Synchronicity is a fundamental horse behavior. Horses living naturally stay in visual contact and move together. A warning snort by one horse will immediately alert all other horses within hearing. One horse startled into action will immediately be joined by the rest of his group. The body awareness of horses, like that of schooling fish and flocking birds is so acute that even at top speed on uneven terrain they don’t run into each other.
It’s possible for us to become part of this incredible sensitivity if we train ourselves to become clear and totally consistent with our body language. Once a horse realizes that our body language is significant and reliable, he tends to watch it closely. If we systematically strive to improve our body language, we will reap the benefits when we lead our horse.
We inevitably need to lead our horses from A to B. We might be leading our horse:
- Between paddocks.
- Between stable and paddock.
- Into and out of stalls.
- To and from our training area.
- Along a road or track for a walk.
- Alongside other horses.
- On the uneven road verge or ditch if large or unusual traffic comes along.
- Through gates of varying width.
- Through a narrow space.
- In a new area the horse has not seen before.
- Into a familiar area which suddenly has new things in it.
- Up and down slopes.
- Around obstacles.
- Through water.
- Across ditches or gullies.
- Into and out of a truck or trailer.
- Around a vet facility.
- Between cars and horse trailers.
- Past or among strange horses and strange people.
- Past pigs or donkeys or other animals unfamiliar to the horse.
- Past loud or aggressive dogs.
- Near children.
- If we take our horse for walks, we may be in bush or forest with logs to step over, water to cross, other trail users to meet and pass.
- If we trail ride, we may have reason to dismount and lead the horse in narrow, unusual and sometimes dangerous places with poor footing.
I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list, but it makes the point that it is definitely in our interest, and in the horse’s interest, to make precision leading part of our horse’s repertoire.
The ‘gates’ in this exercise are pairs of markers set up in a random pattern. The task is to organize the approach to each gate, so the horse can navigate it fluidly. We start with the gates well spread out and roomy to walk through.
This first short video looks at how we can use clear, consistent changes of our body’s axis as a major signal for the horse.
As always, there are quite a few PREREQUISITES. If you want/need to review any of the key prerequisites, I’ve put direct links to them at the end of this blog.
- Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals in a relaxed manner.
- Horse responds to soft rope signals.
- Horse backs up willingly with the ‘finesse back-up’ and/or ‘shoulder-to-shoulder back-up‘
- The horse understands the significance of the handler clearly changing his/her body axis to indicate direction.
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 lead. A shorter 8-foot lead makes it easier to keep a soft drape in the rope.
- A series of five or more gates made with pairs of markers such as cones, tread-in posts, pieces of firewood, rocks, containers of water (5-liter plastic containers of water are especially useful), barrels, jump stands, rags – anything that is safe to use.
- Each time we set up this exercise, we can put the gates in a different configuration. The number of gates is only limited by the size of the training area.
- Once well established at home, we can expand the idea to new venues.
- Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, gesture, voice and halter-touch signals that allow the horse to smoothly navigate through each gate.
- Horse begins to seek out the next gate by reading the handler’s body language and gesture signals.
- Clear communication for:
- Walk on through the gate.
- Halt between the ‘gate’ markers.
- Halt and back through the gate.
#158 HorseGym with Boots: PRECISION LEADING
NOTES and SLICES:
- Very short frequent sessions work best. Stay with each slice until it feels ho-hum to both of you.
- Before asking the horse to negotiate the gates, walk through them yourself and visualize the order in which you will ask the horse to do them. Also explore the best way to approach each gate from various directions. The less hesitancy in your actions, the easier it will be for the horse to read your intent*. It’s fun, and hugely helpful, to have a second person be your pretend horse. Even better is for you to be the horse and have a friend guide you through the gates using body language only.
- Set out five or more gates well spread out, with a good-sized gap for each gate so it’s easy for the horse to walk through.
- Walk to each gate in turn and ask the horse to halt between the markers; click&treat each halt. If he wants to stop to sniff and investigate any of the markers, allow him all the time he needs to satisfy his curiosity. Wait with zero intent* for an ‘okay to proceed*’ signal. [Terms with an Asterix (*) are defined in the glossary which you can access through the link at the top of the page.] In this situation, the ‘okay’ signal is when the horse brings his attention back to you. He may also sigh or breath out audibly.
- When 1 is smooth, halt in every second gate you come to; click&treat.
- When 2 is smooth, halt in every third gate you come to: click&treat.
- As the horse shows he is ready to do more, carry on adding one more gate before the halt followed by click&treat, until you can do a whole series with one click&treat at the end of the series.
- When 4 is good on one side of the horse, start again with slice 1 on the other side of the horse.
- When 4 and 5 feel smooth and light, ask the horse to back up two or three steps after a halt in a gate. Work up to a series of occasional ‘halts followed by a back-up’, in-between walking forward through the gates.
- Mix up:
- Walking straight through gates.
- Halting in a gate and walking on.
- Halting in a gate and backing up.
- Trotting through some or all the gates.
- Put gates in different venues and/or use different markers.
- We can also use the gate as a stopping place to practice the WAIT.
LINKS TO PREREQUISITES
Zero Intent and Intent: https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2018/11/30/dec-2018-challenge-no-intent-and-intent/
20-Steps Exercise: [#68 in the Blog Contents List] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/09/05/20-steps-exercise/
Smooth Walk-on and Halt Transitions: [#16 in the Blog Contents List.] https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
Soft Response to Rope Signals exercise: [#86in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2022/01/03/developing-soft-response-to-rope-rein-pressure/
Smooth 90-degree Turns: [#31 in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2019/06/29/smooth-90-degree-turns-handler-on-the-inside/
Smooth Counter Turns: [#35 in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2019/09/30/smooth-counter-turns/
Weave Prep – more detail about using our body axis orientation. [My YouTube playlist called Weave and Tight Turns contains more clips about how I gradually developed these skills]: https://youtu.be/dQ4Qkz74pcQ
Finesse Back-Up: [#40 in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/02/02/finesse-back-up/