach the horse to ground tie, we also need to teach him how to move with a dragging rope so he learns not to step on it and isn’t frightened if something happens to make him move dragging his rope.
- If we teach the horse to come to us when we are playing at liberty, we also need to teach him to go away from us in a way that is fun rather than seen as a punishment. Being sent away to the outskirts of the ‘herd’ can be seen by horses as a punitive action because it’s a less safe place to be.
- If we teach a move or behavior on one side of the horse, we need to teach it again on the other side of the horse. Maybe also from in front of the horse and from behind the horse. This concept is explored in detail in my book, Walking with Horses: The Eight Leading Positions (see the BOOKS link above).
If we don’t do these things, the horse will become fixated on one way of doing a task. He’ll be determined that he’ll always do it this way. In some situations, the power of the click&treat dynamic can work against us rather than for us.
So, for everything we teach, we need to counterbalance it with another task. How much time we spend balancing out these sorts of tasks depends on many factors. As we get better at understanding our horse, it will get easier to know when we’ve done too much of one dimension and need to consider the other dimension. We’ll find it easier and easier to keep a better balance.
The clip below looks at how we can generalize working with mats to balance the expectation of landing front feet on a mat to earn a click&treat, which we teach first. Once the horse heads straight to a mat as soon as he sees it, we can use tasks like this to balance out his eagerness.