Tag Archives: body language

Precision Leading

Synchronicity is a fundamental horse behavior. Horses living naturally stay in visual contact and move together. A warning snort by one horse will immediately alert all other horses within hearing. One horse startled into action will immediately be joined by the rest of his group. The body awareness of horses, like that of schooling fish and flocking birds is so acute that even at top speed on uneven terrain they don’t run into each other.

Horse body awareness is so well developed that even in full flight they do not run into each other.
Photo by Gigi on Unsplash

It’s possible for us to become part of this incredible sensitivity if we train ourselves to become clear and totally consistent with our body language. Once a horse realizes that our body language is significant and reliable, he tends to watch it closely. If we systematically strive to improve our body language, we will reap the benefits when we lead our horse.

We inevitably need to lead our horses from A to B. We might be leading our horse:

  • Between paddocks.
  • Between stable and paddock.
  • Into and out of stalls.
  • To and from our training area.
  • Along a road or track for a walk.
  • Alongside other horses.
  • On the uneven road verge or ditch if large or unusual traffic comes along.
  • Through gates of varying width.
  • Through a narrow space.
  • In a new area the horse has not seen before.
  • Into a familiar area which suddenly has new things in it.
  • Up and down slopes.
  • Around obstacles.
  • Through water.
  • Across ditches or gullies.
  • Into and out of a truck or trailer.
  • Around a vet facility.
  • Between cars and horse trailers.
  • Past or among strange horses and strange people.
  • Past pigs or donkeys or other animals unfamiliar to the horse.
  • Past loud or aggressive dogs.
  • Near children.
  • If we take our horse for walks, we may be in bush or forest with logs to step over, water to cross, other trail users to meet and pass.
  • If we trail ride, we may have reason to dismount and lead the horse in narrow, unusual and sometimes dangerous places with poor footing.

I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list, but it makes the point that it is definitely in our interest, and in the horse’s interest, to make precision leading part of our horse’s repertoire.

The ‘gates’ in this exercise are pairs of markers set up in a random pattern. The task is to organize the approach to each gate, so the horse can navigate it fluidly. We start with the gates well spread out and roomy to walk through.

I’m using a variety of markers to create a series of ‘gates’. The direction of our body axis is essential information for the horse to know whether he will be going straight, turning toward us or making a counterturn to head toward the next gate (as in video below).

This first short video looks at how we can use clear, consistent changes of our body’s axis as a major signal for the horse.

As always, there are quite a few PREREQUISITES. If you want/need to review any of the key prerequisites, I’ve put direct links to them at the end of this blog.


  • Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals in a relaxed manner.
  • Horse responds to soft rope signals.
  • Horse backs up willingly with the ‘finesse back-up’ and/or ‘shoulder-to-shoulder back-up
  • The horse understands the significance of the handler clearly changing his/her body axis to indicate direction.


  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and lead. A shorter 8-foot lead makes it easier to keep a soft drape in the rope.
  • A series of five or more gates made with pairs of markers such as cones, tread-in posts, pieces of firewood, rocks, containers of water (5-liter plastic containers of water are especially useful), barrels, jump stands, rags – anything that is safe to use.
  • Each time we set up this exercise, we can put the gates in a different configuration. The number of gates is only limited by the size of the training area.
  • Once well established at home, we can expand the idea to new venues.


  1. Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, gesture, voice and halter-touch signals that allow the horse to smoothly navigate through each gate.
  2. Horse begins to seek out the next gate by reading the handler’s body language and gesture signals.
  3. Clear communication for:
  • Walk on through the gate.
  • Halt between the ‘gate’ markers.
  • Halt and back through the gate.


#158 HorseGym with Boots: PRECISION LEADING


  • Very short frequent sessions work best. Stay with each slice until it feels ho-hum to both of you.
  • Before asking the horse to negotiate the gates, walk through them yourself and visualize the order in which you will ask the horse to do them. Also explore the best way to approach each gate from various directions. The less hesitancy in your actions, the easier it will be for the horse to read your intent*. It’s fun, and hugely helpful, to have a second person be your pretend horse. Even better is for you to be the horse and have a friend guide you through the gates using body language only.
  • Set out five or more gates well spread out, with a good-sized gap for each gate so it’s easy for the horse to walk through.
  1. Walk to each gate in turn and ask the horse to halt between the markers; click&treat each halt. If he wants to stop to sniff and investigate any of the markers, allow him all the time he needs to satisfy his curiosity. Wait with zero intent* for an ‘okay to proceed*’ signal. [Terms with an Asterix (*) are defined in the glossary which you can access through the link at the top of the page.] In this situation, the ‘okay’ signal is when the horse brings his attention back to you. He may also sigh or breath out audibly.
  2. When 1 is smooth, halt in every second gate you come to; click&treat.
  3. When 2 is smooth, halt in every third gate you come to: click&treat.
  4. As the horse shows he is ready to do more, carry on adding one more gate before the halt followed by click&treat, until you can do a whole series with one click&treat at the end of the series.
  5. When 4 is good on one side of the horse, start again with slice 1 on the other side of the horse.
  6. When 4 and 5 feel smooth and light, ask the horse to back up two or three steps after a halt in a gate. Work up to a series of occasional ‘halts followed by a back-up’, in-between walking forward through the gates.
  7. Mix up:
    • Walking straight through gates.
    • Halting in a gate and walking on.
    • Halting in a gate and backing up.
    • Trotting through some or all the gates.
    • Put gates in different venues and/or use different markers.
  8. We can also use the gate as a stopping place to practice the WAIT.
Pausing in a ‘gate’ to play with increasing the duration of the WAIT GAME.


Zero Intent and Intent: https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2018/11/30/dec-2018-challenge-no-intent-and-intent/

20-Steps Exercise: [#68 in the Blog Contents List] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/09/05/20-steps-exercise/

Smooth Walk-on and Halt Transitions: [#16 in the Blog Contents List.] https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT

Soft Response to Rope Signals exercise: [#86in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2022/01/03/developing-soft-response-to-rope-rein-pressure/

Smooth 90-degree Turns: [#31 in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2019/06/29/smooth-90-degree-turns-handler-on-the-inside/

Smooth Counter Turns: [#35 in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2019/09/30/smooth-counter-turns/

Weave Prep – more detail about using our body axis orientation. [My YouTube playlist called Weave and Tight Turns contains more clips about how I gradually developed these skills]: https://youtu.be/dQ4Qkz74pcQ

Finesse Back-Up: [#40 in the Blog Contents List.] https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/02/02/finesse-back-up/

Starting with a Shy or Timid Horse


It’s tempting to think of horses as big, strong creatures – which they are. But in reality they are just giant squirrels, constantly on the lookout for danger and aware that flight is their best response to anything unusual. So building confidence with every new situation is everything.

Eternal vigilance is what keeps prey animals alive.

A Familiar Feed Dish

Using a familiar feed dish can help if we are working with a shy or timid horse, or one unused to humans. We can use free-shaping to capture the behavior of taking a treat from the feed bucket. If he is not yet interested in eating carrot or apple strips, use handfuls of soaked chaff or whatever bucket-food he is getting, or twists of good quality hay, or freshly plucked long-stemmed grass if you have access to this.

Here is the Thin-slicing for a Possible Training Plan.

  1. Place the feed dish between you and the horse. The horse’s response will show you how close you can be without causing him to move further away. 
  2. While watching the horse, be careful not to stare directly at him, but to turn a bit sideways to him and observe him discretely with your peripheral vision.
  3. Wait in a relaxed manner until the horse looks at the feed dish – click and quietly move to the feed dish and toss in a treat. Then immediately move twice as far away as your former position, giving the horse more than the personal bubble size he needs to feel safe enough to approach the feed dish. It’s good if the treat makes a sound when it hits the dish. If the wait time is quite long, take a chair. Sometimes a person sitting in a chair is less threatening than a standing person.
  4. Wait for the horse to retrieve the treat. If he can’t do it yet, move further away or go do something else and come back later. He’ll usually check the dish while you are away.
  5. Approach the feed dish until the horse moves away (if he hasn’t already). As soon as the horse stops moving away, stop as well and shift your body sideways so you are not directly facing him. Watch for him (without staring at him) to look at the feed dish – click as soon as he does and quietly move to the food dish and toss in a treat, then glide away again to a distance that respects the horse’s current personal bubble.
  6. Repeat 10-20 times or as long as the horse shows interest. He will gradually begin to connect the click with the food treat about to be tossed into his dish.
  7. Each horse is different. Some horses easily shrink the size of the space they need to feel safe and soon approach the dish readily. Others will find it harder to build confidence.
  8. It’s possible to do this procedure on the other side of a fence from the horse. This is protected contact for us, but it can also make the horse feel safer from his point of view.
  9. Gradually we can shift the ‘click point’ to wait for a step toward the food dish, then sniffing the food dish. At the same time, we may be able to gradually decrease the distance we have to move away before the horse will retrieve the treat.
  10. Eventually we can sit in a chair with the bucket near us, then right beside us, then on our lap and the horse will come to retrieve his treat from the bucket.
  11. From there, we can introduce our hand into the bucket and get him used to the idea that he can pick food off our hand.
  12. Eventually we can dispense with the bucket.
  13. It’s essential to work with each horse’s timeline, no matter how long it takes. Each horse is unique. If we give him the time it takes to make up his own mind that approaching the dish (and eventually us) results in good things, he will have a positive outlook to our presence.

The treat has been dropped into the green bowl and now the person will move away just a step or two because the horse is confident enough to come to the bucket as soon as he knows a treat has been put into it.

Reflections on the Influence of the Environment

Unless you are using cloned pigeons or cloned rodents in controlled laboratory conditions, the study of animal behavior is an inexact science. Each animal we interact with is a unique entity derived from its genetic make-up and the environment’s effect on those genes since the meeting of the egg and sperm.

All living things are the result of constant interaction between genetic possibility and the ever-changing environment.

And of course, the nature of the egg and sperm depends on the past genetic and environmental influences on the parents, and so on – back in time.

Ongoing research shows that environment has more influence on genetic expression than previously recognized. When we are with our horse, we are part of his/her environment.

For a domestic horse, each person is a unique part of his environment.

What he eats, drinks, breathes, his access to movement and mental stimulation (or lack of same) all underpin the nature of the horse standing beside us. Does the horse live among a group of horses? Did he grow up in a mixed-age herd?

Is the horse getting enough sleep? Can he fully relax often enough? Can he freely choose a comfortable temperature – shade, sun, out of the wind, protection from strong rain or bitter cold?

Is the horse getting enough good quality sleep?

Does he have the space to move at any gait whenever he feels the need? Is he able to eat and rest in the natural horse rhythm? Horse don’t do ‘square meals’ and 8-9 hours of continuous sleep. They observe/eat/rest, observe/eat/rest in a continuous rhythm over 24 hours.

And of course, what he feels directly relates to his behavior of the moment. Alert or relaxed? Vigilant and fearful can lead to panic. Perceived threat is just as real as actual threat.

Does he feel hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, or need to urinate or defecate? Is he in physical pain? Is he feeling separation distress, social isolation, loneliness?

We must remain constantly aware of the horse’s bodily functions rather than treat him like a bicycle.

Is he feeling frustration at containment and restraint, which can turn into rage and desperate actions seeking escape, often leading to injury? Is maternal care thwarted due to early weaning? Is the mare in season and coping with mating urges? Is the stallion in proximity to mares in season?

Have we carefully, safely, taught all about tying up and other restraints such as staying in small spaces? Is there an outlet for the play drive?

When We Turn Up with Food Treats

The ‘environment’ is not only ‘out there’. We are part of the horse’s environment. Both the handler and the horse have an external environment and an internal environment. Horses can sense a handler’s confidence or fear, anxiety or calmness, in a nanosecond. Before we interact with our horse, we need to become aware of our emotional state. If we are not feeling calm and accepting of what the horse is able to offer us today, we are best to sit quietly and bring these up before we inflict ourselves on the horse.

Horses are innate experts at reading body language. That skill developed over the millennia as an adaptation for herd life. Group life means that all the group members need the same resources. During some seasons, scarcity leads to competition between group members.

Humans have the same awareness of the significance of body language once we put aside the ‘noise’ of our talking. We have ‘gut responses’ to people which are based on their body language and the aura which surrounds them.

Horses know the difference between assertion and aggression. They understand approach and retreat. They understand warnings and capitulation. If we have a horse, it becomes our job to learn the details of horse body language and the specific nuances of the body language of the horse(s) we handle.

Horse body language is extremely nuanced.

All living creatures tend to repeat whatever they find rewarding. The reward might be physical comfort, company or no company, a restful situation, drink, food. This is because a rewarding situation activates a fundamental ‘seeking circuit’ in the brain – the bit that works in the subconscious to keep us alive. But we the learn to consciously seek out that reward again.

Horses, being designed to eat steadily over 24 hours, find food highly rewarding unless something in the horse’s external or internal environment is critically out of balance.

We can use food rewards with a horse without a CLICK or MARKER sound of our choice, but the click marker signal is a safety feature for the handler. It also, later on, allows us to build chains of individual behaviors with a CLICK at the end of the chain. I’ll reflect a bit more on that in another blog.


The following two videos look at some basics to consider when we delve into equine clicker training.

Setting Up Our Training Environment

Internal and External Environments

Putting Slow Dancing Together, plus Extras

When I teach these maneuvers, I teach them one at a time. Then we begin to link two of them together. For example, I do the Do-Si-Do so I can repeat the Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet on the other side of the horse. But doing the line dancing on the other side could easily fit in after one of the Recalls to Heel, presuming we remember which side we did the first time – something I tend to forget.

Most days I practice a few of the tasks, or some aspects of a task, but I’m careful not to do too much of one thing. Now and then I put a lot of them together.

By regularly returning to each task on its own, as well as to different combinations of two or three of the tasks, we keep the whole thing fresh.

We can put the slow-dance routine together in any order that we like. We want to keep it fun for us, as well as keep our horse supple and interested.

Perfection is Not in the Equation

Perfection is never part of the equation. Some days things will go smoothly, other days they won’t. People and horses have good days and less good days.

Simple Bow

We developed the Simple Bow which gives us a consistent way to begin a series of Slow Dancing movements and a way to let the horse know that we’ve come to the end of a sequence.

The Simple Bow – fun to use as a start and finish for our Slow Dancing routines.


This is a review of the ten Slow Dancing tasks we developed over the year. I’m sure there are others you can also incorporate.

This video clip shows an example of the whole routine. #282 HorseGym with Boots: Whole Slow Dance Routine at Liberty.

Accurate Placing of Feet

We started with a review of placing the feet accurately using a rail on the ground. As well as make the horse more aware of what each foot is doing, it is a nuanced exercise that helps the handler become more aware of their orientation to the horse as well as their body language, energy level, gesture, voice and touch signals.

We have halted with one front foot over the rail.

Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet

Next we looked at Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet. In moderation, this a good exercise to keep suppleness in the horse’s amazing shoulder musculature.

Line Dancing in position with the front feet. Doing it regularly on both sides gains and maintains symmetry.


We then looked at the Do-Si-Do, which is a yield of the hindquarters, then bringing the front of the horse past us so we end up on his other side, followed with a yield of the forequarters. I often fit it in as our second task because it allows us to do Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet on the horse’s other side.

It can take a while to get this flowing nicely but once it does, it’s a great stretching exercise. And it helps handlers develop super awareness of their body position and timing.

Do-si-do: This is hard to show with still shots. I’m asking for a hindquarter yield on the horse’s right side. As she comes around, I step back (third photo) so she she can bring her head in front of me and put me in her left eye, at which point I will ask for a forequarter yield. In this case we would finish up facing the cows.

From our position shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse, we can ask for half a hindquarter yield so we end up face-to-face with the horse, which sets us up for the Recall and Back-Up In Rhythm or any of the face-to-face tasks.

Recall and Back-Up in Rhythm

Once we have established a back-up signal while face-to-face with the horse, we add the recall. It is a fairly sophisticated exercise. It is valuable because it asks the horse to shift his weight and balance backwards and forwards in a quiet, no-stress context. Once the horse is adept at this, it’s fun to do a few of these whenever we have the horse warmed up.

We teach the ‘wait plus recall’ and the ‘back-up’ separately, then put them together.

Sidestepping Face-to-Face

While we are face-to-face with the horse, it is easy to morph from Back-Up and Recall into Sidestepping Face-To-Face. First we carefully teach the horse how to smoothly move sideways keeping his body straight while we are in position beside his ribs. Once the horse understands the concept and a voice signal, it is not hard to teach the same movement while we are facing him.

This exercise helps suppleness of the hip as well as the shoulders. If the horse finds it difficult in either direction (or both), it usually indicates chronic stiffness or possibly new or residual soreness. A little bit often (if the horse is not showing soreness) is a good idea, but only if the horse is already warmed up with straight-line walking and trotting.

You can see by her tail that this is demanding physical and mental work. She is doing such a good job of keeping her body straight. I only ask for a few steps each direction before a click&treat.

Recall to Heel

We ask the horse to WAIT and walk a short distance away. From WAIT, we Recall the horse who walks to us, then past us on one side, makes a U-turn behind us so he ends up standing beside our shoulder on the other side (‘at heel’).

Boots walked toward me, moved past my right shoulder, turned 180 degrees behind me to end up alongside my left shoulder.

We also sometimes play with making the U-turn staying on the same side. When the horse is standing beside our shoulder, we can easily move into The Spiral.

The Spiral

The Spiral is a task my horse Boots made up for us and for some reason she seems to like it a lot. We had spent quite a bit of time walking spiral circles, making each time round the circle either larger or smaller.

Just for fun one day I wanted to see how small we could get the circle. We ended up with my back tight against her shoulder, turning on the spot while she curved around me as much as a horse is able to curve. The big celebration and triple treats telling her how clever she was probably set it up as a future favorite exercise.

As long as we stay within the horse’s ability to bend comfortably at the hip area, and ensure that the horse is already warmed up, it is a fun task to do often.

We start with a large circle and gradually make the circle smaller until we can turn on the spot with the horse moving tightly around us. If the horse is not able to keep his hind end on the arc of the circle, we are asking more than he is able to do at the moment. Done regularly, flexion usually improves if pain or past injury is not a factor.


The Balancera exercise is another of our favorites. We built it up slowly with many short practices over the years. It is physically the same as the Back-Up and Recall except that the handler is at the horse’s shoulder. The main difference is that we start with several steps forward (I use between 3 and 10) followed immediately by the same number of steps backing up.

To turn it into the Balancera task, we repeat with one less step forward and backward each time until we are rocking forward one step and rocking back one step. It is another unique ‘balance shift exercise’ done in the context of quiet concentration. I count the steps out loud and the horse seems to hone in on the sound of the numbers.

Here we are in the process of shifting our balance from walking forward to walking backwards. I have dropped my weight into my hips and am raising my outside hand to signal for backing up. We do one less step each time until we are doing one step forward and one step back. This exercise helps the horse become a master at reading our body language and intent. Start with a high rate of reinforcement and only a few steps.

Line Dancing Shoulder-to-Shoulder

The Balancera has us in position beside the horse’s shoulder, which is where we need to be to do Line Dancing Shoulder-To-Shoulder. Our usual body orientation when asking the horse to sidestep is probably facing his ribs.

It’s not too hard to stay shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse instead. We have to adjust the way we give the signal to let the horse know our intent. We need the signal different from the signal we use for Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet.

In this frame, with the very interested cattle, Boots is sidestepping toward me. I found staying shoulder-to-shoulder for this part harder because our signal is my raised hand for her to target. It can get smoother once a voice signal is well established. We often practice this with a rail under the horse’s belly, which gives the horse a destination – i.e. click and treat once past the rail.

The Twirl

This brings us to the tenth Slow Dancing task, which is The Twirl. For this we leave the horse in a Wait and walk away so we can face the front of the horse with space between us (as we do for the Recall to Heel).

When Boots first learned this, it remained one of her favorites for a long time and she is always happy to do it. When we play the ‘Send Out at Trot, then Recall‘ game, she will easily do three twirls on the way back to me.

For the Slow Dance routine, we do The Twirl slowly. As she does her turn I also turn 360 degrees and we end up face-to-face again; click&treat. The task can be generalized across a longer distance and at trot.

Boots is doing a turn on the forehand (twirl) while I also spin around. Note how carefully she keeps her ear and eye on where I am. As she comes around we celebrate the effort with a click&treat. This became one of her favorites when we first learned it and I had to promptly put it ‘on signal only’, so she didn’t randomly show it off to people and startle them.


The Twirl and the Whole Sequence


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

The Whole Sequence Clip

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

Line Dance Shoulder-to-Shoulder


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


#280 HorseGym with Boots: Line Dance in Motion.


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


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


Sidestepping Away

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

    Sidestepping Toward the Handler

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


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

    The Balancera Exercise


    In the photo above, Boots and I are walking a few steps forward shoulder-to-shoulder. We will then pause forward movement and step backwards an equal number of steps remaining shoulder-to-shoulder.

    Horses have an inherent ability to move in synchronization with each other. We can play with this wonderful ability. One way is to devise an exercise where the ‘walk on’ signal balances smoothly with the ‘back up’ signal.

    This is fun to work with once both our ‘walk on’ signals and our ‘back up’ signals individually result in fluid moving together shoulder-to-shoulder. We simply bring those two tasks together to form a sequence of dance steps.

    We pause forward movement momentarily, so the horse’s body has time to organize itself to step backwards. It can look and feel rough at first, but by spending a short time with it often, the change-over can become calm and polished.


    To fluidly change from walking forward to backing up, staying together in the shoulder-to-shoulder position.


    1. Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ signals when the handler is beside his neck/shoulder. See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth Walk-On and Halt Transitions. (Access my Blog Contents List via the tab at the top of the page.)
    2. Horse understands touch, voice and gesture ‘back-up’ signals. See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List: Finesse Back-Up.
    3. My Playlist: Backing-up (in my YouTube channel: Hertha Muddyhorse), has further clips which show teaching the back-up in a variety of ways. Click here.


    There is a third video at the very end of the blog.

    #173 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 1 of 2.

    #174 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 2 of 2.


    • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • The horse is not hungry.
    • Halter and 8-foot lead (kept loose as much as possible, as we want to use body language for communication, not rope pressure).
    • A selection of barriers toward which we can walk the horse and ask for ‘halt’.
    • A safe fence or similar to work beside.
    • Materials to build a simple dead-end lane. You may have a corner or a fence and an open gate to use as two of the three sides of a dead-end lane.


    1. * Boots’ demonstrations on the videos is the sum of many short sessions over a long time. When teaching something new, we stay with each slice of the task until it feels easy and smooth, then move on to add in the next slice.
    2. * Whenever anything feels ‘broken’, go back to the slice where both the horse and the handler feel confident, and work forward from there again. Click&treat at a rate that keeps the horse continuously successful at earning his next click&treat.
    3. * Teach everything again (from the beginning) on the other side of the horse. You can do this with each slice, or you can get it all good on one side and then repeat all the slices on the other side.


    1. Check you can ‘walk on’ together fluidly, staying in position shoulder-to-shoulder.
    2. Check you can ‘halt’ together fluidly, staying in position shoulder-to-shoulder.
    3. Set up a lane and walk the horse through it in both directions. Horse is in the lane, handler on the outside.
    4. When 3 above is ho-hum, walk the horse into the lane and ask for a halt about halfway along; click&treat.
    5. Repeat 4 above, asking the horse to wait a second longer before the click&treat, until he comfortably waits up to 4 or 5 seconds.
    6. Block off the lane with a barrier about half a horse’s length inside the lane. Walk the horse into the lane and halt at the barrier; click&treat.
    7. Hold the rope in the hand nearest the horse. Lift your rope hand straight up and jiggle the rope lightly to put a distinctive touch signal on the halter. If you have taught a voice ‘back’ signal, use that as well. At first, watch for any movement backwards, even a body shift back, to click&treat. Since the way forward is blocked off, it will make sense to the horse to step back.
    8. Repeat 6 and 7 above, gradually building up to several steps back.
    9. Once 8 above is good, block off the lane a little further along in stages until the horse is halting right inside the lane. Repeat 6 and 7 above aiming for a fluid, confident back-up out of the lane.
    10. Now we want to switch the halter-jiggle signal to a hand signal. At the same time as you lift the rope hand (nearest the horse) straight up to jiggle the rope, lift your outside hand to the horse’s eye level and make a backward gesture with it. Also use your “back-up” voice signal. Click&treat for stepping back. Return to click&treat for just one or a few steps at first, then gradually all the steps needed to exit the lane.
    11. Repeat, using the outside hand and voice signals BEFORE you lift your rope hand to put jiggle energy into the halter. The moment the horse begins to step back, stop jiggling the rope but ask for another step or two with the outside hand and voice signals.
    12. When the horse moves back readily with just your outside hand gesture and voice signal, fade out the rope-jiggle. It’s there to be used in times of need.
    13. Now we want to combine the steps forward, pause, steps backward with one click&treat after doing both. Walk into the lane, halt at the barrier, signal for the back-up; click&treat for any back-up that is offered. Because we are introducing new complexity (changing a parameter), we relax our criteria for number of steps back.
    14. Gradually, over many very short sessions that always end on a good note, ask for more steps back after the halt before you click&treat. Work up to about 10 steps.
    15. When 14 above is in good shape, practice with a lane of ground rails. Still have a barrier at the front (e.g., a fence). Most horses usually veer right or left when they back up, due to the natural asymmetry of their bodies. One hind leg pushes off harder, so their hind end will veer away from the stronger leg.
    16. By frequent backing through a lane of ground rails, we help the horse organize his body to stay straighter. I regularly use this task as part of our gymnastic work.
    17. Practice with a barrier only on the far side of the horse. This gives you another opportunity to note which way his hind end tends to veer.
    18. Generalize by halting facing a fence or any free-standing barrier, then backing up without the prop of a lane.
    19. When you feel the time is right, ask for a halt away from any barriers, followed by a back-up. Celebrate hugely when you get this. Done with finesse, the horse becomes light and keeps his full attention on your body language so he can maintain the synchronization. I always click&treat after this task.
    20. Gradually build up to 10 steps forward (click&treat) and 10 steps back (click&treat) but vary the number of steps each time you do it. Work toward this over many short sessions.
    21. Once 20 above is smooth, begin the actual Balancera exercise. We’re changing a parameter, so start with about 3 steps. Ask for 3 steps forward, then three steps back before the click&treat.
    22.  When 21 above is good, ask for 3 steps, 2 steps, then 1 step forward and back before the click&treat. This is the Balancera. With frequent short practices, the horse becomes more adept at shifting his weight from forward to backing up. This takes considerable energy and effort, so treat it gently. The horse will soon realize that the click&treat happens after the 1 step forward and back, even when you start with ten steps.
    23. When 22 above is smooth, gradually ask for more steps to begin with, then reducing by one step until you are doing one step forward and one step back; click&treat.
    24. Most of all, keep it fun. Stay within the horse’s ability that day.

    The Spiral


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

    Recall to Heel


    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.


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


    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.


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


    • 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.


    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.


    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’.


    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.



    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.


    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.


    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/


    #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.


    • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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


    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.


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


    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.


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


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


    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.


    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.


    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


    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.


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


    Horse and handler are clicker savvy.


    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


    • 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. 


    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.


    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


    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.


    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.


    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.


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

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


    • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    • 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.


    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.



    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.


    Video clips

    Clip 1: on right side of horse

    Clip 2: on left side of horse


    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.


    • 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.


    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.



    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.


    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.


    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


    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.


    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.


    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.


    #262 HorseGym with Boots; Line Dance Front Feet.


    • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    • 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.


    • 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:



    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.


    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.


    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*.


    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.


    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.)


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


    • 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.


    • 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.


    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.


    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.


    • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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


    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.


    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.


    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


    • 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.


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


    • 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.


    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.


    • 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.


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


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


    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.


    • 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.


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


    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.


    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.


    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:


    • 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.


    • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    • 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.


    December 2017 Obstacle Challenge: 20 Steps Exercise.


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


    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.


    • 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


    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.


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


    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.


    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


    • 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.


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



    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.


    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.


    • 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


    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.


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


    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)


    • 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.


    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.


    #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



    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.


    • 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.


    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.


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


    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.)


    • 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.


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


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


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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