We don’t need fancy or specialized gear to initiate conversations with our horse(s) about foot awareness, signal clarity, precision, synchronization and flexion. We can use a set of rags.
This routine uses a collection of rags. Rags are great to use because they are so easy to carry around and set out in different places and in different configurations. My rags are chunky pieces of old clothing. It’s a great way to use clothes that are no longer favorites to wear and too worn to pass on to other people. Chunky pieces are best if there is wind about.
If your horse loves mats (as I hope he does), our first challenge is teaching that our rags are not the same as mats. The rags take the place of cones, barrels, rails or other items we might use to set out a pattern.
The purpose of this series of ‘Routines’ is to provide a platform that encourages handlers to refine their intent via body language, gesture signals and a clear ‘no intent’ posture. What usually happens is that as the handler’s movements become clearer and more consistent, the horse magically improves.
The more we can take the ‘noise’ out of our communication, the easier it is for the horse to understand our intent. Once they understand our request, most horses are keen to comply to reach the next pause, click&treat, or time of relaxation.
The more time we spend playing with this sort of exercise, which look relatively simple on the surface, the more positive spin-off we’ll notice with other things we do with the horse.
Clicker savvy horses seem to enjoy short routines like this because they quickly work out the order of tasks and know when the last one is finished. If we use a jackpot or triple treat on completion of the little chain of tasks, they are usually keen to follow through the pattern or routine. It’s another form of ‘destination training’. The horse knows the destination (the end of the final task).
With Boots I often do routines we’ve learned in the past, and she seems to remember how each one flows (her memory is probably better than mine!). We vary which ones we do over the days. Sometimes we do two of them separated by other activities.
This morning I was short on time, so I checked to see if Boots wanted to walk with me at liberty. She did, so I decided to play with our May Challenge routine. We’ve done it a few times with halter and lead. To my delight, she remembered all of it and was setting herself up for each task with minimal gestures from me. It probably went well mostly because I had no expectations and I wasn’t filming.
Smooth execution of the routine walking on either side of the horse: Routine: Walk a circuit around all the rags; circle each rag in turn; halt together beside each rag.
- We have stepping on a mat strongly ‘on cue’ or ‘on signal’ or ‘under stimulus control’. (See Related Resources 1 at the end of this post.)
- Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (See Related Resources 2 at the end of this post.)
- Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. (See Related Resources 3 at the end of this post.)
- Change of direction plus changing side of horse the handler on, is smooth. (See Related Resources 4 at the end of this post.
- While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse responds to the handler moving his/her body axis toward the horse or away from the horse. (See Related Resources 5 at the end of this post.)
- Have a familiar ‘jackpot’ or ‘triple treat’ procedure for the end of the chain of tasks. (See Related Resources 6 at the end of this post.)
ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS
- A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
- Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
- The horse is not hungry.
- Halter and 10′ (3 m) or longer lead. The idea is to strive to keep the rope draped at all times.
- A set of chunky rags. I use 5 rags and 3 rags in the video clips for easier filming and to avoid boring viewers to death, but you can use as many as you like.
#179 HorseGym with Boots: ROUTINE 2 – Rags with halter & lead.
#180 HorseGym with Boots: ROUTINE 2 – Rags at liberty.
- I like to memorize the sequence of events by walking the pattern without the horse and then visualizing the sequence often (a good substitute for counting sheep to go to sleep!).
- At the beginning, have your rags much further apart than shown on the video. We want the tasks to be easy to accomplish. Once the horse knows that rags are not the same as mats, put the rags closer together to increase the skill level.
- How often you click&treat depends on where you are with each skill. I always begin with click&treat for each portion of each task. As the horse gets the hang of what we are doing, I move the click point along so the horse does more for each click&treat. I work toward being able to do the whole sequence with one click point at the end, but it doesn’t really matter.
- As with everything, I keep the sessions short, tucked in among other things we are doing. I often do it just once, sometimes twice and rarely three times in a row.
- Be aware that your body language and gestures may be less clear when you are using the non-dominant side of your body. Think brushing teeth or raking with your non-dominant side.
- There is no need to rush through the sequence of tasks. Walk slowly. Give the horse time put the pattern into his mind and from there into his muscle memory.
- To begin with, I like to change sides after each segment of this routine because it creates a natural click point. As the horse enjoys his treat, we can move to his other side to organize ourselves for the next part of the task.
- To change which side of the horse we are on, we can simply halt a little distance away from the rags and move ourselves to the other side of the horse, or we can do a change of direction and sides in motion as in Related Resources 4 at the end of the post.
- Later we can generalize to doing the whole routine first on one side, then again on the other side.
- Work on each prerequisite on its own until it feels smooth.
- Lay out the rags in a straight line with enough space between them to make it easy for the horse to circle each one. Use as many rags as you like. Three can be good to start with. To extend the routine, add more rags one at a time. Seven rags give a pretty good workout without asking too much. If you listen, the horse will tell you if you’re asking too much too soon.
- With the handler nearest the rags and on the left side of the horse, walk a circuit around the rags, staying as close to the rags as you can without the horse thinking he needs to stand on them. Make a U-turn at the far end.
- Repeat 1) above walking on the right side of the horse (handler closest to rags).
- Walk a circle around each rag on the left side of horse. As you come out of the circle from the first rag, move forward to get into position to circle the second rag, and so on.
- Repeat 5) above on the right side of horse.
- Handler nearest the rags: ‘walk on’ beside the row of rags, as you did in 1), but this time come to ‘halt’ beside each rag. Do one length of the rags walking on the right side of the horse [where you were for 6 above], then change to the left side for the other direction. Stay far enough from each rag to avoid the horse thinking they are mat targets. Once he realizes they are not foot targets, halt right beside each rag or even stand on it yourself for the halt. In the video clip with halter and lead, I did all this task on the horse’s right side.
- Finish off with a jackpot or triple treat on completion of the final task in the routine..
- Generalize by doing more of the routine on one side of the horse until you can do all of it on the horse’s left, and all of it on the horse’s right. Be sure to give both sides attention and spend extra time on the side that feels harder.
- Lay out your line of rags in as many different venues as you can find. If you have a route between barn and turn-out, you could lay them out and use them coming from or returning to the paddock.
- Once the horse shows that he knows the pattern done on a totally loose lead, play with it at liberty if you have a safe area. Be careful to use the same signals you have used all along. Sometimes I add a neck rope to make it easy to give extra momentary guidance, but if the routine does not stay smooth, I go back to halter and lead (lead kept loose except as used for momentary guidance).
If you find it hard to wean yourself off a lead rope, start with wrapping it around the horse’s neck or draping it over his back. It might be that the handler is more dependent on the rope than the horse is. They key is too keep all body language and gestures the same.
- Putting Targets ‘On Cue’: https://youtu.be/eEGayCdECeQ
More info about putting targets ‘on cue’: https://youtu.be/rZ5e_rePSDU
- Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
- ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO
- Changing Direction in Motion: https://youtu.be/3oqPs4LM5AM
- Smooth 90-Degree Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
- Triple Treat Routine: https://youtu.be/FaIajCMKDDU