Tag Archives: body language

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.

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.

Developing Soft Response to Rope/Rein Pressure

Photo above shows how we started teaching voice signals for turning right and left using a target. When the voice signals were established, I added a light rope touch – creating a multi-signal.

INTRODUCTION:

It’s not uncommon for a horse to have bad feelings or mixed emotions about halters and ropes. My book, WALKING WITH HORSES has a detailed section about developing a horse’s willingness to put his nose into a halter. This is a task that needs thoughtful teaching.

Confidence with halter and lead rope is critical to help horses deal well with life in captivity. Essentially, we want putting a halter and rope on our horse similar to putting on our ‘work clothes’ – an outfit or uniform suitable for the type of work we do. When we work for an organization or with other people, we adjust our behavior to what is appropriate at our job.

In the same way, a horse carefully educated about halters and ropes will recognize that he is wearing his ‘uniform’ and relate it to certain ways of behaving. Mainly, it limits his behavior choices. Ideally it also encourages him to pay careful attention to requests made via messages send along the rope.

We can use the rope to send text messages. But, obviously, we must first carefully teach the horse what the ‘letters’ of our text mean. The lighter the pressure of our ‘texting’, the lighter the horse’s responses can be. In other words, the horse can only be as light in his responses to rope messages as we are light in sending them.

A rope is a way of ‘holding hands’ with our horse, not a tether kept tight to stop the horse escaping our influence. There is nothing so heartbreaking as see a gasping dog at the end of a tight leash or a horse struggling to understand why the tightness of the rope won’t go away, no matter what he does.

The key to lead rope handling is that the rope is always slack except for the brief moments it is sending a message to the horse. The instant the horse complies with our request, the slack is returned to the rope. It is the instant release of rope pressure plus the simultaneous click (and the accompanying treat) that enables the horse to understand which task we are requesting.

AIMS:

  1. To have the horse comfortable standing in a safe corner.
  2. To teach a ‘head straight’ anchor task that precedes our request to turn the head.
  3. Use a target to teach head flexion to right and left; no rope.
  4. Add ‘right’ and ‘left’ voice signals to the task.
  5. Teach soft lateral flexion (turning the head right or left) using gentle touch on the halter via a rope until it feels equally smooth to the right and the left.
  6. Generalize the task to different places and situations.

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse is comfortable wearing a halter. (See Number 7 in my Blog Contents List. The link is at the top of the page.)
  2. Horse is comfortable with a lead rope.
  3. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  4. Horse understands standing on a mat with duration. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
  5. For the early sessions, it’s helpful to have the horse standing with his butt in a safe corner so that backing up and swinging the hind end away are not options. The first slices will therefore involve making sure the horse is comfortable and relaxed standing in a corner.

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • A safe corner the horse can stand in confidently. A safe corner is one where there is no chance of the horse putting a leg through wire or rails if he steps back or sideways. Hedges, sides of buildings or a corner made with barrels or jump stands plus rails tend to be safest. Even a raised rail or a log behind the horse with a small barrier on the far side of the horse might be enough of a corner.
  • A familiar mat to ‘station’ or ‘park’ the horse.
  • A familiar hand-held target.

GENERAL NOTES

  1. When eventually using the touch signal via the rope or rein, be ready to click&treat for even the tiniest turn of the head at first. If we miss the horse’s first attempt to solve a puzzle, he can think his idea was wrong, and it can take a while for him to try it again.
  2. When we lead, long-rein or ride a horse, it does not take much movement of the head to cause the horse to change direction. What we are doing here is not an extreme flexion exercise. It is an exercise to see how softly we can give what will become our ‘please change direction’ signals once the horse is moving.

SLICES:

A: STANDING COMFORTABLY IN A CORNER

  1. Introduce the horse to each corner in small, easy steps. Thin-slice the process to what your horse needs. Use a familiar mat to indicate where you would like his front feet to be. Three kinds of corners are shown in the videos clips.
  2. If the horse readily yields hindquarters and forequarters we can use these to adjust his position (see Numbers 83 and 84 in my Blog Contents List).
  3. Or we can lead him through the corner and back him into it.
  4. If using a rail, we can walk him over the rail and halt with the rail behind him.
  5. Play with as many safe corners as you can find or set up, to generalize the ‘corner task’ to different situations.

B: TEACH AN ANCHOR TASK

Video clips

Clip 1: on right side of horse

Clip 2: on left side of horse

NOTES:

In the same way that music is made up of notes and the pauses between the notes, we must have pauses between asking the horse to repeat the same task. Because the horse is at halt for this challenge, the anchor task creates the pauses between our requests.

We begin teaching the anchor task once the horse is comfortable standing in a corner, on a mat, with reasonable duration.

An anchor task is what we do to ‘set the stage’ for what we will do next. For example, when I play with targeting body parts to my hand with Boots, our anchor task is lifting a front knee to my hand. It tells her what game we are about to play. Another ‘stand quietly waiting’ anchor task might be to always hang a special nose target in the spot you would like the horse to stand (park) while you tack up.

As an anchor task for this behavior, I’ve chosen to rest my nearest hand lightly on Boots’ withers while she keeps her head forward. It is the position my hand would be if I were to lift the reins in preparation to giving a signal while riding. You might prefer a different anchor task.

In our case, this is a bit tricky because I use the same anchor position I use when we do belly crunches while standing beside the horse. The handler’s body orientation is often a large part of an anchor task.

I decided that Boots is far enough along in her training to learn to pause in this anchor position and wait for the next signal to find out whether a crunch or head flexion is the hot topic of the moment. You’ll see that we have a couple of conversations about this.

SLICES:

  • Stand beside horse’s withers.
  • Lightly rest your near hand on the withers.
  • Click&treat when the horse’s head is straight, or he is in the process of moving his head into the ‘straight’ position.
  • Step forward to deliver the treat so the horse keeps his head straight, then step back into position beside the withers.
  • Repeat until the horse confidently stays facing forward until you click&treat for 3-4 seconds.

C: LATERAL FLEXION TO A TARGET and D. THE VOICE SIGNAL

Covered in video clips 1 & 2 as above. Clip 2 is on the left side of horse.

  1. Hold the target out of sight behind your back and review the anchor task.
  2. When the horse stands reliably with his head forward in the anchor position, bring the target forward so he has to turn his head a little bit to touch it: click&treat & step forward so the horse straightens his head to receive the treat, putting the target out of sight behind your back.
  3. Step back beside the withers and put your hand back on his withers: click&treat for head forward until that is firmly established again (3-4 seconds). Be patient about establishing (and frequently re-establishing) this step because clever horses will want to skip straight from your anchor (hand on withers) to telling you that they know what to do – turn toward you (as Boots does in Clip Two).
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 above until the horse reliably waits for you to produce the target before turning his head. If he turns without your signal, spend more click&treat on facing forward. Make sure you keep the target out of view behind your back. If bending is harder, spend more click&treat on asking for the bend.

D. ADD VOICE SIGNAL

NOTES:

You will obviously want different voice signals for right and left. Voice signals need to be short, clear, and sound different from other voice signals you use. I use “and Gee” for right. I use “and Left” for left. “Haw” for left sounds too much like “Whoa” which we use a lot. The “and” in front of the key word is a bit of a preparatory signal that lets the horse know a request is coming. My voice emphasis is on the key word.

  • Some horses do better if you teach something thoroughly on one side, then repeat from the beginning on the other side.
  • Some horses may cope well with doing a little bit on each side from the beginning.
  • Some handlers do better when teaching the task thoroughly on one side first.

E. RESPONSE TO ROPE OR REIN SIGNALS

Video Clip 3 introduces the rope:

  1. Stand beside the horse’s ribs just behind the withers, facing forward, rope in the hand closest to the horse. Keep a drape or ‘smile’ in the rope. Ensure that the horse can stay facing forward with relaxed body language for 3-4 seconds in the presence of the rope: (click&treat).
  2. When 1 above is ho-hum, say your voice signal and gently use both hands to ‘milk’ the rope, putting light pressure on the halter, looking for the slightest ‘give’ of the horse’s nose toward you. Release (click&treat). Step forward to deliver the treat in a way that has the horse straighten his head again.
  3. Work with 1 and 2 above until the horse waits for the touch signal on the halter and willingly yields his nose. If he turns before you give the rope signal, spend more click&treat time on keeping the nose forward.
  4. If he begins to turn his head as soon as you move back into position behind his withers, also go back to click&treat for a straight head.
  5. Some horses catch on very quickly. Others may need multiple short sessions.
  6. Teaching a horse with no rope experience is usually easier than teaching a horse who has had rough treatment with ropes. In the second case, you must adjust your training plan to help overcome any anxiety the horse carries from previous handling.

GENERALIZATION

Video Clip 4 includes generalizations:

  1. Once the whole task is smooth and ho-hum on both sides of the horse, move away from the corner but still use a mat. Do the task in a variety of different places.
  2. Once 1 above is good in a variety of places, omit the mat and again work in a variety of places and spaces.
  3. Replace the rope/halter touch signal with a distinctive hand signal that can be used to draw the horse right or left at liberty.
  4. Once the horse understands the halter touch signal via the rope, plus the voice signal, the anchor task can morph into just standing quietly together.
  5. Use the touch and voice signals while in motion to change direction, keeping the pressure on the rope as light as possible.
  6. Building a strong history of response to directional voice signals is most helpful if you are planning to teach long-reining and if you take part in Horse Agility.
  7. These five short clips called Soft Rein Response give further ideas about how we can generalize the task further using reins but without being mounted.

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.

Yielding the Hindquarters

In the first photo above, I am using intent and a hand signal to ask Boots to move her hind end away from me. In the second photo, she has responded by stepping her right hind leg under her belly. I have removed my signal and clicked, and am in the process of getting a treat out of my pouch.

INTRODUCTION:

In horse language, yielding the hind end can be a ‘calming signal*’ – one horse telling another horse that he is moving away and therefore not a threat. Bold, confident, horses may not be keen to yield their hindquarters. They may prefer to first check out the other horse’s resolve by testing the boundaries.

(Words with an asterisk – * – are defined in detail via the GLOSSARY link.)

In some situations it is instinctive for horses to move their hindquarters toward pressure rather than away from it. Moving the hindquarters toward another horse is a sign of assertiveness. In reaction to a predator it is fear aggression. When dealing with predators such as wolves who dash in to hamstring large prey, a hind end swing with a well-aimed kick might injure the predator and/or break his resolve.

Your horse’s character type, his past experiences with other horses and his previous training experiences will all influence how he responds to a request to move his hind end away from a handler.

There are a couple of ways to approach this task. The slices* outlined below suit a horse who is well used to handling and being rubbed all over. With some horses, it is common sense to build in mobile protected contact* by carrying a body extension*. Once the horse understands the task and the owner is aware of how the horse will respond, using body orientation and hand touch or hand gesture, along with intent, is usually enough of a signal*.

To help the horse understand that we want his front feet to remain roughly in the same place, we can start with his front feet on a mat, presuming that keeping front feet on a mat has a strong history of reinforcement*.

WHY TEACH THIS?

  1. Safety. Especially in tight places, we need the horse to understand the concept of moving his butt end away any time we ask for it.
  2. Helps proprioception (awareness of where feet are, what they are doing and how much effort is involved).
  3. Builds into a full turn on the forequarters.
  4. Handy for all sorts of specific maneuvers such as navigating gates, shoulder-in, lateral movements, staying ‘straight’ on a curved path while lunging, setting up for canter departs.

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse keenly targets mats with his front feet and stands on a mat in a relaxed manner. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
  2. Horse smoothly steps across a rail. (See Number 18 in my Blog Contents List.)
  3. 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.)

VIDEO:

#260 HorseGym with Boots. https://youtu.be/AkjIT8Tjxw0

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.
  • To begin with, a rail for the horse to step over situated so it is behind him when his front feet step onto a mat. This helps discourage the idea of backing up rather than moving his hind end across.
  • Halter and lead. A short lead rope is easiest to manage.

AIMS:

  • Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, voice, touch, and gesture signals.
  • Horse crosses near hind foot in front of the far hind foot to move his butt away on request.
  • Horse can eventually do a 360-degree turn on the forehand in either direction.

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.
  4. Keep the sessions short, three – five minutes maximum. This is quite a demanding, concentrated task.
  5. Always be prepared to back up to an easier slice when the horse loses confidence. This is often the hardest part of training a complex task.

SLICES:

  1. Walk the horse across a rail to park his front feet on a mat. Click&treat.
  2. Keeping your energy as low as possible, rub him all over with your hands or a body extension; click&treat for standing still. Keep an upright posture while you do the rubbing because it makes the change into your ‘asking’ posture more distinct.
  3. When 1 and 2 are good, stand with your belly beside the horse’s ribs and turn your body axis slightly toward the rear of the horse. Drop your head and shoulders to direct your focus, with strong intent, at the horse’s hindquarters. At the same time, touch him lightly on the side of the hindquarters. Click&treat for a step over or, in the beginning, even a weight shift away from your hand or the body extension.
  4. If the horse pushes into your touch, quietly stay in position without releasing the extra pressure created by his move against the pressure. Wait in position until he works out his other option – moving away from the pressure.
  5. Each horse will be a little different. Each will have a ‘best place’ where your touch makes most sense to him. Be confident to experiment a little bit to seek out where the ‘best place to touch’ is for a particular horse. As always, try to keep your body language and signals as consistent as possible. At times I slip up with my body language in the video clip and became unclear for the horse.
  6. Once the horse understands the touch signal, it is usually easy to also teach a gesture hand signal we can use further away from the horse.
  7. Intersperse click&treat for standing still with Zero Intent* (while you rub) with the hindquarter-yield task. Try to keep your energy as close to zero as you can while you rub him. If the horse tends to escape your rubbing touch to move his hind end, do more of the rubbing = click&treat. If the horse is reluctant to move his hind end, do a bit more of asking him to move it = click&treat. We only want the horse to yield his hind end when we specifically ask him to move it, not whenever we put our hands anywhere near his back end.
  8. After one or two repeats of 3 above, walk a small circuit, click& treat for returning to the mat and begin again. We are looking for the near hind leg to step across under the belly in front of the far hind leg, without the front legs shuffling very much. (Time 4:46 in the video clip shows this in slow motion.) When you get one step like this, CELEBRATE hugely, and take a break. It could happen the very first time you ask.
  9. For a few sessions, stay with achieving one good step under and across, on both sides of the horse.
  10. When the time feels right, remove the mat, and ask for two steps. Stay with two steps (on either side) for a few sessions.
  11. At some point the rail behind and the fence in front will become redundant.
  12. When two steps is solid, begin to ask for quarter circles (90 degrees), then half circles (180 degrees). Celebrate. Stay with these for several sessions.
  13. When half circles feel easy, ask for a full turn (360 degrees). Celebrate.
  14. Ask for the task in different places.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Become aware of when using this task can be helpful (e.g., positioning horse for foot care, moving safely through gates).
  • Teach at liberty.
  • Teach with the front feet up on a pedestal.
  • Teach with the front feet standing in a roomy, low-sided, soft rubber tub.
  • Teach with the front feet in a hula hoop.
  • Teach from further and further away, using body language and gesture signals.

Importance of Putting Behaviors On Signal or On Cue

In the above photo, if I did not have ‘PICKING UP A CONE’ so it happens only when I give the Cue/Signal for picking it up, it would be hard to use cones as arena markers for other activities.

To become an adept and safe equine clicker trainer, it is essential to learn to put learned behaviors ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’ as quickly as possible. We want the horse to wait for our signal before offering the behavior.

A horse throwing his learned behaviors at us might feel like fun at first, but it can rapidly get out of hand and become dangerous when the horse choses an inappropriate moment. For example, when I taught Boots to ‘spin’, it was quite startling when she wanted to show it to me and visitors all the time, while standing right beside us!

It pays to think carefully about the possible consequences of specific behaviors before we teach them. It pays to be aware that we can get into trouble, especially if the horse is a confident, imaginative and high-energy type of horse. 

The most recent thing you have taught your horse often becomes his favorite move because that behavior has recently been strongly rewarded.

Such horses may perform a learned behavior then ‘demand’ the treat. It’s important to make sure the horse does not develop this option. The treat is always a reward for something you have asked the horse to do. It can’t be demanded.

Reminder, always Click BEFORE you reach your hand toward your treat pouch or pocket. If you don’t, the horse’s attention will be on watching your hand rather than focused on what you want him to learn.

Once you have a strong relationship and your clicker training repertoire is well established, you will have built up a connection that suits you and a particular horse. For example, if I sometimes forget to click&treat a behavior that falls into our list of things I usually/always click&treat, Boots makes sure to remind me with a gentle nudge.

No other training method elicits the enthusiasm and fun that can be had with well-planned and well-executed clicker training. Many horses playing click&treat games never want their sessions to end. Rather than having to worry about ‘ending the session on a good note’, clicker trainers must teach an ‘end of session’ routine to let the horse gently and clearly know that the session is finishing.

Although the ‘marker’ does not have to be the sound of a mechanical clicker, using a distinctive mechanical clicker when first teaching something new has the advantage of greater clarity for the horse. It also helps make the handler extremely observant about where to place the current click point.

Once the horse knows a behavior and your signal for it, it doesn’t seem to matter if a tongue click or a unique, consistent sound/word is used as a bridging signal instead of a mechanical clicker.

Putting every new behavior ‘on signal’ as soon as you can, will gradually reduce the horse’s desire to throw the new move at us as soon as he sees us (much like a child dying to show us his new painting).

Usually, a horse will have one or two favorite behaviors that he pulls out to see if he can get the vending machine to pay attention. Boots’ smile is the one she always tries first. It’s good to develop a few relatively quiet ‘default’ behaviors like this that you can reward when just going to say hello to your horse or generally checking up on him.

Boots using her smile to see if a treat will be forthcoming.

The following two clips are from a while ago. The detailed notes mentioned at the end have now morphed into my books.

Signals versus ‘Cues’ or ‘Stimuli’

This is an extract from my book, Conversations with Horses: an in-depth look at signals and cues between horses and their handlers. Please see the BOOKS tab above to easily preview any of my books.

Defining a Signal

In the horse world, there are several terms used for the signals we give horses. One is ‘aids’ which is commonly used when riding. The term ‘cue’ seems to have become popular with clicker trainers.

Much more about Clicker Training is available in my book, How to Begin Equine Clicker Training. The term ‘stimulus’ comes from animal behavior laboratories.

I prefer the term ‘signal’ because it suggests that a message is sent and the ‘correct’ or intended message is received by the other party.

If a Morse code sender carefully sends his message, but the person at the other end does not know Morse code well enough to decode the message accurately, then the signal has failed. The garbled message may well lead to troubled times.

In other words, if a signal does not relay the desired message, then whatever we have used as a signal is not acting as a signal. By definition, a signal must communicate the person’s message and be received as such by the other party, in this case, the horse.

If it is not working as intended, the signal needs to be adjusted or changed so the message sent equals the message received.

When we are with the horse, he is busy sending us signals about his emotional, mental and physical well-being. If we can’t pick up these signals accurately, then the horse becomes frustrated and misunderstood and often retreats from willing interaction by trying to leave or ‘shutting down’. He becomes reactive rather than responsive.

Cues and stimuli are constantly bombarding all of us. A signal is something we want to stand out from everything else the horse is noticing and everything else we are noticing. We want the horse to easily separate our signal from all the other many cues that are constantly flowing in.

At the same time as we are communicating our intent with our signals, the horse is trying hard to communicate his intent and his feelings with his body language. The more ‘in tune’ we can get with the signals our horse sends us, the better our two-way communication can become.

In this work, I will use the term ‘signal’ rather than ‘aid’, ‘cue’ or ‘stimulus’. I’ll also refer to all horses as ‘he’ for ease of reading, unless I’m talking about a specific mare or filly.

Like the rest of us, horses thrive on clarity and consistency of communication. 

Building a relationship with a horse is like locating a set of keys to unlock a door so the horse’s true nature can come out.

The horse’s total well-being depends on how well we can help him adapt to the peculiar life a horse must live in a human-centered world.

While we are trying to get to know our horse better and understand his emotional, mental and physical boundaries, the horse is doing exactly the same with us.

He is trying to read our intentions so he can be ready to react or respond, according to his perceptions. The more we understand about the signals we are giving the horse, the more we can develop a mutual language.

Boots is reading my body language and gesture signals for stepping onto the balance beam.

The more we realize that much of what we are communicating to the horse is in our unconscious body language, the more we can ‘still’ our body between meaningful signals. 

‘No Intent’ body language tell the horse that all we are doing is standing together quietly.

We would like the horse to respond confidently to our requests rather than become anxious, reactive and bracing against the pressure of our signals. 

The horse would also prefer to respond rather than become anxious, adrenalized and feeling the need to react by trying to escape, push through pressure or mentally and physically ‘shut down’ – hiding inside himself. 

A horse needs a sound foundation of knowledge to enable him to cope with the very strange things people expect of their captive horses. 

To do this we need to:

  • Take the horse through a careful education program 
  • Set up a teaching schedule suited to the individual horse’s background and ability and adapted continually to the feedback the horse gives us 
  • Give him every opportunity to master each small step of a large task, before asking him to string all the parts of a big task together. 

This cutting of a whole task into its smallest teachable parts can be referred to as ‘thin-slicing the task’. 

My book, How to Create Good Horse Training Plans, looks in detail at thin-slicing and writing Individual Education Programs (IEPs).

For each step of the teaching process, we must make sure we are sending a clear message rather than a confusing mumble. Therefore, a key element for the success of any teaching and learning program is ensuring that our signals are consistent and clear.

Horses are so sensitive that if we alter a signal even a little bit, they often think it means something else. The more things we teach our horse, the more carefully we need to think about the signals we use.

We can give our horse the best deal by becoming more aware about:

  • The specific types of signals we can use
  • How we are orientating our body
  • How we can refine our signals as the horse becomes confident
  • How to use a ‘signal bundle’ or ‘multi-signal’
  • When we are ‘nagging’ rather than communicating.

As mentioned earlier, it is the most natural thing in the world to expect the horse to change so it does what we want. However, in reality, it is by changing what we do that yields the results we want. 

There will be variations in horse behavior based on each horse’s innate character type, his personal history, his relationship with the handler and the situation of the moment.

Horses will always be horses and will respond in the way that horses respond. Being prey animals, their main concern is safety.

Before we can cause change in the horse, we must become hyper aware of what we are doing while the horse is watching.

Whenever we are in our horse’s view, he is picking up all sorts of signals from us – our posture, our energy level, our intent, what we usually do that time of day, any specific signal we may be giving and so on.

Once we learn to pay close attention to the horse’s body language, we get better at understanding the signals the horse is sending us.

A signal is a direct, purposeful communication between horse and handler. If we’ve carefully taught a signal for backing up, then the horse will back up when we give that signal. 

Boots understand the ‘raised fingers’ signal to mean ‘please back up’. I may be using a “Back” voice signal at the same time, which means I’m using a multi-signal to be especially clear.

If the horse raises his head and points his ears with strong concentration, we pick up his signal that something in the environment has his full attention. 

The horse’s body language of raised head and ears focused strongly forward tells us that some cue or stimulus in the distance has captured his whole attention.

First, we learn the horse’s language – his signals. Then it is up to us to teach the horse the language he needs to remain safe and comfortable in the human world – our signals.

Since we have taken the horse away from his natural lifestyle and made him our captive, it is up to us to become fluent in Universal Horse Language and learn to use it effectively. To be effective we need:

  • An understanding of different horse character types.
  • An understanding of our particular horse’s character type.
  • Awareness of our body language and the different ways we use signals.
  • Knowledge about horse senses and sensitivity.
  • As much knowledge as possible about a particular horse’s background experiences.
  • To write good training plans which can be turned into individual education programs (IEPS) designed for a specific horse.
  • Adept use of body language, body extensions, ropes, reins.
  • Timely application of release reinforcement.
  • Adept use of reward reinforcement along with release reinforcement.

There is detailed information about using reward reinforce-ment in my book, How to Begin Equine Clicker Training.

The more fluent we are about understanding horse body language and the mechanics of both release (negative) and reward (positive) reinforcement, the better a teacher we can be for our horse.

It is hard for the horse to learn from someone who doesn’t have a good understanding of who and what they are teaching.

Before we head into an overview of the signals we use with horses, followed by a detailed look at each signal type, we need to look in detail at how horses sense and perceive their environment. (The next part of the book delves into this.)

 Once we are conscious of the biological differences between horse and human perception, it is easier to allow horses the leeway they need to feel safer in our company.

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.

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.

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.

Using Hoops for Foot Awareness – and More

Hoops are handy obstacles to use for teaching a variety of skills. They are easy to set up and store. We can use them in numerous contexts. They can help us achieve a variety of objectives. For example:

Handler:

  • Identify prerequisites for each exercise.
  • Practice thin-slicing the tasks.
  • Practice writing a training (shaping) plan for each configuration.
  • Hone our timing of the click.
  • Make our signals as clear and consistent as possible.

Horse:

  • Develop foot awareness.
  • Gives a defined spot to learn the ‘wait’.
  • Generalize signals (cues) to new situations.
  • New puzzles to work through – mental stimulation.
  • Flexion exercises.

Boots and I have played with hoops on and off for quite a while, as in the following video clips.  For a 15hh horse hoops about one metre across work well for trotting through, but we also use smaller ones for some of the other activities.

The hoops are made with plastic water pipe with the ends held together either with the right-sized twig pushed into the ends or a stretch of hose either one size smaller to fit inside the ends or one size larger to form a sleeve across the ends. To make them more visible I wound electrical tape around them.

Clip 1

 

Clip 2

 

Clip 3

 

Clip 4

 

Clip 5

Developing Relaxed Food Retrieval

Photo: Relaxed treat retrieval is the essence of clicker training.

Lunging for the Treat = Anxiety or Assertive Horse Behavior

Some horses are always polite, others not so. Something in their background may have created anxiety around food. But the character type of the horse is also involved. Each horse lies somewhere along a shy ——– assertive continuum. A horse on the assertive end will be keen to follow his nose to the source of the food, which is obviously a helpful survival behavior.

For effective clicker training we have to carefully navigate this crucial aspect of using positive reinforcement in the form of food. The handler must feel safe and the horse must feel safe and have a sound understanding of when a food treat will be offered. It requires us to be careful and consistent and willing to explore options.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of having a way to let the horse know when we want him to stand with us quietly. We need to teach him when our body language indicates that all we want is to stand together in a relaxed manner, and when our body language is asking him to do something which will earn a click&treat.

  1. Be safe. Organize a barrier between you and the horse so you can move back out of range if he gets excited about the idea of food rewards. Depending on the horse and your expertise, you may not need the barrier for long, or you may need it for quite a while.

If your horse is energetic, use the energy by setting up a roomy reverse round pen and teach the horse to follow your target as you walk or jog along.

A reverse round pen is one where the handler stays inside the pen and the horse moves around the outside of it. Or you can do the same on the other side of an existing fence. For this, you want to click for the actual movement, rather than catching up with the target. For example, click after three steps, then five steps, and so on until you get whole circuits or stretches of fence before the click&treat. Find out more about using reverse pens here: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-64e

  1. Make sure that the horse is not hungry. We want the horse interested in clicker work, but not over-excited or aroused by the thought of food tit-bits. In other words, make sure he has ample access to grazing or hay before you start a clicker training session.
  2. Check out your food delivery technique.
  3. Does it take too long to get your hand into and out of your pocket or pouch? Can you find easier pockets or a more open pouch?
  4. Do you move your hand toward your treats before you’ve clicked? This causes problems because the horse will watch your hand rather than focusing on what you are teaching.
  5. Be sure to only feed treats if they have been earned and you have clicked. Ask the horse to do something before giving a treat, either have him touch a target or take a step or two backwards; click for the action and deliver the treat.
  6. Avoid feeding any treats by hand unless you have asked for a behavior and clicked for it. When not clicker training, put treats in a feed dish or on the grass.
  7. Often, we can influence the horse’s position by holding our treat-delivery hand where we want the horse’s head to be rather than where he has stuck his nose.

In the beginning, we ideally want him to have his head straight to retrieve the treat. If he is over-eager, it can help to hold the treat toward his chest, so he must shift backwards to receive it.

This is the clearest way to let the horse know that lunging at your hand for the treat won’t benefit him. It also begins to build the habit of stepping back when you shift your weight toward him, as in the photo coming up. It’s a great way to begin teaching the ‘back’ voice and body language signal.

Video: Encouraging stepping back to retrieve the treat.

In some cases, it can help to have a halter on the horse, so we can take hold of the side of the halter after the click, giving us some control of where the horse puts his mouth. See the section called ‘Developing Good Table Manners’ that is coming.

It can help to run your closed treat hand down the horse’s nose from above, asking him to target your fist before you open your hand right under his lips so he can retrieve the treat.

When you do this, use a bit of upward pressure to stop the horse pushing your hand down. If your hand does not stay firm, it can cause a horse to get anxious about where his treat is and cause him to push down harder or become grabby.

  1. It may also work to bring your fist (closed around the treat) up under his chin and have him target your fist before you flatten your hand (and apply upward pressure) so he can retrieve the treat. Often one of these little intervening steps can help build the habit of polite treat-taking.
  2. A bit of experimentation will determine what works best with a specific horse.
  3. If the horse is overly keen, try using treats that he doesn’t consider quite so yummy. Be sure to set up your routines so the horse has ample time to graze or eat hay before each session.
  4. With consistency and patience on the handler’s part, over-enthusiastic treat-taking usually improves once:
  5. The horse understands that a click only happens when he carries out a request you have made.
  6. A treat always follows the click.He’ll learn that a treat will only follow if there has been a click first. That is why we must be totally consistent with when and how we click&treat.
  7. The horse’s character type and current emotional state will influence how he takes the treat. If a horse who usually takes the treat softly becomes grabbier, he is giving us information to take on board. Alternately, a horse who starts out grabby may over many sessions become relaxed about retrieving his treat, once he understands how the system works.
  8. Prompt, cleanly-executed treat delivery is always important. If things are not going smoothly, the first things to check are inconsistency and sloppy treat delivery. It helps to video what is happening, so you can look closely at your body position, orientation, timing* and treat delivery.
  9. Another approach is to put the treat in a container after each click. It can either be a food bucket in the horse’s pen, into which we toss the treat, or a flat dish or scoop we hold out for the horse to retrieve the treat, then remove again. Some boarding facilities have a ban on hand feeding, which is a little hurdle to overcome. There is a video clip about this here: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-651

What to Check for:

  1. Timing of your click to the action you want.
  2. Smoothness getting the treat out of pocket or pouch while you take the target ‘out of play’.
  3. How promptly you present the treat to the horse.
  4. How you hold out the treat to the horse and how firm you keep your hand so the horse doesn’t push it down.

 

Developing Good Table Manners

A video clip called Table Manners for Clicker Training in my Starting Clicker Training playlist illustrates how we can use the timing of the click to improve politeness around treat retrieval. The clip shows Smoky, early in his clicker training education, with Zoë who had never done it before. Click here.

The method shown on the clip can be improved by not waiting so long to click&treat again. When we begin teaching a horse about keeping his head facing forward rather than toward us, we want to click&treat the moments when the horse remains facing forward and the moments when he turns his head away from the food source.

In some parts of the clip we waited for Smoky to turn toward Zoë and then turn away again before she clicked. Doing this runs the risk of having the horse think that turning toward the handler first is part of what we want him to do. In this exercise, we also want to mainly click&treat the act of keeping his head facing forward.

Summary: to develop good table manners while we stand beside the horse’s neck or shoulder, we click&treat for:

  • The horse turning his head away from us into the ‘straight forward’ position.
  • The horse keeping his head straight, away from us.
  • The horse keeping his head straight for longer, building up duration one second at a time.

Be sure to teach good table manners standing on either side of the horse as well as facing the horse. Begin the table manners training in protected contact, i.e. standing on the other side of a fence, gate, or stall guard.

Or have the horse tied up if that is your safest choice. When it is all going well with protected contact and you feel safe, change to standing with the horse.

It may take lots of very short sessions before the horse is able to relax into the ‘head forward’ position while we stand with zero intent* beside his shoulder.

Do a little bit of this ‘Polite Table Manners’ exercise every time you are with your horse to keep it strong in the repertoire.

As mentioned earlier, I prefer to introduce the idea of click&treat by asking the horse to do something more specific such as touch his nose to a target object.

Whether or not we are using protected contact in the form of a fence or gate, it’s easier to introduce the target if we stand in front of the horse and a little bit to one side.

If the horse is tied up, it may be easier to stand beside the horse to present the target.

Maintaining politeness around food is always part of the clicker training equation. It’s good to teach food manners standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse as soon as the horse has clearly made the connection between the click and the treat.

  1. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’

It’s hard to overstate the importance of having a way to let the horse know when we want him to stand beside us quietly. We need to teach him when our body language indicates that all we want is to stand together in a relaxed manner.

One way to do this is to stand with both hands laid flat across our belly button, and our energy as close to zero (deflated) as possible, breathing quietly, relaxing our hips. We look down or gaze softly into the distance.

If you do this consistently, the horse will soon recognize this posture as your ‘neutral’ signal when you have zero intent and all you want is for him to stay quietly parked. (See the Blog: ‘Zero Intent and ‘Intent’: Click here.)

My body language is at ‘zero intent’. My stance and hands lying quietly on my belly tell Boots that the task is to stand quietly. My focus is soft and away from the horse. My breathing is quiet.

 Every time we are with our horse, we should spend a few minutes focused on taking up our ‘zero intent’ position with click&treat reinforcement for the horse standing quietly without offering any behavior except standing quietly.

Over many sessions, we build up the ‘waiting quietly’ time, second by second, to fifteen or twenty seconds.

It is hard to overemphasize how important this is as part of our everyday interactions.

Hand Feeding at Other Times

It’s important not to hand feed the horse unless we have asked for something specific which we can click&treat. If we randomly hand feed when we are not clicker training, the horse will be confused, and problems can arise.

As with everything, it is up to us to be clear and consistent all the time. If we visit the horse or check up on him and want to give him a treat, we can put it in a feed bin or on the grass.

20 Steps Exercise

Photo: Our horse walking with us confidently is basic to everything else we want to do.

INTRODUCTION

This is one of my favorite exercises. It is fun to do as a warm-up or a cool-down or if horse time is short. If you are energetic you can eventually do it trotting.

This exercise encourages the horse to walk with us in position beside his neck or shoulder. It is a way of teaching ‘leading’ without the need to put pressure on the lead rope or use a lead rope at all. We can teach this exercise totally at liberty once the horse is clicker-savvy.

The more precise we can be with our body language, the easier it is for the horse to read our intent.

When we invite the horse to walk with us in the ’20 Steps Exercise’ we adjust our pace to the horse’s natural pace, so we can walk ‘in step’ with each other.

When we do this task at liberty, it’s easy for the horse to let us know if he is not in the mood to do things with us because he can peel off in his own direction.

If you have a safe, enclosed area, and protected contact is no longer needed, starting at liberty is ideal.

If the horse is exuberant and protected contact remains a good idea, you can still do this exercise with the horse at liberty by using a reverse round pen (person in the pen, horse moves around the outside of it) or a stretch of paddock fence. If your fencing is electric tape, make sure it is turned off. Lots more about reverse pens here: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-64e

Doing a little at a time keeps this exercise fresh and lively in the repertoire.

If protected contact is a good idea, we can set up a reverse round pen with uprights and fencing tape. The horse moves around the outside of the ‘pen’ while the handler stays inside. We can make it a size that best suits the task we are working with.

AIMS

  1. Handler refines clear ‘walk-on’ and ‘halt’ body language, energy level and voice signals.
  2. Horse willingly mirrors the handler’s energy changes and stays in position with his neck/shoulder area beside the handler.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Handler is aware of using breathing and body energy level to indicate ‘energy up’ before moving off and ‘energy down’ before coming to a halt.
  2. Handler had decided on clear ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ voice signals.
  3. Handler has developed a consistent ‘walk on’ arm gesture.
  4. Handler uses clear preparatory body language before coming to a ‘halt’, e.g. slowing down, breathing out and dropping weight into the hips.

Optional: These prerequisites are nice but not essential. This task is a way of achieving or improving the three skills below.

  1. Horse walks smoothly beside the handler’s shoulder.
  2. Horse understands ‘Whoa’ voice, breathing and body language signals.
  3. Horse willingly responds to ‘Walk On’ voice, breathing, gesture and body language signals.

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • A safe, enclosed area for working at liberty.
  • If protected contact is the best choice, use a reverse round pen or use a paddock fence, whichever suits your situation best.
  • If there are no other options, use halter and lead, keeping a non-influencing drape in the lead rope. A light-weight lead is preferable.

VIDEO CLIPS

December 2017 Obstacle Challenge: 20 Steps Exercise.

 

#30 HorseGym with Boots illustrates Boots helping Zoë learn the process with halter and lead.

SLICES

  1. Standing beside the horse’s neck/shoulder, do the following pretty much all at the same time:
  • Raise torso and look ahead.
  • Breathe in deeply.
  • Gesture forward with the hand furthest from the horse.
  • Step off with your outside leg to walk one step using ‘draw energy’ to encourage the horse to move with you. The horse can more easily see movement of your outside leg.
  • Halt after one step by breathing out and releasing your energy; click&treat when your feet are stopped. If the horse has moved out of position accept that for now – deliver the treat as close as possible to where you want him to be.
  1. We will click&treat for EACH halt.
  2. If the horse is a bit surprised and moves out of position, move YOURSELF back into position beside his neck/shoulder and start again, raising torso breathing in, gesturing and stepping off to walk on. Slow down, breathe out, and drop into your hips to stop. If you are consistent, the horse will begin to take note of your breathing and posture.

If you are on the other side of a barrier or fence from the horse, walk on and click&treat any indication that the horse is willing to come join you, then start again with 1 above.

  1. If you are not in protected contact, it’s ideal to start with the horse between the handler and a safe fence, so the option of swinging the hindquarters away is removed. I didn’t show this part in the video clip.

If protected contact is necessary and the horse is unsure about what you want to do if you try using a reverse round pen or paddock fence, we can use a lane. A lane can work well because it reduces the horse’s options. The horse walks in the lane and the handler walks on the outside of the lane.

Lanes can be set up with fencing tape and uprights next to an existing fence or made with bits and pieces like the one in the photo below.

We can usually make learning easier for the horse by organizing our training environment so that what we will click&treat is easy for the horse to discover. Here ware are using a lane to initiate walking side-by-side together.

Next Slices

  1. When one or two steps together is smooth, take three steps before the halt, click&treat.
  2. When three steps together are smooth, take four steps before the halt, click&treat, and so on.
  3. Each time you walk on, begin counting at ‘one’ again.
  4. Stay with four-five steps until moving off together is smooth and the horse stays in position beside you for the halt.
  5. Adjust how many steps you add before each halt and click&treat. It will depend on how fast the horse catches on to the pattern, the clarity and consistency of your signals, as well as how the horse is feeling that day.
  6. With some horses you can soon add steps in 2’s, 3’s or 5’s to reach the twenty steps.
  7. If the horse gets lost or seems to forget, go back to where he can be successful and work with a smaller number of steps until you gain true confidence.
  8. Gradually work up to 10, 15, then 20 steps before each halt, click&treat.
  9. Asking for 20 steps before the click&treat, carried out on both sides of the horse, is usually plenty at one time. But there is no reason we can’t do several sets of 20 steps if the horse stays keen.

Be sure to teach this walking on either side of the horse. One side may be easier. Start again from the beginning (along a fence or in a lane) for the second side. Some horses easily transfer new learning to the other side. Other horses find everything harder on one side.

Handlers usually must also focus to consciously produce clear, consistent body language with the less dominant side of their body. If the horse’s and handler’s stiffer sides coincide, everything will feel a bit harder at first.

When a task feels equally smooth on either side of the horse, a big milestone has been achieved.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • If you started with a lane, move from the lane to working alongside a fence.
  • Play the game in an open area, away from a fence-line.
  • Teach, then add drawing the horse into arcs and turns with the horse on the outside of the turn. See also: Smooth 90-Degree Turns: Handler on the Inside: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
  • Teach, then add walking arcs and turns toward the horse (counter-turns). See also: Smooth Counter Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5WK
  • If you can run, play with it at trot. It’s best to begin this in protected contact in case the horse finds it exciting.

 

 

Reverse Pens

Photo: using the fence around a grazing area as a reverse pen.

A reverse pen is set up so the horse moves along one side of a barrier and the handler moves on the other side. People come up with all sorts of ways to make reverse pens. Larger is better for reverse pens so that the horse is not working on a tight bend. It’s important to change direction often. The video clips coming up show several ways of setting up a reverse pen.

Any fence line that allows delivery of the treat across or through it can be used for reverse pen exercises. In a couple of the video clips I used the fence around the area Boots is grazing so I had nothing extra to set up. If the horse is comfortable working across electric fence materials (not electrified) we can easily set up (and take down as necessary) pens of any size or shape.

Reverse pens are useful for:

  • Keeping ourselves in protected contact while in motion.
  • Some horses also feel more secure if the handler is on the other side of a fence at first. 
  • Working without halter and rope.
  • Discourage the horse moving his shoulder into the handler.
  • Encourage the horse to develop muscles that help him stay on a circle and not ‘fall in’ with the shoulder or to navigate corners elegantly if we use a rectangular or triangular reverse pen.
  • Using a hand-held target to encourage walking with us, gradually morphing into a hand gesture.
  • Consolidating ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ multi-signals (also see https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT).
  • Creating duration – maintaining a gait for longer.
  • Playing with transitions: halt to walk to halt; walk to trot to walk; trot to canter to trot.

Often reverse pens are round, as in Connection Training’s ‘Around the Round Pen’ exercises. But they can also be rectangular or triangular, giving the horse the different challenge of organizing his body to negotiate the corners effectively.

Using a Hand-Held Target to Encourage Walking with Us

If we are going to use a hand-held target and a reverse round pen to encourage the horse to walk with us, we want to click&treat for the movement, not the catching up to and putting nose on the target. We don’t want to turn it into a chasing game. We present the target to encourage forward movement, click for the number of steps we decided to take before moving off, put the target down behind us out of sight, then deliver the treat.

 Building Duration Walking with Us

#210 HorseGym with Boots: Reverse Pens Clip 4; Duration Walking Together

Details

We must decide how many steps will earn a click&treat before we begin. That is:

  1. We present the target.
  2. Walk ‘X’ number of steps (previously decided – kept within the horse’s present ability)
  3. Click.
  4. Remove the target while we reach for a treat.
  5. Feed the treat.

Start with one step; click&treat. Add one more step at a time as long as the horse shows interest. Stop to do something else if his interest wanes or wait until your next session. Start each session with a few steps and gradually add more.

Keep the sessions short and as you present the target, also use your body language, big breath in, energy raised and your voice ‘walk on’ signal.

Fading out Hand-held Targets

While targets are a great tool to initiate all sort of behaviors, it is important that we teach voice, body language and gesture signals once each behavior is established, so we don’t need to rely on carrying a target.

By consistently using your ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ multi-signals, you will soon be able to fade out using the target, keeping your hands free. Your voice, energy and body language tell the horse what you would like him to do. Voice and body language ‘halt/whoa’ signals (as well as the click) tell him when you would like him to halt.

Using Foot Targets

If the horse has a strong history or reinforcement for putting his front feet on a mat, we can use that to work with a reverse pen. Using a mat target has the advantage of leaving our hands free. This clip looks at using mats after the first minute.

In the following video clip, I began with the horse on a lead because that can be another way to start. Not everyone has the facility to work safely at liberty. The video clip explains the process: #162 HorseGym with Boots: Introduction to Liberty Circles.

Once the horse understands our body language, gesture, voice and breathing signals, we can use them whenever we lead the horse. For walking side-by-side at liberty, we can develop the Twenty Steps Exercise: https://youtu.be/xYYz0JIpZek

The mat idea works with riding as well as with groundwork.

Some More Reverse Pen Clips

In the next two clips I’m using the fence around the area that Boots is grazing, so there nothing extra to set up/take down.

Over and Between Things

Other Shapes of Reverse Pens

Movement Routine 7 – Fence as Focus

Photo: Parking for up to 10 seconds with the handler standing behind. This is the seventh task of the routine.

INTRODUCTION

This routine refines 90-degree turns, stepping sideways, parking, and backing up with the handler in two different positions.

AIMS

  1. To improve the precision of handler/horse communication by linking a series of tasks into a sequence.
  2. To do a series of gentle gymnastic moves to engage the horse’s mind and muscles.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. Smooth 90-degree Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
  3. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. Sidestepping: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RL
  4. Backing up with handler shoulder beside withers and beside hindquarters. https://youtu.be/501PSnAA-po and https://youtu.be/MWAH_Csr960
  5. Horse understands a ‘wait’ signal to stay parked until further notice. Mats: Parking or Stationing and Much More: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9
  6. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO

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 a lead long enough so you can keep a nice drape in it but not so long it gets in the way. Or work at liberty.
  • Safe fence line or similar.

VIDEO CLIP

#201 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 7 – Fence as Focus. https://youtu.be/548G5Ektt4c

 

NOTES

  1. I find it easier to memorize the sequence of tasks like this by walking the pattern without the horse and then visualizing the sequence often. If you have a human friend, take turns being the horse or the handler. Usually, as handler precision improves, horse precision improves.
  2. The aim is to keep the rope with a nice drape or loop as much as possible, so the horse is getting his signals from our body language and signals rather than pressure on the halter. Then it will be easy to morph into working at liberty.
  3. Click&treat at a rate that keeps your horse being successful. As the horse learns a pattern through frequent short repetitions, we can gradually ask for a bit more before each click&treat. For this routine I began with click&treat at each halt, then gradually did a bit more before a click&treat.

TASKS

  1. Handler closest to fence, walk along shoulder-to-shoulder and make a U-turn, staying on the same side of the horse, which will put the horse closest to the fence. Walk to your starting point; halt.
  2. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse, beside or just behind his withers, ask the horse to back up several steps; halt.
  3. From halt, with the handler on the inside of the turn, make a 90-degree turn and walk 4 or 5 steps, halt. Repeat three more times so that you have walked an entire square with a halt at each corner, ending up where you started.
  4. From halt, walk the first two sides of the square as you did in 3 above, but with no halt at the corner. Halt at the end of the second side. The horse is now parallel to the fence.
  5. Move to face the horse and ask for sidesteps to the fence; halt.
  6. Ask the horse to stay parked with your ‘wait’ signal. Walk up to a couple of meters behind the horse and take up your ‘no intent’ position. Start with only a couple of seconds of ‘wait’ but try to gradually build up to ten seconds. Over multiple sessions gradually increase the distance you move away.
  7. Walk to stand beside the horse’s butt (facing the same way as the horse) and ask for several steps of back-up.
  8. Jackpot on completion of the sequence.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Ask for a few more steps during the back-ups (tasks 2 and 7).
  • Walk a larger square (task 3).
  • Ask the horse to wait longer when he is parked (task 6).
  • Walk further away after asking the horse to ‘wait’ (task 6).
  • Start the exercise with a trot along the fence (task 1).
  • Ask for the second back-up (task 7) from further and further behind the horse.
  • Work at liberty or add halter and lead if you started at liberty.
  • Work on a slope if you have one handy.
  • Change the order of the tasks.

 

Movement Routine 6 – Rags as Focus

INTRODUCTION

This routine has us alternating frequently between the left and right sides of the horse. The objective is to develop our ‘walk on’, ‘halt’ and ‘turn’ signals to make them as clear and precise as possible.

AIM

To improve handler precision by linking a series of tasks into a sequence.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT)
  2. Smooth 90-degree Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
  3. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. (Sidestepping: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RL)
  4. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. (‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO)

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 a lead long enough so we can keep a nice drape in it but not so long it gets in the way.
  • Six or more rags marking out a roomy circle. Have an even number of rags.

NOTES

  1. For this routine, it helps if the rags are a different color.
  2. Make the circle as large as you like. It is small in the clips for ease of filming.
  3. I like to memorize the sequence of events by walking the pattern without the horse and then visualizing the sequence often (a good substitute for counting sheep to go to sleep!) If you have a human friend, take turns being the horse or the handler. Usually, as handler precision improves, horse precision improves.
  4. Walk should-to-shoulder with the horse for all the tasks except the last two.
  5. The aim is to keep the rope with a nice drape or loop as much as possible, so the horse is getting his signals from our body language and signals rather than rope pressure.
  6. Click&treat at a rate that keeps your horse being successful. As a horse learns a pattern through frequent short repetitions, we can gradually ask for a bit more before each click&treat.

VIDEO CLIPS

#196 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 6, Rags as Focus: https://youtu.be/tqmY4RPKLrc

 

#197 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 6 at Liberty: https://youtu.be/KnXk8WEhXiA

 

#198 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 6 without Rags: https://youtu.be/ZSfK3i2Zq04

 

TASKS

  1. With the handler nearest the rag and on the horse’s left, stand together beside one of the rags.
  2. Walk a full circle around the rags (anticlockwise).
  3. On completing a full circle, turn into the middle of the circle and halt. Move to the horse’s right side.
  4. Vary how long you stay at the halt each time you halt in the circle’s center. Be clear with your ‘no intent’ body language during the standing together, and your ‘intent’ body language when you want to walk on again.
  5. Walk forward and curve around to circle the rags in the opposite direction (clockwise). Handler walks closest to the rags.
  6. On completing one full circle, turn into the middle again, halt and change to the horse’s left side.
  7. Walk forward and curve into an anticlockwise circle, but this time halt at every second rag. Vary how long you stay parked at the rags.
  8. After one circuit halting at every second rag, turn into the center of the circle again and change to the right side.
  9. Repeat 7 (stop at every second rag) but walking a clockwise circle.
  10. On completing the circle, turn into the middle of the circle and halt.
  11. Ask the horse to back up between two rags, halting when his belly is between the rags. In the clips, I face Boots to ask her to back up, but we could back up shoulder-to-shoulder.
  12. Ask the horse to sidestep either right or left so that one of the rags passes under his belly.
  13. Large Celebration on completion of the sequence.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Practice in different venues.
  • Change the size of your circle.
  • Add more rags to your circle.
  • Build in walk-trot-walk transitions.
  • Repeat each task before changing to the next task.
  • Add walk-trot-walk transitions.
  • Add halt-trot transitions.
  • Add trot-halt transitions.
  • Play with it at liberty.
  • Carry out the sequence of tasks in an open area without marker rags. For the three halts along the circle (tasks 7 and 9), halt after each quarter circle.
  • Practice on a slope.

 

Movement Routine 3 – Fence for Focus

Photo: Walking concentric circles is part of this routine.

INTRODUCTION

For Movement Routine 3 we are back to using a fence as a focal point to initially build the routine. A fence helps the horse maintain straight movement. It also makes it easy to establish beginning and end points for each circle in this sequence of tasks.

AIMS

  • Transitions from walking forward into finesse back-ups.
  • Walking concentric circles.
  • Stay and Wait.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (See Related Resources 1 at the end of this post.)
  2. We have taught the finesse back-up. (See Related Resources 2 at the end of this post.)
  3. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. (See Related Resources 3 at the end of this post.)
  4. While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse follows the movement of the handler’s body axis away from the horse to move into a circle. (See Related Resources 4 at the end of this post.)
  5. We have taught the horse to ground-tie. (See Related Resources 5 at the end of this post.)

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 10′ (3m) or longer lead.
  • A safe fence or similar. A safe fence or barrier is one the horse can’t put his foot/leg through if he suddenly steps back. Tape fences can work well with some horses – NOT electrified.

VIDEO CLIPS

With halter and lead:  https://youtu.be/BHSztrpA8oo

 

At liberty: https://youtu.be/O0dpTo6mXSs

NOTES

  1. Memorize the sequence of tasks by walking the pattern without the horse and then visualizing the sequence often.
  2. The number of steps you take walking forward is not important. I tend to not take many steps when making the video clips to keep the viewing time short. I sometimes suggest a number of steps, but please suit that to your horse and your environment.
  3. However, the number of steps I suggest for moving backwards is significant. Horses don’t naturally do a lot of stepping backwards. We want to stay with only 2-3 steps at first, and gradually, over many short sessions, build it up one or two additional steps at a time. We want to avoid making the horse sore.
  4. While teaching this routine, or revisiting it after a long time, I generally click&treat for each part of each task. When the routine feels familiar, I move the click point along so we are doing more before a click&treat. Each horse will be different and each time doing the pattern will be different. I like to move the click points around a bit to stop the horse anticipating a treat at a specific point every time.
  5. The key to all these tasks is to keep a continuous drape in the lead rope, using halter pressure via the rope only momentarily for additional guidance. Most of our guided shaping comes via our body position, gestures, breathing, energy level and voice signals.

TASKS

  1. On the horse’s left side, with the horse nearest the fence, walk forward maybe ten steps, halt for a second or two, then turn into a finesse back-up – asking for 2-3 steps back. Repeat two more times (three times in total).
  2. Walk a large circle (handler on the inside). At the point along the fence where you began the large circle, switch to walk a medium-sized circle. Reaching the same spot again, carry on walking a small circle. The circle sizes will depend on the space you have and how flexible your horse is. Start with large circles and gradually make them smaller as indicated by the increasing suppleness of the horse.
  3. Ask the horse to HALT alongside the fence, either ground-tied or put the rope over his neck/back. Then ask him to WAIT while you walk away about ten steps with your back to the horse. Turn to partly face the horse and take up your ‘Zero Intent’ body position for x number of seconds. Then walk back to the horse; click&treat. Gradually (over lots of short sessions with this routine) work up to a WAIT of ten seconds or more.
  4. Walk forward shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse, then turn into a finesse back-up without a halt first. With practice this can get lovely and fluid.
  5. Repeat the whole sequence of tasks walking on the horse’s right side.

GENERALIZATIONS

  1. Practice alongside different fences/walls/hedges if you can.
  2. Once the horse shows that he knows the pattern, play with it at liberty along a fence using the same signals you have used all along.
  3. Once the routine is smooth along the fence, play with it out in the open first with a lead rope, then at liberty. Alternate on which side of the horse you begin the routine.

Note that during backing up, horses usually push harder with one hind leg, so their hind end tends to veer away from the stronger leg. You may want to teach a gesture signal that allows you to regain straightness.

Experiment with how your position to the right or the left of the horse’s head affects his backing up.

RELATED RESOURCES

  1. Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. Finesse Back-Up: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5XL
  3. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO
  4. Smooth 90-Degree Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
  5. Ground Tie: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5WX

 

 

 

Finesse Back-Up

At one point a friend and I came up with 29 different ways of backing up a horse, including groundwork, long-reining and riding. This Finesse Back-Up is one of my favorites when I am leading a horse and we need a prompt back-up.

I learned the essence of this process from Alexandra Kurland, a true pioneer of equine clicker training. I’ve added the idea of using corners to teach because it arranges the environment so that stepping back makes sense to the horse right from the beginning.

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse understands putting his nose on a target results in click&treat. (See Related Resource 1 at the end of this post.)
  2. Horse walks confidently between the handler and a safe fence or similar barrier.
  3. Horse understands ‘Walk On’ and ‘Whoa’ voice and body language signals. (See Related Resource 2 at the end of this post.)
  4. Handler easily slip into and out of ‘zero intent’ so the horse easily knows when he can relax in a ‘wait’ and when he is being asked to move. (See Related Resource 3 at the end of this post.)
  5. Horse understands the handler’s body axis orientation as a signal for bending. (See Related Resource 4 at the end of this post.)

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 which leads into a safe corner.
  • Halter and lead.
  • Mat (optional). A mat can make it easier for a mat-savvy horse to settle into standing in a corner.

AIMS:

  • Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, body language and voice ‘back up’ signals.
  • Horse smoothly shifts from walking forward to stepping backwards on request when the handler turns to face him.

Clips:

https://youtu.be/6YYwoGgd_0Y

https://youtu.be/safxxu90lkA

Notes:

  1. Once the horse readily parks calmly in the corner, we can begin to teach the Finesse Back-Up. I call it that because it requires gently running our hand or fingers up the rope toward the halter, until we reach a point of contact to which the horse responds.
  2. Each horse will be different. I had trouble having Boots demonstrate clearly because she knows the task so well that she reads the very beginning of my body language sentence and steps back right away. If we teach this well, the horse will step back as soon as we begin to turn and use our voice signal, so that even our hand on the rope eventually becomes redundant.
  3. This is tricky to explain in words. Hopefully the video clips and still pictures will make it easier to understand.
  4. Two terms explained:  Outside hand refers to the hand furthest away from the horse. Inside hand refers to the hand nearest the horse. These obviously change depending on which side of the horse you are on, and whether you are shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse, i.e. both facing the same direction, or you are facing the horse front-on.

SLICES:

A: Getting Comfortable in a Corner

  1. Walk with the horse and halt in a corner set up with a gate or a barrier. The handler is on the open side of the corner. It the horse finds it hard to stand relaxed in the corner, and you have taught him to love standing his front feet on a mat, use a mat for your ‘halt’ position. Click&treat for the halt.
  2. Relax into zero intent and ask the horse to ‘wait’ for a little while in the corner. Click&treat the ‘wait’ task a few times.
  3. Turn the horse 90 degrees toward you so he can walk forward out of the corner. Walk a loop and come back to park in the corner again. Click&treat the halt. (This bit is not on the video clip but when first teaching this, we want the horse totally comfortable standing in the corner. It’s helpful to generalize the task to several corners if you have them available or can build them.)
  4. Teach relaxed standing in the corner on the horse’s left and right sides.

B: The Back-Up Maneuver

To ask for the back-up, you are going to smoothly pivot 180 degrees, so you face the opposite direction to the direction the horse is facing, but you are a bit to one side of him.

BUT: ***In the moment before you pivot…*** 

  1. Gently reach across your body with your ‘outside hand’ and slide it quietly up the rope to a point of contact to which the horse responds.
  2. At first, this may be right up to the snap on the halter (or if using a rope halter, even beyond the snap to hold the bottom of the halter) so you can give the horse a very direct backwards feel on the halter.
  3. As you pivot to face the horse, what was your ‘outside hand’ becomes your ‘inside hand’ — the one nearest the horse.
  4. Then simply keep a ‘hold’ tension on the rope and bring up your energy and intent for the horse to step back. This stance causes the horse slight discomfort by making him feel unbalanced. We want him to work out that he can regain his balance/comfort by shifting backwards. Our first click point is the moment he thinks of moving back. Because he’s in a corner, his easiest choice is to step backwards to regain his balance.
  5. When first teaching this task, release your ‘hold’ and simultaneously click&treat at the horse’s smallest inclination to shift his weight back. After the treat, walk a circuit, return to the corner, and ask again.
  6. When you can feel the horse readily shifting his weight back, release the rope pressure, but then, right away, slide up the rope again and ‘hold’ a bit longer to get a whole step back. Drop your signaling hand off the rope as soon as you get backward movement. Walk a circuit, return to the corner, and ask again.
  7. As he begins to understand, eventually ask for two steps, then three steps and so on, before the click&treat. The horse will soon know that when you relax your intent and take your signaling hand off the rope, he can stop backing.
  8. Ask for two or three back-ups (of several steps each) in a row, with release, click&treat for each one. Then ask the horse to step forward into the corner again; click&treat.
  9. Build a little dancing rhythm of movement: back up = click&treat. Forward into corner = click&treat. Back up = click&treat, and so on. After about 3 of these, go away for a bit of relaxation or doing other things.
  10. Gradually, over many short sessions, ask for more steps back until the horse willingly offers as many as you like.

Generalizations

  1. Move away from the corner and use just a fence on the far side.
  2. Move away from the fence and use just a low raised rail on the far side.
  3. Repeat with just a ground rail along the far side of the horse.
  4. Check to see how well the horse can back with this signal (turning to face him) out in the open. If you lose straightness at any point, return to using a fence or rail on the far side. If the horse begins to swing his hind end away from you, you can straighten his body by touching his neck to move his head away, which will straighten his body.
  5. Back through increasingly narrow spaces; e.g. two barrels, gates, into and out of stalls, always being careful that the horse does not catch his hip on an upright.
  6. Back through lanes set up with higher sides.
  7. Back along a track or trail.
  8. Back down slopes and up slopes. Start with gentle inclines.
  9. Back into a trailer or trailer simulation.
  10. Weave backwards (you need to create signals to direct his butt to the right, to the left and to keep it straight). If you are asking the horse to back up while you face him front on, moving his head a bit to his left (your right) will cause his butt to move to his right (your left). And vice versa if you move his head a little bit to his right, his butt will move to his left. If you want him to back straight, ask his head to stay straight.
  11. Back an L-bend.
  12. Back a U-bend.
  13. Back a Z-bend.
  14. Back in a circle.

Related Resources:

  1. Using a target: https://youtu.be/IfbdNme5UQA
  2. ‘Walk On’ and ‘Whoa’ Signals: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  3.  ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO
  4. Body Axis Orientation: https://youtu.be/mjBwyDsVX6Y

Movement Routine 2 – Rags

INTRODUCTION

We don’t need fancy or specialized gear to initiate conversations with our horse(s) about foot awareness, signal clarity, precision, synchronization and flexion. We can use a set of rags.

This routine uses a collection of rags. Rags are  great to use because they are so easy to carry around and set out in different places and in different configurations.  My rags are chunky pieces of old clothing. It’s a great way to use clothes that are no longer favorites to wear and too worn to pass on to other people. Chunky pieces are best if there is wind about.

If your horse loves mats (as I hope he does), our first challenge is teaching that our rags are not the same as mats. The rags take the place of cones, barrels, rails or other items we might use to set out a pattern.

The purpose of this series of ‘Routines’ is to provide a platform that encourages handlers to refine their intent via body language, gesture signals and a clear ‘no intent’ posture. What usually happens is that as the handler’s movements become clearer and more consistent, the horse magically improves.

The more we can take the ‘noise’ out of our communication, the easier it is for the horse to understand our intent. Once they understand our request, most horses are keen to comply to reach the next pause, click&treat, or time of relaxation.

The more time we spend playing with this sort of exercise, which look relatively simple on the surface, the more positive spin-off we’ll notice with other things we do with the horse.

Clicker savvy horses seem to enjoy short routines like this because they quickly work out the order of tasks and know when the last one is finished. If we use a jackpot or triple treat on completion of the little chain of tasks, they are usually keen to follow through the pattern or routine. It’s another form of ‘destination training’. The horse knows the destination (the end of the final task).

With Boots I often do routines we’ve learned in the past, and she seems to remember how each one flows (her memory is probably better than mine!). We vary which ones we do over the days. Sometimes we do two of them separated by other activities.

This morning I was short on time, so I checked to see if Boots wanted to walk with me at liberty. She did, so I decided to play with our May Challenge routine. We’ve done it a few times with halter and lead. To my delight, she remembered all of it and was setting herself up for each task with minimal gestures from me. It probably went well mostly because I had no expectations and I wasn’t filming.

AIM

Smooth execution of the routine walking on either side of the horse: Routine: Walk a circuit around all the rags; circle each rag in turn; halt together beside each rag.

PREREQUISITES

  1. We have stepping on a mat strongly ‘on cue’ or ‘on signal’ or ‘under stimulus control’. (See Related Resources 1 at the end of this post.)
  2. Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (See Related Resources 2 at the end of this post.)
  3. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. (See Related Resources 3 at the end of this post.)
  4. Change of direction plus changing side of horse the handler on, is smooth. (See Related Resources 4 at the end of this post.
  5. While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse responds to the handler moving his/her body axis toward the horse or away from the horse. (See Related Resources 5 at the end of this post.)
  6. Have a familiar ‘jackpot’ or ‘triple treat’ procedure for the end of the chain of tasks. (See Related Resources 6 at the end of this post.)

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 10′ (3 m) or longer lead. The idea is to strive to keep the rope draped at all times.
  • A set of chunky rags. I use 5 rags and 3 rags in the video clips for easier filming and to avoid boring viewers to death, but you can use as many as you like.

VIDEO CLIPS

#179 HorseGym with Boots: ROUTINE 2 – Rags with halter & lead.

#180 HorseGym with Boots: ROUTINE 2 – Rags at liberty.

NOTES

  1. I like to memorize the sequence of events by walking the pattern without the horse and then visualizing the sequence often (a good substitute for counting sheep to go to sleep!).
  2. At the beginning, have your rags much further apart than shown on the video. We want the tasks to be easy to accomplish. Once the horse knows that rags are not the same as mats, put the rags closer together to increase the skill level.
  3. How often you click&treat depends on where you are with each skill. I always begin with click&treat for each portion of each task. As the horse gets the hang of what we are doing, I move the click point along so the horse does more for each click&treat. I work toward being able to do the whole sequence with one click point at the end, but it doesn’t really matter.
  4. As with everything, I keep the sessions short, tucked in among other things we are doing. I often do it just once, sometimes twice and rarely three times in a row.
  5. Be aware that your body language and gestures may be less clear when you are using the non-dominant side of your body. Think brushing teeth or raking with your non-dominant side.
  6. There is no need to rush through the sequence of tasks. Walk slowly. Give the horse time put the pattern into his mind and from there into his muscle memory.
  7. To begin with, I like to change sides after each segment of this routine because it creates a natural click point. As the horse enjoys his treat, we can move to his other side to organize ourselves for the next part of the task.
  8. To change which side of the horse we are on, we can simply halt a little distance away from the rags and move ourselves to the other side of the horse, or we can do a change of direction and sides in motion as in Related Resources 4 at the end of the post.
  9. Later we can generalize to doing the whole routine first on one side, then again on the other side.
  10. Work on each prerequisite on its own until it feels smooth.
  11. Lay out the rags in a straight line with enough space between them to make it easy for the horse to circle each one. Use as many rags as you like. Three can be good to start with. To extend the routine, add more rags one at a time. Seven rags give a pretty good workout without asking too much. If you listen, the horse will tell you if you’re asking too much too soon.

TASKS

  1. With the handler nearest the rags and on the left side of the horse, walk a circuit around the rags, staying as close to the rags as you can without the horse thinking he needs to stand on them. Make a U-turn at the far end.
  2. Repeat 1) above walking on the right side of the horse (handler closest to rags).
  3. Walk a circle around each rag on the left side of horse. As you come out of the circle from the first rag, move forward to get into position to circle the second rag, and so on.
  4. Repeat 5) above on the right side of horse.
  5. Handler nearest the rags: ‘walk on’ beside the row of rags, as you did in 1), but this time come to ‘halt’ beside each rag. Do one length of the rags walking on the right side of the horse [where you were for 6 above], then change to the left side for the other direction. Stay far enough from each rag to avoid the horse thinking they are mat targets. Once he realizes they are not foot targets, halt right beside each rag or even stand on it yourself for the halt. In the video clip with halter and lead, I did all this task on the horse’s right side.
  6. Finish off with a jackpot or triple treat on completion of the final task in the routine..

GENERALIZATIONS

  1. Generalize by doing more of the routine on one side of the horse until you can do all of it on the horse’s left, and all of it on the horse’s right. Be sure to give both sides attention and spend extra time on the side that feels harder.
  2. Lay out your line of rags in as many different venues as you can find. If you have a route between barn and turn-out, you could lay them out and use them coming from or returning to the paddock.
  3. Once the horse shows that he knows the pattern done on a totally loose lead, play with it at liberty if you have a safe area. Be careful to use the same signals you have used all along. Sometimes I add a neck rope to make it easy to give extra momentary guidance, but if the routine does not stay smooth, I go back to halter and lead (lead kept loose except as used for momentary guidance).

If you find it hard to wean yourself off a lead rope, start with wrapping it around the horse’s neck or draping it over his back. It might be that the handler is more dependent on the rope than the horse is. They key is too keep all body language and gestures the same.

RELATED RESOURCES

  1. Putting Targets ‘On Cue’: https://youtu.be/eEGayCdECeQ

More info about putting targets ‘on cue’: https://youtu.be/rZ5e_rePSDU

  1. Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO
  3. Changing Direction in Motion: https://youtu.be/3oqPs4LM5AM
  4. Smooth 90-Degree Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
  5. Triple Treat Routine: https://youtu.be/FaIajCMKDDU

 

 

Movement Routine 1 – Fence

Photo: Standing with ‘no intent’ at halt is part of these five chained tasks.

INTRODUCTION

This is the first of a series of movement routines we can do with only a fence and an open working area. The routines put together many of the individual skills and movements that my resources have looked at so far.

The key purpose of these routines is to encourage handlers to work on the precision of their signals in a relaxed manner.  The routines require the handler to pay close attention to refining his/her signals to improve timing, clarity and softness. A horse can only be as precise as we are precise. A horse can only be as soft as we are soft.

Each routine has five elements that are chained together into a pattern of movement. Horses are pattern learners and, like all of us, like to know what will happen before it happens. We tend to forget that horses living natural lives in the wild are totally in control of all their actions.

We can increase the positive feeling of ‘certainty’ by teaching these routines in a light-hearted but methodical way. Boots usually picks up a new pattern after three-six repeats over three days. Some horses will be quicker, and some will take longer.

Other reasons for playing with these routines:

  1. They are a way to keep skills we have already taught current in our repertoire.
  2. They give a way of interacting with our horse when time is short, we don’t have time to set up objects and obstacles, we don’t have access to objects and obstacles, or we are past the point of lugging around heavy rails and other objects.
  3. They include movement tasks we can do between working on stationary tasks, so giving the horse a good mix of activities.
  4. They make excellent cool-down routines after energetic riding or groundwork.

I’ve called them ‘routines’ because gymnasts first learn the individual elements of a performance and then form the elements into a ‘routine’. First each element is mastered emotionally, intellectually and physically. Then the routine is put into brain memory. Then it is practiced until it is also in muscle memory.

All this is a little bit tricky because doing a routine with a horse involves two brains and two sets of muscles.

After jotting down a plan for a possible routine, I try it out with Boots multiple times. The feedback I get from Boots and myself always shows that the initial plan needs a lot of changes. Most of the changes concern my body position plus when and how I give the signal for each part of the action.

AIM

Smooth execution of a series of five individual tasks chained together:

  • ‘Walk on’ and ‘halt’ repeated three times;
  • Change of direction and side of horse (so horse remains nearest the fence);
  • ‘Stay’ while handler backs away from the horse to the end of rope (keeping a drape in the rope);
  • Horse Waits for ___ seconds;
  • Recall.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (See Related Resources 1 at the end of this post.)
  2. Handler has developed a clear ‘No Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. (See Related Resources 2 at the end of this post.)
  3. Change of direction plus changing side of horse the handler is on. (See Related Resources 3 at the end of this post.
  4. Horse and handler agree on clear ‘stay’ signals. (See Related Resources 4 at the end of this post.)
  5. Horse has learned to ‘wait’ until handler gives a new signal or clicks&treats. (See Related Resources 5 at the end of this post.)
  6. Handler and horse agree on a clear ‘recall’ signal. (See Related Resources 6 at the end of this post.)

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 10′ (3 m) or longer lead.
  • A safe fence line to work alongside. It can be straight, curved or the inside or outside of a round pen fence.

VIDEO CLIP

https://youtu.be/HqyJA_E7waY

NOTES

  1. Since I don’t find memorizing a sequence of tasks easy, I use a ruler as a fence and practice the movements with my small toy hippopotamus. Then I walk the sequence outside by myself, practicing the signals I will use, accompanied by an invisible unicorn.
  2. While working out the plan with Boots’ help, I’ve usually managed to confuse her to some extent, so once the plan feels right, I wait a few days before starting to do the final version with her. Meanwhile we have been practicing the tasks separately.
  3. For the first task, walk as few or many steps as you like. I walked only a few steps in the video to make it easier to film. Vary how long you stand at halt before asking for the next walk transition. Work to get the ‘walk on’ transition with raising your chest, breathing in deeply plus your voice signal. Work on refining your body language and voice signal for each halt.
  4. How often you click&treat depends on where you are with each skill. I always begin with click&treat for each portion of each task. As the horse gets the hang of what we are doing, I move the click point along so the horse does more for each click&treat. I like to eventually be able to do the whole chain with one click point at the end.
  5. As with everything, we keep the sessions short in among other things we are doing. I often do it just once, sometimes twice and rarely three times in a row.
  6. There is no need to rush through the chain of tasks. Walk slowly. Give the horse time put the pattern into his mind and from there into his muscle memory.
  7. Stay’ means that the horse understands that you can walk away while he stays put. ‘Wait’ means that the horse is able to keep standing still for a specific length of time until you click&treat or give another signal. They may appear to be the same at first glance, but teaching/learning ‘Wait’ with duration is a skill set that goes beyond the idea of ‘stay’ for a short period.
  8. For the ‘wait’ task, gradually work up to ten seconds, but be sure to stay well within the time the horse is comfortable with. Better to recall sooner rather than after the horse moves. If he moves, go back to working on the ‘wait’ task by itself for several days. In the video clip, you will note that on the day we filmed at liberty, Boots found it hard to relax into the ‘wait’. There was a lot of commotion including a huge noisy hedge clipping machine working close by.
  9. The more time we spend playing with exercises like this, which look relatively simple on the surface, the more positive spin-offs there will be to the other things we do with the horse.

SLICES

  1. Memorize the sequence of tasks.
  2. Play with each of the skills separately until you and the horse feel fluent. This might take one session or a long time if some of the tasks are new to you.
  3. Walking with the horse nearest the fence, chain the first two tasks together (3 x walk & halt plus change of direction and sides).
  4. When 3 is smooth, chain the last three mini-tasks together (stay plus wait plus recall).
  5. When both 3 and 4 are going well, chain it all together.
  6. Always adjust your rate of reinforcement (how often you click&treat) to what the horse is able to offer on the day. If he seems unsure, click&treat more of the slices. If he is showing keenness and understanding about what comes next, use your voice to praise and move the click&treat further along the chain.

We can’t expect our horse to be the same every day, just as we are not the same every day. Good training adjusts what we do to what the horse is telling us. Some days it will feel very smooth. Other days parts will feel sticky. This is normal ebb and flow.

The day will come when you do it all with one click and treat at the end, but it may not happen again the day after that. Horses read our tension or relaxation in a nanosecond. Often what is happening with the horse relates to ourselves, our emotional state, and how the horse perceives us that day.

Other times, the horse may be tired or anxious due to rough weather or other changes in his external and/or internal environment.

GENERALIZATIONS

  1. If you usually start walking on the horse’s left side, start instead walking on his right side. Be aware of keeping your signals equally clear on the side you use less often.
  2. Practice alongside as many different fences as you can.
  3. Once the horse shows that he knows the pattern, play with it at liberty along fences using the same signals you have used all along.
  4. Once the routine is smooth along the fence, play with it out in the open, first with the lead rope and then at liberty. Alternate on which side of the horse you begin the routine.

RELATED RESOURCES

  1. Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO
  3. Changing Sides in Motion: https://youtu.be/3oqPs4LM5AM
  4. Park and Wait (Stay): https://youtu.be/UvjKr9_U0ys
  5. Wait Duration: https://youtu.be/jVn3WBuqpno
  6. Recall Clip 1: https://youtu.be/XuBo07q8g24     Recall Clip 2: https://youtu.be/5BQCB2Fe5RE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Step at a Time

Photo above: Boots gained the confidence to step up on this balance beam by being rewarded for venturing one step at a time. After many short, successful sessions, she felt secure enough to target individual legs to my hand.

INTRODUCTION

The skill of being able to ask your horse to move one specific foot at a time is worthy of time and attention. It is a task that can be used and refined when riding or doing groundwork, including Horse Agility competition. It starts with being able to visualize the pattern in which horses move their feet.

Carefully observe the footfall sequences when horses walk, back-up, trot and canter. Reviewing slow motion video is best. Learn the footfall (foot-rise) for walk and trot, one gait at a time. When they are clear in your mind, add the canter.

Get down on all fours so you can mimic the pattern with your limbs. That helps put the patterns into your deep memory. Once you can easily replay the memory tape for each gait in your mind, you can give your horse much clearer signals.

Perfecting this helps to build the feel you need in order to time your riding or leading signals to the horse’s feet.

This is a great task for teaching us to carefully note the horse’s intent and time our click&treat to the moment a foot is lifting. The ability to see and feel footfall (foot-rise) is a huge bonus in a horse training kit.

It is actually the moment of foot-rise that we need to learn because it is only when the foot is lifted that we can influence where it goes next. Therefore during this exercise we want to click&treat as the foot is lifting.

Directing our horse’s feet one at a time has many uses. For example:

  • Cleaning/trimming feet.
  • Positioning for mounting.
  • Backing into stalls/wash bays.
  • Breed and showmanship classes .
  • Leading through narrow spaces.
  • Trailer loading and unloading.
  • Precision riding or long-reining/driving.
  • Placing a foot for an x-ray.
  • Precise mat or hoop work.
  • Pedestals.
  • Bridges.
  • Water obstacles.
  • Horse Agility obstacles
  • Getting out of tricky situations on the trail.
  • Stepping up and down a pedestal or balance beam or bridge.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  2. The horse responds willingly to light pressure on the halter via the lead rope. (See ‘Related Resource’ 1 at the end of this post.)
  3. We have taught the ‘finesse back up’. (See ‘Related Resource’ 2 at the end of this post.)

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 lead. A shorter lead is easier to use for this task.

AIM

To create signals for asking the horse to move either front foot one step at a time, both back and forward.

VIDEO CLIP

https://youtu.be/http://A6RUNijvf18

NOTES

  1. Ensure the horse is in a learning frame of mind.
  2. Keep each session working with short – three minutes is plenty. Three minutes of focused work over many sessions will get you the result without lapsing into human or horse frustration.
  3. To lift and move a front foot, the horse must first shift his balance to take the weight off that foot.
  4. Unless the horse is pacing, the hind feet move in unison with the diagonal front foot.
  5. I’m not good with left/right or 3-dimensional thinking so it took me a long time to get these moves firmly into my muscle memory. I had to learn to carefully note where the horse’s feet were and how he was balanced before I asked a foot to move. Then I could decide which way I needed to tilt the horse’s head to move a particular foot.
  6. Remember to click&treat the moment the foot is lifting during this exercise.

SLICES

One Step Back

In order to lift his right front foot, the horse must shift his weight to his left shoulder and slightly back.

  1. Face the horse, slightly to the right side of his head and orientate your belly button toward his nose (when his head is straight).
  2. Hold the rope about an arm’s length from the halter, lightly draped, in the hand nearest the horse’s shoulder (rope hand).
  3. Reach across with the other hand (sliding hand) and slide it gently up the rope toward the halter. If you’ve taught a ‘back’ voice signal, use it as well.
  4. At some stage, you will reach a point of contact to which the horse responds.
  5. When you reach the point of contact tilt his nose/neck slightly to the left and put a bit of backward pressure on the halter. Release immediately when you feel his intent to move back (click&treat). Relax, then ask again.
  6. When you get a whole step, release (click&treat), relax. Maybe rub him if you are not using Clicker Training and he likes to be touched. If you get more than one step, accept it, reward it, and then adjust your signal so it has less energy.

Some horses may at first respond by leaning forward into the backward pressure you are putting on the halter. They are not ‘wrong’ because moving into pressure is a natural horse response. They are also not wrong because they don’t yet understand what you want.

If your horse leans into the pressure:

  1. Take up a power position (feet shoulder-width apart, one slightly ahead, hips dropped).
  2. Hold the rope in the hand nearest the horse, about 2’-3’ from the halter with a bit of slack in it.
  3. Reach across with your other hand and softly run it up the rope toward the halter until you meet resistance from the horse.
  4. At that point, simply ‘hold’ just strongly enough to make the horse feel unbalanced.
  5. The moment he shows the slightest tendency to shift backwards to regain his balance, release the pressure (click&treat).
  6. Repeat. If you are clear and consistent and release (click&treat) promptly, the horse will soon read your body language energy and intent and step back before you can even slide your fingers up the rope.
  7. During multiple short practices, also introduce a voice ‘back’ signal.

When you reach a reliable response as in 6 above, you have created a gesture signal you can use at liberty to ask the horse to step back. Keep the gesture exactly as it was, i.e. running your hand up an imaginary rope.

When you have one step back at a light signal, ask for two steps back. It’s important to ‘release’ the halter pressure slightly after the first step, then increase the pressure slightly to ask again for the second step before a bigger release (click&treat).

Once that is smooth, ask for three steps, then four, and so on until you have as many individual steps as you like. Release the pressure at each step, then apply it again lightly to ask for another step. The horse will soon read the intent in your body language and will step back by reading your ‘intent’.

Pressure on the rope will no longer be necessary except maybe in unusual situations of high stress. In such situations the horse will have an advantage over horses who don’t understand this part of the task because he will remember what the rope pressure means and how to respond to it.

To move his left front foot back, tilt his nose/neck slightly to the right, i.e. always tilt the nose away from the foot you want him to move.

If the horse tends to push forward into the handler, it can help to have a rail in front of the horse or start in a blocked-off lane, so that stepping back is the easiest and common-sense thing to do.

When backing from the halt feels easy, we can expand and generalize the task by walking along beside the horse, halting and smoothly pivoting into position to face the horse and ask him to back up. Teach this first along a safe fence to encourage the horse to back up in a straight line.

One Step Forward

To move one step forward, tilt his nose slightly away from the foot you want to move (to take the weight off it) and put gentle forward pressure on the halter.

GENERALIZATIONS

Be sure to teach ‘one step at a time’ standing on the horse’s left side and on his right side. If he finds one side harder, work at bit more on that side.

Most people find giving signals with their less dominant hand harder as well. When each side feels the same, you’ve reached a big milestone.

When we can use a light signal to ask the horse to glide from walk into a halt, then as we turn to face him, we can ask for an individual step back or forward, we have achieved our task.

Eventually, get him to put a specific front foot on things. Start with a largish item like a doormat or a piece of carpet. Work toward smaller things like paper plates, Frisbees and leaves, then higher things like stumps, steps, pedestals, ramps, balance beams, hoof stands if he doesn’t already know all these things.

Be aware that once the horse is close to the object, he can’t see it, but is working from memory. The area directly under his head/neck is a blind spot.

Be particular but not critical. Always relax, pause and reset if the horse gets confused. After a good effort, go away from the site and do other things the horse already knows.

Then come back to moving one foot until you get another good effort. Don’t drill. After you’ve had two or three good attempts, stop and come back to it another time.

The essence of this teaching is that you create mutually-understood signals that communicate to the horse about moving individual feet.

This clip shows some possible generalizations.

RELATED RESOURCES

  1. Blog: Soft Response to Rope Pressure: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Sq
  2. March 2018 Challenge; Backing Up Part 2; FINESSE BACK-UP https://youtu.be/safxxu90lkA

 

SMOOTH COUNTER TURNS

INTRODUCTION

This flexion activity follows on from teaching the 90 and 180-degree turns when the handler is on the inside of the turn. Now we want to develop a smooth turn when the handler is on the outside of the turn; counter turns.

When we are on the inside of a turn, we teach ourselves to slow down but maintain energy to give the horse time to organize his longer body and four legs to negotiate the larger arc of the turn without losing forward motion.

When we are on the outside of the turn, we have to travel a bigger arc than the horse to get around the turn. If we ‘hurry’ our strides it can cause the horse to hurry around the corner too, leaving us behind. Or our ‘hurrying’ may block the horse and he halts or moves away.

Ideally, we want the horse to slow his turn so we can negotiate our wider arc without stress.

Boots and I did a lot of experimentation to get this flowing smoothly. I have new knees, so it is hard for me to hurry myself around the turn. When we started the task in the shoulder-to-shoulder position, I ended up beside her butt after the corner.

It was time to re-think and play with possibilities. Eventually it became obvious that adjusting our leading position, so the horse’s nose was beside my shoulder, made the whole thing much more manageable.

In my book, Walking with Horses, I did a detailed exploration of the eight basic body positions or orientations we use when communicating with our horse. Each of these of course has many nuances of angle. Here are the eight positions:

  1. Walking directly in front of the horse, with our back to the horse.
  2. The horse is beside us with his head at our shoulder.
  3. Shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse.
  4. Walking beside the ribs, just behind the withers, where we would be if riding.
  5. Walking or standing alongside the horse’s rump, as for tending hind feet or brushing tail.
  6. Walking behind the horse as in long-reining.
  7. In front of the horse, facing him.
  8. Facing the horse’s ribs, as in saddling or lunging.

Eventually Boots and I worked out that the first slice we needed for counter turns was to review our signal for staying in Leading Position 2 – where my shoulder stays beside the horse’s head.

Much of our recent work has been using Leading Position 3 – shoulder-to-shoulder, but it didn’t take long to review and update the gesture signal we used for walking together with my head beside her ears.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  2. Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals while keeping his head next to the handler’s shoulder. (See ‘Related Resources’ at end of this post.)
  3. Handler understands the skill of shifting his/her body axis toward the horse as a signal for turning when the horse is on the inside of the turn. Practice this first without the horse. If you have a willing human helper, have them be the horse so they can give you feedback about the clarity of your body orientation signal just prior to navigating each corner. (See ‘Related Resource’.)
  4. Handler understands the skill of navigating the bigger arc of the turn without raising his/her energy so much that it influences the horse to either speed up or stall out. This can also be practiced with another person standing in for the horse.

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

  • 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 (kept draped as much as possible, as we want to use orientation and body language for communication, not rope pressure).
  • Safe stretches of fence along which you can walk in position beside the ears, keeping the horse between the fence and the handler to encourage straightness.
  • Four markers. The markers can be anything safe. In the beginning, it’s easiest if the markers are relatively large, so the horse sees the sense in walking around them rather than across or through them. Barrels, tall cones, tread-in posts if working on grass, or if these are not available, cardboard boxes can do the job.
  • Four rails to set up in a square or rectangular shape with one of the large markers set into each corner.

AIMS

  1. To have the horse and handler execute fluid, smooth counter turns when the horse is on the inside of the turn; handler on the LEFT side of the horse.
  2. To have the horse and handler execute fluid, smooth counter turns when the horse is on the inside of the turn; handler on the RIGHT side of the horse.

VIDEO CLIPS

Clip 1:

Clip 2:

NOTES

  1. What you see Boots doing in the video clips is a result of many very short sessions over a long time. I always strive to improve the timing of my body axis turned toward the horse as a signal for the counter turn.
  2. If the horse has been resting or contained, it is important to walk around for a general overall body warm-up before asking for this sort of flexion. A relaxed road walk or moving over rails and weaving obstacles make great warm-up exercises.
  3. It’s important to teach each slice on both the left and right sides of the horse.
  4. Quite often it is harder for the horse and/or the handler when they are using the non-dominant side of their body. With patience and extra practice on the harder side, it will start to feel more equal.
  5. Signals given with the handler’s non-dominant side are often not as fluid or well-timed as signals given on the dominant side. Once we become aware of this, we can focus on it as necessary.
  6. As with most things, progress without causing soreness is best made by doing a few counter turns every session; never turning it into drilling.

SLICES

Stay with each slice until if feels easy for both handler and horse.

  1. Walk along a safe fence with the horse between the handler and the fence. Keep a nice drape in the lead rope. For this slice, we are not yet focusing on keeping a position beside the ears. Our focus is the horse walking calmly and willingly along the fence. Occasionally ask for a halt; click&treat.
  2. When 1 feels smooth, put yourself into position beside the horse’s ears while you are at the halt; click&treat (still halted). Then ask for ‘walk on’ and see how well you can maintain the shoulder/ear position (I’ll refer to this as just the ‘ear position’ from now on).
  3. If the horse tends to want to walk behind you, he may have been taught to lead mainly by staying behind, so treat this gently. Slow down with him to stay by his ear; click&treat when you achieve the position. Ask for only a couple of steps in ‘ear position’ before you halt; click&treat. We want to gradually have him realize that being in the ‘ear position’ is what elicits the click&treat.
  4. If the horse tends to forge ahead, it makes more sense to me to use a body extension to block the forward surge, rather than to ‘correct’ with pressure on the rope.
  • A horse with the habit of cutting in front of the person leading is not in a good place in terms of getting along with people. If the horse has been taught to lead by following a hand-held target or walking calmly between stationary targets, this problem may never arise. You may want to go back and work on these skills before continuing with this exercise.
  • If your horse has been traumatized by stick objects in the past, the prerequisite task now becomes to build his confidence with body extensions before proceeding any further. (See ‘Related Resource’ 6 at the end of this chapter.)
  • Note: I am a fan of using targets for many things, but they can become a problem when the training does not progress to developing the relevant skills so a target is no longer needed.
  • In the first video clip, I use my arm to indicate a halt. Eventually this arm signal will no longer mean halt; it will instead be our signal for communicating that we are about to do a counter turn.
  • If the horse has the habit of surging ahead and is not traumatized by sticks, simply use a stick to put motion energy out in front of him to block his surge, followed by click&treat when he stops surging / stays beside you. This is an example of ‘combined reinforcement’. We use negative reinforcement to help the horse quickly understand the answer we need. The instant he finds the answer, we click&treat. There is no need to touch the horse with the body extension. We only use it to disturb the air in front of the horse by moving it up and down.
  • If the horse is full of energy, for whatever reason, the way forward is to give him opportunity to run off the energy so he can regain focus on the quieter work you want to do. Every horse is different and every training situation is a new combination of environment and events.
  • He will learn to keep the ‘ear position’ both while moving and when you ask for the halt. Eventually your raised arm will be enough and the body extension becomes redundant. If you feel your ‘halt’ could be improved, see Getting a Smooth Halt in Many Situations: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5R9

5.   Work with ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ in the ‘ear position’ until it feels fluid in a variety of places and  with the handler walking on either side of the horse.

6.  When 5 is smooth, set up your rectangle of ground rails with a bulky object at each corner. Make the square/rectangle as large as you like. The one in the video clip is small for easier filming. As you approach a corner of the rectangle, turn your body axis toward the horse and raise your outside arm as you did previously for the halt.

The horse will feel your energy as you continue to step the arc around the corner and realize you are not stopping. Click&treat as soon as you come around the corner. If the horse does halt when you raise your arm, use some of your ‘walk on’ multi-signals to let him know that you are not stopping.

7.  At first, click&treat after each corner. Gradually change to every second corner, and so on. Eventually vary the number of corners done before the click&treat. I don’t often ask for more than four corners in a row before the click&treat.

8.  Change direction (and therefore side of the horse) often. This is a fairly concentrated flexion exercise and we don’t want to make the horse stiff.

9.  When 7 is going well, remove the rails and use just the corner markers.

10.  When 9 is going well, put markers at random throughout the training area Walk toward one and adjust your position so you can ask for a counter turn around it. I couldn’t fit this into the video clip, but it is an easy way to include a few counter turns in any training session.

GENERALIZATIONS

  1.  Set out a row of markers to weave for practicing your ‘drive’ and ‘draw’ body axis changes to really consolidate the idea for both of you. (See ‘Related Resources’ 2 and 3 at the end of this post.)
  2. Set out markers around which you can do figure eight patterns, which combines the counter turn with the turn where you are on the inside. (See ‘Related Resource’ 4 and 5 at the end of this post.)
  3. When everything is going smoothly, we can increase the challenge by asking for 180-degree counter turns (U-turns). We achieve this by keeping our body axis turned toward the horse for longer.

These are fairly extreme flexion tasks, so be gentle and only ask for a couple at a time at first. A few done often will certainly increase suppleness but be careful if your horse has (or might have) joint, stifle or arthritis issues. Always make sure the horse is well warmed up.

4.  Eventually, we can ask for 360-degree counter turns around a marker. At first, a barrel or cluster of markers may make it easier because the turn is wider. With practice, the horse will get adept with tighter turns, but please note the cautions in 3 above.

5.  Freestyle Counter turns: When it feels right, begin to ask for 90-degree counter turns without markers. If these fall apart, you have feedback about which slice to return to in order to regain the horse’s confidence and willingness. Usually we have to ask for less or in other words, raise the rate of reinforcement.

6.  Morph the freestyle counter turns into a quiet, relaxed circle with the handler on the outside, then gradually change that into a tidy turn on the haunches. It may look messy at first, but with practice can become lovely and fluent.

7.  Back-Up Counter Turns: Ask the horse to back up with you for a few steps, then ask for a counter turn; click&treat. These may also feel messy at first, but once you and the horse get synchronized via many mini-practices, they will become more and more exact. When one of these feels good, ask for two in a row before the click&treat.

Then do three in a row and finally four in a row so you have backed a complete square. I count our steps back and usually do the turn after every third or fourth step. If you are consistent with the number of the steps back before you ask for the turn, you will find that horses are excellent at counting. Teach again on the horse’s other side, which will probably feel quite different due to handler and horse asymmetry.

RELATED RESOURCES

  1. Blog: Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. Video Clip: #170 HorseGym with Boots: Body Axis Orientation Signals: https://youtu.be/mjBwyDsVX6Y
  3. Video Clip: #70 HorseGym with Boots ONLY HORSE WEAVES: https://youtu.be/AhwwC783Kh0
  4. Video Clip: Figure 8: https://youtu.be/QrberCzAO6c
  5. Video Clip: Figure 8 at Liberty: https://youtu.be/0HXfJTv15eY
  6. Video Clip: #121 HorseGym with Boots: STICK & ROPE CONFIDENCE: https://youtu.be/WIpsT4PPiXo

 

 

The Balancera Exercise

INTRODUCTION:

Horses have an inbuilt action pattern for moving in synchronization with each other. One way to play with this wonderful ability is to devise an exercise where the ‘walk on’ signal balances rhythmically with the ‘back up’ signal.

First, we ensure that our ‘walk on’ and ‘back up’ signals, used individually, give us fluid movement together staying shoulder-to-shoulder. Then we link these two tasks together to form a sequence of dance-like steps.

While walking forward, we pause momentarily before shifting our energy to step backward. The pause gives the horse time to re-organize his body to step back with us. The message to shift gears must travel a lot further in a horse than in our smaller body. Also, the horse has four legs to organize, so it is important to build in a pause long enough for the horse to accomplish the change.

It can look and feel rough at first, but by spending a short time with this exercise often, the shift from forward to reverse gear can become fluid and polished. The two video clips below show the stages of training that Boots and I went through.

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  2. Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ signals and walks in a relaxed manner with the handler beside his neck/shoulder. (See ‘Related Resources’ 1 at end of this post.)
  3. Horse responds easily to ‘back-up’ signals and walks backward willingly with the handler staying in position beside his neck/shoulder. (See ‘Related Resources’ 2 at end of this post.)
  4. Horse and handler understand the ‘Zero Intent’ dynamic. (See ‘Related Resources’ 3 at end of this post.)

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; he’s had ample time to graze or eat hay right before the training session.
  • Halter and lead (kept draped as much as possible, as we want to use body language for communication, not rope pressure). If the horse already backs up easily with the handler in the shoulder-to-shoulder position, you can teach this task at liberty.
  • A selection of barriers which we walk toward and ask for a ‘halt’.
  • A safe fence or similar to work alongside.
  • Supports and rails to build a dead-end lane.

AIM:

To smoothly change from walking forward ten steps to backing up ten steps in a straight line, staying together in the shoulder-to-shoulder position.

VIDEO CLIPS:

Balancera Clip 1 of 2: #173 HorseGym with Boots

 

Balancera Clip 2 of 2. #174 HorseGym with Boots

NOTES:

  1. The slice numbers on the clips don’t correspond to the slice numbers below.
  2. Boots’ demonstration on the video is the sum of many short sessions over a long time. When teaching something new, we stay with each slice of the task over as many short sessions as necessary until it feels ho-hum (easy and smooth). Then we move on to the next slice.

SLICES:

  1. Ensure that you can ‘walk on’ together fluidly toward a destination, staying in position shoulder-to-shoulder (as for this whole exercise).
  2. Ensure that 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. The horse walks inside the lane, handler walks on the outside.
  4. When 3 is ho-hum, walk the horse into the lane and ask for a halt about halfway along; click&treat. Do this in both directions.
  5. Repeat 4 above, asking the horse to wait a second longer before the click&treat, until he can comfortably wait 4 or 5 seconds while you relax with Zero Intent.
  6. Block off one end of the lane with a barrier placed 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 your horse already understands a voice ‘back’ signal, use this as well. Watch for any movement backwards, even a body shift back; click&treat. If your horse already responds reliably to a back-up gesture and/or voice signal, you can probably teach this at liberty.
  8. Walk the horse into the lane again, to halt at the barrier; click&treat. Repeat 7 above, gradually building up to several steps back.
  9. Block off the lane a little further along so the horse is halting with his whole body inside the lane. Repeat backing out, aiming for a fluid, confident back-up of 5-6 steps. Make sure the handler remains shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse during the backing steps.
  10. Now we want to switch the halter jiggle signal to a hand signal. As you lift the rope-hand straight up to jiggle the rope, also lift your outside hand to the horse’s eye level and make a backward gesture with it. And use your voice signal. Click&treat for any stepping back.
  11. When 10 is good, repeat, using the outside hand and voice signal 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 your outside hand gesture and voice signal, fade out the rope-jiggle. You have taught what it means, and it is there as a reminding-signal in times of need.
  13. Now we want to combine walk forward, pause, back-up with one click&treat after the whole task. This is the Balancera. 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, 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. 5-6 steps are good during the learning process.
  15. Practice with a lane of ground rails. Most horses will tend to 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 veers away from the stronger leg. By frequent backing through a lane of ground rails or between barrels, we help the horse organize his body to stay straighter. I often practice this slice as part of our regular gymnastic work.
  16. Practice with one barrier on the far side of the horse but still halting at a barrier. This gives you another opportunity to note which way his hind end tends to veer.
  17. Work on all the above on both sides of the horse. Each slice has two parts – handler in the left eye and handler in the right eye.
  18. When you feel the time is right, repeat 15 and 16 without a barrier at the end of the lane or along the fence.
  19. Play with halting facing a fence followed by a back-up without the prop of a lane or rails.
  20. 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.
  21. Gradually build up to 10 steps forward and 10 steps back but vary the number of steps each time you do it. He will be listening for your click to know when he can stop backing.
  22. Whenever it feels ‘broken’, go back to whatever slice the horse feels confident with and work forward from there.
  23. Ask for two ‘forward & back’ repeats before the click&treat.
  24. Ask for three ‘forward & back’ repeats before the click&treat.

GENERALIZATIONS:

  • Adopt doing the Balancera between two ground rails as a regular part of your gymnastic warm-up and cool-down routines.
  • Play with this in new venues.
  • Play with it around new distractions.
  • Play at liberty.
  • Play with it to and from paddocks or while out on a walk.
  • Play with it on slopes, both backing down and backing up the slope.
  • Play with it long-reining using your voice and hand signal from behind the horse rather than beside him.
  • If you ride, play with it ridden. You can use the straight upward jiggle of your rope or rein to remind the horse about what you want, along with your voice signal and your body weight shift signal. If you use a cordeo (neck rope) while riding, you have probably already taught a touch signal with that for the back-up. If you begin by riding into a corner, it will easily make sense to the horse that you want him to back up.

RELATED RESOURCES:

  1. Blog: Smooth Walk-On and Halt Transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. Playlist: Backing-Up: This is the link to the first clip in the playlist: https://youtu.be/wZ7hnFSkxUU
  3. Blog: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO

PLACING THE FEET ACCURATELY USING A RAIL

This task continues the attention we gave the ‘halt’ and ‘walk on’. We also add a ‘back up’ and pay a bit more attention to ‘wait time’.

There are five different tasks, but since we do them in the horse’s left and right eyes, they are actually ten tasks. Then we consolidate the tasks by doing them in two directions, so we have a total of 20 tasks, or 10 tasks which each have two variations.

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 our next signal.

When confusion arises, it is because we are not clear enough. Horses working for a food reward are usually super-observant of all our body language as well as carefully taught voice and gesture signals.

When we use our less dominant side, it’s common for our body language and gesture signals to be less clear until we become more conscious of what we are doing. If you haven’t usually done much on your horse’s right side, there will be a lot of learning going on.

PREREQUISITES:

  • Horse leads smoothly beside the handler’s shoulder. (See Additional Resource 1 at the end of the post.)
  • Handler and horse agree on clear ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals. (See Additional Resource 2 at the end of the post.)
  • Horse and handler agree on a ‘back up’ signal. (See  Additional Resources 3 & 4 at the end of the post.)

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Halter and lead or liberty.
  • A rail. I use a round rail in the clip, but using a half-round rail that doesn’t roll is ideal to teach this. Or we can put blocks under a round rail. In the clip, I put my foot on it to stop it rolling.
  • One or two of these tasks during one segment of a 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 will earn a click&treat. It works best to do a little bit often.

AIMS:

  1. Handler works on smooth ‘walk on’, ‘halt’ and ‘back up’ signals using a single rail as a focal point.
  2. Handler builds small pauses into the work to encourage the horse to relax while waiting for the next set of signals.
  3. Horse develops confidence with standing over a rail under his belly.
  4. Horse has practice to place his feet carefully in response to handler signals.

VIDEO CLIPS:

With halter and lead:

 Liberty

NOTES:

  1. In the video clip, I change between left eye and right eye for each task. An option is to teach them all smoothly with the handler on one side of the horse and then teach them again from the other side.
  2. I didn’t film the tasks using a mat destination between repeats of the task, but when first beginning to teach the tasks, it can help to have a familiar mat some distance from the rail and head to it for an extra click&treat between repeats.
  3. For challenges like this with multiple parts, I find it useful to carry a written memo card in my pocket.

SLICES:

  1. Walk right over the rail, halt a few paces beyond the rail (or at a destination mat/target), click&treat.
  2. Halt with the rail under the horse’s belly, click&treat; pause, walk on forward over the rail.
  3. Halt before stepping over the rail, click&treat; pause, walk on over the rail.
  4. Halt after all four feet have stepped over the rail, click&treat; pause, walk on.
  5. Halt with the rail under the horse’s belly, click&treat. Pause, ask the horse to back his front feet over the rail, click&treat; pause, walk on forward over the rail. If you have not taught backing up, add this slice later when the horse already backs confidently in different situations.

GENERALIZATION:

  • Approach the rail from different directions.
  • Put the rail in different venues.
  • Use different rails.
  • Do it at liberty or add halter and lead if you taught at liberty.
  • Work on a slope.
  • Use a similar exercise to get a horse comfortable with stepping into and out of a hoop on the ground with front feet, then with back feet.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

  1. Video clips: #29 HorseGym with Boots: Leading Position 3 with a Circle of Markers: https://youtu.be/jtTnlvn0SjE. #85 HorseGym with Boots: Walk On, Halt, Back Up: https://youtu.be/PS01zopa6J0.  #30 HorseGym with Boots: Leading Position 3 Duration Exercise: https://youtu.be/kjH2pS1Kfr8
  2. Blog & video: Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  3. Video clip: #41 HorseGym with Boots: Back Up Standing in Front of the Horse: https://youtu.be/AtTCA85e8l4
  4. Video clip: Shoulder-to-Shoulder Back Up: https://youtu.be/wZ7hnFSkxUU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Target Chin to Hand: Begin Targeting of Body Parts

Targeting body parts is fun to do when we are short on time or it’s too hot, wet, cold, or muddy to be out and about, which is often the case in January.

I’ve started with targeting chin to hand, because it is probably the easiest one to establish the IDEA of targeting a body part to our hand. It gives us a simple task to practice good timing of the click, plus consistent treat-delivery that keeps or returns the horse’s head to facing forward.

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse confidently touches his nose to a variety of different targets held in a variety of positions. In other words, he seeks out the target.
  2. Horse confidently touches his nose to our outstretched fist in a variety of positions and with us standing beside him or in front of him.
  3. Handler has developed a clear ‘zero intent’ body language stance. (See Related Resources 1.)
  4. Horse understands the handler’s ‘zero intent’ position, by remaining calmly facing forward for several seconds, rather than turning toward the treat pouch or pocket when the handler stands beside the horse’s neck. There are training plans for these prerequisite skills in my book: “How to Begin Equine Clicker Training” (See the link to BOOKS at the top of the screen).

I have to presume that everyone is already familiar with the basics of clicker training, since the new shaping plans I share here build on those basics. If you are not familiar, the information in the book is a great place to start.

ENVIRONMENT:

  • Horse is not hungry, so he can focus on what we are teaching, rather than the treats.
  • Horse at liberty in an area he finds comfortable.
  • Ideally, herd mates in view but not able to interfere.

AIMS:

  • The horse willingly moves his chin to touch our hand held toward his chest from his chin.
  • The handler becomes more confident with slipping into and out of a ‘zero intent’ posture. (See Related Resources 1 at the end of this post.)

NOTES:

  1. Play with this in very short sessions. Stop when it feels good. Sessions can be before or between other things that you are doing.
  2. Have the short sessions as frequent as possible. Every day is good, twice a day is even better.
  3. Stick with one body part until you and horse are totally ho-hum with it.
  4. When you are ready to introduce a second body part, the PROCESS is exactly the same as the one outlined below for the chin.
  5. To introduce another body part, begin each session with the one(s) you have already taught, then suggest the new spot by touching it: click&treat, and progress through the same thin-sliced process.

VIDEO CLIP:

SLICES:

  1. Touch the flat palm of your hand to the horse’s chin; click&treat.
  2. Repeat several times so the horse can make the connection between the ‘touch’ and the click&treat.
  3. Hold your hand a tiny distance back from the chin (toward the horse’s chest) and wait for the horse to close the distance so he touches your hand: click the instant you feel the touch & treat plus celebrate largely (happy praise and a triple treat or jackpot).
  4. If you do slice 3 above, and the horse does not make the connection, resume with slice 2.
  5. Once the horse is making the connection over a tiny distance, gradually increase the distance one millimeter at a time.
  6. Early on in your teaching program, start each new session with a touch to the chin, to remind the horse about which task you are doing.
  7. Once the horse clearly understands the task, take up the ‘zero intent’ position between repeats, to build a bit of ‘wait duration’ between your requests. Build up the ‘wait time’ in one second increments.
  8. Some horses will develop a little signal to tell you when they have finished chewing and are ready for a repeat. (See Related Resource 6.) Watch out for these and value them by doing a repeat. Boots illustrates this in the video clip.

GENERALIZATION:

We can use how the chin (lower lip) feels to our touch to estimate the horse’s relaxation level. It’s easier to feel the chin (lower lip) tension than to see it when we are actively doing things with the horse.

While interacting with the horse, occasionally pause and feel his chin (lower lip). A soft, floppy lower lip suggests a horse relaxed about what is going on.

With increasing anxiety, the lip tightens, so it might be:

  • Very Loose
  • Moderately loose
  • A little bit tight
  • Quite tight
  • Very hard indeed.

Likewise, as anxiety reduces and relaxation returns, a tight lip will loosen up.

Add Pics of chin

A very relaxed, loose chin/lower lip.

A tighter chin/lower lip. When with the horse, it is easier to feel the difference than to see it.

RELATED RESOURCES:

  1. Blog: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO
  2. Blog: Target Shoulder to Hand: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5SH
  3. Blog: Target Hindquarters to our Hand: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Tk
  4. Blog: Target Flexions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Ty
  5. Blog: Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RV