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.
- 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.
- The horse understands body language, gesture and voice signals to sidestep toward us.
- 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.
- 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.
MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT
- A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
- Horse is not hungry.
- Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
- Horse in a learning frame of mind.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A horse with arthritis and/or past injuries may have restricted or severely limited movement for this type of work.
- 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.
- For the slow-dancing routine, we only need a few steps away and a few steps toward us.
- 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.
- 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
- Set up as for 1 and 2 above.
- If the horse finds one side easier, start on that side.
- 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.
- When 3 is coming along nicely, teach it all again from the beginning on the horse’s other side.
- 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.
- When 5 is smooth, remove both barriers.
- 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.
- When the task is sound in a familiar training area, play in different places.
- Work on a slope horse facing uphill.
- Work on a slope horse facing downhill.
- Work with the horse parallel to a gentle slope.