Tag Archives: Clicker Training

Developing Soft Response to Rope/Rein Pressure

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

INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIMS:

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

PREREQUISITES:

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

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

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

GENERAL NOTES

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

SLICES:

A: STANDING COMFORTABLY IN A CORNER

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

B: TEACH AN ANCHOR TASK

Video clips

Clip 1: on right side of horse

Clip 2: on left side of horse

NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLICES:

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

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

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

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

D. ADD VOICE SIGNAL

NOTES:

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

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

E. RESPONSE TO ROPE OR REIN SIGNALS

Video Clip 3 introduces the rope:

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

GENERALIZATION

Video Clip 4 includes generalizations:

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

Line Dancing with the Front Feet

Introduction

An interesting aspect of horse anatomy is that their shoulder blades are not linked to each other with bone. Horse shoulder blades are embedded in muscles, tendons and ligaments. The spine passes between them. In other words, horses have no equivalent to our collar bone.

This ‘line-dancing’ exercise helps keep the muscles and ligaments in the shoulder area supple.

We can introduce this task once our horse knows the tasks of yielding the forequarters on request and targeting the shoulder to our hand. We ask for one movement yielding the near front leg away from us and a second movement bringing the near front leg back into its normal position.

AIM

When we cross our leg toward the horse we’d like him to move his near front leg across in front of his far front leg. When we uncross our leg and draw away from him, we would like him to bring his leg back into normal position.

PREREQUISITES

  1. Horse and handler understand ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ body language. See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List – the link is at the top of the screen.
  2. Handler and horse have worked out Consent Signals so the horse can tell the handler when he is ready to repeat the task. See Number 11 in my Blog Contents List.
  3. Horse and handler agree on a signal to yielding the forequarters. See Number 85 in my Blog Contents List.
  4. Horse and handler agree on a signal for asking the horse to target his shoulder to our hand. See Number 27 in my Blog Contents List.
  5. Handler is aware of the Rule of Three to help set up training sessions that don’t turn into drilling. See Number 46 in my Blog Contents List.

VIDEO

#262 HorseGym with Boots; Line Dance Front Feet.

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

  • A training area where the horse is relaxed.
  • Ideally he can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.

NOTES

  1. When first teaching a task like, this it helps to always do it in the same place until our signals are consistently smooth and the horse is fluent with the task. I started in our open-fronted shelter because it meant that we could do a short daily practice even when the weather was unpleasant.
  2. Ensure the prerequisites above are all well established.
  3. Once the horse understands the concept, I introduce the voice signal “Across” for moving away and “Return” for bringing the leg back.
  4. Be aware that when we give signals with the non-dominant side of our body, we tend to be stiffer, less precise, and therefore less clear. Awareness of this means we can work on improvement.
  5. It’s important to only do a few of each of these per training session. The Rule of Three, as in Prerequisite 5, is a useful guideline. The brain consolidates new nerve pathways during times of rest. We never want training to become drilling. We want the horse keen to try something new we are teaching because he is keen to earn his next click&treat. If he loses interest we have gone too fast or for too long.

SLICES

  1. Do a few repeats of click&treat for standing quietly together in your chosen area, using your ‘no intent’ body language during the ‘wait’ time. We need to remember to include this task in every session with our horse, no matter what we are doing.
  2. Cross your feet to model the behavior you want and gently touch the horse’s shoulder to ask him to move his shoulder over, so his near front leg crosses in front of his far leg. Click&treat this movement and at the same time uncross your legs and lean away from the horse to encourage the horse to return his leg to its starting position – feed the treat.
  3. If the horse steps away with both front legs or goes straight into a full turn on the haunches, we probably need to reduce the energy of our signal and time our click exactly to when the near leg lifts and begins moving in front of the far leg.
  4. Once the horse has the idea, shift the timing of your click to when the horse returns his leg into the start position – two behaviors chained to become the complete movement we want.
  5. Pause at zero intent for a little while before asking again. We can click&treat for standing quietly at zero intent any time it seems helpful.
  6. Repeat 2 above. If you get two or three good repeats. Pause. Then teach it again from the beginning standing on the horse’s other side. To maintain suppleness in both shoulders we must work hard to get both sides moving equally freely. If one side is stiffer, it is valuable information for us. Do a few more repeats on that side. And be aware of Note 4 above.
  7. When our signal is smooth and the horse is responding easily most of the time, ask for two ‘Across & Returns’ before the click&treat. Stay with two until it feels ho-hum.
  8. When two is easy, ask for three. You can gradually ask for more if you want to. I tend to stick with three or four on each side as our daily shoulder-stretching exercise.

GENERALIZATIONS

  1. Do the task in different places.
  2. Work on a slope, standing either uphill or downhill.
  3. Add another element such as standing across a rail.

Yielding the Forequarters

Yielding the front end is an act of polite submission between horses. Bold, confident, imaginative horses especially, or fearful horses, may however not be keen to yield their forequarters. They may want to stand their ground and ask, “You and who else is going to make me move?”

Horses engaged in games nip at each other’s legs and neck in an attempt to make the other horse ‘give way’, so scoring an advantage. This can be good-natured play or in the case of stallions, it can be a serious dispute drawing blood. When young horses living a natural life play this game it teaches them where they stand in the social order among their peers and this knowledge stays with them. A predetermined social order results in a more harmonious group life with reduced confrontational behavior.

Depending on your horse’s character type and the relationship you have, he may be reluctant to move his front end away, or he may do it easily. By using clicker training, the horse can see the instant benefit (click&treat) of yielding his shoulder.

People teach the shoulder-yield in different ways. The process outlined below uses props and positive reinforcement by starting with mat destinations that already have a strong reinforcement history.

Some people use a hand-held target to lure the horse into the movement. However, I use a hand-held target for stretching exercises while the horse stands still, so also using it to ask for movement would contradict the stretching exercises.

WHY TEACH THIS?

  1. Safety. We want to develop a signal that easily moves the front end of our horse away from us.
  2. Smooth counter-turns to aid flexibility to change position easily. It also helps to create smooth weave or serpentine tasks.
  3. Aids proprioception (awareness of where feet are, what they are doing and how much effort is involved).
  4. Allows us to easily position the horse for foot care.
  5. Builds into a full turn on the hindquarters.

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse keenly targets mats with his front feet. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
  2. Horse smoothly steps across rails. (See Number 18 in my Blog Contents List.)
  3. Horse understands ‘Whoa’ signals and can stand relaxed on a mat. (See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List.)
  4. Handler clearly moves into and out of ‘zero intent’ so the horse knows when he can relax in a ‘wait’ and when he is being asked to move. (See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List.)
  5. Handler has developed the habit of holding the lead rope in the hand nearest the horse.

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • A safe fence or barrier in front of the horse.
  • Something to make a barrier to create a corner. I used plastic jump stands in the video clip, but a raised rail, barrels or a couple of big cardboard boxes would do the job.
  • Two mats. Place one mat in the L-shaped corner and lay the second mat at 90-degrees from the corner mat, a few steps away from the open side of your L-shaped barrier.
  • A rail for the horse to step over to get into the corner.
  • Halter and lead or liberty. A short lead rope is easiest to manage.

AIMS:

  • Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, voice, touch and gesture signals.
  • Horse crosses front feet to yield the shoulder away from the handler on request.
  • Horse can eventually do a 360-degree turn on the haunches in either direction.

Video Clip:

https://youtu.be/eSlin8ZYcRA

Notes:

  1. STAY WITH EACH SLICE UNTIL IT FEELS SMOOTH AND EASY FOR BOTH OF YOU.
  2. TEACH EVERYTHING ON BOTH SIDES OF THE HORSE. Remember, we often give clearer signals on one side because of our own one-sidedness, so be sure to focus on being equally clear on either side of the horse.
  3. If one side is harder, stiffer, do a bit extra on that side, over many sessions, until both sides feel even.

SLICES: 

  1. Walk into the corner, with you on the open side of the L-shaped barrier. Ask the horse to target the mat with his front feet; click&treat.
  2. Stand together with zero intent* for a few moments (it’s good to vary how long you stay at zero intent each time), then ask the horse to turn with you to exit the corner and head for the second mat you have set at right angles to the mat in the corner. At this point, you are drawing him with you out of the corner. Click&treat the halt at the second mat. For this slice we are showing the horse that the task is to move himself over to target the second mat.
  3. Add a rail for the horse to step over to reach the mat in the corner. The rail will make it less convenient for the horse to step back when you ask for the shoulder yield. In the video, I raised this rail a little bit to make more of a barrier. Proceed as in 1 & 2 above. Click&treat each halt at the mat in the corner and every time the horse targets the second mat with his front feet. FOR THE FIRST ONE OR TWO LESSONS, REACHING THIS POINT MAY BE AMPLE AT ONE TIME.
  4. When 1-3 above are smooth, adjust your side barrier so it has a space at the front where you can stand beside the horse’s shoulder. Walk the horse to the corner mat, with you now on the the barrier side, and end up standing in the gap you made beside the horse’s shoulder.
  5. Quietly place one hand on or toward the horse’s cheek or neck and the other hand on or toward his shoulder. Breathe in and raise your energy as you do this. Send your ‘intent’ (that the horse should move his front end away) out of your belly button. You are asking him to turn away from you and walk to the second mat for his next click&treat.
  6. Repeat once or twice and that is plenty at one time. Repeat in very short bursts. Two or three times during a training session, interspersed with other thing you are doing, is good. Frequent short practices work best.
  7. Each time you walk the horse into the corner to target the mat, put your body into ‘zero intent’ and click&treat a few times for standing quietly with you. Vary how long you stay at ‘zero intent’ each time.
  8. Re-arrange your props so you can do slices 1-7 on the horse’s other side.
  9. If you can, repeat 1-7 in different locations.
  10. Replace the high side barrier with a rail on the ground. The front barrier is still high. You’ll continue to use the second mat as your ‘destination’. Reaching either mat always earns a click&treat.
  11. When the horse smoothly moves out of the corner by yielding his shoulder and heading for the second mat, we can change a parameter. We will now click for the first step of the shoulder moving away. Ideally, we want the horse to step the near front leg in front of the far front leg. As soon as you see this happening, click&treat. In the video clip you’ll see how surprised Boots is to get clicked at this point (rather than moving all the way to the second mat) and she has a little ‘jolt’ to regain her balance when she hears the click which tells her she can stop to collect a treat. Teach in on both sides. Often one side feels harder.
  12. When the horse is smooth moving his shoulder over a single step as in 11 above, remove the side rail and the rail behind. But keep the front barrier in place. Hopefully he will not have formed a habit of stepping back when you ask for the shoulder to yield. Practice without side and back rails on both sides. Click&treat once for the first step yielding the shoulder, then again upon reaching the second mat.
  13. Once the horse smoothly yields the shoulder on both sides without the side and back rails, omit the barrier in front and work with two mats. If that is too big a leap, have a low raised barrier or just a ground rail as a front barrier.
  14. When 13 is good on both sides, work with one mat. Start with the front feet on the mat, then, one step at a time, ask for a full turn until the front feet end up on the mat again. Click&treat as often as often during the turn as you need to to keep the horse successfully earning his next click&treat. Click&treat too often is better than not often enough. We want to keep the shoulder-yield movement as pure as possible, without creeping back or surging forward becoming part of the behavior loop.
  15. When 14 is good, play at liberty without a mat. Click&treat for one good yielding step until that is excellent both sides, then ask for two and stay with two until they are excellent, etc. until you can get 180 degrees before the first click&treat, then the other 180 degrees, click&treat. Keep your ‘yield shoulder signal’ ON for the number of steps you want, then turn it OFF at the same moment you click, then treat. You want to use a ‘constant on’ signal for the duration of your request. If we are really consistent, eventually just our energy toward the horse’s shoulder will be enough of a signal for many horses.
  16. The day will come when you feel ready to ask for a full 360-degree turn with one click&treat upon completion. Objective reached.

Yielding the Hindquarters

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

INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHY TEACH THIS?

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

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse keenly targets mats with his front feet and stands on a mat in a relaxed manner. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
  2. Horse smoothly steps across a rail. (See Number 18 in my Blog Contents List.)
  3. Handler clearly moves into and out of ‘zero intent’* so the horse knows when he can relax in a ‘wait’ and when he is being asked to move. (See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List.)

VIDEO:

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

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • A safe fence or barrier in front of the horse.
  • To begin with, a rail for the horse to step over situated so it is behind him when his front feet step onto a mat. This helps discourage the idea of backing up rather than moving his hind end across.
  • Halter and lead. A short lead rope is easiest to manage.

AIMS:

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

NOTES

  1. Stay with each slice until it feels smooth and easy for both of you.
  2. Teach everything on both sides of the horse. Remember, we often give clearer signals on one side because of our own one-sidedness, so be sure to focus on being equally clear on either side of the horse.
  3. If one side is harder/stiffer, do a bit extra on that side, over many sessions, until both sides feel even.
  4. Keep the sessions short, three – five minutes maximum. This is quite a demanding, concentrated task.
  5. Always be prepared to back up to an easier slice when the horse loses confidence. This is often the hardest part of training a complex task.

SLICES:

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

GENERALIZATIONS

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

Book Launch!

My new book, Horse Fun Without Riding using Positive Reinforcement, is now available from Amazon as an e-book or paperback. The photo above is the e-book cover. Look below for a free preview.

The e-book is available for a FREE download until midnight (11.59 pm) on Monday December 13 PACIFIC TIME. Be sure to work out when this is in your time zone.

The photo below is the cover for the paperback.

Ringing a Bell

Introduction

This is one way to teach a horse to ring a bell. It has the bell suspended at nose height so it is easy for the horse to move it with his lips. Some horses may easily pick up a bell attached to an object and nod their head to cause it to ring.

Aim

On request, the horse nuzzles a bell to cause it to ring.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  2. Horse understands putting his nose on a variety of targets to earn a click&treat.
  3. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Number 11 in my Blog Contents List: Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals. Click here.
  4. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
  5. Revisit the Rule of Three in Chapter 1: Click here.

Videos

#229 HorseGym with Boots: Ringing a Bell as a hand-held target.

#253 HorseGym with Boots: Ringing a Bell. This clip introduces the bell hanging freely.

#252 HorseGym with Boots: Bell Ringing.

#231 HorseGym with Boots:  This clip looks at introducing the idea of picking up the bell and walking with it.

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 large bell that can be hung.
  • Something on which to hang the bell so it is freely suspended at the height of the horse’s nose.
  • For generalization, a bell attached to a rope or similar easy for the horse to pick up.

Notes

  1. The horse will think about it and be willing to try again next day. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
  2. With tasks like this we can fit several mini-lessons of three repeats in-between chores or other things we are doing with our horse.
  3. When the bell is a hand-held target, remove the bell behind you to take it ‘out of play’ each time you click&treat. This will allow the horse time to enjoy his treat and let you know with a consent signal (Prerequisite 3) when he is ready to do it again. Also, it will be obvious to him when you present the bell into view again.
  4. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
  5. Click for any interest in the bell, even if it’s just sniffing the bell, then gradually click&treat for any sign of moving his lips to nuzzle the bell, even if it is not yet ‘ringing.

Slices

  1. Ring the bell yourself, followed by a click&treat for the horse. We want to let him know that the sound of the bell results in a click&treat. We also want to be sure that he is not spooked by the sound of the bell.
  2. If you think he might find it startling at first, use protected contact. Start ringing as softly as possible and make it louder as the horse shows confidence.
  3. Attach the bell to a hand-held stick so you can hold it out as a target. Click&treat when the horse puts his nose on it. This is outlined in video clip #229.
  4. Repeat 3 above with a major celebration if the horse nuzzles the bell enough to make it ring.
  5. Once it is reliable on one side of the horse, teach it again standing on his other side.
  6. Attach the bell to an object where it can hang freely at the normal height of the horse’s nose. This is outlined in video clip #253. Click&treat for targeting the bell.
  7. Wait in ‘zero intent’ until the horse nuzzles it enough to make it ring. Time your click as closely as you can to the very first bell sound. If this is not happening, try taping a string to the bell which you can quietly pull to make the bell ring a tiny bit as the horse puts his nose on it: click&treat at the very first bell sound. We want the horse to make the connection between the bell sound and the click&treat so he is motivated to make the bell ring himself.
  8. Once the horse is nuzzling the bell enough to make it ring, gradually withhold the click&treat, one second at a time, to encourage him to ring it for a bit longer. We might consider the task ‘complete’ if we get up to five seconds of bell-ringing.

Generalizations

  1. Set up the dangling bell in new venues and around other distractions. It could be part of a ‘circuit’ of different tasks.
  2. Once the horse is ho­-hum about ringing a dangling bell, we can generalize to him picking up a bell and walking with it as in video clip #231.
  3. Once the horse is carrying the bell attached to a soft item easy for the horse to carry, play with that in different venues. It could become part of your ‘Fetch’ games.
  4. Teach him to use his nose to ‘ping’ one of the little metal devices some shops use to let you announce that you need attention.
  5. Teach the horse to ‘play’ a keyboard with his lips
  6. Teach the horse to squeeze a bicycle horn for another novel sound.

Kill the Tiger

Introduction

This is a fun trick once your horse is good at picking up rags from the ground or off a fence. However, we have to be careful to put it solidly ‘on cue’ or ‘on signal’ so that the horse doesn’t generalize the task to pulling off his saddle blanket if he is a ridden horse.

I call it ‘Kill the Tiger’ because we only do it with the striped car seat cover we used in the video because, again, I don’t want her to generalize the idea to saddle pads or horse covers.

It’s another trick to keep our horse amused if it is too wet, windy, hot or cold to do more active things. The process of putting this trick ‘on signal’ consolidates our ‘wait’ signal. It’s also a lateral flexion exercise.

Aim

On request, the horse pulls a large cloth off his back and delivers it to our hand.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse understands a ‘pick’ signal which we’ve taught for picking items off the ground as in Number 73 in the Blog Contents List: Picking Things Up. Click here.
  2. ‘Zero Intent’ is well established. Number 10 in the Blog Contents List: Intent and Zero Intent. Click here.
  3. Horse and handler agree on a ‘wait’ signal. Number 65 in the Blog Contents List:  The Wait Game. Click here.
  4. Horse is confident about having large cloths draped all over his body.

Videos

#226 HorseGym with Boots: Kill the Tiger.

#254 HorseGym with Boots: Kill the Tiger 2.

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 large cloth or similar easy for the horse to grab.
  • Perhaps a mat for parking the front feet to clarify that we don’t want the horse to move his feet.

Notes

  1. Ensure that the horse has a sound understanding of the prerequisite tasks. Give them the time it takes rather than focus on the end behavior too soon.
  2. Three repeats are usually plenty to start with. The horse will think about the task and be willing to try again next day. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
  3. Click&treat with a frequency that keeps the horse being continually successful with the slice of the task you are working on.
  4. Decide on a specific cloth or gunny sack or similar that you will always use for this exercise. It’s a task we don’t want to generalize to anything we put on his back.
  5. It’s probably easiest to teach this thoroughly on one side of the horse, then begin again on the other side.

Slices

  1. Ask the horse to pick your chosen cloth off the ground; click&treat. Repeat a couple of times to ensure this prerequisite is smooth and reliable and that he understands your ‘pick’ voice and gesture signals.
  2. Ask the horse to take the cloth from your hand when you give your ‘pick’ signal.
  3. Make sure the horse is relaxed with your chosen cloth draped all over his body.
  4. Lay the cloth over his back and ask the horse to ‘wait’, using your zero intent body language.
  5. Gently pull the cloth forward with your hand so it is easy for the horse to reach with his mouth and ask the horse to ‘pick’ it off his back. At first you may need to pull the cloth partially off. Click as soon as he grabs it and treat after he releases the cloth to your hand.
  6. Repeat 5 above a few times each session. As the horse gets to understand the task, gradually use your hand less but make sure the cloth is relatively easy for him to reach. We want him to be successful each time.
  7. At this stage you will often get the horse keen to ‘pick’ the cloth as soon as you put it on his back (or even before you can get it on his back), so we must emphasize the WAIT GAME from Slice 5 and frequently put the cloth on his back for a few seconds and take it off again without asking him to ‘kill the tiger’.
  8. When the task is ho-hum for the horse on one side of his body, teach it again from the beginning on the other side.
  9. Since this is a flexion exercise, routinely do a couple on each side of the horse. If one side feels stiffer, do a few more on that side.

Generalizations

  1. Ask the horse to walk along with the ‘tiger’ on his back before you ask him to ‘kill the tiger’.
  2. Gradually extend the ‘wait’ time before asking him to pull the cloth off his back.
  3. Generalize to pulling a rope off his back.
  4. Generalize to other venues.

How We Introduce Something New is Critical

Before We Start

Ideally, we consider the following points before we start.

  • We have thin-sliced the task into its smallest teachable parts and have an idea of where the early click points will be.
  • We have organized a training environment where the horse is able to relax. Ideally, he can see his herd mates, but they are not able to interfere.
  • We have thought about which part of the horse’s body we need to influence, and we’ve planned possible signal(s) to use (energy levels, body posture, body position, gesture, touch, words, strong intent). My book, Conversations with Horses, An In-Depth Look at Signs and Signals between Horses and their Handlers, looks at this topic in great detail.
  • The environment is set up to make it as easy as possible for the horse to understand what we want (use of a ‘lane’ or a corner; where we place the mat target or a nose target; use of barriers on the far side of the horse; where we position our body).

We want to make the desired behavior as east as possible for the horse to do. Setting up the training environment to achieve this means we are already halfway there.

For example, if water is challenging for the horse, we can start with walking through a box of rails on the ground, then put unusual surfaces down, like a tarp or these plastic bottles, before moving on to water.

If, instead, the horse learns evasive moves during our first fumbling with a new task, our education program has suddenly become more complex and longer. A bit of thoughtful planning can make things much easier for us and for the horse.

Ideally, we first try out our ideas with another person standing in as the horse. Or we can trial our process on a more experienced, forgiving horse. That allows us to eliminate some of the early trial and error in relation to our positioning and body language. 

By practicing with a person standing in for the horse, our horse does not have to put up our first fumbling as we learn new motor skills.

It allows us to be clearer for the horse when we first introduce something new, rather than confuse him because we have not yet worked out a smooth way to proceed.

The first step is always to make sure the horse is relaxed and in a learning frame of mind. If something has brought up his adrenalin, we do calming procedures or something active until he’s used up the adrenalin and can return to relaxation. If he is uninterested, we need to make ourselves and our treats more interesting. Or stop and just hang out. Maybe the horse is tired due to the weather or other activities.

Or we wait to start the new thing in a later session. If the horse gets tense during a training session, we must first look closely at our own emotional state and the energy we are communicating to the horse, often unconsciously. Both handler and horse need to return to relaxation before continuing.

We start teaching each slice of the whole task with click points determined by what the horse is able to offer already. As both horse and handler get smooth with each tiny additional slice leading toward the whole task, we gradually chain the slices together and shift the click point until the whole task can be achieved with one click point at the end.

When we begin teaching something new, we start by finding a beginning click point. For some things, this may be a very rough approximation of the final goal behavior, e.g. just a tiny drop of the head when we begin to teach head lowering right to the ground.

This is illustrated in the first of two Head Lowering video clips in my Free-Shaping Examples playlist. Click here.

We gradually shift the click point toward closer and closer approximations of what we want until we achieve the goal behavior.

Good timing of the click allows the horse to become more and more accurate. Once the horse understands a task that we are free-shaping, like the head-lowering example, we add a signal (cue) so we can ask for the task and also put in ON CUE so that the horse learns that a click&treat will only follow if we have asked for the task to be done.

When teaching something new, the focus of click&treat is on the new learning, but we can still click&treat good execution of things the horse already knows.

Short clip about introducing water as an unusual surface.

Consolidation of New Learning & Developing Fluidity

The Consolidation Phase begins when the horse generally understands our intent, our signals and usually responds willingly with the move we want. 

At this point, we can keep up interest and enthusiasm by providing an extra click&treat whenever any part of the task is done really well. 

To put a new task into long-term memory (for horses and for people) it needs to be practiced at least 9 or 10 sessions in a row; ideally over 9 or 10 days in a row. Some tasks will take longer, depending on their complexity. If we can’t have a session every day, we need to accept that it will take longer to build a new behavior solidly. Keeping a written record becomes essential.

How many ‘repeats’ we should do during one session is hard to pin down because it depends so much on:

  • What we are teaching.
  • The character type, age and history of the horse.
  • The skill of the handler.
  • The nature of the handler-horse relationship.

For some tasks, a rule of thumb might be three practice repeats in a row, unless the first one is perfect and calls for a major celebration. Clicker-savvy horses are usually keen to work until you decide to stop, but even a keen horse can use a short break after 10 repeats of learning something new.

If the horse is in the initial learning stage, a tiny improvement over last time is a valid click point, followed by celebration and doing something relaxing. During the whole training session, we could return to the ‘new learning’ task three times, in-between doing other things. 

Generalizing walking in water out and about.

Playing Fetch

Introduction

Some horses easily walk along carrying something in their mouth. Other horses find this a foreign concept. For such horses we must work through a series of slices to build up a new skill. My horse, Boots, has never worn a bit for riding, so walking with something in her mouth was a truly new experience.

Some horses learn this quickly at liberty. Others gain security by being on halter and lead (kept loose) so we can give more guidance as we walk along together.

This is only a possible training plan – each person/horse partnership must tweak the ideas to suit their situation – Individual Education Plans are different for each horse.

Aim

On request, the horse moves to an item we have tossed away, picks it up and returns it to us.

Prerequisites

  • 1. The horse understands the task of picking items up off the ground and handing them to you. (See Number 73 in the Blog Contents List for the detailed Training Plan).

#224 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Things Up. https://youtu.be/gis3PF7OLlM

#255 HorseGym with Boots: Picking up Cones. https://youtu.be/pHAPExzdUPk

  • 2. Horse and handler are comfortable going for walks together.

Videos

#231 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Up Bell. https://youtu.be/x_Jk570Pnlc

Short clip showing combining PICK UP with WALK TOWARD ME.

#234 HorseGym with Boots: Playing Fetch. https://youtu.be/9L8xszYARaM

Clip showing the various slices of the Training Plan.

Materials and Environment

  • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
  • Places to walk together.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Lightweight items easy for the horse to hold.
  • Halter and lead to go for walks.

Notes

  1. With this exercise, we are chaining a whole series of tasks together to build a new skill: 1) pick up, 2) walk holding the item, 3) release the item into the handler’s hand without dropping it, 4) turn holding the item, 5) move toward the item when it is thrown out and pick it up, 6) turn to walk back to deliver the item to the handler.
  2. Several repeats one after the other, of the slice you are currently working on, is usually plenty. A little bit often builds an enduring habit and the horse will be willing to take part next time you bring out your item(s). If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose the horse’s willingness to engage again.
  3. Each time you click, remove the item behind you to take it ‘out of play’. It will then be obvious to him when you preset the item into view again.
  4. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
  5. Any time the horse loses confidence, go back to what he can do confidently and gradually work forward again. Horses instantly pick up any emotion of frustration or annoyance or anger, so be sure to practice emotional neutrality except for gleeful celebration when things go well.
  6. A horse can’t be ‘wrong’ until we have carefully taught him what we want in a way that he can understand and does not make him anxious.

Slices

  1. Take your horse for a walk and occasionally halt and ask him to take the item out of your hand, hold it for x number of seconds (starting with one second) before asking him to release it back to your hand; click&treat.
  2. While taking your horse for walks, occasionally ask him to hold, then carry the item for one step, then release it to your hand. With some horses this slice may take many, many repeats. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up and try again, asking for it back BEFORE he drops it, even if so far you haven’t been able to walk one step ­– i.e., return to Slice 1 for a while.
  3. Once you have a single step and it is good 90% of the time, ask for two steps, and so one, adding one step at a time over as many sessions as it takes to maintain the horse’s willingness to try again. It’s easy to rush these early slices. To build a confident, lasting behavior, we do a little bit often over many days, weeks, months, depending on your horse.
  4. Gradually add more steps, one at a time, before asking for the item back. If he drops it, ignore it with zero reaction, pick it up and go back to what the horse can do confidently. Slowly work forward again from that point.
  5. Once he will walk beside you carrying the item for 15-20 steps, we’ll change a parameter* by slowly walk backwards so the horse turns and walks toward us, hopefully still carrying his item. Have a big celebration the first time he turns without dropping it.
  6. When he can reliably hold the item as he walks with you, turns toward you as you walk backwards, and walks toward you, we can add the ‘picking up’ part. We use the ‘pick’ signals we taught as in video clip #224. Ask him to pick  the item up and walk along holding it. Because we’ve changed a parameter (please pick it up first), we again click&treat for one step walking, and as before, build up to numerous steps gradually.
  7. Fetch: when he picks it up readily and walks with it, start to toss it a wee bit further away. Go to him as he picks it up, receive it from him and click&treat right away.
  8. When 7 above is good, after you toss the item away, walk into a position that makes it easy for him to walk toward you after he’s picked it up; accept it from him; click&treat. Gradually position yourself a bit further away ( and eventually at different angles to him) so he takes two steps, three steps, and so on to deliver the item back to you. When you change the angle note how well he can orientate himself to deliver the item to you.
  9. Once the horse understands that the task is to fetch the item and return it to you, wherever you are, toss out the item and stay where you are so the horse picks it up and turns to bring it back to you.
  10. Some horses will get into this game with enthusiasm. Others will do it in a sedate manner to earn their click&treat.

Generalizations

  1. Use a variety of item that are easy for the horse to carry.
  2. Play in a variety of venues.
  3. Add variety like walking over rails, backing up, or weaving while carrying an item.

Foot Awareness for Improving Proprioception

Introduction

Proprioception is the awareness of where our body parts are in space, what each is doing, and how much energy the movement is using.

Here is a definition from the Internet:

Proprioception enables us to judge limb movements and positions, force, heaviness, stiffness, and viscosity. It combines with other senses to locate external objects relative to the body and contributes to body image. Proprioception is closely tied to the control of movement.

I’ve collected together an assortment of video clips I’ve made over the years that include ideas we can use to encourage the horse to be aware of where his feet are and what they are doing.

Quite a few of the clips are part of a training series and I’ve chosen just one of the series to illustrate the overall task. By going to my YouTube channel – herthamuddyhorse – you can find my assortment of playlists containing series of numbered clips to show the thin-slicing I used to achieve the final task. Message me if you need help to find a particular series.

Good proprioception relates to all sorts of things, but mainly to overall balance and suppleness.

Horses that grow up in rough hill country develop good proprioception as a necessity for survival. Horses raised in confined areas without needing to move much to find enough food don’t have the opportunity to develop excellent proprioception.

In the same way, athletes become good at their sport by developing the aspects of proprioception that especially relate to that sport. If our lifestyle lacks regular movement, our body suffers the same way as that of a stabled horse.

Video Clips

#88 HorseGym with Boots: Foot Awareness. https://youtu.be/7bEkFk0w_gk

A few tasks that play with improving foot awareness.

#89 HorseGym with Boots: Balance on 3 Legs. https://youtu.be/x1WKppV3N_0

Playlist: Challenges for Clicker Trainers: August 2017 Challenge: Precision with a Single Rail. https://youtu.be/bJzwDq-NvtE

Playlist: Foot Awareness: Thin-slicing the 1m Board. https://youtu.be/pLLqtbQJqMs

#220 HorseGym with Boots: Counting with the Front Feet Clip 1. https://youtu.be/hHpQgsUOINA

#246 HorseGym with Boots: Counting with the Hind Feet. https://youtu.be/rMsRVL_M33w

Playlist: Foot Awareness: Single Obstacle Challenges Hoops 3. https://youtu.be/xc-4yGiWDxk

Playlist: Challenges for Clicker Trainers: September 2017 Challenge: Figure 8. https://youtu.be/QrberCzAO6c

Playlist: Challenges for Clicker Trainers: November 18, Sidestepping Clip 1. https://youtu.be/Joxp9bYzMRc

Playlist: Foot Awareness: S-Bend Final Clip. Click here.

#199 HorseGym with Boots: Unusual Surface with Bottles. https://youtu.be/3LTmUSa0Y1M

#184 HorseGym with Boots: Back Between Rails. https://youtu.be/FGh7_MeFHcQ

#95 HorseGym with Boots: Backing down Slopes. https://youtu.be/M9pEFnDSbwc

Ponying from a Bike or Scooter

Introduction

When my hips gave up riding horses but not riding my bike, it made sense to teach Boots to ‘pony’ from my bike. Usually people ‘pony’ a second horse while riding another horse.

It’s a skill developed for pack horses or to exercise two horses at the same time. When my son was very small we rode together with his pony on a lead. Leading a horse from a bike or scooter rather than another horse comes with its own hazards and challenges.

Aim

The horse walks/trots confidently and safely led by a person on a bike or a scooter.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  2. Horse and handler agree on voice and breathing signals for ‘walk on’, ‘halt’ with the handler beside the horse. Number 16 in the Blog Contents List.
  3. Horse and handler agree on voice and gesture signals for ‘back up’ while the handler is beside the horse. Number 32 in the Blog Contents list.
  4. Horse and handler have a good command of prompt transitions upward and downward using voice signals.
  5. Horse is relaxed about a dragging rope. It’s inevitable that we will drop the rope at some point to stop being pulled off our bike. #60 HorseGym with Boots – specifically the second half of this clip. Click Here.
  6. Horse and handler agree on voice signals for ‘right turn’ and ‘left turn’. #137 HorseGym with Boots: Click here.
  7. Horse and handler agree on signals for ‘go around and turn’. This is important to have smooth because as much as possible, we want ourselves between the horse and anything ahead that he might find worrisome. If he needs more space, we want him to move away from us, not into us. # 250 HorseGym with Boots: https://youtu.be/3oqPs4LM5AM and video clip #251 below.
  8. If riding on public roads or tracks, we must ensure that the horse has been given the time and opportunity to be comfortable around cars, motorbikes, trucks, dogs, pushchairs, other people on bikes, tractors, hikers, and children while the handler is walking with the horse. We need to feel secure with other road users approaching from in front or from behind. Trailers with flapping plastic are an ultimate test. Essential to get used to flapping plastic at home.

Videos

#247 HorseGym with Boots: Boots and Bicycle. Older video – short.

#228 HorseGym with Boots: Intro to Bike. Recent video.

#230 HorseGym with Boots: Bike on the Road. Recent video.

#251 HorseGym with Boots: Changing Sides. Recent video.

#249 HorseGym with Boots: Scooter Outings. Recent video.

#248 HorseGym with Boots: Bob meets Bicycle. Click here. Older video featuring a young horse seeing a bike for the first time.

Materials and Environment

  • We need a safe enclosed place where it’s possible to use free-shaping to introduce the horse to the bicycle and establish the basic protocols using a lead rope.
  • A helper is great to have at the beginning.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Quiet tracks, trails or roads to expand confidence. For public roads, the key is usually choosing the quietest part of the day.
  • Walk with the horse on the routes you will take, for many days, weeks, months, so the route is as familiar as possible. I’d walked or ridden our routes for a long time before ponying on my bike.
  • Bicycle or mobility scooter or similar.
  • Be especially sure the horse is not hungry before you set off. For some horses, a light mesh grazing muzzle can be a safety feature if the horse tends to dive for grass. Use it first walking out so it is not directly related to the bike. Munch-N-Go make a muzzle that is light and its easy to slip a treat into the side.

Notes

  1. It’s important to take the time to get all the prerequisites established. Although I put up monthly challenges, each challenge is just an idea that you may like to work toward. The real magic is in getting the prerequisites into good shape, which can take months or years, depending on many factors.
  2. Keep each session short. Three repeats is often plenty. Many short sessions keep the horse keen to ‘do it again’ next time.
  3. Click&treat often enough to keep the horse continually successful with what you are asking him to learn. Build duration gradually, but always be conscious of increasing duration as you can.
  4. Create a strong habit of using your voice signals all the time when they are appropriate, not just with the bike. Our “Whoa” response has saved my bacon numerous times. The “Back-up” with voice and gesture signals is essential. We don’t want the horse crossing in front of us unless we are inviting him to change sides.
  5. You may be fortunate enough to have tracks and trails where the horse can accompany you on your bike without the need for a lead rope. Some horses, like mine, will gravitate to the closest grass and stay there. If you are limited to public roads or tracks, safety with the lead rope is a must.
  6. When I take my horse out and about in the neighborhood, we have grazing destinations. If there is no grass, I take an ample supply of carrots and horse pellets which we stop to enjoy at the furthest point of our outing. In other words, I don’t expect the horse to randomly go with me. I give her a destination that makes sense to her. Horses who can move freely always know where they are going and why. We remove much of this self-determination from them when we want to do something with the horse. Working with destinations is a way to return it in a small way. See also Number 17 in my Blog Contents List: Destination Training.

Slices

  1. Have someone walk with your bike and you follow behind with your horse wearing halter and lead. Allow the horse to decide how close (or not) he will get to the bike. As soon as you see/feel interest or less tension (sighing, blowing out, lower head, softer body) – click&treat.
  2. Repeat 1 above until the horse is confident enough to walk right up close to the back of the bike, with click&treat for each sign of greater confidence.
  3. Ask the person wheeling the bike to slow gradually to a stop so the horse can touch his nose to the bike if he’s ready for that step; click&treat. Repeat a few times to consolidate.
  4. Have your helper ride the bike and repeat 1-3 above.
  5. At this point, if it feels safe, take off the lead rope so the horse makes his own decisions about approaching and/or following the bike.
  6. Without a helper: Walk with the bike yourself. Click&treat any movement of the horse toward you and the bike. The aim here is for him to want to come and target your hand or the bike to earn a click&treat.
  7. When 6 is smooth, ride the bike. Click&treat coming over plus any offer to move with you and the bike. At this point, it’s helpful to expect little but click&treat each tiny sign of increasing interest and confidence.
  8. Gradually work on duration of staying with you and the bike. Setting up a roomy reverse round pen is helpful at this stage – protected contact for you as the horse gains confidence. You bike inside the barrier while the horse follows outside the barrier. You can use foot targets in set places on the path of travel where you will always stop to click&treat, so the horse knows that there is a destination – a stop point if he stays with you. Eventually have just one foot target on the perimeter of the reverse pen.
  9. When the horse stays with you on the bike willingly and with confidence, see if you can speed it up so he trots. Sometimes transitioning to a higher gait brings out a spurt of excited energy. It’s good to test this out while you are in protected contact inside the reverse pen. It’s also a good place to work with upward and downward transitions using voice signals. Use your downward transition (trot-walk or walk-halt) voice signals as you approach the foot target when slowing down makes sense to the horse. Use your upward transition signal (halt-walk) as you leave the mat and your walk-trot signal a little while after you leave the foot target when the horse is anticipating reaching it again.
  10. Build duration without the reverse round pen by using foot or nose targets as destinations. Start with them close together and gradually put them further apart. If you used this method for teaching good leading behavior while walking with the horse, the horse will already be familiar with the concept.
  11. Introduce the lead rope into the situation. At first, walk the bike while leading the horse. When you introduce a new element to a situation, always go back to click&treat more often (in this case, anytime the horse is coming along smoothly for a few steps), then gradually less often as the horse gains confidence.
  12. When ponying from the bike at home in familiar places is smooth, venture out on the road first walking the bike. As mentioned in the prerequisites, ensure that you have walked with the horse many times on the public roads you plan to bike with your horse, so that dogs running out, horses or cattle galloping in adjoining paddocks, vehicles, children, and so on, have all been met before and worked through.
  13. When walking with the horse and bike is smooth, one day it will feel right to get on your bike. Keep the early sessions going away from home and returning home short – celebrate your safe return. It takes a long time to build confidence (yours and the horse’s) but it can be lost in a nanosecond.
  14. When you reach the farthest point of your day’s outing, allow the horse grazing time or stop for a generous jackpot of treats, before heading home again. This gives the horse a sense of ‘destination’ as outlined in NOTE 6.
  15. Slowly build up confidence with the types of landscapes you have for biking or scootering with your horse. Shorter distances done often are preferable to long distances less often.
  16. If you have graduated to a mobility scooter or similar, play with it at home first. Play with having the horse follow it with you while another person drives it. Walk the horse on the left side and the right side of the scooter, first with you nearest the scooter, then with the horse nearest the scooter. Practice the ‘walk on’, ‘halt’, ‘back-up’ transitions. Practice the ‘go around in front and turn to change sides’ maneuver (Prerequisite 7) from both sides until both sides feel smooth.

Generalizations

  1. Different venues.
  2. Electric bike.
  3. Four-wheeler – avoid horse having to breathe in exhaust.
  4. Golf cart.
  5. Introduce a rider to horse’s movement without having to ‘be in charge’.
  6. Ride one horse and lead a second horse.

Signals versus ‘Cues’ or ‘Stimuli’

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

Defining a Signal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To do this we need to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting with the Hind Feet

This task is an excellent exercise to work on the timing of our ‘click’ and melting into ‘zero intent’ to wait for the horse’s ‘consent signal’ to do a repeat. The task forces us to focus on the timing and consistency of our On/Off gesture signals. It is also an excellent mobilization exercise for the horse.

Boots and I played with this occasionally for over a year, especially when time was short or the weather was rough, but also as a regular ‘end of session’ exercise. We did this after a year of working on confident ‘counting’ with the front feet as in Prerequisite 3 below.

Aim

When I face the back of the horse and point to his hind feet with my inside hand, using an On/Off gesture signal, the horse lifts a hind foot when I point and sets it down when I remove my hand signal.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse and Handler have developed good table manners standing quietly together. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
  2. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: Click here.
  3. Horse and handler are already confident ‘counting’ with the front feet. Click here.
  4. Triple Treat: #16 HorseGym with Boots. Click here.
  5. Horse is comfortable rubbed all over with a long object (video clip below).

Videos: Counting with Hind Feet

#246 HorseGym with Boots

#243 HorseGym with Boots. The following clip shows the detail of working with ‘zero intent’ and waiting for the horse to give a ‘consent signal’ that tells us he is ready to try again.

Materials and Environment

  • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • A long-handled target to introduce the idea of lifting a hind foot to touch a target (which we eventually fade out).
  • A shorter target to accentuate the On/Off gesture signal (also gradually faded out).
  • A mat at first, to help the horse understand that we want him to stand still.
  • A safe fence or barrier alongside which we can stand the horse.
  • A variety of other barriers to use for generalization.
  • Two raised rails (or similar) to stand between.

Notes

  1. It’s important to stay with each slice of this task until the horse is fully ho-hum with it. In other words, repeat each slice a few time over as many short sessions as it takes for the horse to respond smoothly to your ON/OFF signal. If we take the time it takes to establish each slice, all steps of the overall task will be embedded in the horse’s long-term memory, giving us relaxed responses.
  2. Timing of the click is essential at first. It is the only way the horse can understand what you want him to do (lift his foot). Try hard to click as the foot is coming UP. If you’re unsure about your timing, practice by bouncing a ball and clicking when it leaves the ground. Or practice with a person standing in for the horse. Eventually we can relax the timing and click for the completion of one UP and DOWN movement. In the video clip you will notice that at one point I had to specifically wait to click after the foot returned to earth. Each horse will show his own little foibles.
  3. I don’t mind which foot the horse lifts. I prefer if he uses both. If a horse seems to use the same leg most of the time, make a big deal (triple treat / celebration) when he uses the other one. This is a mobilization exercise, so using both legs is good.
  4. When starting with this task, use the same location, same mat, same targets (until faded out) until the horse is truly confident with what you are asking.
  5. Often, it’s helpful to start on the horse’s left side, but we need to build the pattern standing on his right side as well. Spend a little more time on the side that feels harder. I like to teach each slice on both sides as we go along. An option is to teach all the slices on one side then teach them all again from the beginning on the other side. Or teach several slices on one side and then on the other side.
  6. Any time there is confusion (horse and/or handler), return to where you both feel confident and gradually work forward again. I had a terrible time remembering to use my inside hand for the gesture signal. When I used my outside hand I thoroughly confused my horse because gestures with my outside hand already had two different meanings, as shown on the video clip.
  7. Consistently use the hand closest to the horse (the inside hand) for your signal.
  8. A major part of the signal is the turning of our body to face the horse’s hind feet while we remain at his shoulder. As I turn, I add a voice signal, “Counting Rear”, to help differentiate this task from other things I do facing the back of the horse.
  9. It took us a long time (months) to put all these pieces together, with a short practice most days. I started in a consistent place as mentioned in Note 4.

Slices

  1. Stand the horse alongside a safe barrier in a place that you can use consistently for each session. The barrier stops the horse thinking we want him to move his hind end away. Ask him to park his front feet on a mat.
  2. Set the stage for the exercise by asking the horse to count with his front feet – a major prerequisite for success with this task.
  3. Turn so you are facing his hind end. Holding your long-handled target in the hand nearest the horse (inside hand) gently touch it to his hock; click as you touch and deliver the treat as you move the target out of play behind you.
  4. Repeat 3 above with Click&treat for any movement, even a shift of weight off that foot. When first teaching this, remember to click as the foot lifts UP.
  5. As the horse begins to understand that you click&treat when his foot comes up, hold the target near his hock, not touching it. The movement of your arm will become the horse’s clue.
  6. When 5 above is good, use a shorter target to point to the hind foot. Or shorten the target you have been using – or use the same-looking end on a shorter stick (a different-looking target may confuse an extremely sharp horse). Boots did not find this a problem.
  7. When 6 above feels ho-hum, go to an even shorter target and/or introduce the wiggling of your finger along with the target.
  8. When 7 above feels confident, refine your gesture to just lifting your arm and wiggling your finger. Immediately the horse lifts his foot, click, return your signaling hand to its OFF position lying on your belly, feed the treat with your other hand.
  9. When getting one foot-lift is reliable, and it feels right, ask for a second lift before the click&treat. Huge celebration if you get it. Remember we are using an ON/OFF signal, so put your signal hand into neutral on your belly before asking for the second lift.
  10. Vary between asking for one lift and two lifts. I count out loud as the horse lifts the foot: “One, Two” with a voice emphasis on the number I will click&treat if it is more than one. The horse learns that a soft counting voice means a request for another ‘lift’ is coming up.
  11. When 10 above feels ho-hum, ask for a third lift before the click&treat. Again, a huge celebration.
  12. Over time work up to as many lifts as you want. I usually stick with a maximum of five standing on the left and five standing on the right, but I vary the number requested each time we do it and might occasionally ask for six or seven.
  13. Once you have reliable lifts standing alongside a familiar barrier, generalize to other locations where you can stand the horse with a safe barrier along his far side to maintain the idea that he doesn’t need to move his body.
  14. Once 13 above is relaxed, stand the horse between rails raised to gradually wean away from a high barrier.
  15. The task is ‘finished’ when you can easily count your decided number of lifts on either side of the horse without needing any props.

Generalizations

  1. Play with the exercise in different venues.
  2. Play on a slope.
  3. Incorporate it into your WAIT game or your Four Corners Exercise. Click on the Blog Contents List at the top of the page to access these (Number 65 and Number 71 on the list).
  4. Use it as a mobilization exercise when it’s too hot, cold, windy, wet to do much else.

Picking Things Up

Introduction

Some horses show a natural inclination to pick things up, in which case we can ‘capture’ the behavior with well-timed click&treat. The challenge with such horses is to quickly put the task ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’ to counteract a tendency to pick up anything and everything in the hope of earning a treat.

Others, like my horse Boots, learn to pick things up because it earns a click&treat. For such horses, we can thin-slice the whole process, starting with sniffing an item, taking an item out of our hand, and so on. Such thin slices might also help to put the task ‘on signal’ for the keen horse.

Aim

On request, the horse picks up items , holds them, and presents them to our hand.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse has a strong history of positive reinforcement for standing with front feet on a mat. #8 HorseGym with Boots: Duration on the Mat. Click here.
  2. Horse and Handler have developed good table manners standing quietly together. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
  3. 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.
  4. For Generalization with the bell as in the second video clip, handler and horse agree on a clear ‘recall’ signal. February 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Simple Recall Pt. 1. Click here.

Videos

#224 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Things Up.

#231 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Up a Bell.

Materials and Environment

  • A venue where the horse can relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • A variety of items safe and easy for a horse to pick up.
  • One or two objects that can serve as platforms so we can gradually put the items closer and closer to the ground. E.g. chair or a tub turned over.
  • Horse at liberty if possible.
  • For some horses, rubbing something that smells nice to the horse on the item can gain initial interest, but make sure it does not encourage the horse to eat your item, especially if it is something like a cloth.

Notes

  1. Three repeats of the slice you are currently working with is usually plenty. A tiny bit often is the key. The horse will think about it and be willing to try again next time. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
  2. Each time you click, remove the item behind you to take it ‘out of play’. This will give the horse time to enjoy his treat and let you know with a consent signal (Prerequisite 3) when he is ready to do a repeat. Also, it will be obvious to him when you preset the item into view again.
  3. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
  4. Any time the horse loses confidence, go back to what he can do confidently and gradually work forward again. Horses instantly pick up any emotion of frustration or annoyance or anger, so be sure to practice emotional neutrality except for gleeful celebration when things go well.
  5. A horse can’t be ‘wrong’ until we have carefully taught him what we want in a way that he can understand and does not make him anxious.
  6. We are building a little chain of behaviors: pick up – hold – move item to my hand – release item to my hand.

Slices

  1. With the horse parked confidently on a mat so he knows you want him to stand still, offer your item: click&treat any willingness to sniff the item.
  2. Look for and click&treat any tendency to move his lips around the item. As always, take the item ‘out of play’ as you click&treat
  3. Look for and click&treat any tendency to open the mouth and use the teeth to investigate the item.
  4. Look for and click&treat any instance that you can momentarily remove your hand and the horse doesn’t drop the item. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up, and go back to click&treat a couple of times for the previous slice the horse IS able to do, before finishing the session.
  5. Once you can remove your hand momentarily, gradually build duration of him holding the item one second at a time. We want the horse to eventually hold the item until we put our hand out to receive it. Three seconds is good. Five seconds is great. Also praise and click&treat any indication that the horse is moving his head toward your hand to deliver the item to you.
  6. At this point, we can introduce a voice signal for picking up an item. I use the word, “Pick”. I also eventually introduce the voice signal, “Hold”, once the horse can hold the item for three or more seconds without dropping it.
  7. Once 5 above is smooth and reliable over several mini-sessions, introduce something that can act as a platform about halfway to the ground and put the item on it. At first you may need to keep your hand on it or near it by pointing to it and using your voice signal. Gradually move your hand further away. Pointing to the object along with the voice signal makes a useful multi-signal.
  8. We’d like the horse to move his head toward our hand to ‘deliver’ the item to us. Gradually move your receiving hand a bit further away so the horse raises/turns his head a bit more to ‘deliver’ the item to you. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up and return to the slice where he can be successful.
  9. When 7 and 8 above are smooth, organize a platform a bit closer to the ground and repeat.
  10. When 9 above is smooth, put the item on the ground and ask him to pick it up and hand it to you.

Generalizations

  1. Set out a series of items and move along to to pick each one up.
  2. Ask the horse to pick objects like ropes or rags off a fence or similar. Some people have fun setting up a ‘clothes line’ with cloths for the horse to take off.
  3. Ask the horse to walk a step or two holding the object. Boots had great difficulty with this. She happily picked things up and gave them to me, but the idea of moving holding something in her mouth was totally foreign to her, maybe because we never used a bit when riding. I started out asking her to walk-on after giving her a willow twig which she ate as she walked. Then we progressed to one step holding an old riding crop; click&treat. When one step was solid we added steps one at a time. It took us all winter of playing with this during our morning walks before she felt comfortable carrying an object for about 15 steps.
  4. Ask the horse to recall a few steps, to ‘deliver’ the object to you. This is the beginning of teaching ‘fetch’.

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.

Alternative to Hand-Feeding Food Reinforcement

REASONS

There are several reasons why feeding the treat from our hand may not be the way forward with either a person or a horse new to clicker training.

For example:

  • The horse is new to people and has no idea about eating from a person’s hand.
  • The person is nervous about offering food from their hand.
  • The horse tends to mug the person once he realizes they have food in a pocket or pouch.
  • The horse is not gentle about taking the food from the hand.
  • Some horses are shy of people’s hands due to experience, or they don’t like taking food from a person’s hand.

In such situations, we can set up protected contact with a handy bucket or dish into which we toss the treat after the click.

We want the container situated so it’s easy to toss in the treats. We also want to use a container from which the horse can easily retrieve the treats.

In the video I’ve put a shallow round-bottomed bowl into the trough that sits on the gate. The depth and corners of the trough make it hard for the horse to retrieve a small strip of carrot or horse pellets.

In the video, I use the word CLICK (and clicker) to stand in for any marker sound you have chosen to use with your horse.

Charging the Clicker

‘Charging the Clicker’ is the first thing we must do when be begin clicker training. We want the horse to relate the sound of our ‘marker sound’ with the idea that a bit of food always follows that sound.

Some horses pick this up very quickly. Others need many short repeat sessions before they make the connection. For horses taught to wait to be told what to do next or get into trouble, the idea of offering a behavior may be a new idea.

This video clip demonstrates just one way of ‘Charging the Clicker’. It has the advantage of using protected contact – a barrier between horse and person. Until we start using food reinforcers with a horse, we don’t know how he will respond to the idea.

Protected contact keeps the person safe and some horses feel safer if a handler is on the other side of a fence. Using a hand-held target means the horse can easily find the YES answer that results in a click&treat.

To me, it feels more meaningful to the horse to ‘charge the clicker’ this way, rather than by waiting for the horse to move his head away from the handler. Using a target gives the horse a tangible destination for his behavior. Asking him to keep his head away from the treats goes totally against the nature of how horses find nourishment. It requires a ‘no’ answer rather than the ‘yes’ answer provided by touching nose to a target.

Once the horse understands the click&treat dynamic, we can work on keeping the head facing forward rather than seeking out the treat pouch.

We can also use this set-up when things are not going well. The horse may have developed the habit of mugging for the treats – pushing his nose into the person. It is totally normal horse foraging behavior – to follow their nose to a likely food source.

By using a bucket or dish, we separate the location of the retrievable food from the person’s body. That alone is a good reason to begin with this technique. Once the horse understands the concept and we understand how the horse is responding to the idea of working for food reinforcement, we can work toward offering the food in our outstretched hand. We can make the switch to hand-feeding while still in protected contact.

Video Clip

Movement Routine 8 – Rags as Focus

Photo: The first task is to weave the rags together.

INTRODUCTION

Maintaining mobility is an important aspect of keeping horses in captivity. Usually they live without the freedom of movement over large areas with varied terrain. We can take a small step to encourage whole-body movement with short routines done often but never turned into a drill.

AIM

To combine weaving (serpentines) with sidestepping, backing up and recall using rags as markers.

PREREQUISITES

  1. ‘Walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  2. We have established clear mutual signals for weaving obstacles. https://youtu.be/mjBwyDsVX6Y. As well as this clip,there are several more in my playlist called Weave and Tight Turns.
  3. Horse understands a signal for sidestepping. Sidestepping: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RL
  4. Horse understands a ‘wait’ signal to stay parked while we move away so we can do a recall. Park & Wait: https://youtu.be/UvjKr9_U0ys
  5. Horse understands signal for backing up face-to-face with handler. March 2018 Challenge: Backing Up Part 1: https://youtu.be/6YYwoGgd_0Y
  6. Horse recalls after staying parked. https://youtu.be/XuBo07q8g24

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and a lead long enough so we can keep a nice drape in the rope but not so long it gets in the way. 12′ (4m) is a useful length.
  • Six rags laid out in a straight line far enough apart to allow comfortable weaving of the rags walking the pattern together. As the horse becomes more supple, the rags can be put closer together.

VIDEO CLIPS

#203 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 8, Rags as Focus:  Click here.

 

#204 HorseGym with Boots: Routine 8 at Liberty: Click here.

NOTES

  1. It helps to memorize the sequence of tasks by walking the pattern without the horse. If you have a willing 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 rope pressure. We want the horse to find his own balance rather than be pushed or held into a certain outline.
  3. 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.

TASKS

  1. Handler on the horse’s left side, weave the rags together.
  2. Turn at the end of the rags and weave in the opposite direction.
  3. Walk a circle around the last rag to end up between the last two rags plus several steps beyond them.
  4. Halt, then ask the horse to back up between the rags. If he backs up on his own, go to the horse to deliver a click&treat.
  5. Ask the horse to sidestep to put him in line with the middle of the next two rags.
  6. Ask the horse to ‘wait’ while you walk between the rags to the end of the rope.
  7. Ask the horse to ‘recall’.
  8. Ask the horse to sidestep so he is in line with the middle of the next two rags.
  9. Halt, then ask the horse to back up between the rags. If he backs up on his own go to the horse to deliver a click&treat.
  10. Ask the horse to sidestep so he is in line with the middle of the next two rags.
  11. Ask the horse to ‘wait’ while you back away to the end of the rope.
  12. Ask the horse to ‘recall’.
  13. Ask the horse to do the final sideways so he is in line with the middle of the last two rags if you are using six rags.
  14. Ask the horse to back up.
  15. Do an established ‘end of routine’ celebration. I use a ‘Triple Treat’.

GENERALIZATIONS

  • Repeat with the handler on the horse’s right side for the weaving.
  • Practice in different venues.
  • Use more rags.
  • Play at liberty.
  • Have only the horse weave – handler walks a straight line.
  • Practice on a slope.
  • Carry out the same sequence of tasks without marker rags.

Movement Routine 7 – Fence as Focus

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

INTRODUCTION

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

AIMS

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

PREREQUISITES

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

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and a lead long enough so you can keep a nice drape in it but not so long it gets in the way. Or work at liberty.
  • Safe fence line or similar.

VIDEO CLIP

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

 

NOTES

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

TASKS

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

GENERALIZATIONS

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

 

Movement Routine 6 – Rags as Focus

INTRODUCTION

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

AIM

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

PREREQUISITES

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

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and a lead long enough so we can keep a nice drape in it but not so long it gets in the way.
  • Six or more rags marking out a roomy circle. Have an even number of rags.

NOTES

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

VIDEO CLIPS

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

 

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

 

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

 

TASKS

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

GENERALIZATIONS

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

 

The Planning Process

Our training behavior and the horse’s response behavior are totally intertwined.

Creating a detailed but flexible training or ‘shaping’ plan is essential for successful progression. A good plan helps us develop our training skills, and through our skills we show the horse how to relate confidently to what people ask of him.

A written plan lets us to look both forward and backward, giving us a good idea of where we have been as well as where we are heading.

If we keep records of each session, we can easily see where we must tweak our plan; where we must slow down and where it is going smoothly.

Difference between a Training Plan and an Individual Education Plan (IEP)

A Training Plan is an outline of the possible thin-slices (click points) that we might be able to use to teach a horse a particular skill. We can share training plans with other people to adapt to their own horses in their own environment.

A Training Plan is the starting point for writing an Individual Education Program (IEP) that suits a specific handler, the specific horse and the specific training environments that they have available.

An Individual Education Program (IEP) is a Training Plan carefully customized to suit the character type, age, health and background experience of the individual horse to be educated.

The IEP must also consider the same factors in relation to the handler. For example, although I was athletic in my youth, bionic knees now set a limit to how fast and far I can move.

My book, How to Create Good Horse Training Plans has much more detail than I can fit into this blog post.

If you would like  a hand developing your next plan after reading this post, send me an email at: herthamuddyhorse@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to have a look at it.

Summary of the Planning Process

  1. Decide Your Overall Objective

Everything we do with our horse needs to be designed to increase his confidence with the human-dominated world he has to live in. If we are watching and listening, the horse will usually tell us what we should work on next to reach the overall objective we have set.

Training that relates to the care, welfare and safety of all horses includes:

  • Haltering.
  • Rope relaxation and calmness.
  • Leading along and backing up.
  • Staying parked at a target or ground-tied.
  • Grooming.
  • Feeding time behavior.
  • Specifics like safely navigating gates and other tight spots.
  • Understanding the handler’s various leading or guiding positions.
  • Hoof care.
  • Vet procedures.
  • Being tied up.
  • Ground-work skills.
  • Gymnastic exercises for general fitness.
  • Road and traffic confidence.
  • Walking or driving out without other horses.
  • Walking or driving out with other horses.
  • Water and hill confidence.
  • Trailer loading, travelling and unloading if we intend to go elsewhere or if we need to evacuate due to flood, fire, earthquake
  1. Scope your Overall Objective

A. Decide on your Overall Objective

Now is the time to create a mind map or make a list of all the aspects of teaching  our overall objective that we can think of. We write down all our ideas, large and small, without giving them a value judgement at this point. Also pick the brains of other people you trust, especially if they also use positive reinforcement training.

  1. We then use the mindmap/list to come up with a set of TOPICS that relate to and underpin our overall objective.
  2. Next, we must put our TOPICS into a logical order of progression.
  3. Then we must decide which items on our mindmap/list are GOALS which fit under our various TOPIC headings.
  4. Then we organize the GOALS within each TOPIC into an order that seems to make sense.

B. Next we define and sort specific GOALS that fit under our TOPICS.

If our overall objective is complex, we achieve it by first teasing out the topics involved as in the mindmap above. Then we decide what goals fit within each topic.

If we let the ideas ferment in our mind for a while and revisit them over several days, we usually end up with a more comprehensive plan. Every time I revise my initial lists or mindmaps, I have a few more ideas to add or I see new connections between things that I didn’t notice before.

  1. Break Down Each Goal

It is helpful to have an overview of the whole planning process. We can outline the decreasing complexity of what we are teaching like this:

  • overall objective (most complex)
    • topics
      • goals within the topic
        • tasks to achieve a specific goal
          • thin-slices to achieve each task. (least complex)

If we read this from the bottom up, thin-slices allow us to achieve a task. Several tasks allow us to achieve a goal. The goal is part of a larger training topic. Good training in all the topics allows us to achieve our overall objective.

It’s important to set tasks that can be achieved in a relatively short time frame. Some goals might be so small that they easily become one task.

On the other hand, a major goal may take months or years to achieve. But the individual tasks leading to that goal should be small enough so that the horse and the handler have a continuous experience of small achievements.

  1. Define the Tasks that will Achieve each Goal

For each goal we teach a set of related tasks. When we have achieved all the tasks for each goal in a topic, we have mastered that topic. All the topics together achieve our overall objective.

To review where tasks sit, let’s quickly revisit this outline of the decreasing complexity of what we are teaching:

  • overall objective e.g. FOR YOU TO DECIDE.
    • topics are all relevant to teaching confidence with the overall objective.
      • goals which all relate to a specific topic
        • tasks we need to master to reach a goal
          • thin-slices organized to achieve each task.

Defining specific tasks is made easier by using a format called the ABCD method.

A = Audience (of our teaching), B = exact Behavior we are seeking, C = in what Conditions will we ask for the specified behavior, D = what Degree of proficiency does the behavior need to achieve our purpose.

A = Audience: your horse is the audience of your teaching. Think of the horse’s character type and what best motivates him. What do you think he may find easy or hard? If you are coaching another person, consider the character type of the person too. If you are working by yourself, consider your own character type.

B = Behavior: exactly what do you want to see when the horse is carrying out the task the way you want? Sometimes as well as seeing, we can feel the horse’s response through the rope or reins, or we feel his body energy, relaxation or tension. Additionally, how do you want your signals for the horse to look and feel?

C = Conditions: in what venues, with what props, in what environment(s)?

D = Degree of Perfection or Proficiency: how are you going to measure what you are doing? Decide on how long, how many strides, how many rails, zero tight lead-ropes, how far, how fast?

Once you have taught the basic task, it can be further developed to be performed more proficiently or to a higher standard as well as in different contexts and environments.

When you describe each task with these ABCD points in place, your Individual Education Plan will progress nicely.

Not defining tasks clearly is a major hurdle to good planning and good training outcomes.

5. Brainstorm Possible Thin-Slices for Each Task

Now all your thinking about your defined tasks can be put to work to create a brainstorm mind map or list of the smallest parts (slices) that make up each task.

We can begin this part of the planning by writing down all the possible slices of the task as they came to mind, without putting them in any specific order.

Remember, it’s easy to have too few slices, but we can never have too many. The more we can keep the horse feeling successful, the more he will enjoy his sessions (and so will we). If the horse is not being successful, we must adjust our plan so he can be almost continuously successful.

Pretty much everything we ask horse in captivity to do is entirely unrelated to their natural life in the wild. If we always keep this in mind during our training, it is easy to cherish each small accomplishment toward our final objective.

6. List your thin-slices in an order that might work

Once you have a brainstormed list/mindmap of the smallest slices you can think of, it’s time to put them into an order that might work nicely for you and the horse.

If the slices have been clearly thought out on paper, it’s easier to know what we are doing while we’re out with the horse. We can stay in the moment and our mind is free to interact with the horse rather than wonder what we are doing next.

Pocket cue cards with the slices listed in order can be helpful. I generally use these if I’m working on a complex task.

None of the sequences in a plan are written in stone. We get important feedback from each session with the horse. Either things went smoothly, or we need to tweak something.

Maybe we need to spend a lot more time on a certain slice. We are always free to add, delete, expand or move our ideas around.

When we have thin-sliced all the tasks for all the goals in each topic leading to our overall objective, our Training Plan is written! More accurately, the first version of a Training Plan for the overall objective is written.

We don’t have to write the whole plan all at once. We can simply choose the first topic to work on, set the goals for that, work out the tasks needed to achieve one of the goals, then thin-slice the tasks one at a time.

Thin-slicing tasks gets easier as we practice it. We get better at imagining all the pieces that make up the puzzle we have set for ourselves and the horse.

7. Venues, Props and Time

Think about:

  • The training venue(s) you have available.
  • The time you can spend with your horse.
  • How long you think it may take the horse to learn the task you are currently working on?
  • How long might it take the horse to learn all the tasks relating to the goal you are presently working on?
  • What props and helpers do you have available?

You outlined the Conditions for teaching when you defined your task with the ABCD format. Now is the time to work out the detail of where and when and how you can set up the conditions that will make the teaching and learning as easy as possible for you and your horse.

This is especially important if you must book venues or check when your helper(s) will be available.

  1. Decide How You Will Document Your Progress

As part of your Training Plan, decide how you will keep a record of what you’re doing, when you did it and how it went during each session.

My book, How to Create Good Horse Training Plans: The Art of Thin-Slicing outlines a variety of ways to document progress. There are digital record-keeping formats that some people find useful. One possibility is illustrated below.

This format has numbered spaces to record ‘session scores’ – one for the horse and one for the handler, to fill in after each training session. This chart has spaces to record 18 training sessions.

The format above has the benefit of being quick to fill in. Most of us have busy lives into which we must fit our horse time. Once our mind switches over to other parts of our life, it is easy to forget the detail of what we specifically did with our horse and how the session felt. The horse and the handler each get a ‘score’ which is just a shorthand way of recording a ‘session assessment’.

We can use symbols or emoticons to indicate how we felt, how we thought the horse felt and weather details (make sure you create a key for your symbols). Hot, cold, wind, wet all affect how a session goes. If we train in various places, we can have a symbol for each place. If there is a time-break in our training due to life and/or weather interfering, we can note this as well.

The sort of detail mentioned above is priceless when we look back on it. We can see how many repeats we did to get from introduction of a new task to getting it fluent and generalized to different situations.

If we keep charts like this in our tack room or car there is an increased chance that we will fill it in right away while the session is still fresh in our mind.

The following chart shows one possible way to score each session’s progress. Some people may prefer a ten-point scale so more nuances can be recorded.

It probably works best for each person to make up a scoring details page that best suits their environment and their horse and how they like to record things.

Note that the ‘score’ is just a quick way to define our assessment of a session. It helps indicate where we are while working through a process.

There is no other value judgement added to the score numbers. For some tasks the handler may stay at ‘1’ for a while until he/she has sorted out the best way to introduce an idea to the horse.

Every task we undertake will have its own time-frame to move from Score 1 to Score 5, depending on the many variables that relate to the horse and the handler.

A possible scoring (session assessment) range may look something like this:

   Score    Horse’s Score (session assessment)      Person’s Score (session assessment)
      1 Situation and signals are unfamiliar to the horse. Experimenting to find best props/gear, best orientation, clearest signal and best timing.
      2 Horse is experimenting with responses to find those that yield a click&treat.

 

Gear, body orientation and body language, voice and other signals are developing to be as clear as possible for the horse.
      3 Noticeably more fluent with the requested movements (or stillness).

 

Signals are becoming smoother. Beginning to link one or more thin-slices of a complex task.
      4 Getting it right in a familiar area most of the time. Feeling the rapport of two-way communication with the horse.

 

      5 Desired responses are reliable in various situations and venues. Signals are fluid and consistent.

 

Remember, the ‘scores’ are session assessments which are simply points along a continuum ranging from first introduction to something new all the way to smooth execution of the task. We are assessing the session, not critiquing it.

Most things we want to do with a horse is a trick/game to the horse – something he would rarely do on his own. To teach the rules of our games fairly we need to be aware of the following questions that underpin all training.

  • What thin-slices do I needed in order to teach this horse this task?
  • How little or how much does this horse already understand about the task?
  • What gaps are there in my knowledge, gear handling and training skills that I should address first?
  • Am I aware of how am I orientating my body in relation to the horse?
  • How consistent are my signals?
  • How good is the timing of my release (click&treat)?
  • How good and consistent are my rope handling skills?
  • How well and consistently do I handle my body extensions (including rope/reins)?
  • How good am I at using my breathing and core body energy to show intent or relaxation?

The horse can only be as smooth as the handler is smooth. The horse can only learn as smoothly as we can teach smoothly.

9. Experiment with Horse and Self to Find a Starting Point

This is where you find out whether your proposed thin-slices are thin enough and whether you have thought through the prerequisites carefully enough. The aim is to begin each task at a point where both you and the horse are relaxed and confident.

You can, of course, do gentle experimentation all the time during the planning process. If you mostly work with the same horse, your starting point for a specific task may become obvious while you are doing other things.

For example, if your horse is not able to easily lift each leg in turn to touch a target, then he may find it difficult to sort out his balance on three legs when you want to tend a foot. So addressing this would be a starting point for relaxed hoof care.

10. Create your Individual Education Program (IEP)

Now is the time to tailor your Training Plan by considering the character type, health, age, fitness level, and background experience of your horse and yourself.

You already considered this to some extent when you thought about the Audience portion of the ABCD used for defining your task.

Consider the time you can put into the project. Be careful to link your expectations realistically to the time you have available to be with the horse.

Your experimentation may show that your Training Plan is too ambitious, and you need to slow down and do more thin-slicing of certain parts. Or you may discover that the horse already knows more than you realized, allowing you to move quickly through some of the foundation lessons from your IEP.

It is important to still work through the exercises that already feel easy, rather than leave them out.

You may discover that your horse finds something particularly difficult, so you give that more time and attention. Life, weather or injury may interfere, forcing you to adjust the time frame.

As mentioned earlier, it’s important that the tasks you set are achievable in a relatively short time frame. Each small success is worth its weight in gold for motivation to keep learning, for both the handler and the horse.

You may decide that some of your defined tasks are too large, so you go back to redefine them, slice them more thinly, until you have tasks that you can master in a comfortable, shorter time frame.

11. Tweak Your Individual Education Program (IEP)

Every horse, every handler, and every horse-handler combination are unique. What works magically with one horse may be a total dead-end with another horse. Each horse brings new challenges and triumphs.

Every session with a horse gives you valuable feedback and new ideas. Things that don’t work are just as valuable as things that do work. By using a pre-planned set of thin-slices, we avoid a lot of unfocused activity that confuses the horse and leads to handler frustration.

Inevitably, we’ll still get confusion. The IEP is always a work in progress. Tweak it as you get new information by listening to your horse, and when you make new connections as you think through a challenge.

CONCLUSION

A good plan does the following:

  1. Decides on the overall objective and expresses it clearly.
  2. Scopes the topics that fall withing the overall objective and decides which topic might be best tackled first.
  3. Works out the individual goals that are part of each topic and decides on an order in which you will tackled the goals – but stays flexible.
  4. Carefully defines the tasks you need to master in order to achieve each goal and decides the order in which you will work with the tasks. You might work to develop elements of one, two or three different tasks during one training session.
  5. Diligently thin-slices each task into its smallest teachable/clickable portions and organizes these slices into an order that will probably make sense to the horse. Again, we must stay flexible and adjust our training to the horse that shows up on the day.
  6. Experiments gently with the horse to find a starting point at which you both feel comfortable. We do this for each task within each goal.
  7. Sets up your Individual Education Program (IEP), once you know your starting point, by customizing your plan to suit the horse you are working with.
  8. Tweaks your IEP to make learning easier for the horse any time you and the horse are not being continually successful most of the time. A vibrant planner is always thinking of different ways to approach things. If we are listening, the horse usually shows us the direction we should take.

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?

 

Movement Routine 3 – Fence for Focus

Photo: Walking concentric circles is part of this routine.

INTRODUCTION

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

AIMS

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

PREREQUISITES

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

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and 10′ (3m) or longer lead.
  • A safe fence or similar. A safe fence or barrier is one the horse can’t put his foot/leg through if he suddenly steps back. Tape fences can work well with some horses – NOT electrified.

VIDEO CLIPS

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

 

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

NOTES

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

TASKS

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

GENERALIZATIONS

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

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

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

RELATED RESOURCES

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

 

 

 

Finesse Back-Up

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

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

PREREQUISITES:

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

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • A safe fence or barrier which leads into a safe corner.
  • Halter and lead.
  • Mat (optional). A mat can make it easier for a mat-savvy horse to settle into standing in a corner.

AIMS:

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

Clips:

https://youtu.be/6YYwoGgd_0Y

https://youtu.be/safxxu90lkA

Notes:

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

SLICES:

A: Getting Comfortable in a Corner

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

B: The Back-Up Maneuver

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

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

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

Generalizations

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

Related Resources:

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

Movement Routine 2 – Rags

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIM

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

PREREQUISITES

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

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and 10′ (3 m) or longer lead. The idea is to strive to keep the rope draped at all times.
  • A set of chunky rags. I use 5 rags and 3 rags in the video clips for easier filming and to avoid boring viewers to death, but you can use as many as you like.

VIDEO CLIPS

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

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

NOTES

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

TASKS

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

GENERALIZATIONS

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

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

RELATED RESOURCES

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

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

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

 

 

One Step at a Time

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREREQUISITES

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

ENVIRONMENT AND MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and lead. A shorter lead is easier to use for this task.

AIM

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

VIDEO CLIP

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

NOTES

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

SLICES

One Step Back

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

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

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

If your horse leans into the pressure:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Step Forward

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

GENERALIZATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This clip shows some possible generalizations.

RELATED RESOURCES

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

 

GROUND-TYING

INTRODUCTION

Having a horse stop and wait when his lead rope is dropped onto the ground is useful for management around home as well as out on the trail. It pops up occasionally as a challenge in Horse Agility competitions.

SAFETY

When first teaching this I prefer to use a wide webbing or leather halter. If the horse moves he may step on his rope and react by jerking his head up. With a wide halter there is less chance of spinal trauma. Alternately, we can attach the rope to the halter with a bit of wool that will break in such a situation.

I also suggest using a soft, thick rope not longer than 12 feet. If something causes the horse to move, it’s better if there isn’t a long, thin rope chasing him.

First we must of course make sure that the horse is totally relaxed with ropes dragging all around his body and legs. He must be cool with ropes moving in front of him, behind him and dragging alongside while attached to his halter.

PREREQUISITES

  • Rope relaxation and rope calmness in various situations. (See ‘Additional Resources’ 5, 6, and 7 at the end of this post.)
  • Able to stand still in relaxed mode while things are happening around him. (See ‘Additional Resources’ 8, 9 and 10 at the end of this post.)
  • Stop willingly to target his front feet to a mat. (See ‘Additional Resources’ 1 at the end of this post.)
  • Smooth ‘walk-on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying beside the handler on a draped lead rope. (See ‘Additional Resources’ 2 at the end of this post.)
  • Willing response to a “Whoa” voice signal. (See ‘Additional Resources’ 3 at the end of this post.)
  • Smooth ‘back-up’ with the handler beside the horse or in front facing the horse. (See ‘Additional Resources’ 4 at the end of this post.)

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry; he’s had ample time to graze or eat hay right before the training session.
  • Halter and lead kept loose (draped) as much as possible, because as much as possible, we want to use body language for communication, not rope pressure.
  • Two or more familiar mats.
  • A second rope.

AIM

When we drop the lead rope and give our horse a ‘wait’ hand signal, we would like him to stay parked in that spot until we return.

VIDEO CLIPS

#72 HorseGym with Boots: Ground-tie Clip 1 GETTING STARTED:

 

#73 HorseGym with Boots: Ground-tie Clip 2 ANOTHER VENUE:

NOTES

  1. Boots’ demonstration on the video clips is the sum of many short sessions over a long time. When teaching something new, we stay with each slice of the task over as many short sessions as necessary until it feels ho-hum (easy and smooth). Then we link in the next slice.
  2. Teach the whole process from the horse’s left side, then teach it again walking on his right side. Alternatively, teach each slice on both sides before adding in the next slice.

SLICES

  1. Walk on the horse’s left side with a loose lead toward a mat. Hold the horse’s lead rope in the hand nearest the horse. Carry a second rope in your other hand.
  • Halt with the horse at the mat using your halt voice signal and body language.
  • Drop your second rope on the ground under the horse’s nose.
  • Allow him to satisfy his curiosity about it (sniff it, put a foot on it, and so on); relax (click&treat.)
  • Keep a drape or ‘smile’ in your actual lead rope.

Pick up the dropped rope and walk together to another mat, or walk a large loop that returns you to the same mat.

Looking for: Horse halts with front feet on the mat and remains relaxed when the second rope is dropped and picked up again.

If you set up a circuit of several mats, you can move from mat to mat.

Remember to do something easy the horse already knows and build in ‘down time’ in between bursts of activity with this new task.

If you have a circuit of several mats, do the circuit once. Then do something else that’s easy and come back to the circuit again if it feels right to do more.

  1. As 1, but without using mats. Everything stays the same except that we have removed the prop of the mat or mats. It may help the horse at first if you walk the same circuit as you walked when you were using the mat(s). Halt and drop the second rope where the mats were during the previous lessons.

Once the horse seems to recognize the dropped rope as a place to stop and stand, gradually generalize to dropping the second rope in new places.

  1. As 2, but now drop the lead rope itself: relax as the horse halts; pause for a second or two, with neutral (no intent) body language. We want to begin building duration into the time the horse stands quietly after the lead rope is dropped. Be sure to click&treat well before the horse shows any tendency to move.

Looking for: Horse halts when you use body language and voice signal plus drop the lead rope and relax (click&treat). Horse relaxes too.

  1. It’s helpful if we can ground-tie the horse after we’ve asked him to back up. Ask the horse to back up and while he is backing drop the lead rope and at the same time use your halt voice signal, relax (click&treat) when the horse halts. Intersperse these requests with walking forward.

Looking for: Horse backs up on request and halts with the handler’s voice halt signal plus the dropped rope.

  1. Experiment to see what happens when:
  • Walking along you slow to a halt and gently drop the lead rope without using your voice signal as well.
  • If you have developed clear body language to communicate that you are going to stop, the horse will respond to just your body language and the dropped rope.
  • Relax (click&treat) at the first sign of a halt.

If the horse finds this difficult, leave it out for now and maybe return to it as part of your generalization when he knows the ground-tying task better.

Looking for: Horse brings himself to a halt when the handler halts and the rope is gently dropped in even in the absence of a voice signal.

  1. Bring back the mats and the second rope. Ask the horse to jog (or trot) with you and halt with you when you halt beside the mat. Use your voice signal plus drop the second lead rope from the jog. When it feels smooth, phase out the second rope and drop the horse’s lead rope.

Looking for: Horse willingly halts at the mat from jog/trot when the handler halts, gives the voice halt signal and drops the lead rope.

  1. Slices 1-6 above have the handler stopping with the horse. Now we want to generalize the skill so the horse stops when rope is dropped plus stays parked while handler keeps walking. Ask the horse to halt at a mat, drop the lead rope, and use your ‘wait’ signal to let the horse know you want him to remain parked while you walk away from him. For the ‘wait’ I use a gesture and voice signal at the same time.

For the early lessons with this generalization, it’s good to use a circuit of mats again, until you see that the horse understands the new nuances of the task consistently over several sessions.

Walk with a loose lead toward a mat. Halt with horse at the mat using:

  • Halt voice signal
  • Dropped lead rope
  • Give your voice and gesture ‘wait’ signals Then walk forward a few steps away from the horse.
  • Turn to face the horse and take up a neutral (no intent) body language position – place both hands flat over your belly button, drop your shoulders and have a soft focus not looking at the horse.
  • Wait a second or two, be sure to return before the horse even thinks about moving. Count the seconds. Start with one second and don’t wait longer until one second is completely okay with the horse.
  • If the horse moves, gently return to him, pick up the lead rope, walk together in a relaxed manner and start again. This is a re-set. Don’t make the horse feel wrong. He can’t be wrong because he doesn’t yet know what you want. Next time don’t go as far away and return to him sooner rather than waiting that extra moment.
  • Pick up the lead rope and walk on to the next mat to repeat, or walk a loop to return to the same mat.

Looking for: Horse halts at mat and remains there confidently while the handler walks on a few steps, turns, pauses, and walks back to the horse.

  1. Gradually walk a few more steps away from the horse and increase how long you wait before returning to the horse; relax (click&treat). Click&treat after you return to the horse.

If he loses confidence, immediately return to the distance and time he can cope with. Add distance and duration very slowly – one second and/or half a step at a time over many, many short sessions.

Looking for: Horse stays with the mat and the dropped rope until the handler returns.

  1. This slice asks the horse to halt at the mat while you keep on walking without stopping first. You drop the lead rope and use  your voice & gesture ‘stay’ signals but you don’t halt yourself – you keep on walking.

If the horse has been mainly watching your body language as his signal to halt, it could be hard for him at first until he realizes that,

  • the mat
  • dropped lead rope
  • voice signal

all mean he still should halt, even if you keep moving.

The Task: Walk toward a mat with a loose lead. When you reach the mat, simultaneously:

  • use your halt voice signal
  • drop the lead rope
  • give your ‘wait’ signal without stopping your feet when the horse stops
  • walk on a few steps.

Turn and face the horse, then:

  • wait a second or two
  • return to the horse
  • relax (click&treat).

Pick up the lead rope and walk on to the next mat.

Looking for: Horse stays halted on the mat while the handler walks on, halts, turns, pauses and walks back to the horse.

Play with this by gradually moving further away from the horse.

  1. Still using a mat, play with 9 above at the trot. Handler keeps jogging forward while the horse halts on the mat.
  2. Repeat 9 above without the mat, at walking pace.
  3. Repeat 9 above without the mat at jog or trot.
  4. Make sure the horse is comfortable when you leave from his left eye and from his right eye. Spend a bit more time with the harder side, if there is one.

Further Generalization

Generalize ground-tying to new venues and around new distractions, as long as it’s safe. Include mats initially if it helps the horse, then phase them out.

Additional Resources

  1. Blog: Using Mats: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9
  2. Blog: Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
  3. Blog: Willing Response to a Voice Halt Signal: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5R9
  4. Video Clip: #27 HorseGym with Boots: Good Backing = Good Leading: https://youtu.be/M6gxa2iriQ8
  5. Video Clip: #121 HorseGym with Boots; Stick and Rope Confidence: https://youtu.be/WIpsT4PPiXo
  6. Video Clip: #22 HorseGym with Boots; Rope Relaxation: https://youtu.be/6Y34VlUk0Iw
  7. Video Clip: #60 HorseGym with Boots; Rope Calmness: https://youtu.be/9WC_7d8M6lQ
  8. Video Clip: #22 HorseGym with Boots: The Art of Standing Still: https://youtu.be/F4Rn9kIc7FQ
  9. Video Clip: October 2017 Challenge: Park and Wait: https://youtu.be/UvjKr9_U0ys
  10. Video Clip: #22 HorseGym with Boots: Parking with Commotion: https://youtu.be/M6p5w8QZaIA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLACING THE FEET ACCURATELY USING A RAIL

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

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

Once all the tasks are going smoothly, we can mix them up in any order, which teaches us to be crystal clear for the horse and has the horse watch us carefully to pick up our next signal.

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

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

PREREQUISITES:

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

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Halter and lead or liberty.
  • A rail. I use a round rail in the clip, but using a half-round rail that doesn’t roll is ideal to teach this. Or we can put blocks under a round rail. In the clip, I put my foot on it to stop it rolling.
  • One or two of these tasks during one segment of a training session is plenty. If it’s all done quietly with no fuss or drilling, the horse will think on it and remember what behaviors will earn a click&treat. It works best to do a little bit often.

AIMS:

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

VIDEO CLIPS:

With halter and lead:

 Liberty

NOTES:

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

SLICES:

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

GENERALIZATION:

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

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAINY DAY and STALL REST ACTIVITIES

INTRODUCTION:

These activities are all based on equine clicker training. Please see my book, How to Begin Equine Clicker Training: Improve Horse-Human Communication if you would like to investigate clicker training with horses. Details of my books are on the ‘BOOKS’ page link above. The books are all available via Amazon.com. Topics in the books contain free links to relevant YouTube video clips.

I keep the clips short – most are under five minutes. Each relates to a specific skill. Keeping them short makes them easier to find and review.

Each of the activities listed below has one or more accompanying video clips. Depending on the reason a horse is on stall rest, some  tasks may be a more useful than others.

  1. Nose to Target

This is fully discussed and explained in the book mentioned above. It is usually one of the first tasks when we introduce clicker training with horses.

Once the horse understands that touching his nose to a target held out by the handler earns him a click&treat, and he has a strong history of reinforcement for the task, we can use it to gradually develop flexion.

This clip shows a way to introduce the ‘nose to target’ task with the handler in protected contact (i.e. on the other side of a barrier). It’s good to use protected contact until we know how the horse responds to food being part of the training process. https://youtu.be/Rat3P1pGKjU

  1. Head Lowering (and Head Up)

This illustrates the process of free-shaping a behavior. Free-shaping means that we wait for the horse to do something it naturally does (e.g. lower the head) and ‘mark’ that behavior with a click&treat. It’s important to accurately ‘mark’ and treat each little approximation toward the final behavior we want, so timing of the click and smooth treat delivery are necessary. It’s helpful to work on these away from the horse by asking another person to stand in for the horse.

Clip One: https://youtu.be/AoqtJj2X1bU

Clip Two: https://youtu.be/Ol-BHB1QCnw

Clip Three: https://youtu.be/CYhgwlmrfps

  1. Okay to Repeat Signals and Grooming with ‘Okay to Repeat’ Signals

This post contains the background and video clip links.  https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RV

  1. “Intent and Zero Intent”

This post contains the background and video clip links. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO

  1. Target Feet to Mat and Duration on the Mat

This post with clips introduces the idea of mats. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9

  1. Target Flexions

This post contains the background and video clip. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Ty

  1. Target Chin to Hand

Clip: https://youtu.be/Fsigp8wB0LU

  1. Target Shoulder to Hand

This post contains the background and video clip. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5SH

  1. Targeting Body Parts Overview

This clip shows an overview. Each body part would be taught separately following the outline for targeting chin or shoulder to our hand, as in items 7 and 8 above. https://youtu.be/tFGvmRRYdHQ

  1. Bell Ringing

Clip: a thin-slicing technique to teach bell ringing: https://youtu.be/wBdJMgtHU6A

Clip: bell and horn playing: https://youtu.be/pHvgJxJsmc4

  1. Picking Things Up

This clip looks at a first lesson: https://youtu.be/EDGRpM2yLBo

This clip is with a horse a bit further into the process. https://youtu.be/FCQrlMc01RE

This clip shows the skill generalized to picking up and carrying a feed bucket. https://youtu.be/zRM8kO992EY

The two clips below demonstrate the final slices of our process for learning to retrieve a cap tossed away.

Clip 1: https://youtu.be/bvRkCk___3M

Clip 2: https://youtu.be/hMIB5mlx65E

  1. Willing Haltering

Clip showing ‘halter prep’ using a hoop.  https://youtu.be/WKeLxfpBFAo

This post contains the background and video clip. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Sw

  1. Relaxation with Body Extensions

Clip: https://youtu.be/nkwxYwtCP_Y

Clip: Stick and Rope Confidence: https://youtu.be/WIpsT4PPiXo

  1. Balance on Three Legs

Clip: https://youtu.be/x1WKppV3N_0

  1. Clean all Feet from One Side

Clip: https://youtu.be/UMyApCj9wBQ

  1. Hoof Stand Confidence

Clip: https://youtu.be/khsEm1YBtLs

  1. Head Rocking

Clip: https://youtu.be/-2VjmbfkfS4

  1. One Step at a Time

Clip: https://youtu.be/wStHxqNs7nk

  1. Soft Response to Rope Pressure

This post contains the background and video clips. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Sq

  1. In-Hand Back-Up

Clip: https://youtu.be/6YYwoGgd_0Y

  1. Step Aerobics

This post contains the background and video clip. https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Sf

  1. Foot Awareness (Proprioception)

Some of the little tasks in this clip can be done in a restricted space. https://youtu.be/7bEkFk0w_gk

  1. Counting

This clip looks at the beginning of teaching ‘counting’: https://youtu.be/2os0DTE2SoE

  1. Kill the Tiger

This clip shows the final task. It was thin-sliced to first teach it. Be aware that some horses might generalize this bit of fun to pulling off their saddle pads unless you put it on cue or ‘on signal’. https://youtu.be/M8vzn1JsR_k

  1. Bursting Balloons

This clip shows Smoky after a few sessions when he is just beginning to get the hang of it. https://youtu.be/Md7ui1DejaI

  1. Target Hindquarters to our Hand

https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Tk

 

180-Degree Turns

INTRODUCTION:

I learned this exercise from Alex Kurland. It seems simple but is enormously useful in maintaining both physical and mental suppleness for the horse and handler.

It also serves to practice our ‘walk on’ signals and allows us to consolidate our ‘halt’ signals each time we approach the mat, with special emphasis on our voice ‘whoa’ signal.

It is a super exercise to check the flexibility of our horse and we may also gain insight into the flexibility of our own body as we improve the timing of shifting our body axis on the approach to each marker. We are usually more flexible bending either right or left, just like horses are.

If we consistently do short bursts of this exercise over many sessions, we’ll notice that it gets easier and easier to do tighter, elegant 180-degree turns (unless horse or handler are restricted due to past injury or arthritis).

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  2. Horse willingly moves to target his front feet on a mat. (There is a relevant link under ‘Addition Resources’ at the end of this post.)
  3. Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals when the handler is beside his neck/shoulder. (There is a relevant link under ‘Addition Resources’ at the end of this post.)
  4. Handler understands the skill of maintaining ‘forward energy’ at the same time as slowing down to give the horse time to scribe the bigger arc of the turn. This can be improved by practice with another person standing in for the horse. We have to remember that the horse has four legs to organize and a long body that more resembles an ocean-liner than a ballerina.
  5. Handler is aware of using the orientation of his/her body axis as a key body language signal for the horse.

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • Halter and lead (lead kept loose as much as possible. We want to use orientation and body language for communication, not touch signals via the rope, but we may use these when we first teach teach this pattern).
  • 6 or 8 markers set out in a relatively large circle. The markers can be anything safe: cones, stones, pieces of firewood, tread-in posts if working on grass, jump stands, barrels, 5-liter containers of water, cardboard boxes, rags. In the beginning, it’s easiest if the markers are relatively large, so the horse sees the sense in walking around them rather than across or through them.
  • Different-colored markers make it easier to keep track of where we are heading and where we have been. If they are the same size and shape, they give continuity to the development of the horse’s fluidity since it needs the same body adjustment around each marker. Therefore, identical markers are best to first teach this exercise.
  • Different-sized markers encourage the horse to vary his body adjustment to navigate each one, so they are a good generalization.
  • A familiar mat placed in the center of the circle.

AIMS:

  1. To have the horse and handler execute fluid, smooth 180-degree turns (U-turns) with the horse on the outside of the turn; handler on the LEFT side of the horse.
  2. To have the horse and handler execute fluid, smooth U-turns – horse on the outside of the turn, handler on the RIGHT side of the horse.
  3. Handler becomes super conscious of the position and timing of his/her body axis orientation to signal the turn coming up.

VIDEO CLIP:

NOTES:

  1. What you see Boots doing in the video clip is a result many very short sessions over a long time. I’m  always striving to improve the timing of my body axis turned away from the horse as a signal for the turn.
  2. If the horse has been resting or contained, it’s important to walk around for a general overall body warm-up before asking for this sort of flexion. A companionable walk or moving over rails and weaving obstacles are good warm-up exercises.

SLICES:

  1. Walk on the left side of the horse to target the mat in the middle of the circle; click&treat.
  2. Focus on one of the markers ahead of you of the circle and ‘walk on’ toward it. Ensure that you walk off together by using all your ‘walk on’ multi-signals. We don’t want the horse surprised and left behind.
  3. Walk around the marker and back to the mat; click&treat.
  4. Did you manage to keep up your energy while walking the inner curve around the marker? If we let our energy drop, the horse can fade out too. In the learning phase, it can help to raise our knees as in ‘marching on the spot’ to keep our energy up, as demonstrated in the video clip.
  5. Not only does the horse have further to travel, he must organize two pairs of legs and a non-bendy torso to navigate the corner, so we have to give him time.
  6. At first the U-turns might be wide and/or sloppy. Don’t worry, you will both gradually improve if you stick with the task over many short sessions.
  7. The horse will soon work out that each time you go around a marker, you head straight back to the mat where he will earn another click&treat. This realization motivates him to begin making his U-turns more efficient and elegant.
  8. As you begin the change of direction at each marker, turn the axis of your body away from the horse. This will become a body language signal you can eventually use later in many different situations and to communicate at liberty.
  9. Add a voice signal at some point. I use “Round”. Choose a word that is short, clear, and not used in other contexts.
  10. As you notice improvement in his flexion during the turns, you can begin to selectively click&treat nice tight ones as he comes out of the turn, then carry on for another click&treat at the mat.
  11. After each return to the mat (click&treat), choose a different marker and repeat.
  12. After navigating all the markers walking on the left side of the horse, repeat walking on his right side. Once around each marker on each side of the horse is usually enough of this exercise during one session.
  13. Often it is harder for the horse and/or the handler when they are using the non-dominant sides of their bodies. With patience and extra practice on the harder side(s), it will start to feel more equal.
  14. Signals given with the handler’s non-dominant side are often not as fluid or well timed as signals given on the dominant side. Once we become aware of this, we can focus on it as necessary.

GENERALIZATION:

  1. The first generalization is to repeat walking on the horse’s right side.
  2. Begin to focus on using body axis orientation in other contexts such as weaving obstacles
  3. The clip below demonstrates how Boots and I use my body axis orientation to work on flexion during our walks down the road.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Blog: Using Mats: Parking and Stationing and Much More: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9

Blog: Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT

 

Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions

INTRODUCTION:

‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ are the foundation of pretty much everything we want a horse to do with us. Even teaching ‘parking’ starts with a solid, confident ‘halt’.

Teaching the basic ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ is most easily done in position beside the horse’s neck or shoulder. I like to teach these with a ‘multi-signal’ or ‘signal bundle’. In the science literature multi-signals are referred to as “a compound stimulus”.

Using the multi-signals consistently from the beginning means that once the horse knows them well, I can use any one of them, or any combination of them, depending on what best suits the situation. It makes it easier for the horse to recognize the signals when I am walking beside his ribs or behind him (outside his blind spot).

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse and handler are clicker-savvy.
  2. Horse readily targets stationary objects with his nose and/or feet. (See ADDITIONAL RESOURCE 5. at the end of this post.)
  3. Horse is comfortable wearing a halter and lead rope.
  4. It’s highly recommended to practice the rope handling mechanical skills to signal ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ first with a person standing in for the horse. Simulations are a wonderful way to get our body language and rope handling skills organized and smooth before we inflict ourselves on the horse.

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT:

  • Horse in a familiar area where he is comfortable.
  • Other horse buddies in view, but not able to interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry and in a relaxed frame of mind.
  • Halter and lead. A relatively short lead rope is easier to manage.
  • Destination objects. These can be a series of stationary nose targets, mats as foot targets. Alternatively, we can use a Frisbee or old cap thrown out ahead for the horse to target, then thrown forward again.

AIM:

Elegant ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions with the horse and handler staying shoulder-to-shoulder, with the handler on either side of the horse.

VIDEO CLIPS:

‘Walk on’ signals are illustrated in HorseGym with Boots clip #129.

‘Halt’ signals are illustrated in HorseGym with Boots clip #131.

NOTES:

  1. What you see Boots doing in the video clip is a result many short sessions over a long time.
  2. We can aid the horse’s understanding if we begin teaching this along a safe fence to remove the horse’s option of swinging the hindquarters away from the handler.
  3. We want to strive for consistently staying in the area alongside the horse’s neck and shoulder.

Photo to illustrate Slice 3 below. A ‘halt’ signal without pulling on the halter: hold the rope straight up into the air and jiggle it lightly. We can use this as part of our ‘halt’ multi-signal if necessary. We can also use it during the process of teaching backing up with a hand gesture signal staying shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse. Teach it as a ‘halt’ signal by using it as the horse approaches a fence or other dead-end where it makes total sense for him to halt .

SLICES:

  1. Hold the rope in the hand nearest the horse with no pressure on the halter. If you need to send a ‘halt’ signal with the rope, hold the rope straight upwards and jiggle it. The instant the horse responds, stop jiggling, breathe out and lower your hand.
  2. Halt: Ask the horse to walk beside you toward a familiar mat. As you approach the mat, use the following multi-signals almost simultaneously:
  • Visibly drop your weight down into your hips (like we want the horse to do).
  • Breathe out audibly.
  • Say ‘whoa’ or whatever halt voice signal you decided.
  1. Only if necessary, raise the inside hand holding the rope straight up into the air and jiggle the rope. If the horse is initially taught the ‘rope jiggle’ halt signal using a fence or a blocked-off lane, there will be little need to jiggle the rope. As the horse halts on the mat, immediately relax your body language; breathe out; click&treat.
  2. At first, pause briefly before walking on to the next mat; click&treat. Gradually, over many sessions, teach the horse to wait confidently for up to 10 seconds.
  3. Walk On: Ensure you are holding the rope in the hand nearest the horse with no pressure on the halter. To send a ‘walk on’ signal along the rope, reach across with your outside hand and run it gently up the rope toward the halter. As soon as the horse moves, take away your outside hand.
  4. We use our ‘walk on’ multi-signals almost simultaneously:
  • Look up toward the next destination.
  • Breathe in audibly and raise your body energy. Horses are very conscious about our breathing, so this can become an important signal if we use it consistently.
  • Run your outside hand gently up the rope toward halter to a point to which the horse responds by shifting his weight to step forward. This will eventually become a simple arm gesture without needing to touch the rope.
  • Step off with your outside leg (easier for horse to see).
  • Say ‘walk-on’ (or whatever voice signal you’ve decided). A voice signal is useful later when working at liberty, exercising on a long line, or guiding from behind, as in long-reining.

Our aim is to initiate the first intention of movement, then move in synchronization with the horse. It’s important not to move off without the horse, so losing our position beside the horse’s neck or shoulder.

People often tend to start walking without first inviting the horse to move in sync with them. The whole point of this exercise is to move forward together companionably, staying shoulder-to-shoulder.

  1. Each time you halt, you have another opportunity to practice the ‘walk on’ multi-signals. Each time you ‘walk on’, you have another opportunity to practice your ‘halt’ multi-signals.
  2. Every time you come to a destination marker, drop your hips and your energy, breathe out, say your voice signal and relax; click&treat. Pause, then politely use your ‘walk on’ multi-signal to ask the horse to walk forward with you to the next destination marker.
  3. It won’t take the horse long to realize that each destination marker is a ‘click point’. He will soon begin to look forward to reaching each destination. He will also begin to organize his body to halt efficiently. Horses love to know what will happen before it happens. Remember, they have four legs and a long body to organize, so begin your ‘halt’ signals well before you reach the destination.
  4. Many short sessions will show improvement in suppleness and body management more quickly than occasional long sessions.
  5. Be sure to teach this in both directions and on each side of the horse. Spending a little time on this, over many sessions, will build a lovely habit of walking with you on a loose rope.

In a way, although you have the horse on a rope, you are allowing him to self-shape the most efficient way to set himself up to halt at the next marker ready for his click/treat. Because the horse has worked out his way of halting for himself, he has more ‘ownership’ of the task.

Over time, walking together companionably will become a strongly established habit. As mentioned in Generalization 2. below, we can gradually introduce the ‘whoa’ as our click point, which means we can phase out using destination targets. The horse will comfortably walk with us until we signal for a ‘halt’. Of course, we must reliably reinforce each halt request with a click&treat.

GENERALIZATIONS:

  1. Gradually increase distances between destinations.
  2. Gradually introduce ‘whoa’ as the click&treat indicator to replace nose or foot targets. Start by asking for ‘whoa’ between destinations. (See ADDITIONAL RESOURCE 2. below.)
  3. Add objects and obstacles to your training spaces to walk through, across, over, weave among. (See ADDITIONAL RESOURCES 3. & 4. below.)
  4. Walk together at liberty. (See ADDITIONAL RESOURCE 1. below.)
  5. Walk together in different venues including public places with slopes, water, trees.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

  1. Clip: Walking Together at Liberty: https://youtu.be/fD5lWQa6wmo
  2. Clip: 20 Steps Exercise with halter & lead: https://youtu.be/kjH2pS1Kfr8
  3. Clip: Precision Leading: https://youtu.be/2vKe6xjpP6I
  4. Clip: Walk & Hock Gym: https://youtu.be/R62dP1_siaU
  5. Blog about mats: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TARGET FLEXIONS

INTRODUCTION:

This is one of those activities that we can do:

  • As part of a cool-down after active work.
  • As an interlude between other activities.
  • As an ‘end of session’ routine.
  • As purposeful gymnastics to help our horse keep flexible.
  • When it is too cold, hot, wet or windy to be out and about.
  • As a ‘stall rest’ activity as much as the recuperation allows.
  • When we feel low energy but want to do something with our horse.
  • The knee and hock targeting, done regularly, ensure adequate balance when we ask the horse to stand on three legs for foot care.

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  2. Horse is comfortable standing ‘parked’ with the handler standing and moving around the horse. A link to a post about relaxed ‘Parking’ is added at the end of this post.
  3. Handler has developed his/her ‘zero intent’ and ‘intent’ body language. Links are added at the end of this post.
  4. Horse confidently touches a variety of targets with his nose.
  5. We can teach targeting with the knees and hocks in the same way as outlined in the Targeting the Hindquarters to our Hand post. See the link at the end of this post.

ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:

  • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • A safe, enclosed area for working at liberty, if possible. Otherwise, halter and lead (kept loose or the rope safely draped over the horse’s neck).
  • A hand-held target on a long stick and a short target like a plastic bottle.
  • A familiar mat to park on when first teaching this.

AIMS:

  1. The horse moves his nose to touch a target held in different positions while keeping his feet still.
  2. Horse lifts his knees to touch a target.
  3. Horse lifts his hocks to touch a target.

VIDEO CLIP: #166 HorseGym with Boots TARGET FLEXION

Notes:

  1. What you see Boots doing in the video clip is a result of lots of very short sessions over a long time. I had to consciously improve the consistency of my body orientation and how I presented the target to make what I wanted as clear as possible for the horse.
  2. If the horse has been resting or contained, we must do a general overall body warm-up before asking for these flexions. Walking over rails and weaving obstacles make great warm-up exercises. If this is not possible, adjust your flexion expectations accordingly.

SLICES:

Neck Flexion High and Low

  1. As per prerequisite 2, ensure that the horse is totally comfortable standing parked while you move and stand in a variety of positions around his body.
  2. Ask the horse to stand squarely with his front feet on a familiar mat; click&treat.
  3. Let him know what game you are about to play by having him touch a familiar long-handled target held near his nose; click&treat.
  4. Gradually, making sure to stay within the boundary of the horse’s comfort zone for this type of activity, hold the target progressively a little higher while you stand facing him slightly to the left side of his nose; click&treat every time he touches the target.
  5. Ideally, do three or four repeats on each side of the horse, before moving to the other side.
  6. Repeat 4 holding the target progressively a little higher while you stand facing him slightly to the right side of his nose.
  7. You may not get a full upward stretch as Boots shows on the video clip until you’ve done it for several sessions, but on the other hand, you may get it quickly.
  8. Stay with 4, 5 and 6 until the horse is ho-hum with them.
  9. Then move on to progressively hold the target a bit lower to the ground; click&treat for each touch standing slightly to the left of his nose, then stretch out your arm so the horse’s nose stays straight in front is he lowers it.
  10. Repeat 9 standing slightly to the right of the horse’s nose.
  11. For each new session, begin with the upward stretches done previously, then add the downward stretches until the horse is ho-hum with them also

Lateral (Sideways) Neck Flexion

  1. Have the horse stand as squarely as possible.
  2. Present the target so the horse must bend his neck a little bit to the left toward his ribs to put his nose on it; click&treat. Repeat two or three times.
  3. Repeat 2 on the right side.
  4. Present the target so the horse must bend his neck to the left a little further to touch the target; click&treat. Repeat two or three times.
  5. Repeat 4 on the right side.
  6. Present the target so the horse must bend his neck to the left as far as he comfortably can to touch the target; click&treat. Repeat two or three times.
  7. Repeat 6 to the right.

How far a horse can bend his neck laterally will depend on a variety of factors such as age, health, overall fitness, frequency and type of flexion exercises, breed conformation, past injuries, arthritis, and so on. Healthy horses can reach around to scratch an itch on a lifted hock with their teeth. Observe carefully to find out how far the horse you are working with can reach in comparative comfort.

You may find considerable difference between the right and left sides if the horse has not been trained to accomplish a variety of exercises with either side of his body leading. Most horses have right or left dominance, just as people do.

If you adopt these flexion exercises and do them several times a week, or a few daily, you may notice increased suppleness in your horse if restrictions due to past injury or chronic conditions such as arthritis are not limiting factors.

  1. Once the extreme bend (however far that is for a particular horse) is going well on either side, ask for a bend to the left, then step behind the horse to his right side and ask for the extreme bend to the right before the click&treat.

Knee and Hock Flexion

1. At the start of each session of flexion work with a target, I ask the horse to put his nose on the target; click&treat. This lets him know what game we are playing.

2.  Teach ‘knee-to-target’ by touching the target gently above the horse’s knee; click&treat. Repeat several times.

If the horse thinks you want his nose on the target when it touches his leg above the knee, don’t click&treat. Remove the target out of sight behind you and take up the ‘no intent’ position for about three seconds. Then begin again. Repeat until the horse realizes that you are not asking for nose to target in this situation. The lack of click&treat gives him this information.

It may help the horse if you use a different, shorter target to teach ‘knee to target’.

3.  After several successful mini-sessions with 2 above, hold the target just a tiny bit above the horse’s knee and see if the horse will lift his knee to make the contact; click&treat the instant he does. The basic technique is the same as in my clip, Targeting the Hindquarters to our Hand to which there is a link at the end of this post. Some horses will pick up the idea quickly and some will need many days of quiet, relaxed, short repeats. A clip about teaching ‘Target Chin to Hand‘ posted at the end, may also be helpful.

4.  Repeat on the horse’s other side.

5.  Once 3 and 4 above are ho-hum, teach ‘hock-to-target’ in the same way, using your long-handled target. Mixing up knee and hock too soon can lead to confusion, so keep the daily focus on the knee targeting only (on both sides of the horse) until your orientation and signals are truly consistent and the horse shows he is truly confident by being 99% accurate with his responses. Then change your focus to hock-targeting and stick with only that until it is ho-hum. Then you can begin to ask them in random order.

Head Between Legs Flexion

For this, a shorter target like the plastic bottle I use in the video clip is easier to use than a long-handled target.

  1. Ask the horse to stand squarely.
  2. Ask him to touch the target with his nose while you hold it down and straight in front of him; click&treat when he touches it. Be sure to keep your head to the side of the horse’s head so you don’t get knocked in case he brings his head up quickly.
  3. When 2 is good, switch to holding the target forward between his front legs. You may need to wiggle it a bit to get his attention. Click&treat the moment he puts his nose or whiskers on the target.
  4. Present the target between his front legs standing on either side of the horse. Two or three of these per session is plenty.

Links to other resources:

This video clip looks at making the horse feel comfortable staying parked on a mat while we move into different orientations around him: Challenge: Park and Wait: https://youtu.be/UvjKr9_U0ys

This video clip looks at teaching targeting the chin to our hand, which is a nice way to introduce the whole idea of targeting body parts to our hand or a target. https://youtu.be/Fsigp8wB0LU

Blog: Targeting Hindquarters to our Hand: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5Tk

Blog: Using Mats for Targeting and Stationing and Much more: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5S9

Blog: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO