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.
- Handler works on using clear, smooth ‘walk on’, ‘halt’, ‘wait’ and ‘back up’ signals using a single rail as a focal point.
- Handler uses ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ body language to create short WAIT times between requests.
- Horse develops confidence with walking across a rail (or similar).
- Horse gains confidence standing with a rail (or similar) under his belly.
- Horse practices placing his feet carefully in response to handler signals.
- 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.
- Handler and horse agree on ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ signals. See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List.
- Handler and horse agree on clear ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals. See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List.
- Handler is aware of The Rule of Three. See number 46 in my Blog Contents List.
- 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.
- Handler knows to stay with each small task until it is ho-hum, before asking for a different task.
#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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I find it useful to take written memo cards out with me when first doing a series of moves like this.
- In-between moving, build it WAIT time before asking for the next movement. I.e., MOVEMENT – WAIT (x number of seconds) – MOVEMENT.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Repeat 1-5 above but this time approach the rail(s) from the opposite direction.
- Repeat 1-5 above walking on the horse’s right side.
- Repeat 7 above (on his right side) in the opposite direction.
- Work in different venues.
- Repeat slices 1-5 trotting.
- Play at liberty once you’ve built up good communication for each task.
- Work on a slope.
ONE RAIL REFINEMENTS
- Walk all four feet over the rail and halt. Back only the hind feet over the rail; wait; walk forward again.
- Walk all four feet over the rail and halt. Ask the hind feet to back over the rail, then the front feet.
- 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.
- As 3 above, then ask the horse to back all four feet across the rail.
- 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.
- Straddle the rail. See Number 67 in my Blog Contents List.
- 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.
- 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.