Category Archives: Challenges

The Twirl and the Whole Sequence

INTRODUCTION

In the photo above I am doing my twirl at the same time as Boots is doing her twirl. She is always careful to keep an eye and ear back so she knows where I am. As soon as she comes around to face me again she earns a click&treat.

The ‘twirl’ in this context is a turn on the forequarters. A ‘spin’ usually describes a turn on the hindquarters.

It’s great fun to recall our horse and ask him to do a twirl as he comes in. Once Boots knew this task, she enjoyed showing it off, at walk and trot.

The Twirl is the last task of the dance sequence we worked on for the year. Now we can chain all the tasks together. At first we did the tasks in the same order each time. Eventually we could mix them up.

AIMS

  1. To have the horse able to remain calm and connected when we touch a rope to his legs and wrap a rope around his body.
  2. As the horse recalls at liberty, we have a signal for the horse to do one or more twirls during his approach.

PREREQUISITES

  1. As usual, we must have each of the prerequisites in excellent shape so we can smoothly build this multi-part task.
  2. Horse is relaxed with a long rope moved along and wrapped around his body and tossed over his head. #22 HorseGym with Boots: Rope Relaxation. https://youtu.be/6Y34VlUk0Iw. And #121 HorseGym with Boots: Stick & String Confidence. https://youtu.be/WIpsT4PPiXo
  3. Horse and handler have developed a good WAIT. Number 65 in my Blog Contents List. (The link to this is at the top of the page).
  4. Horse responds readily to handler’s ‘recall’ signal. Number 90 in my Blog Contents List. This training plan details mainly teaching the recall. https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2022/05/01/recall-back-up-in-rhythm/. Also: Simple Recall Part 1 at https://youtu.be/XuBo07q8g24. And #240 HorseGym with Boots: Wait and Recall. https://youtu.be/_gxXZ7J7eAE

VIDEOS

#256 HorseGym with Boots: Teaching the Twirl. https://youtu.be/tenhwp6tQmI

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT for THE TWIRL

  • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
  • Horse in a learning frame of mind.
  • Handler is relaxed.
  • Halter and long lunge line or similar, long enough to wrap right around the horse.

NOTES

  1. As with all our training, this is a task to build up slowly over time, so the horse looks forward to it because it results in a click&treat that he enjoys.
  2. Two or three repeats each training session is plenty. Over weeks and months, it will become a solid part of your repertoire.
  3. If things don’t go well, work out which of the prerequisites needs more development. Complex interactions with our horse simply consist of the basics done really well.
  4. The beginning of video #256 shows a fun way of doing a twirl using a food lure. But I don’t recommend this. To teach a twirl while the horse is moving toward us, or even from a halt standing in front of us, it is much easier for the horse to understand if food only appears at the end of the twirl via a regular click&treat.
  5. Often the most recent thing we are working with becomes the horse’s favorite thing to show off. Be aware that your horse may want to show off his twirl when you are not prepared for it, especially if other people are nearby. He can run his butt into you without meaning to. Also, other people might be threatened when the horse offers to move his butt this way. In other words, be prompt about putting the twirl ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’. Don’t reward it unless you’ve asked for it.

SLICES

  1. Once the horse is comfortable with a rope touching him all over his body (Prerequisite 1), attach one end to his halter and bring the rope around behind him and along his other side as shown in the video clip.
  2. Ask the horse to wait with the rope around him. Click&treat staying at zero intent, starting with one second and building up to about five seconds.
  3. Face the horse and introduce an arm/hand gesture and a voice signal as you apply a halter touch signal via the rope to cause the horse to turn away from you and turn on the forehand until he faces you again. Click&teat (major celebration).
  4. Each session with the horse, repeat 3 above two or three times. As the horse begins to recognize your arm/hand and voice signals, ease off on the halter pressure via the rope until you no longer need to use it.
  5. Ensure that your basic RECALL is smooth (Prerequisite 3).
  6. When 4 above is smooth, play without the lead rope and slot in a little recall before you ask for the twirl. If it falls apart, simply and quietly reset to using the wraparound lead rope again, as lightly as possible. Horses learn at different rates and handler skills are variable. Usually if we strive hard to perfect our own skill with giving clear, consistent signals, the horse magically improves.

GENERALIZATIONS

  1. Play in different venues.
  2. Play on a slope.
  3. If the horse keenly recalls at a trot, ask for a twirl before he reaches you. Boots would happily fit in two or three twirls, one after the other, before reaching me.
  4. Do half a twirl and morph it into a back-up. This was an interesting Horse Agility challenge from www.thehorseagilityclub.com. Here is the clip:

The Whole Sequence Clip

#281 HorseGym with Boots: All the Slow Dancing Tasks https://youtu.be/mDjUAH6jzbA

Line Dance Shoulder-to-Shoulder

INTRODUCTION

In the photo above we are using a rail to consolidate line-dancing shoulder-to-shoulder. Once past the rail, the horse earns a click&treat. The rail helps in that: a) I don’t ask for too much, b) the horse quickly realizes that a click&treat happens when he sidesteps past the rail, and c) it encourages straightness.

Try stepping sideways by stretching out your arms to the side while you cross your legs. Then cross your arms while stepping apart with your legs. This is how a horse organizes his body when he move sideways keeping his body relatively straight. Front legs apart while back legs cross over. Hind legs apart while front legs cross over.

If horses tried to cross both front and hind legs at the same time, it would be easy for them to lose balance and fall over.

As mentioned when discussing sidestepping face-to-face with the horse, moving sideways in rhythm is not something horses tend to do in their everyday life. It may therefore take the horse a while to get his legs organized when we first teach this movement. Our horse may have to think hard to get this sorted, so be especially patient and celebrate small successes.

AIMS

  1. The horse understands body language, voice and a gesture/touch signal at the girth to move sideways away from us as we sidestep toward him.
  2. The horse understands body language, gesture and voice signals to sidestep toward us.

PREREQUISITES

  1. In case you have not yet taught basic sidestepping, see Number 29 in my Blog Contents List: Sidestepping. There is a link to my Blog Contents List at the top of the page.
  2. Targeting shoulder to hand is the background needed to initiate movement toward us with a hand gesture signal. See Number 27 in my Blog Contents List: Target Shoulder to Hand.

The training plan for this can also be found in Chapter Twelve in my book: Horse Training: Fun with Flexion using Positive Reinforcement, in case you have that book.

  • Hip to hand is the other part we need. See Number 28 in my Blog Contents List: Targeting Hindquarters to our Hand. It is Chapter Thirteen in the book mentioned above.

Once we have shoulder to hand and hip to hand, we can introduce the idea of the whole horse moving sideways toward us.

VIDEO

#280 HorseGym with Boots: Line Dance in Motion.

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

  • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
  • Horse in a learning frame of mind.
  • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
  • Halter and lead unless teaching at liberty.
  • A lane a few meters long with a barrier in front and behind. For example, a fence and raised rails, a fence and a line of barrels. We can use fencing tape between tall cones or jump stands, as long as the horse is comfortable working around fencing tape which is not electrified.

NOTES

  1. It’s important to warm the horse up with general activity before asking for yields like this. As we develop and maintain such exercises, our horse’s flexibility will gradually improve.
  2. Most horses find this easier on one side. At first, be happy if he can only sidestep with his body at a 45-degree angle to the barrier. With frequent short practices, he will develop the muscles and flexion to be straighter. Boots’ ability to sidestep has been built up over years.
  3. A horse with arthritis and/or past injuries may have restricted or severely limited movement for this type of work.
  4. Doing a little bit often gives reliable results and keeps the horse keen to seek out his next click&treat. As usual, we are teaching a habit in response to a signal, so we never want to make the horse sore or reluctant.
  5. For the slow-dancing routine, we only need a few steps away and a few steps toward us.

SLICES

Sidestepping Away

  1. Set up a lane with a barrier behind and in front of the horse so that moving sideways is an easy option for him to choose. Have it wide enough to be comfortable for the horse.
  2. Have a nose target or a barrier a few sidesteps away on each end of the lane so that the horse has a destination where he knows he will get his next click&treat. I used our shelter because it ensured that I did not ask for too many steps at once. The horse quickly realized that reaching the other side of the shelter resulted in a click&treat.
    • If the horse finds one side easier, start on that side. Using your orientation facing the horse’s side, ensure you have smooth yielding of shoulder and hindquarters, then consolidate a light touch/gesture signal at the girth to ask the whole horse to move over (Prerequisite 1).
    • Once 3 is smooth, begin to align yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse. At first, you may need to face him for the original signal but strive to change to using a gesture or light touch while you stay shoulder-to-shoulder. Three-five sidesteps is plenty.
    • When 4 above is good, teach it again from the beginning on the horse’s other side.
    • When 5 above is good, remove either the front or rear barrier. Work on both sides.
    • When 6 above is good, work without the barrier props. Work on both sides. Be careful not to ask for too much. Celebrate small successes.

    Sidestepping Toward the Handler

    1. Set up as for 1 and 2 above.
    2. If the horse finds one side easier, start on that side.
    3. Using your orientation facing the horse’s side, ensure you have smooth targeting of shoulder and hindquarters in rhythm, then develop a gesture signal to ask the whole horse to sidestep toward you. (Prerequisites 2 and 3). At this point, don’t worry about your body’s orientation to the horse. Use whatever signals the horse finds easiest to understand. Celebrate hugely when you get the first sidestep toward you.
    4. When 3 is coming along nicely, teach it all again from the beginning on the horse’s other side.
    5. When 4 is good using the props, remove either the front or rear barrier. If the horse tends to back up, remove the front barrier first. If he tends to inch forward, remove the back barrier first.
    6. When 5 is smooth, remove both barriers.
    7. Now it’s time to focus more on your position so you can stay shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse as much as possible, but don’t make it a big deal.

    GENERALIZATIONS

    1. When the task is sound in a familiar training area, play in different places.
    2. Work on a slope horse facing uphill.
    3. Work on a slope horse facing downhill.
    4. Work with the horse parallel to a gentle slope.

    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.

    The Spiral

    INTRODUCTION

    Horses on their own tend to move in straight lines unless they are engaged in play or disputes. But they move a lot as they graze and to access water. A study of wild horses in Australia found that mostly they walked. Sometimes they trotted. Occasionally, they cantered or galloped.

    Horses in captivity often have restricted freedom of movement. Anything we can do to encourage movement adds color to a horse’s day. This spiral exercise is an interesting task we can make part of our repertoire. It encourages and maintains flexibility.

    Horse can only bend laterally (to the side) in three places on their body. (1) from the junction of head and neck and along the neck muscle. (2) at the base of the neck. (3) Between the final lumbar vertebra and the sacrum which consists of five fused vertebrae. Bend in this last area is extremely limited.

    The bending sites.
    Bending mainly the head.
    Extreme bending of neck .
    The ‘haunches in’ exercise develops the little bend possible between the last lumbar vertebra and the sacrum by the horse learning to stretch a hind leg to step well under the belly as in the next photo.
    Horse doing her best to keep her whole body on the arc of the tiny circle she is walking around me. She is placing her right hind leg as far under her belly as she can.

    As with all the other tasks that we teach, the key is to do a little bit often. Over weeks and months, the horse’s suppleness will gradually improve and can easily be maintained with frequent short repeats of a variety of stretching tasks.

    AIM

    The horse moves in a tight curve around the handler who turns on the spot.

    PREREQUISITES

    1. Horse and handler smoothly walk together in the shoulder-to-shoulder position with the handler on either the right or left side of the horse. See numbers 16 and 68 in my Blog Contents List at the top of this page.
    2. ‘Rule of Three’, which is a way to organize training sessions to maintain high interest and motivation. See Number 46 in my Blog Contents List.

    VIDEO

    #273 HorseGym with Boots: The Spiral. https://youtu.be/sQ-ELVlIzZA

    MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    • Horse and handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
    • Halter and lead for the teaching phase.
    • An object to mark the center of a circle.

    NOTES

    1. * Start with as large a circle as the horse finds comfortable. If he starts to swing his hindquarters out of the arc of the circle, the circle is too tight for the horse’s current ability to flex laterally.
    2. * Short sessions as often as possible, as well as exercises such as weaving obstacles, figure 8’s, 90-degree turns (Number 31 in my Blog Contents List) all help with lateral flexion.
    3. * Playing with 180-degree turns also helps (Number 23 in my Blog Contents List).
    4. * Click&treat as often as you need in order to keep the horse interested and engaged.
    5. * The horse may be much stiffer in one direction. If one side seems especially difficult for him, check out the possibility of current soreness or historical injuries.

    SLICES

    1. Set a marker (not a mat that the horse expects to stand on) into the center of your training area.
    2. Walk the horse in a large circle around the marker with you on his left side, which means your circle will be walking anti-clockwise.
    3. Very gradually reduce the size of the circle each time you come around, in a gradual spiral fashion.
    4. Watch carefully for the point at which the horse’s hind end is no longer following the arc of the circle. That tells you when he is beginning to find it too hard. We don’t want him to develop the habit of swinging his hind end out, so when you reach this point, spiral your circle outwards again.
    5. With frequent short repeats, done amongst other things you are doing with your horse (see Rule of Three – Prerequisite 2), you will be able to gradually achieve tighter circles with the horse keeping his whole body aligned on the curve.
    6. Remember, horses have extremely limited bending at the hip area. In the video you can see how Boots moves her outside leg way to the side so she can draw her inside leg well under her belly to keep herself on the curve of the circle.
    7. When you can turn on the spot beside the marker with your back against the horse’s shoulder, while the horse curves around you, you have achieved the task.
    8. Repeat from the beginning on the horse’s right side. As mentioned in the Notes, you may find one side much stiffer.

    GENERALIZATIONS

    1. Play without a marker but in the same area.
    2. Play at liberty.
    3. Play with it in novel venues.
    4. Play on a slope.

    Recall to Heel

    INTRODUCTION

    This is a fun task we often teach our dogs. We call the horse toward us, then ask him to walk past our side, turn 180 degrees behind us and slot into the ‘heel’ position on our opposite side.

    In the photo above, Boots has walked toward me, passed my left shoulder and is about to slot herself into position standing beside my right shoulder.

    In the photo below, Boots has walked toward me, passed my right shoulder and is about to slot herself into position standing beside my left shoulder.

    Boots is about to step into position beside my left shoulder where she will earn her click&treat. To make it easier for her I can move forward a step or two.

    AIM

    The horse walks to us, then past us, turning behind us to end up standing beside our shoulder.

    PREREQUISITES

    1. Horse and handler have developed a good WAIT. Number 65 in my Blog Contents List which you reach via the tab at the top of the home page.
    2. Horse responds readily to handler’s ‘recall’ signal. See Number 90 in my Blog Contents List: Recall and Back Up in Rhythm.
    3. Horse understands ‘walk on’ voice and gesture signals. See Number 16: Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions and Number 68 in my Blog Contents List: 20 Steps Exercise. We want this in place so we can ask the horse to walk past us and around, rather than coming to halt in front of us.
    4. Horse has perfected the 180-degree turn. See Number 23 in my Blog Contents List: 180 Degree Turns.
    5. Horse and handler have developed clear WHOA signals in a variety of situations. See Number 33 in my Blog Contents List: Willing Response to a Voice Halt Signal.

    VIDEO

    #274 HorseGym with Boots: Recall to Heel. https://youtu.be/Giut6wim9KE

    MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
    • Horse in a learning frame of mind.
    • Halter and 12′ (4m) light lead-rope to start with.

    NOTES

    1. * Have the horse warmed up before asking for 180-degree turns.
    2. * You can also teach this using a target, but as is often the case, phasing out the target can present its own challenges if the horse’s mind is fixated on following the target. I prefer to teach with gesture, body language and voice signals, helped at first with a lead rope.
    3. * Check that your WAIT is in good shape.
    4. * Check that your RECALL is in good shape.
    5. * Check that your WALK ON gesture and voice signals are in good shape.
    6. * Check that your WHOA is in good shape.
    7. * Check that your 180-degree turns are in good shape and the horse knows your voice signal for turning (I use “Around”).
    8. * Devise a signal for asking the horse to walk on past you rather than halt in front of you. Practice this with another person standing in for the horse so you can get it fluent. I adapt my WALK ON arm/hand gesture that I use for walking on when we are shoulder-to-shoulder and that seems to work okay.
    9. * I use a halter and lead to initially teach things like this. I can use the lead rope to indicate that I want the horse to walk past me and then turn behind me. That means he never gets confused about what will earn his next click&treat. Once the horse realizes that the click&treat happens when he shows up on my other side, the lead rope is no longer necessary.

    SLICES

    1. Halter and light lead on the horse.
    2. Ask the horse to WAIT while you walk a few steps away in front of him. Turn, pause, then ask for a RECALL.
    3. Before the horse reaches you, signal with gesture and voice that you’d like him to walk on past you. As he does, step forward so it is easy for him to make a U-turn behind you. Then walk a couple of steps forward to draw him into a nice position alongside your opposite shoulder: click&treat.
    4. Teach it consistently on one side and when that is smooth, teach again from the beginning on the other side.
    5. As the horse gets fluid with this task, you can gradually not step forward as he comes around. But if he gets lost, always resume stepping forward so he is not ‘wrong’.

    GENERALIZATIONS

    1. Work at liberty.
    2. Work in new venues.
    3. Work on a slope.
    4. Recall across rails or through a gap/tunnel or over a tarp.
    5. Teach moving into the heel position after a recall without stepping around behind the handler.

    Belly Crunches

    In the photo above Boots is doing a belly crunch to target her withers to my hand.

    I first learned about belly crunches from Alex Kurland’s work.

    1. We began with the horse behind a low barrier. I stood nearby at neutral (zero intent) and watched casually, with click&treat for any upward or backward shift of weight.

    2. I did this IN THE SAME SPOT for a minute or two once or twice a day. Usually as a ‘last thing’ at the end of a session and just before afternoon feeding time. Having ‘usual times’ seems to make the horse look forward to having ‘another go’.

    3. Once we were getting a strong weight shift back, I began to sit down to bring the horse’s head a bit lower. Previously we had ignored head position as the horse was experimenting with different possibilities. Her head position lowered when I sat down because the treats were offered lower.

    4. At some point, the crunches became a part of her personal repertoire because she would offer them if she wanted to initiate an interaction. I usually click&treat each such offer and it became one of our safe default behaviors that she could easily offer at will.

    5. I’d never do more than about what is on this clip at one time.

    6. From the Intrinzen group, I learned to ask for the crunches standing beside the horse’s shoulder, butt and behind. We already had such a long and strong history of reinforcement that she readily adjusted to my different positions.

    In the video I am using fairly subtle body language to ask for each crunch. I put my arms down and stiffen my torso and lean slightly toward her.

    Belly Crunch to target her butt to my hand.

    Line Dance Face-to-Face

    INTRODUCTION

    Horses move sideways by crossing one pair of feet while the other pair is spread. 

    The hind feet cross over while the front feet are apart.

    Moving sideways in rhythm is not something horses do much in their everyday life. It may therefore take the horse a while to get his legs organized smoothly when we first teach this movement.

    You can get a sense of how it feels if you step sideways crossing your legs. While your legs are crossed, spread out your arms. While your legs are apart for the next step, cross your arms. If you’ve never done this before, it is tricky to synchronize at first. Horses have to adjust four legs. I’ve seen horses needing to think hard to get this sorted, so be especially patient and celebrate small successes.

    We usually first teach sidestepping in position beside the horse, facing his ribs and asking the front and rear ends to move over independently. We gradually build up this skill until we can ask the horse to move first hind end and then front end – in rhythm, ideally keeping his body in one plane (Prerequisite 1).

    Moving sideways encourages suppleness via gymnastic stretching of the muscles. It helps develop the horse’s spatial awareness, his foot awareness and his body awareness.

    Sidestepping is useful for safe maneuvering on the ground – negotiating gates and for asking the horse to line up with a mounting block for mounting and dismounting.

    It is also a fun maneuver to add into our slow-dancing routine.

    AIM

    Sidestepping to the left and right with the handler in front of and facing the horse.

    PREREQUISITES

    Usually we first teach sidestepping facing the side of the horse. For sidestepping away we teach touch and gesture signals at the girth area.
    1. In case you have not yet taught basic sidestepping, Number 29 in my Blog Contents List (link at top of page) presents a detailed training plan for teaching sidestepping with the handler beside the horse as in the photo above.
    2. Horse is relaxed with touch signals given with our hand or a body extension (stick). See #87 HorseGym with Boots: Relaxation with Body Extensions. https://youtu.be/nkwxYwtCP_Y

    VIDEO CLIPS

    This clip demonstrates a way to teach sidestepping while face-to-face with the handler. #276 HorseGym with Boots: Line Dancing Face to Face. https://youtu.be/wc53IZfUBkc

    This next clip puts together the first five tasks of the Slow Dancing routine.

    #277 HorseGym with Boots: First Five Dance Moves. https://youtu.be/UW_oE85ZhsM

    ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS

    • Work area where the horse is relaxed.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
    • Low barrier between horse and handler, a few meters long.
    • Halter and lead.
    • Stick to act as a body extension.
    • Horse well warmed up before asking for these yields.

    NOTES

    1. Some people may prefer to have the horse target ribs to a body extension rather than move away from a touch signal given by a body extension. I use the ‘moving away from a touch signal’ because it is easier to give the horse a clear signal while maintaining the position in front of the horse. As well, it’s usually the signal taught as a riding signal for moving sideways.

    2. It is also much easier to morph the stick gesture into an arm gesture rather than try to fade out a long hand-held target. I soon didn’t need the stick. I then gradually toned down my arm gesture as the horse learned to tune in to my intent and my body language of crossing over my own feet plus a voice signal, “Across” and the direction of my body moving.

    3. I like to begin new tasks with a rope and halter but use touch on the halter via the rope as little as possible. The halter and lead are there in case the horse needs clarity about what I am expecting him to do. After a while I lay the rope over the horse and when that is all smooth I work at liberty.

    4. Most horses will find this easier on one side. Aim to eventually become equally smooth on both sides. Check out Right-Side Neglect* and Right-Side Anxiety* in the Glossary.

    5. At first, be happy if he can only sidestep with his body at a 45-degree angle to the barrier. With frequent short practices, he will develop the muscles and flexion to be straighter. What you see Boots doing in the video clips has been built up over many years with frequent flexion practice in different guises.

    6. It’s important to warm the horse up with general activity before asking for yields like this.

    7. If the horse shows resistance to a specific move, it is essential to get muscles and joints checked out. Arthritis and/or past injuries may restrict or severely limit certain movements.

    8. As we gradually develop and then maintain these sidestepping exercises, our horse’s flexibility will gradually improve.

    9. Doing a little bit often gives the most reliable results. As usual, we are teaching a habit in response to a signal. We never want to make the horse sore or reluctant.

    SLICES

    1. Find or set up a low barrier a few meters long. In the video I used a long plank, but a low fence or a rope/tape between two tall cones or other uprights would do the job.
    2. The handler is face-to-face with the horse, with the low barrier between them. Gently use a long stick to create a touch/gesture signal at the girth area to ask the horse to sidestep from left to right, away from the touch/gesture signal.

    At first, click&treat for any inclination to step sideways. As the horse catches on to the idea, gradually ask for more until you are able to click&treat every time the horse reaches the end of the barrier or markers you’ve set up. The end of the barrier gives the horse two ‘destinations’ where he knows he will stop and get his click&treat. Like us, horses like to know what is going to happen before it happens.

    • 3. Repeat 2 above going from right to left.
    • 4. Repeat 2 and 3 above until the horse is smoothly sidestepping a few meters to both the right and left. As mentioned in the notes above, he may find one side harder. Accept what he is able to do and work gradually from there.
    • 5. When 4 above is ho-hum, use ground rails as a barrier between you and the horse. The purpose of the barrier is to let the horse know that stepping forward is not part of the task.
    • 6. When 5 is good, ask the horse to step the front feet across the ground rails and ask him to sidestep along the ground rails. This will help him stay straight rather than inch forward or backwards.
    • 7. When 6 is smooth, ask for sidestepping face-to-face with no barrier between you.
    • 8. When communication is excellent, play in different venues.
    • 9. When it all feels ho-hum, play at liberty.

    GENERALIZATIONS

    • Play at liberty
    • Play in different venues
    • Play on a slope

    Develop ‘the box’ exercise as in this clip. The clip was made a while ago when I first taught Boots about sidestepping with me while I was facing her: #275 HorseGym with Boots: Thin Slicing ‘The Box’ Movement. https://youtu.be/1CiUBJQf-JM

    RECALL & BACK UP IN RHYTHM

    INTRODUCTION

    Having smooth ways of asking a horse to back away from us and to come toward us on request is worth its weight in gold. We teach each of these separately and then meld them together into rhythmic dance steps to use as a suppling exercise.

    AIM

    The horse distinguishes clearly between our signals for backing up and coming toward us (recall) and readily repeats a few steps of each in a rhythmic fashion.

    PREREQUISITES

    1. Horse has learned a solid WAIT. See Number 65 in my Blog Contents List at https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/12/16/the-wait-game/
    2. Handler has developed clear, consistent back-up signals so the horse backs up readily when face-to-face with the handler. See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List for details about teaching backing up. https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/02/02/finesse-back-up/

    VIDEO

    #271 HorseGym with Boots: Recall & Back with Rhythm. https://youtu.be/7TVgr6_oXlI

    The next clip puts together the first four slow-dancing moves we’ve worked on: Bow, Line Dance in position, Do-si-do to change sides, Rhythmic back-up and recall.

    MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

    • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
    • Two or more rails. Low markers at the ends of the rails can be helpful at the beginning. A safe fence is also helpful to keep the horse straight.
    • Halter 12′ (4m) long, light lead during the teaching process.

    NOTES

    1. Before starting this task, we need a solid WAIT (Prerequisite 1).
    2. We first teach a solid face-to-face back-up in a variety of situations using a high rate of reinforcement, so it becomes a favorite task for the horse. Ideally, we do a little bit every time we are with the horse (Prerequisite 2).
    3. The slices in this training plan outline teaching the recall and then putting the recall and back-up together in a rhythmic way.
    4. Teach everything on both sides of the horse.
    5. Use a rate of reinforcement that keeps the horse continually successful.
    6. Essential to keep a float (smile) in the rope unless using it momentarily to clarify our intent for the horse.
    7. Keep sessions short in among other things you are doing with the horse.

    SLICES

    1. Set up your rails (or hose or rope) as in the photo in the Introduction. Use a fence on one side if you can.
    2. Walk the horse parallel to the ground rails furthest from the fence, while you walk between the rails and the fence. At the end of the rails, ask him to make a U-turn toward the fence and step into the lane created by the fence and rails. Walk backwards to draw the horse to you. Click&treat when he reaches you. The fence will encourage him to make a precise U-turn rather than a loose and sloppy one. Set the width of the gap to suit the horse’s current flexibility.
    3. Gradually send him around the end of the rail from further away, as illustrated in the video clip, until you can stay with your feet stationary at one end of a rail.
    4. As he makes each U-turn, add a consistent voice signal. I say “Around” for the turn.
    5. As he begins to come toward you, develop a clear, consistent body language signal and a voice signal. I say “Come In” for the recall and bring both arms forward and down to make a round shape with my arms.
    6. When it all feels smooth, use a pair of rails away from a fence.
    7. When 6 is ho-hum, use just one rail.
    8. When 7 is ho-hum, use just a low marker to send the horse ‘around’.
    9. Now we want to tidy up our WAIT task so we can ask the horse to stay parked while we walk away – so we can recall him (Prerequisite 1).
    10. Once the recall is solid in lots of situations, we want to either teach or polish our back-up while we are face-to-face with the horse (Prerequisite 2).
    11. Once we have clear, consistent back-up body language and voice signals established, and the horse responds willingly, we can begin to put the back-up and the recall together in a rhythmic fashion.
    12. Set up two parallel rails about a meter apart. Ask the horse to wait at one end of the rails; click&treat. Then ask him to recall between the rails; click&treat. Walk a loop together and repeat a couple of times.
    13. Ask the horse to walk between the rails and halt between the rails. Then ask him to back up a step or two; click&treat. Then another step or two; click&treat. Then recall him forward again, between the rails. Walk a loop and reset a couple of times.
    14. When it feels right, ask for a recall; click&treat, then ask for a back-up; click&treat. Work with just a few steps at first. As the horse becomes more adept, gradually increase the number of steps, but stay within the horse’s ability.
    15. Ask the horse to walk with you almost all the way through the lane of rails so you can ask for the back-up first; click&treat. Then recall; click&treat.
    16. Once 15 is smooth, chain together one back-up and one recall before the click&treat (or one recall and one back-up).
    17. Work toward chaining two repeats of back and recall. Then maybe three repeats before the click&treat. But always stay within the horse’s capability. Rushing will wreck things.
    18. When it is ho-hum using the parallel rails, do the task without them. Go back to Slice 14 and work forward from there.

    GENERALIZATION

    1. Play with it in different venues.
    2. Play on a slope.
    3. Add one or more rails which the horse crosses during the recall and back-up.

    Dancing the Do Si Do

    INTRODUCTION

    Once the horse and handler have mastered smooth forequarter yields and smooth hindquarter yields, we can build the DO SI DO. It consists of asking for a hindquarter yield first. Then, as the horse’s hind end is moving away, we stand upright and move back slightly so the horse brings his head through, and we end up in his other eye.

    It is a way of changing sides by the horse doing the moving. Once that is achieved, we add a yield of the forequarters.

    If the horse’s lifestyle keeps him supple, this series of movements is a good stretching and bending exercise. If the horse finds it hard, we have useful feedback to use in our planning.

    AIM

    The horse is able to execute a smooth 360-degree hindquarter yield followed immediately by a smooth 360-degree forequarter yield.

    PREREQUISITES

    1. Horse and handler agree on signals to yield the hindquarters. See Number 83 in my Blog Contents List.
    2. Horse and handler agree on signals to yield the forequarters. See Number 84 in my Blog Contents List.

    VIDEOS

    #270 HorseGym with Boots: Do Si Do. https://youtu.be/EJ2w_sX_uOk

    MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.

    NOTES

    1. Use a rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat) that allows the horse to easily work out exactly what he has to do to earn his next click&treat.
    2. As the horse begins to understand the sequence of movements, gradually move the click point along until eventually there is one at the end of the whole series of movements.
    3. Whenever the horse gets ‘lost’, immediately return to click&treat for what he can do and work forward gradually from that spot.
    4. Do a little bit often, as this is hard work for the horse.
    5. Be aware that when we give signals with the non-dominant side of our body, they may not be as clear and precise as when we use the dominant side of our body. We can improve this once we are aware of it. In the same way, the horse may find yielding in one direction more difficult. If you notice a difference, begin teaching using the direction he finds easier. Later, do a few extra repeats on the difficult side.

    SLICES

    1. Ask the horse to yield is hindquarters with body language, energy and a gesture signal (and voice if you like – I use the word “Away”) about a meter out from his side. Move along with him, keeping your relative position and using ‘constant on’ signals (body orientation, arm gesture and energy) until you want him to stop (at which point you stand up straight and stop all signals). Click&treat.
    2. Click&treat each single step away at first, then gradually work toward click&treat for a full 360 turn. How long it all takes to get smooth with this part of the task depends on previous training and how clear our signals are.
    3. At some point, stop following the hindquarters around, stand upright in one spot and move back a bit so that the horse can bring his head through the space in front of you, which puts you on his other side – in his other eye. Click&treat. Spend the time (via many short sessions) to get this part smooth.
    4. Teach 1-3 above from the beginning on the horse’s other side. He may find one direction harder.
    5. When 1-3 above are in good shape, gently build and consolidate your forequarter yield by itself until you have a smooth 360-degree turn on the haunches. Start with click&treat for one good step and build from there.
    6. Repeat 5 above on the horse’s other side. Again, he may find one direction harder.
    7. When all the above are going well, after completing slice 3 (and click&treat on completion of slice 3), ask for the forequarter yield. Just a step or two at first, before a click&treat, but gradually work toward the full turn on the haunches.
    8. Work toward a 360-degree hindquarter yield (turn on the forehand) followed immediately by a 360-degree forequarter yield without a click&treat stop in the middle. We can call it achieved when a full 360-degree yield in both directions is ho-hum.
    9. Work with 8 above starting on the other side of the horse.

    GENERALIZATION

    1. Practice in many different places.
    2. Practice on a slope.
    3. Start with forequarter yield and morph into hindquarter yield.
    4. Once we have the simple bow, line dancing in place with the front feet, and the do si do mastered, we can chain the three tasks together.

    The Simple Bow

    INTRODUCTION

    It’s fun to teach a simple bow to use at the beginning and end of a movement routine. The bow itself becomes a clue for the horse that a chain of tasks is about to begin and equally it tells him when the chain of tasks is finished.

    We can teach the simple bow by capturing any downward movement of the head with a click&treat. Or we could use ‘luring’ while changing our posture as we put a treat on the ground, plus add a voice signal.

    AIM

    The horse mimics the handler’s bow from the waist by lowering his head, then raising it again.

    PREREQUISITE

    Horse and handler are clicker savvy.

    VIDEOS

    This clip uses the process of luring, which is detailed in the thin-slicing steps below.

    #269 HorseGym with Boots: Simple Bow. https://youtu.be/vwtxTdWaRRQ

    These two clips show the process of free-shaping.

    #257 HorseGym with Boots Head Lowering 1. https://youtu.be/AoqtJj2X1bU

    #258 HorseGym with Boots: Head Lowering 2. Putting it on signal. https://youtu.be/Ol-BHB1QCnw

    MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • It can help to park the horse on a mat, if he knows about mats, to let him know that moving his feet is not required. 

    NOTE

    When we use the luring with food system, we will be placing a treat on the ground and we don’t want to put it on sand or loose dirt. If that is all you have available, perhaps use a mat or similar on which to put the treat.

    SLICES (for teaching with luring)

    1. Stand the horse in a spot where he feels comfortable; click&treat. Maybe have his front feet parked on a mat.
    2. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse; click&treat.
    3. Practice a bit of duration standing quietly together at zero intent with head forward; click&treat for x number of seconds, depending on where you are with developing this task.
    4. Quietly remove a treat from your pouch or pocket, ideally during a moment the horse is busy eating his previous treat, so he doesn’t notice you getting the treat.
    5. Show the horse the treat in your hand then bow from the waist to put the treat on the ground for the horse to find.
    6. Wait until he lifts his head and has eaten the treat. Repeat, adding a voice signal to go with your body language. If you’ve previously taught head-lowering you may already have a voice signal.
    7. Once the horse responds to your body language and voice signals, click as the head goes down, but feed the treat as the head comes up again as you straighten your body. For this we don’t want ‘duration’ of keeping the head down.
    8. Teach on both sides of the horse.

    GENERALIZATION

    1. Practice in many different places.
    2. Practice around different distractions.
    3. Incorporate into any routines you do as ‘begin’ and ‘end’ points.

    Placing the Feet using a Single Rail

    INTRODUCTION

    In the photo above we are using a line of 5-liter containers as our ‘rail’.

    This is another exercise that helps a horse with proprioception – knowing where his feet are, what they are doing, and how much energy is required.

    Equally, it is a superb exercise for the handler to refine communication skills. All training with a horse is about building a mutual language. If we are consistent with our body language and energy changes, the horse will use these as his main cues for following our lead. For further refinement we add gesture signals and perhaps voice signals.

    Sometimes people think, “Oh, I’ll try that”. They do an exercise once or twice and think that it’s ‘done’. They totally miss the point that exercises like this are little workouts for both handler and horse that need to be done often, always stiving for more refinement of handler communication until it feels like magic with the horse at liberty.

    For this exercise there are five different basic tasks, but since we do them in the horse’s left and right eyes, we have ten tasks. Then we consolidate the tasks by doing them in two directions for each eye, giving us a total of 20 tasks.

    Once the five basic tasks are mastered, there are eight refinements we can add. Doing these on either side of the horse gives a total of 16 refinements.

    This series of tasks also makes a good warm-up or cool-down exercise. And they can be stretching and accuracy exercises if time is short to do other things.

    AIMS:  

    1. Handler works on using clear, smooth ‘walk on’, ‘halt’, ‘wait’ and ‘back up’ signals using a single rail as a focal point.
    2. Handler uses ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ body language to create short WAIT times between requests.
    3. Horse develops confidence with walking across a rail (or similar).
    4. Horse gains confidence standing with a rail (or similar) under his belly.
    5. Horse practices placing his feet carefully in response to handler signals.

    PREREQUISITES:

    1. Horse leads smoothly beside the handler’s shoulder. See Number 68 in my Blog Contents List. The link for my Blog Contents List is at the top of the page.
    2. Handler and horse agree on ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ signals. See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List.
    3. Handler and horse agree on clear ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals. See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List.
    4. Handler is aware of The Rule of Three. See number 46 in my Blog Contents List.
    5. Horse and handler agree on a back-up signal, either with the handler turning to face the horse – See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List, or the handler staying in the shoulder-to-shoulder position – See the first clip in Number 32 in my Blog Contents List.
    6. Handler knows to stay with each small task until it is ho-hum, before asking for a different task.

    VIDEOS: 

    #267 HorseGym with Boots: One Rail Basics. https://youtu.be/wMwBqiaBruI

    #268 HorseGym with Boots: One Rail Refinements. https://youtu.be/L1fdlegEHFo

    ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

    • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • A single rail or several single rails (or similar) laid out a good distance apart.
    • Halter and lead or liberty. A light, shorter lead is easier to manage.

    NOTES:

    1. A little bit of these tasks during one training session is plenty. If it’s all done quietly with no fuss or drilling, the horse will think on it and remember what behaviors earn a click&treat. The Rule of Three can be useful.
    2. Asking a horse to lift a front foot to back across a rail means that he is moving it back against the pressure of his whole body which is not easy. Ignore any touching of the rail at this stage as the horse draws a leg back. Frequent short practices will strengthen the muscles and ligaments so lifting the foot up and back becomes easier for the horse.
    3. To help the horse strengthen, and maintain the strength, to lift his feet easily, we can lay a raised rail or similar in a gateway that the horse uses regularly during his everyday life. I’ve done this with two gates, and it seems to do a good job at helping to maintain suppleness. I leave a small gap for my wheelbarrow to squeeze through.
    4. When confusion arises, it is because we are not clear enough or are going faster than the horse is able to absorb the new learning. Horses working for a food reward are usually super-observant of all our body language as well as carefully taught and executed voice and gesture signals. We must continually strive to ‘speak’ clearly with our body language, orientation and gestures every time we request an action (or inaction). Otherwise, the horse will only ‘hear’ a mumble and be confused, just as a person mumbling to us is frustrating and makes us give up trying to understand.
    5. Once all the tasks are going smoothly, we can mix them up in any order, which teaches us to be crystal clear for the horse and has the horse watch us carefully to pick up the next signal that will lead to a click&treat.
    6. When we use the less dominant side of our body, our body language and gesture signals tend to be less clear until we become super conscious of what we are doing. If you are right-handed and haven’t usually done much on your horse’s right side, there will be a lot of learning going on for both of you.
    7. I find it useful to take written memo cards out with me when first doing a series of moves like this.
    8. In-between moving, build it WAIT time before asking for the next movement. I.e., MOVEMENT – WAIT (x number of seconds) – MOVEMENT.
    9. In the video clips I only show each request once to keep the clip short. When in the teaching (acquisition*) phase, three repeats in a row is usually a good number to work with.
    10. If the horse finds one of the slices difficult, spend as many short sessions as necessary to build his confidence before asking for anything new.

    SLICES:

    1. Walk right over the rail, halt a few paces beyond the rail, click&treat. Walk a loop and repeat a couple more times. Or you could have more than one rail laid out in your training area and walk to each rail in turn to get the repeats. I used one rail in the video clips for ease of filming with a set camera.
    2. Halt with the rail under the horse’s belly, click&treat; pause for a WAIT, walk on forward over the rail, walk a loop (or move to next rail) so you can repeat a couple of times.
    3. Halt and WAIT before stepping over the rail, click&treat; pause and WAIT, walk on over the rail and into your loop or on to the next rail.
    4. Halt immediately after all four feet have stepped over the rail, click&treat; pause and WAIT, walk on into your loop or to the next rail.
    5. Halt with the rail under the horse’s belly, click&treat. Pause and WAIT, ask the horse to back his front feet across the rail, click&treat; pause, walk on forward over the rail. Be gentle teaching this. If you have taught a ‘Lift’ voice signal for foot care it can be useful here.
    6. Repeat 1-5 above but this time approach the rail(s) from the opposite direction.
    7. Repeat 1-5 above walking on the horse’s right side.
    8. Repeat 7 above (on his right side) in the opposite direction.

    GENERALIZATIONS:

    1. Work in different venues.
    2. Repeat slices 1-5 trotting.
    3. Play at liberty once you’ve built up good communication for each task.
    4. Work on a slope.

    ONE RAIL REFINEMENTS

    1. Walk all four feet over the rail and halt. Back only the hind feet over the rail; wait; walk forward again.
    2. Walk all four feet over the rail and halt. Ask the hind feet to back over the rail, then the front feet.
    3. Approach the rail but turn in front of the rail to set up the horse to halt/wait with his hind feet at the rail but not over it.
    4. As 3 above, then ask the horse to back all four feet across the rail.
    5. If you’ve taught sidestepping (see Number 29 in by Blog Contents List), ask the horse to step his front feet over the rail at one end and sidestep along the rail. If you are facing the horse’s ribs ask him to sidestep away from you. You can also ask him to sidestep toward you if you’ve taught this previously. You can also build a signal for sidestepping along a rail while you are face-to-face with the horse.
    6. Straddle the rail. See Number 67 in my Blog Contents List.
    7. Ask one front foot to stand across the rail and WAIT. See if you can do it with either foot. Then either ask the horse to lift the foot back over the rail or walk on forward.
    8. Back one hind foot over the rail and wait in that position; walk forward. Work to be able to do this with either hind foot.

    Mainly, HAVE FUN developing your communication skills.

    Line Dancing with the Front Feet

    Introduction

    An interesting aspect of horse anatomy is that their shoulder blades are not linked to each other with bone. Horse shoulder blades are embedded in muscles, tendons and ligaments. The spine passes between them. In other words, horses have no equivalent to our collar bone.

    This ‘line-dancing’ exercise helps keep the muscles and ligaments in the shoulder area supple.

    We can introduce this task once our horse knows the tasks of yielding the forequarters on request and targeting the shoulder to our hand. We ask for one movement yielding the near front leg away from us and a second movement bringing the near front leg back into its normal position.

    AIM

    When we cross our leg toward the horse we’d like him to move his near front leg across in front of his far front leg. When we uncross our leg and draw away from him, we would like him to bring his leg back into normal position.

    PREREQUISITES

    1. Horse and handler understand ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ body language. See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List – the link is at the top of the screen.
    2. Handler and horse have worked out Consent Signals so the horse can tell the handler when he is ready to repeat the task. See Number 11 in my Blog Contents List.
    3. Horse and handler agree on a signal to yielding the forequarters. See Number 85 in my Blog Contents List.
    4. Horse and handler agree on a signal for asking the horse to target his shoulder to our hand. See Number 27 in my Blog Contents List.
    5. Handler is aware of the Rule of Three to help set up training sessions that don’t turn into drilling. See Number 46 in my Blog Contents List.

    VIDEO

    #262 HorseGym with Boots; Line Dance Front Feet.

    MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

    • A training area where the horse is relaxed.
    • Ideally he can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.

    NOTES

    1. When first teaching a task like, this it helps to always do it in the same place until our signals are consistently smooth and the horse is fluent with the task. I started in our open-fronted shelter because it meant that we could do a short daily practice even when the weather was unpleasant.
    2. Ensure the prerequisites above are all well established.
    3. Once the horse understands the concept, I introduce the voice signal “Across” for moving away and “Return” for bringing the leg back.
    4. Be aware that when we give signals with the non-dominant side of our body, we tend to be stiffer, less precise, and therefore less clear. Awareness of this means we can work on improvement.
    5. It’s important to only do a few of each of these per training session. The Rule of Three, as in Prerequisite 5, is a useful guideline. The brain consolidates new nerve pathways during times of rest. We never want training to become drilling. We want the horse keen to try something new we are teaching because he is keen to earn his next click&treat. If he loses interest we have gone too fast or for too long.

    SLICES

    1. Do a few repeats of click&treat for standing quietly together in your chosen area, using your ‘no intent’ body language during the ‘wait’ time. We need to remember to include this task in every session with our horse, no matter what we are doing.
    2. Cross your feet to model the behavior you want and gently touch the horse’s shoulder to ask him to move his shoulder over, so his near front leg crosses in front of his far leg. Click&treat this movement and at the same time uncross your legs and lean away from the horse to encourage the horse to return his leg to its starting position – feed the treat.
    3. If the horse steps away with both front legs or goes straight into a full turn on the haunches, we probably need to reduce the energy of our signal and time our click exactly to when the near leg lifts and begins moving in front of the far leg.
    4. Once the horse has the idea, shift the timing of your click to when the horse returns his leg into the start position – two behaviors chained to become the complete movement we want.
    5. Pause at zero intent for a little while before asking again. We can click&treat for standing quietly at zero intent any time it seems helpful.
    6. Repeat 2 above. If you get two or three good repeats. Pause. Then teach it again from the beginning standing on the horse’s other side. To maintain suppleness in both shoulders we must work hard to get both sides moving equally freely. If one side is stiffer, it is valuable information for us. Do a few more repeats on that side. And be aware of Note 4 above.
    7. When our signal is smooth and the horse is responding easily most of the time, ask for two ‘Across & Returns’ before the click&treat. Stay with two until it feels ho-hum.
    8. When two is easy, ask for three. You can gradually ask for more if you want to. I tend to stick with three or four on each side as our daily shoulder-stretching exercise.

    GENERALIZATIONS

    1. Do the task in different places.
    2. Work on a slope, standing either uphill or downhill.
    3. Add another element such as standing across a rail.

    Yielding the Forequarters

    Yielding the front end is an act of polite submission between horses. Bold, confident, imaginative horses especially, or fearful horses, may however not be keen to yield their forequarters. They may want to stand their ground and ask, “You and who else is going to make me move?”

    Horses engaged in games nip at each other’s legs and neck in an attempt to make the other horse ‘give way’, so scoring an advantage. This can be good-natured play or in the case of stallions, it can be a serious dispute drawing blood. When young horses living a natural life play this game it teaches them where they stand in the social order among their peers and this knowledge stays with them. A predetermined social order results in a more harmonious group life with reduced confrontational behavior.

    Depending on your horse’s character type and the relationship you have, he may be reluctant to move his front end away, or he may do it easily. By using clicker training, the horse can see the instant benefit (click&treat) of yielding his shoulder.

    People teach the shoulder-yield in different ways. The process outlined below uses props and positive reinforcement by starting with mat destinations that already have a strong reinforcement history.

    Some people use a hand-held target to lure the horse into the movement. However, I use a hand-held target for stretching exercises while the horse stands still, so also using it to ask for movement would contradict the stretching exercises.

    WHY TEACH THIS?

    1. Safety. We want to develop a signal that easily moves the front end of our horse away from us.
    2. Smooth counter-turns to aid flexibility to change position easily. It also helps to create smooth weave or serpentine tasks.
    3. Aids proprioception (awareness of where feet are, what they are doing and how much effort is involved).
    4. Allows us to easily position the horse for foot care.
    5. Builds into a full turn on the hindquarters.

    PREREQUISITES:

    1. Horse keenly targets mats with his front feet. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
    2. Horse smoothly steps across rails. (See Number 18 in my Blog Contents List.)
    3. Horse understands ‘Whoa’ signals and can stand relaxed on a mat. (See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List.)
    4. Handler clearly moves into and out of ‘zero intent’ so the horse knows when he can relax in a ‘wait’ and when he is being asked to move. (See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List.)
    5. Handler has developed the habit of holding the lead rope in the hand nearest the horse.

    ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

    • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • A safe fence or barrier in front of the horse.
    • Something to make a barrier to create a corner. I used plastic jump stands in the video clip, but a raised rail, barrels or a couple of big cardboard boxes would do the job.
    • Two mats. Place one mat in the L-shaped corner and lay the second mat at 90-degrees from the corner mat, a few steps away from the open side of your L-shaped barrier.
    • A rail for the horse to step over to get into the corner.
    • Halter and lead or liberty. A short lead rope is easiest to manage.

    AIMS:

    • Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, voice, touch and gesture signals.
    • Horse crosses front feet to yield the shoulder away from the handler on request.
    • Horse can eventually do a 360-degree turn on the haunches in either direction.

    Video Clip:

    https://youtu.be/eSlin8ZYcRA

    Notes:

    1. STAY WITH EACH SLICE UNTIL IT FEELS SMOOTH AND EASY FOR BOTH OF YOU.
    2. TEACH EVERYTHING ON BOTH SIDES OF THE HORSE. Remember, we often give clearer signals on one side because of our own one-sidedness, so be sure to focus on being equally clear on either side of the horse.
    3. If one side is harder, stiffer, do a bit extra on that side, over many sessions, until both sides feel even.

    SLICES: 

    1. Walk into the corner, with you on the open side of the L-shaped barrier. Ask the horse to target the mat with his front feet; click&treat.
    2. Stand together with zero intent* for a few moments (it’s good to vary how long you stay at zero intent each time), then ask the horse to turn with you to exit the corner and head for the second mat you have set at right angles to the mat in the corner. At this point, you are drawing him with you out of the corner. Click&treat the halt at the second mat. For this slice we are showing the horse that the task is to move himself over to target the second mat.
    3. Add a rail for the horse to step over to reach the mat in the corner. The rail will make it less convenient for the horse to step back when you ask for the shoulder yield. In the video, I raised this rail a little bit to make more of a barrier. Proceed as in 1 & 2 above. Click&treat each halt at the mat in the corner and every time the horse targets the second mat with his front feet. FOR THE FIRST ONE OR TWO LESSONS, REACHING THIS POINT MAY BE AMPLE AT ONE TIME.
    4. When 1-3 above are smooth, adjust your side barrier so it has a space at the front where you can stand beside the horse’s shoulder. Walk the horse to the corner mat, with you now on the the barrier side, and end up standing in the gap you made beside the horse’s shoulder.
    5. Quietly place one hand on or toward the horse’s cheek or neck and the other hand on or toward his shoulder. Breathe in and raise your energy as you do this. Send your ‘intent’ (that the horse should move his front end away) out of your belly button. You are asking him to turn away from you and walk to the second mat for his next click&treat.
    6. Repeat once or twice and that is plenty at one time. Repeat in very short bursts. Two or three times during a training session, interspersed with other thing you are doing, is good. Frequent short practices work best.
    7. Each time you walk the horse into the corner to target the mat, put your body into ‘zero intent’ and click&treat a few times for standing quietly with you. Vary how long you stay at ‘zero intent’ each time.
    8. Re-arrange your props so you can do slices 1-7 on the horse’s other side.
    9. If you can, repeat 1-7 in different locations.
    10. Replace the high side barrier with a rail on the ground. The front barrier is still high. You’ll continue to use the second mat as your ‘destination’. Reaching either mat always earns a click&treat.
    11. When the horse smoothly moves out of the corner by yielding his shoulder and heading for the second mat, we can change a parameter. We will now click for the first step of the shoulder moving away. Ideally, we want the horse to step the near front leg in front of the far front leg. As soon as you see this happening, click&treat. In the video clip you’ll see how surprised Boots is to get clicked at this point (rather than moving all the way to the second mat) and she has a little ‘jolt’ to regain her balance when she hears the click which tells her she can stop to collect a treat. Teach in on both sides. Often one side feels harder.
    12. When the horse is smooth moving his shoulder over a single step as in 11 above, remove the side rail and the rail behind. But keep the front barrier in place. Hopefully he will not have formed a habit of stepping back when you ask for the shoulder to yield. Practice without side and back rails on both sides. Click&treat once for the first step yielding the shoulder, then again upon reaching the second mat.
    13. Once the horse smoothly yields the shoulder on both sides without the side and back rails, omit the barrier in front and work with two mats. If that is too big a leap, have a low raised barrier or just a ground rail as a front barrier.
    14. When 13 is good on both sides, work with one mat. Start with the front feet on the mat, then, one step at a time, ask for a full turn until the front feet end up on the mat again. Click&treat as often as often during the turn as you need to to keep the horse successfully earning his next click&treat. Click&treat too often is better than not often enough. We want to keep the shoulder-yield movement as pure as possible, without creeping back or surging forward becoming part of the behavior loop.
    15. When 14 is good, play at liberty without a mat. Click&treat for one good yielding step until that is excellent both sides, then ask for two and stay with two until they are excellent, etc. until you can get 180 degrees before the first click&treat, then the other 180 degrees, click&treat. Keep your ‘yield shoulder signal’ ON for the number of steps you want, then turn it OFF at the same moment you click, then treat. You want to use a ‘constant on’ signal for the duration of your request. If we are really consistent, eventually just our energy toward the horse’s shoulder will be enough of a signal for many horses.
    16. The day will come when you feel ready to ask for a full 360-degree turn with one click&treat upon completion. Objective reached.

    Ringing a Bell

    Introduction

    This is one way to teach a horse to ring a bell. It has the bell suspended at nose height so it is easy for the horse to move it with his lips. Some horses may easily pick up a bell attached to an object and nod their head to cause it to ring.

    Aim

    On request, the horse nuzzles a bell to cause it to ring.

    Prerequisites

    1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    2. Horse understands putting his nose on a variety of targets to earn a click&treat.
    3. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Number 11 in my Blog Contents List: Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals. Click here.
    4. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
    5. Revisit the Rule of Three in Chapter 1: Click here.

    Videos

    #229 HorseGym with Boots: Ringing a Bell as a hand-held target.

    #253 HorseGym with Boots: Ringing a Bell. This clip introduces the bell hanging freely.

    #252 HorseGym with Boots: Bell Ringing.

    #231 HorseGym with Boots:  This clip looks at introducing the idea of picking up the bell and walking with it.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A large bell that can be hung.
    • Something on which to hang the bell so it is freely suspended at the height of the horse’s nose.
    • For generalization, a bell attached to a rope or similar easy for the horse to pick up.

    Notes

    1. The horse will think about it and be willing to try again next day. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
    2. With tasks like this we can fit several mini-lessons of three repeats in-between chores or other things we are doing with our horse.
    3. When the bell is a hand-held target, remove the bell behind you to take it ‘out of play’ each time you click&treat. This will allow the horse time to enjoy his treat and let you know with a consent signal (Prerequisite 3) when he is ready to do it again. Also, it will be obvious to him when you present the bell into view again.
    4. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
    5. Click for any interest in the bell, even if it’s just sniffing the bell, then gradually click&treat for any sign of moving his lips to nuzzle the bell, even if it is not yet ‘ringing.

    Slices

    1. Ring the bell yourself, followed by a click&treat for the horse. We want to let him know that the sound of the bell results in a click&treat. We also want to be sure that he is not spooked by the sound of the bell.
    2. If you think he might find it startling at first, use protected contact. Start ringing as softly as possible and make it louder as the horse shows confidence.
    3. Attach the bell to a hand-held stick so you can hold it out as a target. Click&treat when the horse puts his nose on it. This is outlined in video clip #229.
    4. Repeat 3 above with a major celebration if the horse nuzzles the bell enough to make it ring.
    5. Once it is reliable on one side of the horse, teach it again standing on his other side.
    6. Attach the bell to an object where it can hang freely at the normal height of the horse’s nose. This is outlined in video clip #253. Click&treat for targeting the bell.
    7. Wait in ‘zero intent’ until the horse nuzzles it enough to make it ring. Time your click as closely as you can to the very first bell sound. If this is not happening, try taping a string to the bell which you can quietly pull to make the bell ring a tiny bit as the horse puts his nose on it: click&treat at the very first bell sound. We want the horse to make the connection between the bell sound and the click&treat so he is motivated to make the bell ring himself.
    8. Once the horse is nuzzling the bell enough to make it ring, gradually withhold the click&treat, one second at a time, to encourage him to ring it for a bit longer. We might consider the task ‘complete’ if we get up to five seconds of bell-ringing.

    Generalizations

    1. Set up the dangling bell in new venues and around other distractions. It could be part of a ‘circuit’ of different tasks.
    2. Once the horse is ho­-hum about ringing a dangling bell, we can generalize to him picking up a bell and walking with it as in video clip #231.
    3. Once the horse is carrying the bell attached to a soft item easy for the horse to carry, play with that in different venues. It could become part of your ‘Fetch’ games.
    4. Teach him to use his nose to ‘ping’ one of the little metal devices some shops use to let you announce that you need attention.
    5. Teach the horse to ‘play’ a keyboard with his lips
    6. Teach the horse to squeeze a bicycle horn for another novel sound.

    Kill the Tiger

    Introduction

    This is a fun trick once your horse is good at picking up rags from the ground or off a fence. However, we have to be careful to put it solidly ‘on cue’ or ‘on signal’ so that the horse doesn’t generalize the task to pulling off his saddle blanket if he is a ridden horse.

    I call it ‘Kill the Tiger’ because we only do it with the striped car seat cover we used in the video because, again, I don’t want her to generalize the idea to saddle pads or horse covers.

    It’s another trick to keep our horse amused if it is too wet, windy, hot or cold to do more active things. The process of putting this trick ‘on signal’ consolidates our ‘wait’ signal. It’s also a lateral flexion exercise.

    Aim

    On request, the horse pulls a large cloth off his back and delivers it to our hand.

    Prerequisites

    1. Horse understands a ‘pick’ signal which we’ve taught for picking items off the ground as in Number 73 in the Blog Contents List: Picking Things Up. Click here.
    2. ‘Zero Intent’ is well established. Number 10 in the Blog Contents List: Intent and Zero Intent. Click here.
    3. Horse and handler agree on a ‘wait’ signal. Number 65 in the Blog Contents List:  The Wait Game. Click here.
    4. Horse is confident about having large cloths draped all over his body.

    Videos

    #226 HorseGym with Boots: Kill the Tiger.

    #254 HorseGym with Boots: Kill the Tiger 2.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A large cloth or similar easy for the horse to grab.
    • Perhaps a mat for parking the front feet to clarify that we don’t want the horse to move his feet.

    Notes

    1. Ensure that the horse has a sound understanding of the prerequisite tasks. Give them the time it takes rather than focus on the end behavior too soon.
    2. Three repeats are usually plenty to start with. The horse will think about the task and be willing to try again next day. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
    3. Click&treat with a frequency that keeps the horse being continually successful with the slice of the task you are working on.
    4. Decide on a specific cloth or gunny sack or similar that you will always use for this exercise. It’s a task we don’t want to generalize to anything we put on his back.
    5. It’s probably easiest to teach this thoroughly on one side of the horse, then begin again on the other side.

    Slices

    1. Ask the horse to pick your chosen cloth off the ground; click&treat. Repeat a couple of times to ensure this prerequisite is smooth and reliable and that he understands your ‘pick’ voice and gesture signals.
    2. Ask the horse to take the cloth from your hand when you give your ‘pick’ signal.
    3. Make sure the horse is relaxed with your chosen cloth draped all over his body.
    4. Lay the cloth over his back and ask the horse to ‘wait’, using your zero intent body language.
    5. Gently pull the cloth forward with your hand so it is easy for the horse to reach with his mouth and ask the horse to ‘pick’ it off his back. At first you may need to pull the cloth partially off. Click as soon as he grabs it and treat after he releases the cloth to your hand.
    6. Repeat 5 above a few times each session. As the horse gets to understand the task, gradually use your hand less but make sure the cloth is relatively easy for him to reach. We want him to be successful each time.
    7. At this stage you will often get the horse keen to ‘pick’ the cloth as soon as you put it on his back (or even before you can get it on his back), so we must emphasize the WAIT GAME from Slice 5 and frequently put the cloth on his back for a few seconds and take it off again without asking him to ‘kill the tiger’.
    8. When the task is ho-hum for the horse on one side of his body, teach it again from the beginning on the other side.
    9. Since this is a flexion exercise, routinely do a couple on each side of the horse. If one side feels stiffer, do a few more on that side.

    Generalizations

    1. Ask the horse to walk along with the ‘tiger’ on his back before you ask him to ‘kill the tiger’.
    2. Gradually extend the ‘wait’ time before asking him to pull the cloth off his back.
    3. Generalize to pulling a rope off his back.
    4. Generalize to other venues.

    Playing Fetch

    Introduction

    Some horses easily walk along carrying something in their mouth. Other horses find this a foreign concept. For such horses we must work through a series of slices to build up a new skill. My horse, Boots, has never worn a bit for riding, so walking with something in her mouth was a truly new experience.

    Some horses learn this quickly at liberty. Others gain security by being on halter and lead (kept loose) so we can give more guidance as we walk along together.

    This is only a possible training plan – each person/horse partnership must tweak the ideas to suit their situation – Individual Education Plans are different for each horse.

    Aim

    On request, the horse moves to an item we have tossed away, picks it up and returns it to us.

    Prerequisites

    • 1. The horse understands the task of picking items up off the ground and handing them to you. (See Number 73 in the Blog Contents List for the detailed Training Plan).

    #224 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Things Up. https://youtu.be/gis3PF7OLlM

    #255 HorseGym with Boots: Picking up Cones. https://youtu.be/pHAPExzdUPk

    • 2. Horse and handler are comfortable going for walks together.

    Videos

    #231 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Up Bell. https://youtu.be/x_Jk570Pnlc

    Short clip showing combining PICK UP with WALK TOWARD ME.

    #234 HorseGym with Boots: Playing Fetch. https://youtu.be/9L8xszYARaM

    Clip showing the various slices of the Training Plan.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Places to walk together.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Lightweight items easy for the horse to hold.
    • Halter and lead to go for walks.

    Notes

    1. With this exercise, we are chaining a whole series of tasks together to build a new skill: 1) pick up, 2) walk holding the item, 3) release the item into the handler’s hand without dropping it, 4) turn holding the item, 5) move toward the item when it is thrown out and pick it up, 6) turn to walk back to deliver the item to the handler.
    2. Several repeats one after the other, of the slice you are currently working on, is usually plenty. A little bit often builds an enduring habit and the horse will be willing to take part next time you bring out your item(s). If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose the horse’s willingness to engage again.
    3. Each time you click, remove the item behind you to take it ‘out of play’. It will then be obvious to him when you preset the item into view again.
    4. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
    5. Any time the horse loses confidence, go back to what he can do confidently and gradually work forward again. Horses instantly pick up any emotion of frustration or annoyance or anger, so be sure to practice emotional neutrality except for gleeful celebration when things go well.
    6. A horse can’t be ‘wrong’ until we have carefully taught him what we want in a way that he can understand and does not make him anxious.

    Slices

    1. Take your horse for a walk and occasionally halt and ask him to take the item out of your hand, hold it for x number of seconds (starting with one second) before asking him to release it back to your hand; click&treat.
    2. While taking your horse for walks, occasionally ask him to hold, then carry the item for one step, then release it to your hand. With some horses this slice may take many, many repeats. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up and try again, asking for it back BEFORE he drops it, even if so far you haven’t been able to walk one step ­– i.e., return to Slice 1 for a while.
    3. Once you have a single step and it is good 90% of the time, ask for two steps, and so one, adding one step at a time over as many sessions as it takes to maintain the horse’s willingness to try again. It’s easy to rush these early slices. To build a confident, lasting behavior, we do a little bit often over many days, weeks, months, depending on your horse.
    4. Gradually add more steps, one at a time, before asking for the item back. If he drops it, ignore it with zero reaction, pick it up and go back to what the horse can do confidently. Slowly work forward again from that point.
    5. Once he will walk beside you carrying the item for 15-20 steps, we’ll change a parameter* by slowly walk backwards so the horse turns and walks toward us, hopefully still carrying his item. Have a big celebration the first time he turns without dropping it.
    6. When he can reliably hold the item as he walks with you, turns toward you as you walk backwards, and walks toward you, we can add the ‘picking up’ part. We use the ‘pick’ signals we taught as in video clip #224. Ask him to pick  the item up and walk along holding it. Because we’ve changed a parameter (please pick it up first), we again click&treat for one step walking, and as before, build up to numerous steps gradually.
    7. Fetch: when he picks it up readily and walks with it, start to toss it a wee bit further away. Go to him as he picks it up, receive it from him and click&treat right away.
    8. When 7 above is good, after you toss the item away, walk into a position that makes it easy for him to walk toward you after he’s picked it up; accept it from him; click&treat. Gradually position yourself a bit further away ( and eventually at different angles to him) so he takes two steps, three steps, and so on to deliver the item back to you. When you change the angle note how well he can orientate himself to deliver the item to you.
    9. Once the horse understands that the task is to fetch the item and return it to you, wherever you are, toss out the item and stay where you are so the horse picks it up and turns to bring it back to you.
    10. Some horses will get into this game with enthusiasm. Others will do it in a sedate manner to earn their click&treat.

    Generalizations

    1. Use a variety of item that are easy for the horse to carry.
    2. Play in a variety of venues.
    3. Add variety like walking over rails, backing up, or weaving while carrying an item.

    Foot Awareness for Improving Proprioception

    Introduction

    Proprioception is the awareness of where our body parts are in space, what each is doing, and how much energy the movement is using.

    Here is a definition from the Internet:

    Proprioception enables us to judge limb movements and positions, force, heaviness, stiffness, and viscosity. It combines with other senses to locate external objects relative to the body and contributes to body image. Proprioception is closely tied to the control of movement.

    I’ve collected together an assortment of video clips I’ve made over the years that include ideas we can use to encourage the horse to be aware of where his feet are and what they are doing.

    Quite a few of the clips are part of a training series and I’ve chosen just one of the series to illustrate the overall task. By going to my YouTube channel – herthamuddyhorse – you can find my assortment of playlists containing series of numbered clips to show the thin-slicing I used to achieve the final task. Message me if you need help to find a particular series.

    Good proprioception relates to all sorts of things, but mainly to overall balance and suppleness.

    Horses that grow up in rough hill country develop good proprioception as a necessity for survival. Horses raised in confined areas without needing to move much to find enough food don’t have the opportunity to develop excellent proprioception.

    In the same way, athletes become good at their sport by developing the aspects of proprioception that especially relate to that sport. If our lifestyle lacks regular movement, our body suffers the same way as that of a stabled horse.

    Video Clips

    #88 HorseGym with Boots: Foot Awareness. https://youtu.be/7bEkFk0w_gk

    A few tasks that play with improving foot awareness.

    #89 HorseGym with Boots: Balance on 3 Legs. https://youtu.be/x1WKppV3N_0

    Playlist: Challenges for Clicker Trainers: August 2017 Challenge: Precision with a Single Rail. https://youtu.be/bJzwDq-NvtE

    Playlist: Foot Awareness: Thin-slicing the 1m Board. https://youtu.be/pLLqtbQJqMs

    #220 HorseGym with Boots: Counting with the Front Feet Clip 1. https://youtu.be/hHpQgsUOINA

    #246 HorseGym with Boots: Counting with the Hind Feet. https://youtu.be/rMsRVL_M33w

    Playlist: Foot Awareness: Single Obstacle Challenges Hoops 3. https://youtu.be/xc-4yGiWDxk

    Playlist: Challenges for Clicker Trainers: September 2017 Challenge: Figure 8. https://youtu.be/QrberCzAO6c

    Playlist: Challenges for Clicker Trainers: November 18, Sidestepping Clip 1. https://youtu.be/Joxp9bYzMRc

    Playlist: Foot Awareness: S-Bend Final Clip. Click here.

    #199 HorseGym with Boots: Unusual Surface with Bottles. https://youtu.be/3LTmUSa0Y1M

    #184 HorseGym with Boots: Back Between Rails. https://youtu.be/FGh7_MeFHcQ

    #95 HorseGym with Boots: Backing down Slopes. https://youtu.be/M9pEFnDSbwc

    Ponying from a Bike or Scooter

    Introduction

    When my hips gave up riding horses but not riding my bike, it made sense to teach Boots to ‘pony’ from my bike. Usually people ‘pony’ a second horse while riding another horse.

    It’s a skill developed for pack horses or to exercise two horses at the same time. When my son was very small we rode together with his pony on a lead. Leading a horse from a bike or scooter rather than another horse comes with its own hazards and challenges.

    Aim

    The horse walks/trots confidently and safely led by a person on a bike or a scooter.

    Prerequisites

    1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    2. Horse and handler agree on voice and breathing signals for ‘walk on’, ‘halt’ with the handler beside the horse. Number 16 in the Blog Contents List.
    3. Horse and handler agree on voice and gesture signals for ‘back up’ while the handler is beside the horse. Number 32 in the Blog Contents list.
    4. Horse and handler have a good command of prompt transitions upward and downward using voice signals.
    5. Horse is relaxed about a dragging rope. It’s inevitable that we will drop the rope at some point to stop being pulled off our bike. #60 HorseGym with Boots – specifically the second half of this clip. Click Here.
    6. Horse and handler agree on voice signals for ‘right turn’ and ‘left turn’. #137 HorseGym with Boots: Click here.
    7. Horse and handler agree on signals for ‘go around and turn’. This is important to have smooth because as much as possible, we want ourselves between the horse and anything ahead that he might find worrisome. If he needs more space, we want him to move away from us, not into us. # 250 HorseGym with Boots: https://youtu.be/3oqPs4LM5AM and video clip #251 below.
    8. If riding on public roads or tracks, we must ensure that the horse has been given the time and opportunity to be comfortable around cars, motorbikes, trucks, dogs, pushchairs, other people on bikes, tractors, hikers, and children while the handler is walking with the horse. We need to feel secure with other road users approaching from in front or from behind. Trailers with flapping plastic are an ultimate test. Essential to get used to flapping plastic at home.

    Videos

    #247 HorseGym with Boots: Boots and Bicycle. Older video – short.

    #228 HorseGym with Boots: Intro to Bike. Recent video.

    #230 HorseGym with Boots: Bike on the Road. Recent video.

    #251 HorseGym with Boots: Changing Sides. Recent video.

    #249 HorseGym with Boots: Scooter Outings. Recent video.

    #248 HorseGym with Boots: Bob meets Bicycle. Click here. Older video featuring a young horse seeing a bike for the first time.

    Materials and Environment

    • We need a safe enclosed place where it’s possible to use free-shaping to introduce the horse to the bicycle and establish the basic protocols using a lead rope.
    • A helper is great to have at the beginning.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Quiet tracks, trails or roads to expand confidence. For public roads, the key is usually choosing the quietest part of the day.
    • Walk with the horse on the routes you will take, for many days, weeks, months, so the route is as familiar as possible. I’d walked or ridden our routes for a long time before ponying on my bike.
    • Bicycle or mobility scooter or similar.
    • Be especially sure the horse is not hungry before you set off. For some horses, a light mesh grazing muzzle can be a safety feature if the horse tends to dive for grass. Use it first walking out so it is not directly related to the bike. Munch-N-Go make a muzzle that is light and its easy to slip a treat into the side.

    Notes

    1. It’s important to take the time to get all the prerequisites established. Although I put up monthly challenges, each challenge is just an idea that you may like to work toward. The real magic is in getting the prerequisites into good shape, which can take months or years, depending on many factors.
    2. Keep each session short. Three repeats is often plenty. Many short sessions keep the horse keen to ‘do it again’ next time.
    3. Click&treat often enough to keep the horse continually successful with what you are asking him to learn. Build duration gradually, but always be conscious of increasing duration as you can.
    4. Create a strong habit of using your voice signals all the time when they are appropriate, not just with the bike. Our “Whoa” response has saved my bacon numerous times. The “Back-up” with voice and gesture signals is essential. We don’t want the horse crossing in front of us unless we are inviting him to change sides.
    5. You may be fortunate enough to have tracks and trails where the horse can accompany you on your bike without the need for a lead rope. Some horses, like mine, will gravitate to the closest grass and stay there. If you are limited to public roads or tracks, safety with the lead rope is a must.
    6. When I take my horse out and about in the neighborhood, we have grazing destinations. If there is no grass, I take an ample supply of carrots and horse pellets which we stop to enjoy at the furthest point of our outing. In other words, I don’t expect the horse to randomly go with me. I give her a destination that makes sense to her. Horses who can move freely always know where they are going and why. We remove much of this self-determination from them when we want to do something with the horse. Working with destinations is a way to return it in a small way. See also Number 17 in my Blog Contents List: Destination Training.

    Slices

    1. Have someone walk with your bike and you follow behind with your horse wearing halter and lead. Allow the horse to decide how close (or not) he will get to the bike. As soon as you see/feel interest or less tension (sighing, blowing out, lower head, softer body) – click&treat.
    2. Repeat 1 above until the horse is confident enough to walk right up close to the back of the bike, with click&treat for each sign of greater confidence.
    3. Ask the person wheeling the bike to slow gradually to a stop so the horse can touch his nose to the bike if he’s ready for that step; click&treat. Repeat a few times to consolidate.
    4. Have your helper ride the bike and repeat 1-3 above.
    5. At this point, if it feels safe, take off the lead rope so the horse makes his own decisions about approaching and/or following the bike.
    6. Without a helper: Walk with the bike yourself. Click&treat any movement of the horse toward you and the bike. The aim here is for him to want to come and target your hand or the bike to earn a click&treat.
    7. When 6 is smooth, ride the bike. Click&treat coming over plus any offer to move with you and the bike. At this point, it’s helpful to expect little but click&treat each tiny sign of increasing interest and confidence.
    8. Gradually work on duration of staying with you and the bike. Setting up a roomy reverse round pen is helpful at this stage – protected contact for you as the horse gains confidence. You bike inside the barrier while the horse follows outside the barrier. You can use foot targets in set places on the path of travel where you will always stop to click&treat, so the horse knows that there is a destination – a stop point if he stays with you. Eventually have just one foot target on the perimeter of the reverse pen.
    9. When the horse stays with you on the bike willingly and with confidence, see if you can speed it up so he trots. Sometimes transitioning to a higher gait brings out a spurt of excited energy. It’s good to test this out while you are in protected contact inside the reverse pen. It’s also a good place to work with upward and downward transitions using voice signals. Use your downward transition (trot-walk or walk-halt) voice signals as you approach the foot target when slowing down makes sense to the horse. Use your upward transition signal (halt-walk) as you leave the mat and your walk-trot signal a little while after you leave the foot target when the horse is anticipating reaching it again.
    10. Build duration without the reverse round pen by using foot or nose targets as destinations. Start with them close together and gradually put them further apart. If you used this method for teaching good leading behavior while walking with the horse, the horse will already be familiar with the concept.
    11. Introduce the lead rope into the situation. At first, walk the bike while leading the horse. When you introduce a new element to a situation, always go back to click&treat more often (in this case, anytime the horse is coming along smoothly for a few steps), then gradually less often as the horse gains confidence.
    12. When ponying from the bike at home in familiar places is smooth, venture out on the road first walking the bike. As mentioned in the prerequisites, ensure that you have walked with the horse many times on the public roads you plan to bike with your horse, so that dogs running out, horses or cattle galloping in adjoining paddocks, vehicles, children, and so on, have all been met before and worked through.
    13. When walking with the horse and bike is smooth, one day it will feel right to get on your bike. Keep the early sessions going away from home and returning home short – celebrate your safe return. It takes a long time to build confidence (yours and the horse’s) but it can be lost in a nanosecond.
    14. When you reach the farthest point of your day’s outing, allow the horse grazing time or stop for a generous jackpot of treats, before heading home again. This gives the horse a sense of ‘destination’ as outlined in NOTE 6.
    15. Slowly build up confidence with the types of landscapes you have for biking or scootering with your horse. Shorter distances done often are preferable to long distances less often.
    16. If you have graduated to a mobility scooter or similar, play with it at home first. Play with having the horse follow it with you while another person drives it. Walk the horse on the left side and the right side of the scooter, first with you nearest the scooter, then with the horse nearest the scooter. Practice the ‘walk on’, ‘halt’, ‘back-up’ transitions. Practice the ‘go around in front and turn to change sides’ maneuver (Prerequisite 7) from both sides until both sides feel smooth.

    Generalizations

    1. Different venues.
    2. Electric bike.
    3. Four-wheeler – avoid horse having to breathe in exhaust.
    4. Golf cart.
    5. Introduce a rider to horse’s movement without having to ‘be in charge’.
    6. Ride one horse and lead a second horse.

    Counting with the Hind Feet

    This task is an excellent exercise to work on the timing of our ‘click’ and melting into ‘zero intent’ to wait for the horse’s ‘consent signal’ to do a repeat. The task forces us to focus on the timing and consistency of our On/Off gesture signals. It is also an excellent mobilization exercise for the horse.

    Boots and I played with this occasionally for over a year, especially when time was short or the weather was rough, but also as a regular ‘end of session’ exercise. We did this after a year of working on confident ‘counting’ with the front feet as in Prerequisite 3 below.

    Aim

    When I face the back of the horse and point to his hind feet with my inside hand, using an On/Off gesture signal, the horse lifts a hind foot when I point and sets it down when I remove my hand signal.

    Prerequisites

    1. Horse and Handler have developed good table manners standing quietly together. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
    2. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: Click here.
    3. Horse and handler are already confident ‘counting’ with the front feet. Click here.
    4. Triple Treat: #16 HorseGym with Boots. Click here.
    5. Horse is comfortable rubbed all over with a long object (video clip below).

    Videos: Counting with Hind Feet

    #246 HorseGym with Boots

    #243 HorseGym with Boots. The following clip shows the detail of working with ‘zero intent’ and waiting for the horse to give a ‘consent signal’ that tells us he is ready to try again.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A long-handled target to introduce the idea of lifting a hind foot to touch a target (which we eventually fade out).
    • A shorter target to accentuate the On/Off gesture signal (also gradually faded out).
    • A mat at first, to help the horse understand that we want him to stand still.
    • A safe fence or barrier alongside which we can stand the horse.
    • A variety of other barriers to use for generalization.
    • Two raised rails (or similar) to stand between.

    Notes

    1. It’s important to stay with each slice of this task until the horse is fully ho-hum with it. In other words, repeat each slice a few time over as many short sessions as it takes for the horse to respond smoothly to your ON/OFF signal. If we take the time it takes to establish each slice, all steps of the overall task will be embedded in the horse’s long-term memory, giving us relaxed responses.
    2. Timing of the click is essential at first. It is the only way the horse can understand what you want him to do (lift his foot). Try hard to click as the foot is coming UP. If you’re unsure about your timing, practice by bouncing a ball and clicking when it leaves the ground. Or practice with a person standing in for the horse. Eventually we can relax the timing and click for the completion of one UP and DOWN movement. In the video clip you will notice that at one point I had to specifically wait to click after the foot returned to earth. Each horse will show his own little foibles.
    3. I don’t mind which foot the horse lifts. I prefer if he uses both. If a horse seems to use the same leg most of the time, make a big deal (triple treat / celebration) when he uses the other one. This is a mobilization exercise, so using both legs is good.
    4. When starting with this task, use the same location, same mat, same targets (until faded out) until the horse is truly confident with what you are asking.
    5. Often, it’s helpful to start on the horse’s left side, but we need to build the pattern standing on his right side as well. Spend a little more time on the side that feels harder. I like to teach each slice on both sides as we go along. An option is to teach all the slices on one side then teach them all again from the beginning on the other side. Or teach several slices on one side and then on the other side.
    6. Any time there is confusion (horse and/or handler), return to where you both feel confident and gradually work forward again. I had a terrible time remembering to use my inside hand for the gesture signal. When I used my outside hand I thoroughly confused my horse because gestures with my outside hand already had two different meanings, as shown on the video clip.
    7. Consistently use the hand closest to the horse (the inside hand) for your signal.
    8. A major part of the signal is the turning of our body to face the horse’s hind feet while we remain at his shoulder. As I turn, I add a voice signal, “Counting Rear”, to help differentiate this task from other things I do facing the back of the horse.
    9. It took us a long time (months) to put all these pieces together, with a short practice most days. I started in a consistent place as mentioned in Note 4.

    Slices

    1. Stand the horse alongside a safe barrier in a place that you can use consistently for each session. The barrier stops the horse thinking we want him to move his hind end away. Ask him to park his front feet on a mat.
    2. Set the stage for the exercise by asking the horse to count with his front feet – a major prerequisite for success with this task.
    3. Turn so you are facing his hind end. Holding your long-handled target in the hand nearest the horse (inside hand) gently touch it to his hock; click as you touch and deliver the treat as you move the target out of play behind you.
    4. Repeat 3 above with Click&treat for any movement, even a shift of weight off that foot. When first teaching this, remember to click as the foot lifts UP.
    5. As the horse begins to understand that you click&treat when his foot comes up, hold the target near his hock, not touching it. The movement of your arm will become the horse’s clue.
    6. When 5 above is good, use a shorter target to point to the hind foot. Or shorten the target you have been using – or use the same-looking end on a shorter stick (a different-looking target may confuse an extremely sharp horse). Boots did not find this a problem.
    7. When 6 above feels ho-hum, go to an even shorter target and/or introduce the wiggling of your finger along with the target.
    8. When 7 above feels confident, refine your gesture to just lifting your arm and wiggling your finger. Immediately the horse lifts his foot, click, return your signaling hand to its OFF position lying on your belly, feed the treat with your other hand.
    9. When getting one foot-lift is reliable, and it feels right, ask for a second lift before the click&treat. Huge celebration if you get it. Remember we are using an ON/OFF signal, so put your signal hand into neutral on your belly before asking for the second lift.
    10. Vary between asking for one lift and two lifts. I count out loud as the horse lifts the foot: “One, Two” with a voice emphasis on the number I will click&treat if it is more than one. The horse learns that a soft counting voice means a request for another ‘lift’ is coming up.
    11. When 10 above feels ho-hum, ask for a third lift before the click&treat. Again, a huge celebration.
    12. Over time work up to as many lifts as you want. I usually stick with a maximum of five standing on the left and five standing on the right, but I vary the number requested each time we do it and might occasionally ask for six or seven.
    13. Once you have reliable lifts standing alongside a familiar barrier, generalize to other locations where you can stand the horse with a safe barrier along his far side to maintain the idea that he doesn’t need to move his body.
    14. Once 13 above is relaxed, stand the horse between rails raised to gradually wean away from a high barrier.
    15. The task is ‘finished’ when you can easily count your decided number of lifts on either side of the horse without needing any props.

    Generalizations

    1. Play with the exercise in different venues.
    2. Play on a slope.
    3. Incorporate it into your WAIT game or your Four Corners Exercise. Click on the Blog Contents List at the top of the page to access these (Number 65 and Number 71 on the list).
    4. Use it as a mobilization exercise when it’s too hot, cold, windy, wet to do much else.

    Picking Things Up

    Introduction

    Some horses show a natural inclination to pick things up, in which case we can ‘capture’ the behavior with well-timed click&treat. The challenge with such horses is to quickly put the task ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’ to counteract a tendency to pick up anything and everything in the hope of earning a treat.

    Others, like my horse Boots, learn to pick things up because it earns a click&treat. For such horses, we can thin-slice the whole process, starting with sniffing an item, taking an item out of our hand, and so on. Such thin slices might also help to put the task ‘on signal’ for the keen horse.

    Aim

    On request, the horse picks up items , holds them, and presents them to our hand.

    Prerequisites

    1. Horse has a strong history of positive reinforcement for standing with front feet on a mat. #8 HorseGym with Boots: Duration on the Mat. Click here.
    2. Horse and Handler have developed good table manners standing quietly together. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
    3. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: Click here.
    4. For Generalization with the bell as in the second video clip, handler and horse agree on a clear ‘recall’ signal. February 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Simple Recall Pt. 1. Click here.

    Videos

    #224 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Things Up.

    #231 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Up a Bell.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse can relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A variety of items safe and easy for a horse to pick up.
    • One or two objects that can serve as platforms so we can gradually put the items closer and closer to the ground. E.g. chair or a tub turned over.
    • Horse at liberty if possible.
    • For some horses, rubbing something that smells nice to the horse on the item can gain initial interest, but make sure it does not encourage the horse to eat your item, especially if it is something like a cloth.

    Notes

    1. Three repeats of the slice you are currently working with is usually plenty. A tiny bit often is the key. The horse will think about it and be willing to try again next time. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
    2. Each time you click, remove the item behind you to take it ‘out of play’. This will give the horse time to enjoy his treat and let you know with a consent signal (Prerequisite 3) when he is ready to do a repeat. Also, it will be obvious to him when you preset the item into view again.
    3. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
    4. Any time the horse loses confidence, go back to what he can do confidently and gradually work forward again. Horses instantly pick up any emotion of frustration or annoyance or anger, so be sure to practice emotional neutrality except for gleeful celebration when things go well.
    5. A horse can’t be ‘wrong’ until we have carefully taught him what we want in a way that he can understand and does not make him anxious.
    6. We are building a little chain of behaviors: pick up – hold – move item to my hand – release item to my hand.

    Slices

    1. With the horse parked confidently on a mat so he knows you want him to stand still, offer your item: click&treat any willingness to sniff the item.
    2. Look for and click&treat any tendency to move his lips around the item. As always, take the item ‘out of play’ as you click&treat
    3. Look for and click&treat any tendency to open the mouth and use the teeth to investigate the item.
    4. Look for and click&treat any instance that you can momentarily remove your hand and the horse doesn’t drop the item. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up, and go back to click&treat a couple of times for the previous slice the horse IS able to do, before finishing the session.
    5. Once you can remove your hand momentarily, gradually build duration of him holding the item one second at a time. We want the horse to eventually hold the item until we put our hand out to receive it. Three seconds is good. Five seconds is great. Also praise and click&treat any indication that the horse is moving his head toward your hand to deliver the item to you.
    6. At this point, we can introduce a voice signal for picking up an item. I use the word, “Pick”. I also eventually introduce the voice signal, “Hold”, once the horse can hold the item for three or more seconds without dropping it.
    7. Once 5 above is smooth and reliable over several mini-sessions, introduce something that can act as a platform about halfway to the ground and put the item on it. At first you may need to keep your hand on it or near it by pointing to it and using your voice signal. Gradually move your hand further away. Pointing to the object along with the voice signal makes a useful multi-signal.
    8. We’d like the horse to move his head toward our hand to ‘deliver’ the item to us. Gradually move your receiving hand a bit further away so the horse raises/turns his head a bit more to ‘deliver’ the item to you. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up and return to the slice where he can be successful.
    9. When 7 and 8 above are smooth, organize a platform a bit closer to the ground and repeat.
    10. When 9 above is smooth, put the item on the ground and ask him to pick it up and hand it to you.

    Generalizations

    1. Set out a series of items and move along to to pick each one up.
    2. Ask the horse to pick objects like ropes or rags off a fence or similar. Some people have fun setting up a ‘clothes line’ with cloths for the horse to take off.
    3. Ask the horse to walk a step or two holding the object. Boots had great difficulty with this. She happily picked things up and gave them to me, but the idea of moving holding something in her mouth was totally foreign to her, maybe because we never used a bit when riding. I started out asking her to walk-on after giving her a willow twig which she ate as she walked. Then we progressed to one step holding an old riding crop; click&treat. When one step was solid we added steps one at a time. It took us all winter of playing with this during our morning walks before she felt comfortable carrying an object for about 15 steps.
    4. Ask the horse to recall a few steps, to ‘deliver’ the object to you. This is the beginning of teaching ‘fetch’.

    Navigating Gates and Gaps

    Introduction

    Gates come in a variety of shapes, orientations, and sizes. Teaching our horses to calmly negotiate gates in different situations gives us excellent training opportunities.

    Aims

    Horse confidently:

    1. Waits while the handler passes through the gate, comes through on request and turns 180 degrees once through the gate.
    2. Moves though a gate ahead of the handler and turns 180 degrees to face the handler.
    3. Moves though a gate ahead of the handler and waits without turning.
    4. Backs through a gate.

    Prerequisites

    1. Smooth walking shoulder-to-shoulder and confident HALT. Number 16 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions. Click here.
    2. Horse has learned to ‘wait’ until handler gives a new signal or clicks&treats. Mainly as in this clip: #8 HorseGym with Boots: Duration on the Mat. Click here.
    3. Smooth 180-degree turns. Number 23 in my Blog Contents List: 180 Degree Turns. Click here.
    4. Handler and horse agree on a clear ‘recall’ signal. February 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Simple Recall Pt. 1.Click here.
    5. Horse and handler have a ‘move away from me please’ signal paired with a ‘whoa’ signal while the handler is behind the horse. #213 HorseGym with Boots: Send & Halt. Click here.
    6. For generalizations, we have taught the finesse back-up. Number 40 in my Blog Contents List: Finesse Back-Up. Click here.
    7. For generalizations, the horse understands a back-up signal when the handler is behind the horse. #105 HorseGym with Boots: Trailer Simulation with Dead End. Click here.

    Videos

    Clip 1: #237 HorseGym with Boots

    Clip 2: #238 HorseGym with Boots

    Clip 3:  #239 HorseGym with Boots: Click here.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Six or eight low markers around which the horse can turn 180 degrees without the lead rope getting snagged. 5L containers of water or blocks of firewood work well.
    • A familiar mat.
    • Halter and lead at least 12 feet or 4 meters long. Light cord works fine.
    • Two tall objects to create a gap (gate simulation) or a fence/wall and one tall object.
    • A rope or similar to simulate a gate.
    • A variety of real gates.

    Notes

    1. Navigating a gate requires a chain of small individual tasks. We teach the individual tasks, then link them together.
    2. As we link the small tasks, our Click Point* shifts along so the horse does progressively more before each click&treat.
    3. It’s important to stay with each slice and each small task until our signals are clear and consistent and the horse responds readily.
    4. Once a maneuver is smooth on one side of the horse, we teach it again on the other side of the horse. I like to teach each small task on both sides as we go along.

    Slices

    1. Ensure that the horse confidently targets a mat with his feet to earn a click&treat.
    2. Set up a low marker object with a mat nearby. Start at the mat and ask the horse to walk around the marker with you and return to the mat, so you are doing a 180-degree turn together. Click&treat at the mat.
    3. When 2 above is smooth, do the same exercise without the mat. At first, ask for a HALT about where the mat used to be; click&treat the halt.
    4. Set up a line or circuit of objects to walk around to practice 3 above. And also generalize to different places if you can.
    5. When 3 and 4 above are smooth, hang back a bit and send the horse around the marker on his own. The Click Point is now shifted to when the horse returns to you after walking around the marker.
    6. Once 5 above is solid, send the horse away from you between two markers instead of around a marker. This is the first approximation of a gate.
    7. When 6 above is smooth, ask the horse to HALT and WAIT on the other side of the gap from you. The ‘halt and wait’ becomes your new Click Point. Go to the horse to deliver the treat.
    8. Create an obvious gap with two tall objects (or fence/wall and one tall object). Place a low markers on either side of the gap for the horse to walk around as he did in 3 above. Repeat 7 above using this gap.
    9. Negotiate the gap in both directions.
    10. Introduce the idea of the horse waiting on one side of the gap while you walk through the gap first. Once you’ve walked through, pause, then invite the horse through the gap and around the marker so he ends up beside you. This becomes the new Click Point when the handler goes through the gate first.
    11. When 10 above feels smooth, add a rope to simulate a gate. Play with opening the gate toward you and away from you.
    12. When the gate opens toward you, ask the horse to go through the gap first plus turn to face you and WAIT. Then you go through the gate and shut it. Click&treat.
    13. When the gate opens away from you, ask the horse to WAIT while you move through first, then ask him to come through and turn so he is beside you and facing the gate as you close it. Click&treat.
    14. Use a ‘gate’ gap to teach sending the horse through the gate but not turning around. If we long-rein or drive our horse, we won’t want him to turn after going through the gate. So teach him to walk through the gap while you stay behind him, plus halt and WAIT in the facing away position (Prerequisite 5). Go to the horse to deliver the treat.
    15. Ask the horse to back through a gate. Begin with walking him through the gate, then back up through it. Eventually walk to the gate, then ask him to turn so the gate is behind him and ask him to back through.
    16. When all the above are going smoothly, move on to practicing with as many real gates as you can.

    Generalizations

    1. Play with simulation gates at liberty.
    2. Play with real gates at liberty if you can safely do that.
    3. Ask the horse to WAIT on one side of the gap while you walk through it and turn to face him. Ask the horse to recall through the gate. (Prerequisite 4).
    4. Play with simulation gates on a slope.
    5. Gradually make your ‘gate spaces’ narrower and narrower.
    6. Teach backing through gates with a signal while you face the front of the horse (Prerequisite 6).
    7. Teach backing through gates with a signal from behind the horse (Prerequisite 7).

    4 Corners Pattern for Exercise

    Introduction

    If we have a non-ridden horse because we prefer not to ride, our horse is retired or recovering from injury, or we love small ponies, donkeys, or mules, it can be tricky to ensure regular adequate continuous movement in a way that is not boring.

    Walking out in-hand is ideal if we have safe places to go. But lack of time or weather might not make this a regular option. Or the handler may not be able to walk long distances due to injury, infirmity, or age.

    Horses in the wild move a lot, especially during the seasons when fodder is scarce and water sources are limited. Grazing horses continually move along one step at a time as they search out the nicest grass.

    When we have to restrict grass, feed hay, and keep our horse in a relatively small space, we obviously also severely restrict the natural continuous gentle movement that accompanies grazing and life unrestricted by fences.

    In a natural situation, most horse movement is walking. Occasionally they trot. Gallop is generally in response to a perceived threat. The play drive of younger horses may initiate occasional energetic movement. Some horses are by nature more energetic than others. As with people, daily sustained movement is a cornerstone of good health.


    If we can’t do sustained walking out and about, we can organize novel walking patterns at home in a limited space.

    Wanting horses to move consistently at faster gaits is a human construct. While brisk trotting and a good canter or gallop are great to occasionally increase the heart rate and clear out the lungs, we can easily maintain or improve our horse’s welfare with regular sustained walking and a bit of trotting.

    Sustained walking means twenty or thirty minutes of continuous movement. Steady walking increases circulation and helps the horse ‘blow out’ to clear his breathing system. Horses living in a peaceful group in a paddock will do some walking, but it is not usually sustained.

    Aim

    To create interesting walking and movement routines for our horse in a relatively small area.

    Prerequisites

    1. Confident with walking shoulder-to-shoulder. Number 16 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions. Click here.
    2. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
    3. Horse is comfortable standing across and walking across solid rails. Number 18 in my Blog Contents List: Placing the Feet Accurately Using a Rail. Click here.
    4. While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse follows the movement of the handler’s body axis away from the horse to navigate turns. Number 31 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth 90-Degree Turns. Click here.
    5. Established clear signals for weaving obstacles. #170 HorseGym with Boots: Body Axis Orientation Signals. Click here. There are more clips about weaving in my YouTube playlist called: Weave and Tight Turns.
    6. If you want to add in the ‘wait’ game for variety, ensure the horse understands a ‘wait’ signal to stay parked while we move away. This clip is in my playlist called Obstacle Challenges for Clicker Trainers: October 2017 Challenge Park & Wait. Click here.
    7. If you want to walk or trot together at liberty: see Number 68 in my Blog Contents List: 20 Steps Exercise: Click here.

    Videos

    #169 HorseGym with Boots: Walk and Hock Gym with Obstacles is found as Number 21 in my Blog Contents List. It is a simple circuit around the perimeter of a defined area.

    The next two video clips divide a defined area into four quarters and describe a pattern of movement that makes exercising our horse more interesting. We can add moves our horse knows into the pattern and change our obstacles and objects around to create a variety of novel situations.

    This clip demonstrates the pattern of movement through the ‘four corners’ arrangement. #232 HorseGym with Boots.

    This clip shows the pattern walking with a horse. #233 HorseGym with Boots.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue with good or reasonable footing. If it’s dry, the corner of a grazed paddock can work well. An arena is excellent. A round pen can also be cut into quarters. Once the handler has the pattern in memory, it can be carried out anywhere and include natural features of the landscape.
    • Ideally the horse can see his buddies but they can’t or don’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • An assortment of safe objects and obstacles. The only limit is our imagination.
    • Halter and lead, with the lead kept draped unless used momentarily to give the horse directional information.

    Notes

    1. The prerequisites above cover the basics. We can, of course, add other tasks our horse knows. Or we can use one part of the pattern to work on something new.
    2. The idea is to use voice, gesture, body language, breathing and energy changes to signal the horse, not halter pressure via the rope. However, we can use rope pressure to give the horse momentary guidance so that he can more quickly figure out what will result in the click&treat.
    3. Each pattern contains 12 right angle turns. When we’ve mastered the basic pattern we can factor in halts, back-ups, sidestepping and a variety of other movements.
    4. To begin with, have the horse on the outside of the turns. Eventually you may want to do the pattern with counter-turns at each corner.
    5. The pattern is done once on the left side of the horse and again on the right side of the horse. It’s easiest to start in the center each time.
    6. When you begin to do the pattern with counter-turns, start again at the beginning with click&treat for each elegant turn.
    7. The arena in the video clips is 30 meters long and 20 meters wide. Therefore walking this pattern once is about 200 meters. Walking it on either side of the horse gives us 400 meters. If we walk the pattern first with no stops for special tasks (400 meters) and again on right and left sides adding special tasks, we’ve walked 800 meters. If you have a larger area, it will be easy to walk over a kilometer within your restricted space.
    8. To first learn the pattern, it’s helpful if the handler walks the basic pattern on their own or with another person (or dog) standing in for the horse. There are 12 corners in the pattern. We don’t stop in the center again until we’ve walked the whole pattern. We can add variation by facing any one of the four directions to begin the pattern.

    The pattern starts and finishes in the middle of the area. The 12 turns are numbered. We don’t stop in the middle until we’ve completed the whole pattern. We can add variety by facing a different direction to begin the pattern.

    Slices

    1. You may want to begin by asking the horse to walk the basic pattern with you for several days, before introducing objects and obstacles. It can be helpful to have markers at the four turning points which are not in the four corners, as well as a center marker.
    2. Stand in the center with zero intent. Click&treat for standing quietly. If you are on the horse’s left side, you will be turning left 12 times. If you want to teach a ‘turn left’ voice signal, use it just before your body language shifts into the turn. At first, exaggerate the shift of your body axis into the turn. We want the horse to shadow our movement so that touch on the halter via the lead rope is seldom needed. Click&treat each smooth turn. The stop for delivering the treat and walking on again add another dimension of flexibility. Eventually click&treat only for especially crisp turns.
    3. As the horse becomes familiar with the pattern and all the turns are nice and clean, I tend to click&treat only for the specific tasks I’ve added into the pattern.

    Standing in the middle of our work area, ready to start. Bridget is on the horse’s left side and they will turn left 12 times. The open hoop is our center marker.
    • Match your walk to the horse’s natural walk. Boots’ natural walk is 5km/h. Smoky’s natural walk is about 7km/h. It was always interesting when leading both of them at the same time.
    • Once you know the pattern, set up the obstacles you want to begin with. Start with items your horse knows well. To maintain interest over time, add new things and/or change where they are in the circuit.
    • Click&treat often enough to keep the horse walking with you in a willing manner. To begin with, I click&treat each brisk right-angle turn as well as successful negotiation of every obstacle. Once the pattern is well-known, I tend to click&treat for the more challenging obstacles or any new ones I’ve added since last time.
    • Once it is smooth walking on the horse’s left side, repeat on his right side. That will include 12 turns to the right. We can add a ‘turn right’ voice signal.

    Generalizations

    1. Once the horse understands the pattern we can use it at liberty (Prerequisite 7). Some people may like to teach the whole thing at liberty.
    2. Add objects to weave along the center lines.
    3. Teach again asking for counter-turns at each corner.
    4. Add trotting if you are fit to run with your horse or are riding the exercise. Begin with trotting the straight lines through the center. That will give you four upward and four downward transitions within each circuit.
    5. Add challenge with sloping ground.
    6. If you’ve taught your horse to lead smoothly when you ride a bike, the pattern can be adapted.
    7. We can use one or two of the corners in the pattern to ask the horse for any behaviors we have in our repertoire. They could be stationary behaviors or movement we can do in a smallish space. This video clip illustrates some of the things Boots and I sometimes practice in the corners (#235 HorseGym with Boots: 4 Square Generalizations.)

    Drive-By Grooming

    Introduction

    This is a fun way to work on the clarity of our voice, touch, and gesture signals for walk on, halt, and back up. If we have a tall horse (or we are short) it can make grooming the upper parts of the horse much easier.

    Having our feet ‘planted’ in one place means we have to refine our signals to make them super clear for the horse.

    Aim

    To groom the upper areas of both sides of our horse while standing on a raised platform (or keeping our feet on a mark on the ground if we have small equines).

    Prerequisites

    1. Horse confidently comes to a mounting block or similar structure without the need for a mat. #240 HorseGym with Boots: Wait and Recall. Click here.
    2. Horse confidently targets his cheek to a brush. #242 HorseGym with Boots: Target Cheek to Brush. Click here.
    3. Horse understands a ‘move forward please’ signal paired with a ‘whoa’ signal while the handler remains in one spot. #213 HorseGym with Boots: Send & Halt. Click here.
    4. Horse is familiar with backing up one step at a time and moving forward one step at a time. Number 37 in my Blog Contents List. One Step at a Time. Click here.
    5. Horse understands hand and voice signals for backing up when the handler is beside the withers. #173 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 1 of 2. Click here.
    6. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: Click here.
    7. Number 46 in my Blog Contents List: Rule of Three: Click here.

    Video

    #194 HorseGym with Boots:

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse and Handler are clicker-savvy.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A mounting block or anything safe for the handler to stand on. If you have a small pony, stand on a marker of some sort, so you are not tempted to move your feet other than turning as necessary.
    • A safe fence or similar barrier.
    • Grooming gear.
    • To start with guided shaping, use a target that’s easy to handle and take out of play (tuck into a belt or pocket), or a halter and lead.

    Notes

    1. Short sessions of Slice 1 can be done alongside the other slices. But stay with each of the other slices until you are both confident with it. Better to go a bit too slow than to go too fast.
    2. Have each task working smoothly on the ground before putting them together and eventually adding the platform to stand on.
    3. The timing of the click is the only thing that tells the horse how to earn the treat, so strive to get your timing as accurate as you can.
    4. When the horse moves ahead of you, or backs up so he is behind you, we want him to halt and wait ‘on the spot’ when he hears the click. You go to him to deliver the treat.
    5. Remember to celebrate each approximation toward the final goal. Start with a high rate of reinforcement. As the horse gets to understand each task, ask for a bit more before each click&treat.
    6. But always be prepared to slow down and increase the rate of reinforcement if the horse (or the handler) gets lost. I always do this task with a high rate of reinforcement because Boots has never been keen on grooming.

    Slices

    1. Ensure that your horse willingly comes to you when you call him while you stand on a pedestal, mounting block or marker. Usually this includes have taught a ‘wait’ so that you can move easily between your standing places (Prerequisite 1).
    2. On the ground, ensure that your horse willingly targets a brush in your hand, both with his nose and with his cheek (Prerequisite 2). This is a great task to teach your horse about consent signals (Prerequisite 6) by doing a little bit often (Prerequisite 7). A consent signal for brushing by the horse might be touching his cheek to your brush. Do all this standing on the ground.
    3. On the ground, ensure that your horse understands a signal for moving forward one step and back one step while you are beside him (Prerequisites 3, 4, 5).
    4. On the ground, play with asking the horse to move forward one or two steps with an arm gesture or a touch signal just behind the withers. We can teach this by standing back from a nose target and using the gesture or touch signal to request the horse to move to the target and wait there for you to move to him to deliver the treat. (Prerequisite 3). Eventually phase out the nose target. Click for one or two steps forward away from you when you use your touch signal behind the withers.
    5. On the ground, play with asking the horse to back up a few steps while you are at or behind his withers (Prerequisite 5). Work alongside a fence in a corner or build a dead-end lane to make it easier for the horse to understand what you want.
    6. Once all the tasks above are in place on the ground, add the mounting block or pedestal.
    7. When 6 above is smooth on one side of the horse, ask the horse to back up far enough so you can ask him to walk forward on the other side of the mounting block so his other side is nearest you.
    8. Once you have your ‘ready to brush’ Consent Signal in place (Prerequisite 6), use it for drive-by grooming while you stand on the mounting block or pedestal. Boots’ consent signals are coming over to me on the mounting block or pedestal and touching the brush with her cheek when I hold it out.

    Generalizations

    • Move your mounting block to different locations.
    • Vary whether you start grooming on the left side or right side.
    • Stand on different pedestals to do drive-by grooming.
    • Play with asking him to come to the mounting block from further and further away.
    • Teach another person the signals so they can brush your horse.

    Consent Signals: Target Cheek to Brush for Grooming

    Introduction

    When we want to give a horse the option to take part in an activity or not, we can learn to wait for the horse to give us a consent signal that tells us when he is comfortable for us to go ahead.

    This task looks at setting up a consent signal for grooming. Some horses love to be groomed. Others not so much.

    There are a variety of reasons why a horse may not be relaxed about grooming.

    • A traumatic grooming experience, e.g. punishment for restless movement. ‘One Time’ trauma learning is a real thing.
    • Grooming while tied up if tying up itself causes anxiety. Being in cross-ties may feel a bit like a straightjacket – we have removed all options for movement.
    • Grooming before activities that the make the horse feel nervous, afraid, uncomfortable, in pain, and/or exhausted.
    • Grooming with tools the horse finds uncomfortable.
    • General inexperience or discomfort with being around people or a certain person.
    • A combination of any of the above.

    Aim

    To establish the horse targeting his cheek to a brush as a consent signal that he is okay for us to proceed with grooming.

    Prerequisites

    1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    2. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
    3. Horse understands the concept of targeting body parts to our hand. Click here.
    4. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: Click here.

    Videos

    #241 HorseGym with Boots: https://youtu.be/-TK4VqCnvL4

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A soft brush.
    • Mat (optional).

    Notes

    1. Your horse may develop more than one consent signal. You will note in the video that Boots uses two. One is turning toward me to let me know she is finished chewing and ready to repeat. The other is moving her lips in what we call a ‘smile’ but sometimes she does it very discretely and it is just a wiggle of her lips.
    2. Note that we are chaining two tasks. Consent for one (target cheek to brush) becomes the consent for the second task (grooming).
    3. Notice how her body language changes when I start grooming.
    4. If the horse is mat savvy (parks willingly on a mat) you can use a mat when you begin this exercise. But if the horse is worried about grooming, we may not want to make the mat part of a worrying process.

    Slices

    1. Begin with asking the horse to target his chin to your hand as per Prerequisite 3. This lets him know which game you are about to play.
    2. Change to asking him to target his cheek to your hand, using the process outlined for the chin.
    3. Once 2 is ho-hum, hold a soft brush for him to target with his cheek.
    4. Once 3 is ho-hum, brush a few strokes after the click&treat for targeting cheek to brush. Sometimes I begin brushing while delivering the treat with my other hand, then click&treat again for accepting the brush strokes.
    5. Gradually brush a bit more before the second click&treat (the first is for touching cheek to brush). Be super aware of thresholds of discomfort. If the horse needs to move, he is over threshold and we’ve gone too fast.
    6. Depending on how the horse feels about brushing, it may take many short sessions for him to become more comfortable with brushing, or it might happen very quickly. Spring shedding time is often when grooming is appreciated most.
    7. Teach the whole process from the beginning on the horse’s other side.

    Generalizations

    1. Practice in different places.
    2. Add a variety of brushes.
    3. Use a similar process to get the horse comfortable with cloths, ropes, sticks rubbed all over his body.

    Straddling a Rail

    Introduction

    This is an interesting exercise to help refine the timing of our signals and the ‘click’ (or whatever marker sound we have chosen) that lets the horse know when he is doing exactly what will result in a treat.

    Boots and I first learned this task years ago and play with it occasionally. If a task is taught well enough to be in a horse’s deep memory, it seems it is never forgotten. Usually a bit of guidance to clarify which task I’m asking for is enough to bring back the memory. When I made these video clips we hadn’t revisited straddling a rail for several months.

    However, we play with ‘shoulder/hip yield’ and ‘shoulder/hip toward me’ often, so our signals for these are current – well-honed and well-practiced.

    Straddling a rail is an exercise useful for balance, foot awareness and general proprioception. We teach it in tiny slices that keep the horse being continually successful. In other words, we celebrate each approximation.

    Aim

    The horse confidently moves his feet individually to straddle a rail lengthwise.

    Prerequisites

    1. The horse understands yielding the shoulder. This clip is in my Obstacle Challenges for Clicker Trainers PLAYLIST: April 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Yield the Shoulder. Click here.
    2. The horse understands targeting the shoulder to our hand. Number 27 in my Blog Contents List: Target Shoulder to Hand. Click here. 
    3. The horse understands yielding the hindquarters. This clip is in my Obstacle Challenges for Clicker Trainers PLAYLIST: May 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Yield the Hindquarters. Click here.
    4. Horse understands bringing hip toward hand. Number 28 in my Blog Contents List: Targeting Hindquarters to Our Hand. Click here.
    5. Horse is comfortable standing across and walking across solid rails. Number 18 in my Blog Contents List: Placing the Feet Accurately Using a Rail. Click here.
    6. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. Number 29 in my Blog Contents List: Sidestepping. Click here.
    7. Handler is aware of teaching in short segments. Number 46 in my Blog Contents List. Click here.
    8. Triple Treat for celebration: #16 HorseGym with Boots: Triple Treat. Click here.

    Videos

    #222 HorseGym with Boots: Prep for Straddling Rails

    #223 HorseGym with Boots: Straddling Rails

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Halter and lead to clarify signals during the teaching (acquisition) stage unless you prefer to teach everything at liberty.
    • Rail: a half-round rail is ideal because it doesn’t roll/move while the horse is figuring out where and how to move his feet.

    We can mound sand at the ends of a round rail to minimize rolling or chock round rails with bits of wood or stones at either end.

    A long rail, or two short rails end-to-end, make it easier for the horse at the beginning. We could also use a tightly rolled tarp to stand in for a rail, or a thick rope/hose.

    Notes

    1. Ensure that the horse can carry out the prerequisite tasks calmly and accurately.
    2. Give each slice of the ‘straddle’ the time it takes rather than focus on the end behavior.
    3. Doing a few repeats of ‘hip/shoulder away’ and ‘hip/shoulder toward me’ each session will keep them topical and smooth.
    4. Click and treat each approximation at first. Celebrate when you get either front feet or hind feet (or both) straddling the rail.
    5. Three repeats at one time are usually plenty to start with. The horse will think about it and be willing to try again next day. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again. (See Prerequisite 7.)
    6. Decide whether you will initially teach the task by asking the horse to yield shoulder/hip away from you or if you will ask the horse to bring shoulder/hip toward you. Don’t mix them up until the horse has a sound understanding about where you want his feet.
    7. Be careful to not ‘correct’ or make the horse feel wrong as he figures out what you want him to do with his feet to earn his next click&treat. He can’t be wrong because he doesn’t yet know what you want him to do.

    The lack of ‘click’ tells the horse that he hasn’t quite got it yet. If he feels lost, increase your rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat) and lower your criteria – i.e., click for all approximations toward the finished task and stop after a good effort for that session. Then he will be keen to try again next session.

    Slices

    1. Run through your ‘hip/shoulder away’ and/or ‘hip/shoulder toward me’ routines away from the rail, to set the scene.
    2. Introduce the rail by walking across it in both directions. Then park parallel to it several times — on both sides and facing both directions.
    3. Start with the side and direction that feel easiest.
    4. Ask for either front or hind end to straddle the rail. Click&treat for all and any approximations. Your horse may offer to do the full straddle right away – major celebration.
    5. Then quietly ask for the other end to straddle the rail. Don’t worry if he moves one end off the straddle to adjust his balance so he can straddle with the other end. You will notice in #223 video clip that Boots does this a couple of times.
    6. Also don’t worry if he steps his whole body across the rail. Simply breathe deeply, relax, and reset the task. If the horse moves both front or hind feet across the rail, try giving a less-energetic signal.
    7. The key is to quietly reset and try again. Finish on a good effort and go away from the rail to do something else.
    8. Resist the temptation to ask again to see if you can do it again. At first a ‘good effort’ may still be far from the finished movement. That doesn’t matter. If the horse is willing to try in a relaxed manner, you have a ‘good effort’.
    9. If it becomes a muddle, walk away, do something easy with a high rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat). Then return to the rail and start again or leave it until the next session. (See number 5 in the NOTES.)
    10. Explore different ways of coming off the straddle – turn and sidestep off, back off, walk forward with the feet staying on either side of the rail, and so on.
    11. Once the horse is adept at straddling the rail, click&treat for duration. Start with one second and increase duration one second at a time.

    Generalizations

    1. Once the horse understands the task, it can be fun to also explore other ways of signaling the ‘straddle a rail’ task.
    2. I was delighted when Boots offered to sidestep into the straddle as at the end of clip #223, because I’d never asked her to do that before. We do, however, practice plain sidestepping regularly.
    3. Walk forward to straddle the rail.
    4. Back up to straddle the rail.
    5. Mix up ‘hip/shoulder away’ and hip/shoulder toward me’.
    6. Straddle different kinds of rails.
    7. Different venues.
    8. On a slope – facing downhill and facing uphill.

    Treasure Hunt

    Introduction

    This is a fun activity when we don’t have a lot of time with our horse. Or we can use it to begin or finish a longer training session.

    We can expand the task as much as we like, depending on the space we have available to lay out the ‘treasures’.

    Aim

    Horse confidently follows a trail of markers to find a treat under or alongside each marker.

    Prerequisites

    1. Horse is relaxed enough in the venue for his curiosity to be engaged.
    2. Horse readily targets the ‘markers’ you will use when you hold them in your hand. In the clip I used small plastic plant pots that are easy for the horse to push aside and easy to see.
    3. Horse is used to picking treats off the ground (not sand or open soil).
    4. Horse understands a signal to move away from the handler so we can ask him to explore markers on the ground. This clip demonstrates touch and voice signals to ask the horse to move forward away from me. Instead of a halt signal, the horse moves on to seek out the circuit of treasures. Click here.
    5. A strong WAIT with duration is helpful if we want to set up a treasure trail without having to contain the horse physically. See The Wait Game: Click here. Alternately, we can teach ground-tying to a high standard: Click here.

    Videos

    #227 HorseGym with Boots: TREASURE HUNT

    #236 HorseGym with Boots: TREASURE HUNT GENERALIZATIONS

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Ideally the horse is at liberty, but if that’s not possible, the horse can be on a long light lead and encouraged to do the exploring for each treasure while we tag along behind keeping the lead out of his way.
    • Targets we can place or hang around our training area, e.g. rags or plastic drink bottles if we need to teach the horse to move out ahead of us.
    • A surface from which the horse can safely pick up treats, e.g. grazed paddock, solid footing areas (not sand). If only a sand or soft soil area is available, we can lay out mats or similar to put under each marker.
    • Markers to put over each treat. The purpose of the markers is to have the horse use his initiative to move the marker to find the treat. In the video clips I use small plastic plant pots. Any small pot or pottle will do – margarine containers, even something as large as one-liter ice cream containers or cut down milk containers. Make sure that it is safe and easy for the horse to move the container aside with his nose to reach the treat, especially when first introducing the task.
    • Treats to put with each marker. These can be carrot/apple strips, pieces of celery, an unshelled peanut, horse pellets.
    • Halter and long, light lead if you can’t have the horse at liberty.
    • Halter and short lead if you want to ask the horse to wait while ground-tied.
    • Mat, pedestal, or balance beam if you want to use a WAIT spot while you set out the treasure trail.
    • For generalization, stones or pieces of wood to set out as marking points.

    Notes

    1. At first, use single obvious treats such as a large strip of carrot or any vegetable or fruit your horse likes. Once the horse understands the game, it is easy to switch to a few horse pellets or an unshelled peanut under each marker.
    2. Ensure the horse can easily move the marker with his nose.

    Slices

    1. As a first task, we have to teach the horse (or refresh) a signal indicating to ‘seek’ by moving away from us toward a target. Begin by hanging targets at nose level around your training area and have the horse walk with you between the targets, with a click&treat for putting his nose on each one. Rags or plastic drink bottles make good targets.
    2. Once 1 above is ho-hum, stay back a little bit as you approach each target and develop a hand gesture paired with a voice signal to let the horse know you would like him to move ahead of you to ‘seek’ the target. I use a light tap behind the withers as a touch signal, as well as an arm/hand gesture. Click when he touches the target and walk forward to his head to deliver the treat. This builds up Prerequisite 4 – horse confidently moves forward away from you.
    3. Play with having the horse target the type of marker you will use on the ground, while you hold it in your hand.
    4. With the horse nearby and watching (behind a gate or tied or held by a helper), be obvious about putting a treat on the ground nearby and cover it with the marker the horse has been targeting in your hand.
    5. Encourage the horse to move forward away from you to ‘seek’ and explore the marker to discover the treat under it. Some horses may need you to ‘help’ move the marker during the first one or two trials. As the horse begins to understand the game, gradually hang back until he can do it on his own.
    6. Begin to create a trail of multiple markers. Put them close together at first, then gradually further and further apart. If your horse lives on a track, you might lay the trail around corners.

    Generalizations

    1. Lay out the treasure hunt in different venues.
    2. We can use rocks or pieces of firewood to mark the site of each ‘treasure’ and occasionally move these around to change the puzzle. We may need to guide the horse from marker to marker the first few times. Start with them close together and gradually put them further apart. This system means we don’t have to pick up the markers each time.
    3. We can add complexity by using a variety of markers as long as we teach each one separately at first.
    4. We can add interest by putting a variety of treats or fresh herbs/willow twigs into a series of cardboard boxes scattered around in different places each time. These are more visible and work well if we set them up before releasing the horse(s) into the space. However, be careful not to use boxes with staples and the glue in the carboard is not safe to eat. Some boxes will also have been sprayed.
    5. When the horse finishes seeking out a line of treasures, we can add a recall back to us, which earns a click&treat celebration.
    6. When trailering a horse to a venue, have him wait in the trailer while you set out a circuit of treats with familiar markers. Then as soon as he exits the trailer, encourage him to come with you to do the treasure hunt. By having something familiar to do right away, the idea of a new/different place can be less worrying for the horse. I used to do this without markers and found it hard to remember exactly where I’d put the strips of carrot, so markers are helpful.
    7. We can ground-tie the horse or ask him to stand on a mat, pedestal, or beam for the ‘WAIT’ while we set out the treasure hunt. This gives him a definite place to be. Of course, we’d have to spend time teaching ground-tying or WAIT duration first.
    8. We can set out rails between the markers to encourage more varied movement. The horse will usually step across them if they are in direct line to reach the next marker.

    Movement Routine 12 – Rags as Focus

    INTRODUCTION

    For this routine we lay the rags out in a line. Only the horse weaves the rags while the handler walks parallel to the rags. Each request for sidestepping is followed by walking a circle, to give variety and vary the flexion throughout the routine.

    AIM

    To link weaving, standing together quietly, walking circles together and sidestepping.

    PREREQUISITES

    1. We have stepping on a mat strongly ‘on cue’ or ‘on signal’ or ‘under stimulus control’. #9 HorseGym with Boots: Putting Targets ‘On Cue’: Click here. More info about putting targets ‘on cue’: #5 HorseGym with Boots: Putting Nose Targeting ‘On Cue’. Click here.
    2. Smooth transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions. Click here.
    3. While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse changes direction in response to handler moving his/her body axis toward the horse or away from the horse. #170 HorseGym with Boots: Body Axis Orientation Signals. Click here.
    4. Weaving. #70 HorseGym with Boots: Only Horse Weaves. Click here.
    5. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. Sidestepping. Click here.
    6. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.

    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 relatively short lead (~8′) when not working at liberty.
    • Six rags (or any even number) laid out in a straight line with enough space between them so the horse can easily weave the rags.

    VIDEO CLIP

    NOTES

    1. Only the horse weaves the rags. The handler walks a line parallel to the rags.
    2. Click&treat as often as appropriate to keep the horse continually successful.
    3. This is concentrated work, so after doing the routine on one side of the horse, it’s best to do something relaxing before working on the other side.
    4. For the sidestepping tasks, you could be in front of the horse as I am in the video clip, or on the side asking the horse to either move away from you or toward you.

    TASKS

    1. On the left side of the horse, weave the rags in both directions. Put in a halt and a few seconds of ‘wait together’ at each end of the weave.
    2. Walk a circle to line the horse up with his belly beside the first rag.
    3. Ask the horse to sidestep so the first two rags pass under his belly.
    4. Walk a circle to line up the horse’s belly with the third rag.
    5. Repeat the sidestepping across two rags followed by a circle to line up for the next two rags until you reach the end of the rags.
    6. Use a jackpot or Triple Treat to indicate the end of the routine on the left side of the horse.
    7. Repeat on the horse’s right side.

    GENERALIZATIONS

    • If you can run with your horse, trot the weaves.
    • If the horse understands sidestepping with various signals, mix up the way you ask for it.
    • Work on a slope if you have one handy.
    • Do the routine with imaginary rags. I do this often and if I’m careful to keep my signals consistent, it’s amazing how well it works once the horse knows the routine.

    Movement Routine 11: Fence for Focus

    INTRODUCTION

    As we build up a collection of routines, we can:

    • Improve on tasks we’ve done before.
    • Add a new aspect to a task, e.g. different handler position.
    • Do tasks in a different order.
    • Introduce new tasks.
    • Add trot to some of the tasks.

    AIM

    This routine links together a finesse back-up, targeting shoulder to hand, sidestepping, counterturn circle, ‘wait’ while the handler walks around the horse plus signaling a back-up from behind the horse.

    PREREQUISITES

    1. Smooth ‘Walk on’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions (staying shoulder-to-shoulder). https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
    2. Finesse Back-Up. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5XL
    3. Target Shoulder to Hand. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5SH
    4. Smooth Counterturns. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5WK
    5. Horse has learned to ‘wait’ until handler gives a new signal or clicks&treats. Mats: Parking or Stationing and Much More. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9
    6. Horse and handler agree on clear ‘stay’ signals. https://youtu.be/UvjKr9_U0ys
    7. Horse understands a back-up signal when the handler is behind the horse. https://youtu.be/501PSnAA-po
    8. Triple Treat. 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 12′ (4m) or longer lead if not working at liberty.
    • A safe fence line to work alongside.

    VIDEO CLIP

    Movement Routine 11: Fence as Focus (filmed at liberty)

    NOTES

    • Be sure that you have mastered each task before chaining them together.
    • Chain pairs of tasks to begin with, then gradually join the pairs together.
    • Click&treat at a rate that keeps your horse being continually successful. As he learns the routine, ask for a bit more before each click&treat.

    TASKS

    1. Walk shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse nearest the fence.
    2. Smoothly turn to face the horse and ask for a Finesse Back-up. Eventually work up to ten steps back.
    3. Ask the horse to target your hand with his shoulder to turn him 90 degrees so his butt is against the fence.
    4. Ask the horse to sidestep one direction, then in the other direction. You could be facing the horse, at his side asking him to yield away or at his side asking him to step toward you.
    5. Take position alongside the horse’s head/neck so you can ask him to walk a counterturn half-circle with you, then halt. A counterturn has the handler on the outside of the turn.
    6. Put the rope over the horse’s back, take if off, or ground-tie if your horse knows that. Ask the horse to ‘wait’. Walk forward and right around the horse. Click&treat when you return.
    7. Complete the counterturn circle so you are both once again parallel to the fence; the handler will be nearest the fence.
    8. Ask the horse to ‘wait’ with clear voice and gesture signals. Walk backwards and around behind the horse to end up standing beside his hip furthest from the fence.
    9. Ask the horse to back up while you move to remain beside his hip. Alternately, you could keep your feet still and ask the horse to back up until his head is at your shoulder.
    10. Use your ‘end of routine’ routine to let the horse know the routine is finished for now.
    11. If you started walking on the horse’s left side, teach it again walking on his right side. One side may feel harder.

    GENERALIZATIONS

    • Work alongside as many different safe fences as you can find.
    • When it is super smooth with halter and lead, play at liberty.
    • Use a line of ground rails instead of a fence.
    • Do the routine in an open area with no fence or ground rails.

    Counting with the Front Feet

    Introduction

    You may have heard the story about a horse called Clever Hans who could add, subtract, multiply and divide. I think it was eventually found that Hans responded to eyebrow signals from his person to let him know when he should start and stop lifting his foot.

    My horse, Boots, and I won’t reach such a level of sophistication, but teaching ‘counting’ can be fun. It also forced me to refine and clarify the way I presented my signals, as well as improve the timing of my ‘click’.

    Leg lifts without moving are a good way to play with mobilization. Viewing the video clips, I notice that lifting one leg engages her whole body.

    ‘Counting’ is a game we developed over many months with several starts and stops to focus on other things. It’s an engaging game for a few minutes at a time when the weather is too hot, wet, windy, or cold to be out and about.

    The key, as for most of equine clicker training, is to have many short sessions, two or three minutes long, over many, days. By keeping it short, the horse begins to look forward to the new game as a relatively easy way to earn clicks&treats.

    NOTE: Items with an asterisk {*} are described in the GLOSSARY which you can access at the top of the home page.

    Developing Boots’ Individual Education Program* for ‘Counting’ helped me:

    • Be more aware of deciding and stabilizing my body orientation, which is a key part of any signal. Horses are super aware of body positioning.
    • Refine the nature and energy of my signal for this task. We do a lot of different things, so it is tricky to keep all my signals ‘clean’.
    • Improve the timing for when I turn the signal on and off.
    • Remember to take up my ‘zero intent*’ position to wait for the horse to tell me when she is ‘ready to repeat’ (Consent Signals*)
    • Relax when the horse attends to external distractions and wait for her to bring her attention back to me.

    This exercise is an extension of tasks we developed to create confidence with standing on three legs for hoof care. Details of this are available in my book, Confident Foot Care using Reward Reinforcement.

    Once Boots readily lifted a leg when I pointed to it, it was not a big leap to ask for two lifts in a row before the click&treat*. She is presently on her way to counting to ten. Which lets us have fun doing simple math questions when the grandchildren visit.

    Aim

    To have the horse understand a signal for lifting a front leg (either one) and able to repeat lifting the leg up to ten times on request (number is optional) before a click&treat.

    Prerequisites

    1. Horse and handler are clicker-savvy.
    2. Handler uses clear body language to indicate ‘intent’ and ‘zero intent’. Click here.
    3. Horse is relaxed about foot care and willingly lifts his feet for cleaning/trimming. Or this task can also be part of improving balance on three legs.
    4. Horse has developed one or more ‘Consent Signals*’ to let the handler know when he is ready to go ahead with what we are doing. Click here.
    5. Horse understands touching a target with his nose, his knee, and his foot. #89 HorseGym with Boots: Balance on Three Legs looks at foot targeting. Click here.

    Videos

    MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • The horse is not hungry.
    • A space where the horse can stand relaxed and confident.
    • A safe fence (not electrified or wire) or similar barrier.
    • A target safe for foot targeting and easy to handle. I find a piece of cloth slipped into the leather end loop of an old riding crop makes a nice lightweight target. Bulky things like pool noodles are harder to hold and harder to remove from view to ‘take out of play’.
    • A rail on the ground may be helpful in some cases.

    Notes

    1. Using props when we begin a new task makes it much easier for the horse to understand what to do to earn his next click&treat. Use of well-planned props takes us halfway to achieving our aim.
    2. Once the horse understands the task, we gradually fade out the props.
    3. Pawing is not the same as counting with a discreet signal from the handler for each ‘number’ counted. If pawing becomes an issue, repeated click&treat for ONE lift of the foot may (over many short sessions) may make it clearer for the horse.
    4. I start each session (once we can count more than ONE) with click&treat for ONE, and work up the numbers to our present limit.
    5. I like to encourage the horse to use both front feet for the counting. Boots sometimes uses both and sometimes mostly one foot. Using both gives better distribution of the muscle movement throughout the body.
    6. HANDLER SKILL: Your horse may begin to offer foot lifts once you’ve started this game. Boots does it in the video clips. This ‘offering’ is precious. It shows you that the horse understands the game and is volunteering to start. If I’m ready, I count such an ‘offer’ as ONE and begin to signal for TWO and so on.
    7. HANDLER SKILL: Click as the horse is in the act of lifting his foot. Good timing is not always easy and can always be improved. Don’t worry if you don’t get it exactly right each time. Focus on the upward movement of the foot. Once you are conscious of this, and with practice, your timing will improve.
    8. HANDLER SKILL: Carefully check your body orientation to keep it the same each time you begin to ask for ‘counting’. Horses are super aware of how our body is orientated. Consistent orientation is a large part of signal clarity.
    9. HANDLER SKILL: Ensure that you always use the hand closest to the horse to give the ‘lift foot’ signal. Which hand you use is highly significant to the horse. I use the hand furthest from the horse to give a signal for ‘shoulder away’.
    10. HANDLER SKILL: The signal for each ‘foot lift’ is an ON-OFF signal.
    11. HANDLER SKILL: As you click, remove the target (and later your hand/finger) to behind your body to consciously take it ‘out of play’ – the OFF part of the signal. When you present it again for the next ‘repeat’ it will catch the horse’s attention as your ON signal. Once you are using your finger, make your moving finger the ON signal and learn to tuck your finger way for the OFF signal.
    12. HANDLER SKILL: I begin the task by using a voice signal. I say, “Counting – Fronts” and quietly count each foot lift, exaggerating my voice for the number I will click. Boots has learned that while I say the number softly, she will need to do another one – in other words, she listens for my loud, happy final number plus click. I’m also teaching her to count with the back feet, where I start by saying, “Counting – Rear” and my body orientation is quite different.
    13. HANDLER SKILL: In the clips you will notice that occasionally Boots pauses. She is not being slow or stubborn, she is thinking. Be sure to give your horse ample thinking time and sometimes they like a bit of time to enjoy their last treat before resuming the game.
    14. HANDLER SKILL: Always click before you reach for the treat or the horse will learn to watch your hand rather than focus on what you are teaching. This is especially important for this task because your hand moving slightly forward with a finger wiggling will become the ON signal as you fade out the target prop.
    15. HANDLER SKILL: Feed the treat away from your body. Try to position your treat hand so the horse straightens his head to retrieve the treat.
    16. HANDLER SKILL: If the horse is distracted, wait with ‘zero intent*’ body language until the horse brings his attention back to you – hopefully using a ‘consent’ signal*. Sometimes the waiting feels like a long time, but it is usually only a few seconds. Pay attention to whatever has caught the horse’s attention by looking at it keenly, then breathe out deeply. This shows the horse that you have noticed his concern but are not worried about it.
    17. HANDLER SKILL: Teach everything on either side of the horse. One side may feel more difficult. The horse may be less comfortable with you on one side. We are usually less smooth giving signals when we use the non-dominant side of our body. I like to teach each slice of this task on both sides before moving on to the next slice. While the horse is learning, I am learning to be more particular about everything mentioned in these notes.
    18. HANDLER SKILL: Stay with X-number of leg lifts until it feels like the horse is ho-hum with that number, even if you stay at ONE or TWO for what feels like ages. Nothing derails our training as quickly as going faster than the horse is able to absorb each new slice and put it into deep memory.
    19. HANDLER SKILL: If you get a nice series of ‘counting’, resist the natural urge to ‘do it again to see if we can do it again’. Stop when it feels really nice and wait until your next session.

    Slices

    1. If you already have a space where the horse stands comfortably relaxed, start with Slice 2. If not, we first need to establish a place we can use consistently for teaching this task. One way is to ensure your horse is comfortable standing between a safe fence and a rail on the ground. Walk him through the space in both directions. Then halt in the space; click&treat, in both directions. The fence and rail help show the horse that you don’t want him to move sideways. When he is relaxed in the space, start with Slice 2.
    2. Set the scene to let the horse know that ‘targeting’ is the game of the moment by asking him to target his nose, a knee, then the back of a front foot to your target.
    3. Repeat touching the foot to the target ONCE with a click&treat each time. Somewhere between three and five repeats is plenty at one time. (See The Rule of Three. Click here. )
    4. When the horse readily lifts his foot once, ask for twice before the click&treat.
    5. When the horse readily ‘counts’ to TWO, ask for THREE before the click and treat.
    6. And so on, to as high a number as you like, always staying within the horse’s ability and interest level.
    7. As you reach a higher number (over five), the horse may pause more often to think. He may be thinking about which foot to lift next.
    8. When it feels like the horse has a good understanding of the task, gradually introduce a finger wiggle with the hand holding the target. Horse peripheral vision is magic at picking up movement, so they will notice the finger wiggle easily.
    9. Gradually lessen the movement of the target stick toward the horse as you wiggle your finger. Eventually you’ll realize that you no longer need the target stick – that your hand/finger movement has become the signal.
    10. Remember, bringing your hand forward and the wiggling your finger is your ON signal. Put your hand ‘away’ and out of play is your OFF signal. Then when you bring your hand with wiggling finger forward again, the horse will notice it as your ON signal to do another ‘count’.

    Generalizations

    1. When the horse is ho-hum about his ‘counting’ task in the familiar spot you have been using, move to different venues. You may want to begin with fence and rail props in a new venue. Horses let us know when the props are no longer needed.
    2. At some point you can begin to mix up the number you ask for – sometimes THREE, sometimes FIVE, occasionally SEVEN, and so on.

    Movement Routine 10 – Rags as Focus

    Photo: Task 6; U-turn around one rag.

    INTRODUCTION

    This routine presents a novel way to walk ever-decreasing circles. It also includes weaving and 180-degree turns.

    AIM

    Smoothly carry out a routine walking together in a variety of configurations.

    PREREQUISITES

    1. Walking together shoulder-to-shoulder. Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions. Click here.
    2. While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse changes direction in response to the handler moving his/her body axis toward the horse or away from the horse. #170 HorseGym with Boots: Body Axis Orientation Signals; Click here.
    3. Weaving. #70 HorseGym with Boots: Only Horse Weaves; Click here.
    4. Smooth 180 Degree Turns: Click here.

    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 relatively short lead rope (8′).
    • Rags: I used six rags in this video clip for easier filming and to avoid boring viewers, but you can use as many as you like and make the circle as large as you like.

    VIDEO CLIP

    #215 HorseGym with Boots: Movement Routine 10 Rags as Focus; https://youtu.be/HpMSjqYdagk

    NOTES

    1. I like to memorize the sequence of tasks by walking the pattern without the horse and/or with a person standing in for the horse. It also works to visualize the sequence often.
    2. Make the circle a size that suits your horse. We want him to be able to do the weave part easily. As he gets more adepts, you can gradually make the circle smaller to encourage more bend.
    3. I found it a challenge to remember which rag we were going to leave out next as we made the circle smaller. Having different colored rags made it easier.
    4. Boots is now so good about recognizing that the rags are not mats, that I could walk on the rags or inside the rag circle without her stepping on them. If your horse tends to step on the rags, walk on the outside of the rags so he is further away from them.
    5. Use a rate of reinforcement that keeps your horse continually successful. This can be very often when you first introduce the routine. As the horse gets to know the routine, gradually decrease your rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat).
    6. Be careful not to drill. Multiple short sessions will keep the horse keen to do it again next time.

    TASKS

    1. On the horse’s left side, starting from the center of the circle, ask the horse to weave the rags while you remain walking inside the rags.
    2. When you’ve weaved through all the rags, walk a full circle around all the rags.
    3. Walk a second circle leaving out one rag.
    4. Walk a third circle leaving out two rags, and so on, systematically, until you reach your last circle around just one rag.
    5. Walk to the center of the circle for a rest; click&treat.
    6. From the center, walk straight ahead and do a U-turn around the nearest rag and return to the center.
    7. You’re now facing the opposite direction, so choose another rag in front of you, walk toward it and do a U-turn and return to the center.
    8. Use your ‘end of routine’ routine so the horse knows it is the end of the routine. I use a Triple Treat.
    9. Repeat on the horse’s right side. You may want to do something else before you repeat this on the other side because it is such concentrated work.

    GENERALIZATIONS

    1. When it feels smooth, work at liberty.
    2. If you are able, set up a big circle and do some of the routine at trot.
    3. Add the task of ever-increasing circles.
    4. Work on a slope if you have one handy.
    5. Use more rags.
    6. Set the rags into a rectangle or a triangle to encourage more variety of movement. Or have one end round and the other end with two right angles.