Photo: This is the moment I will ask for ‘whoa’ if I want her to stop with just front feet over the barrels.
This month’s challenge is to refine a voice “Whoa” signal so that it works in a variety of situations. If we want to work on the halt, we will obviously also need our ‘walk on’ signals to be solid. These two tasks are the foundation of pretty much everything we want a horse to do with us. Even teaching ‘parking’ starts with a solid, confident ‘halt’.
Teaching the basic ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ is easiest done in position beside the horse’s neck or shoulder. I like to teach these with a ‘multi-signal’ or ‘signal bundle’. Using the multi-signals consistently at the beginning means that once the horse knows them well, I can use any one of them, or any combination of them, depending on what best suits the situation. The horse will also recognize the signals if I am walking beside his ribs or behind him.
These two clips look at the signal bundles I like to use.
‘Walk On’ multi-signals: Click here.
‘Halt’ or ‘Whoa’ multi-signals: Click Here.
- Handler has developed both ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ multi signals.
- Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals.
- Decide on a consistent voice ‘whoa’ signal that does not sound like any of the other voice signals you use.
ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:
- Work area where the horse is relaxed.
- Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
- Depending on what you choose to do: halter and lead or safe enclosed area for working at liberty plus buckets or tubs, familiar stationary nose targets, familiar mat targets, lunging or circle work gear.
To have the horse halt promptly in a variety of situations when he hears a voice ‘whoa’ signal.
The flow charts at the end of the post outline all the options we could use. To find a good starting point, do low-key experimentation with the horse to find out what he can offer already.
- Look through the flow charts and decide which route would be easiest for you and your horse to tackle first.
- Your first decision is whether you are going to use targets or teach without targets. You can easily add in targets in strategic places but not use them all the time. While targets are often good to initially teach something, they can get in the way of making progress.
- Decide if you will teach at liberty or with halter and lead. You can easily do some of each, whatever makes most sense to you and your horse. Some people don’t have the facility to work easily and safely at liberty.
- Develop possible thin slices for your chosen route before you start.
- Practice harder bits with a willing human if you have one.
- Some of the tasks, like backing up, recall, working on a circle and guiding the horse from beside ribs/butt/behind, need a good level of proficiency before you add in ‘Whoa’. The flow charts therefore cover much more than a month’s work if some of these things are new to your horse.
To use the flow charts at the end of the post, track a single route from left to right. When one sequence becomes ho-hum, chose another sequence and design a thin-sliced plan for it.
For example, in the first video clip I choose: STATIONARY TARGETS — LIBERTY – TUBS – BESIDE NECK/SHOULDER – TARGETS RELATIVELY CLOSE TOGETHER. I modified it during the clip to walking beside Boots’ ribs or butt, mainly because I can’t yet walk very fast (I have two new knees) and she was keen to get to the next tub 😊.
Clip 2: Click Here.
Clip 3: Click Here.
The second video clip illustrates some of the generalizations. As with everything we train, once a task has been acquired and become fluid, we want to generalize it to as many situations as we can find and set up. Plus, we want to ask for it frequently, so it settles into the horse’s long-term memory.
One of my favorite generalization examples is from when I was long-reining Boots everywhere to establish long-reining firmly as part of our repertoire.
During an outing on a large farm with huge paddocks, we had to cross a stream. Usually the water was low enough to allow me to jump over without getting my feet wet. But on this day, I underestimated the depth of the water.
Boots willingly long-reined through the water in front of me. As I tried to leap over, I hit the water, lost my balance and dropped the reins. Boots kept on walking straight ahead. By the time I had pulled myself upright and out of the water, she was a good twenty meters away dragging the reins. I called out, “Whoooaaa”, and she immediately stopped and waited for me to catch up with her.
It was a great outcome compared to a fright about dragging reins and a panic run through hilly terrain with open gates connecting several fields.