‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ are the foundation of pretty much everything we want a horse to do with us. Even teaching ‘parking’ starts with a solid, confident ‘halt’.
Teaching the basic ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ is most easily done in position beside the horse’s neck or shoulder. I like to teach these with a ‘multi-signal’ or ‘signal bundle’. In the science literature multi-signals are referred to as “a compound stimulus”.
Using the multi-signals consistently from the beginning means that once the horse knows them well, I can use any one of them, or any combination of them, depending on what best suits the situation. It makes it easier for the horse to recognize the signals when I am walking beside his ribs or behind him (outside his blind spot).
- Horse and handler are clicker-savvy.
- Horse readily targets stationary objects with his nose and/or feet. (See ADDITIONAL RESOURCE 5. at the end of this post.)
- Horse is comfortable wearing a halter and lead rope.
- It’s highly recommended to practice the rope handling mechanical skills to signal ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ first with a person standing in for the horse. Simulations are a wonderful way to get our body language and rope handling skills organized and smooth before we inflict ourselves on the horse.
MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT:
- Horse in a familiar area where he is comfortable.
- Other horse buddies in view, but not able to interfere.
- Horse is not hungry and in a relaxed frame of mind.
- Halter and lead. A relatively short lead rope is easier to manage.
- Destination objects. These can be a series of stationary nose targets, mats as foot targets. Alternatively, we can use a Frisbee or old cap thrown out ahead for the horse to target, then thrown forward again.
Elegant ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions with the horse and handler staying shoulder-to-shoulder, with the handler on either side of the horse.
‘Walk on’ signals are illustrated in HorseGym with Boots clip #129.
‘Halt’ signals are illustrated in HorseGym with Boots clip #131.
- What you see Boots doing in the video clip is a result many short sessions over a long time.
- We can aid the horse’s understanding if we begin teaching this along a safe fence to remove the horse’s option of swinging the hindquarters away from the handler.
- We want to strive for consistently staying in the area alongside the horse’s neck and shoulder.
Photo to illustrate Slice 3 below. A ‘halt’ signal without pulling on the halter: hold the rope straight up into the air and jiggle it lightly. We can use this as part of our ‘halt’ multi-signal if necessary. We can also use it during the process of teaching backing up with a hand gesture signal staying shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse. Teach it as a ‘halt’ signal by using it as the horse approaches a fence or other dead-end where it makes total sense for him to halt .
- Hold the rope in the hand nearest the horse with no pressure on the halter. If you need to send a ‘halt’ signal with the rope, hold the rope straight upwards and jiggle it. The instant the horse responds, stop jiggling, breathe out and lower your hand.
- Halt: Ask the horse to walk beside you toward a familiar mat. As you approach the mat, use the following multi-signals almost simultaneously:
- Visibly drop your weight down into your hips (like we want the horse to do).
- Breathe out audibly.
- Say ‘whoa’ or whatever halt voice signal you decided.
- Only if necessary, raise the inside hand holding the rope straight up into the air and jiggle the rope. If the horse is initially taught the ‘rope jiggle’ halt signal using a fence or a blocked-off lane, there will be little need to jiggle the rope. As the horse halts on the mat, immediately relax your body language; breathe out; click&treat.
- At first, pause briefly before walking on to the next mat; click&treat. Gradually, over many sessions, teach the horse to wait confidently for up to 10 seconds.
- Walk On: Ensure you are holding the rope in the hand nearest the horse with no pressure on the halter. To send a ‘walk on’ signal along the rope, reach across with your outside hand and run it gently up the rope toward the halter. As soon as the horse moves, take away your outside hand.
- We use our ‘walk on’ multi-signals almost simultaneously:
- Look up toward the next destination.
- Breathe in audibly and raise your body energy. Horses are very conscious about our breathing, so this can become an important signal if we use it consistently.
- Run your outside hand gently up the rope toward halter to a point to which the horse responds by shifting his weight to step forward. This will eventually become a simple arm gesture without needing to touch the rope.
- Step off with your outside leg (easier for horse to see).
- Say ‘walk-on’ (or whatever voice signal you’ve decided). A voice signal is useful later when working at liberty, exercising on a long line, or guiding from behind, as in long-reining.
Our aim is to initiate the first intention of movement, then move in synchronization with the horse. It’s important not to move off without the horse, so losing our position beside the horse’s neck or shoulder.
People often tend to start walking without first inviting the horse to move in sync with them. The whole point of this exercise is to move forward together companionably, staying shoulder-to-shoulder.
- Each time you halt, you have another opportunity to practice the ‘walk on’ multi-signals. Each time you ‘walk on’, you have another opportunity to practice your ‘halt’ multi-signals.
- Every time you come to a destination marker, drop your hips and your energy, breathe out, say your voice signal and relax; click&treat. Pause, then politely use your ‘walk on’ multi-signal to ask the horse to walk forward with you to the next destination marker.
- It won’t take the horse long to realize that each destination marker is a ‘click point’. He will soon begin to look forward to reaching each destination. He will also begin to organize his body to halt efficiently. Horses love to know what will happen before it happens. Remember, they have four legs and a long body to organize, so begin your ‘halt’ signals well before you reach the destination.
- Many short sessions will show improvement in suppleness and body management more quickly than occasional long sessions.
- Be sure to teach this in both directions and on each side of the horse. Spending a little time on this, over many sessions, will build a lovely habit of walking with you on a loose rope.
In a way, although you have the horse on a rope, you are allowing him to self-shape the most efficient way to set himself up to halt at the next marker ready for his click/treat. Because the horse has worked out his way of halting for himself, he has more ‘ownership’ of the task.
Over time, walking together companionably will become a strongly established habit. As mentioned in Generalization 2. below, we can gradually introduce the ‘whoa’ as our click point, which means we can phase out using destination targets. The horse will comfortably walk with us until we signal for a ‘halt’. Of course, we must reliably reinforce each halt request with a click&treat.
- Gradually increase distances between destinations.
- Gradually introduce ‘whoa’ as the click&treat indicator to replace nose or foot targets. Start by asking for ‘whoa’ between destinations. (See ADDITIONAL RESOURCE 2. below.)
- Add objects and obstacles to your training spaces to walk through, across, over, weave among. (See ADDITIONAL RESOURCES 3. & 4. below.)
- Walk together at liberty. (See ADDITIONAL RESOURCE 1. below.)
- Walk together in different venues including public places with slopes, water, trees.
- Clip: Walking Together at Liberty: https://youtu.be/fD5lWQa6wmo
- Clip: 20 Steps Exercise with halter & lead: https://youtu.be/kjH2pS1Kfr8
- Clip: Precision Leading: https://youtu.be/2vKe6xjpP6I
- Clip: Walk & Hock Gym: https://youtu.be/R62dP1_siaU
- Blog about mats: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9