The Balancera Exercise

INTRODUCTION

In the photo above, Boots and I are walking a few steps forward shoulder-to-shoulder. We will then pause forward movement and step backwards an equal number of steps remaining shoulder-to-shoulder.

Horses have an inherent ability to move in synchronization with each other. We can play with this wonderful ability. One way is to devise an exercise where the ‘walk on’ signal balances smoothly with the ‘back up’ signal.

This is fun to work with once both our ‘walk on’ signals and our ‘back up’ signals individually result in fluid moving together shoulder-to-shoulder. We simply bring those two tasks together to form a sequence of dance steps.

We pause forward movement momentarily, so the horse’s body has time to organize itself to step backwards. It can look and feel rough at first, but by spending a short time with it often, the change-over can become calm and polished.

AIM

To fluidly change from walking forward to backing up, staying together in the shoulder-to-shoulder position.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ signals when the handler is beside his neck/shoulder. See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth Walk-On and Halt Transitions. (Access my Blog Contents List via the tab at the top of the page.)
  2. Horse understands touch, voice and gesture ‘back-up’ signals. See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List: Finesse Back-Up.
  3. My Playlist: Backing-up (in my YouTube channel: Hertha Muddyhorse), has further clips which show teaching the back-up in a variety of ways. Click here.

VIDEOS

There is a third video at the very end of the blog.

#173 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 1 of 2.

#174 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 2 of 2.

ENVIRONMENT & 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 8-foot lead (kept loose as much as possible, as we want to use body language for communication, not rope pressure).
  • A selection of barriers toward which we can walk the horse and ask for ‘halt’.
  • A safe fence or similar to work beside.
  • Materials to build a simple dead-end lane. You may have a corner or a fence and an open gate to use as two of the three sides of a dead-end lane.

NOTES

  1. * Boots’ demonstrations on the videos is the sum of many short sessions over a long time. When teaching something new, we stay with each slice of the task until it feels easy and smooth, then move on to add in the next slice.
  2. * Whenever anything feels ‘broken’, go back to the slice where both the horse and the handler feel confident, and work forward from there again. Click&treat at a rate that keeps the horse continuously successful at earning his next click&treat.
  3. * Teach everything again (from the beginning) on the other side of the horse. You can do this with each slice, or you can get it all good on one side and then repeat all the slices on the other side.

SLICES

  1. Check you can ‘walk on’ together fluidly, staying in position shoulder-to-shoulder.
  2. Check you can ‘halt’ together fluidly, staying in position shoulder-to-shoulder.
  3. Set up a lane and walk the horse through it in both directions. Horse is in the lane, handler on the outside.
  4. When 3 above is ho-hum, walk the horse into the lane and ask for a halt about halfway along; click&treat.
  5. Repeat 4 above, asking the horse to wait a second longer before the click&treat, until he comfortably waits up to 4 or 5 seconds.
  6. Block off the lane with a barrier about half a horse’s length inside the lane. Walk the horse into the lane and halt at the barrier; click&treat.
  7. Hold the rope in the hand nearest the horse. Lift your rope hand straight up and jiggle the rope lightly to put a distinctive touch signal on the halter. If you have taught a voice ‘back’ signal, use that as well. At first, watch for any movement backwards, even a body shift back, to click&treat. Since the way forward is blocked off, it will make sense to the horse to step back.
  8. Repeat 6 and 7 above, gradually building up to several steps back.
  9. Once 8 above is good, block off the lane a little further along in stages until the horse is halting right inside the lane. Repeat 6 and 7 above aiming for a fluid, confident back-up out of the lane.
  10. Now we want to switch the halter-jiggle signal to a hand signal. At the same time as you lift the rope hand (nearest the horse) straight up to jiggle the rope, lift your outside hand to the horse’s eye level and make a backward gesture with it. Also use your “back-up” voice signal. Click&treat for stepping back. Return to click&treat for just one or a few steps at first, then gradually all the steps needed to exit the lane.
  11. Repeat, using the outside hand and voice signals BEFORE you lift your rope hand to put jiggle energy into the halter. The moment the horse begins to step back, stop jiggling the rope but ask for another step or two with the outside hand and voice signals.
  12. When the horse moves back readily with just your outside hand gesture and voice signal, fade out the rope-jiggle. It’s there to be used in times of need.
  13. Now we want to combine the steps forward, pause, steps backward with one click&treat after doing both. Walk into the lane, halt at the barrier, signal for the back-up; click&treat for any back-up that is offered. Because we are introducing new complexity (changing a parameter), we relax our criteria for number of steps back.
  14. Gradually, over many very short sessions that always end on a good note, ask for more steps back after the halt before you click&treat. Work up to about 10 steps.
  15. When 14 above is in good shape, practice with a lane of ground rails. Still have a barrier at the front (e.g., a fence). Most horses usually veer right or left when they back up, due to the natural asymmetry of their bodies. One hind leg pushes off harder, so their hind end will veer away from the stronger leg.
  16. By frequent backing through a lane of ground rails, we help the horse organize his body to stay straighter. I regularly use this task as part of our gymnastic work.
  17. Practice with a barrier only on the far side of the horse. This gives you another opportunity to note which way his hind end tends to veer.
  18. Generalize by halting facing a fence or any free-standing barrier, then backing up without the prop of a lane.
  19. When you feel the time is right, ask for a halt away from any barriers, followed by a back-up. Celebrate hugely when you get this. Done with finesse, the horse becomes light and keeps his full attention on your body language so he can maintain the synchronization. I always click&treat after this task.
  20. Gradually build up to 10 steps forward (click&treat) and 10 steps back (click&treat) but vary the number of steps each time you do it. Work toward this over many short sessions.
  21. Once 20 above is smooth, begin the actual Balancera exercise. We’re changing a parameter, so start with about 3 steps. Ask for 3 steps forward, then three steps back before the click&treat.
  22.  When 21 above is good, ask for 3 steps, 2 steps, then 1 step forward and back before the click&treat. This is the Balancera. With frequent short practices, the horse becomes more adept at shifting his weight from forward to backing up. This takes considerable energy and effort, so treat it gently. The horse will soon realize that the click&treat happens after the 1 step forward and back, even when you start with ten steps.
  23. When 22 above is smooth, gradually ask for more steps to begin with, then reducing by one step until you are doing one step forward and one step back; click&treat.
  24. Most of all, keep it fun. Stay within the horse’s ability that day.

4 thoughts on “The Balancera Exercise

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