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.
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.
SUMMARY OF THE TASKS
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.
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 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.
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.