Photo: Task 3: Walking a half-circle away from the fence.
The purpose of this series of movement routines is to regularly have the horse doing a series of gentle movements that aid his overall flexion and suppleness.
We need to consider both physical suppleness and mental suppleness. Mental suppleness is about the horse’s ability to understand the signals for each task and to move calmly between tasks.
Once the horse is adept with each of the tasks in the routine, this whole routine takes about two minutes. But it might take weeks or months of short daily practices to teach each element of the routine to the proficiency needed to link them all together.
I like to mark the end of a routine such as this with a celebration which in our case is a triple treat (details in Prerequisite 8).
To link this series of tasks into a sequence:
- Walk together.
- Recall toward fence.
- Walk a half-circle
- Yield shoulder to put horse’s butt at 90 degrees to fence.
- Back butt against fence.
- Two steps forward, one step back.
- One step forward, one step back; repeat once.
- Yield shoulder so horse faces fence and morph into sidestepping away.
- Sidestep in the opposite direction.
- Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT)
- Horse can smoothly U-turn into a recall when the handler changes from walking forward to walking backwards. (https://youtu.be/XuBo07q8g24)
- The horse understands yielding the shoulder. (Yielding the Shoulder: https://youtu.be/eSlin8ZYcRA)
- Horse backs up easily to put his butt against a solid barrier. (#186 HorseGym with Boots: Backing Against Objects: https://youtu.be/SBcdVtV-eCo)
- Horse is familiar with backing up one step at a time and recalling one step at a time. (One Step at a Time: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5X6)
- Horse understands a signal for sidestepping away from the handler. (Sidestepping: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RL)
- Horse understand a signal for sidestepping toward the handler. (Target Shoulder to Hand: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5SH and Targeting Hindquarters to Our Hand: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Tk)
- Triple Treat: #16 HorseGym with Boots: https://youtu.be/FaIajCMKDDU
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′ (3m) or longer lead.
- A safe fence or other barrier. For this challenge, we ask the horse to back his butt against the barrier, so something solid like a wooden fence, a wall or a hedge is best. We could also use a line of barrels or a raised rail.
- Be sure that the horse is confident with each task before starting to link them together. We never want to make the horse feel wrong. He can’t be wrong because he doesn’t yet know what you want. Do a quiet reset and start again if things don’t go to plan.
- It is usually helpful to link pairs of tasks at first, then add the first pair to the second pair, and so on.
- 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!) If you have a human friend, take turns walking the sequence being both the horse and the handler.
Use a rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat) that keeps your horse being continually successful as much as possible. As he learns the routine, ask for a bit more before the next click&treat but always be prepared to increase the rate of reinforcement again if the horse needs you to clarify your intent.
- Walk along shoulder-to-shoulder with the handler nearest the fence.
- Gently change to walking backwards, asking the horse to make a U-turn toward the fence, so he is walking toward you.
- Stop walking backwards and ask him to halt in front of you.
- Move to the side that allows you to easily walk a half-circle together, with you on the inside of the circle.
- Halt when you have walked a half-circle away from the fence. Ask the horse to yield his shoulder 90 degrees so his butt is toward the fence.
- Ask the horse to back up until his butt (or tail) is against fence.
- Ask the horse to take two steps forward toward you, then ask for one step back.
- Now ask for one step forward, followed by one step back; repeat once.
- Ask the horse to yield his shoulder 180 degrees so he faces the fence and morph that movement into stepping away from you sideways.
- Ask the horse to sidestep toward you or move to his other side and ask him to sidestep away from you.
- Finish with a big celebration (e.g. a Triple Treat).
- Repeat from task 1 walking on the horse’s other side.
- Practice in different spots and/or different venues.
- When it is super smooth with rope and halter, play at liberty.
- Move away from the fence to do the routine. Change task 6 to ask for a set number of back-up steps or have a ground rail as a back-up destination.
- Chain the tasks in a different order.