Tag Archives: cues

Resetting Tasks

We first played with this task at liberty and Boots scared herself when her leg touched the pipe on her left as she backed into the space. She jumped forward.
She jumped forward a step or two and then stopped. I was standing well back (you can just see the toe of my shoe) in case this happened.
We quietly reset the task with the help of halter and lead, with click&treat for each step back and she quickly regained her confidence. I’m standing to the side in case she feels the need to suddenly come forward.

The task above is a good one to prepare a horse for being restricted behind, as in a horse trailer. It is also a task for preparing a horse to back between cart shafts.

Rather than correct something that did not go well, we learn to reset* a task without placing a negative value judgement on what the horse just did. This makes a huge difference to how horses perceive their training.

While he is learning a new task, a horse can’t be wrong, because he does not yet know what you want.

Clicker-savvy* horses often don’t want their sessions to end. The positive vibrations that go with good clicker training make it fun rather than a chore.

Clicker training gives us a way to let the horse know instantly, by the sound of the marker signal* (click), when he is right. It takes away much of the guessing horses must do as they strive to read our intent* (which is often fuzzy to them).

A horse’s perceptions and world view are quite different from human perception and world view. While we are with our horse, the more closely we can align our world view with that of the horse, the easier it is for him to understand us and comply with our requests.

There is much more about this in my book: Conversations with Horses: An In-depth look at the Signals & Cues between Horses and their Handlers available as an e-book or a paperback.

Counting with the Front Feet

Introduction

You may have heard the story about a horse called Hans who could add, subtract, multiply and divide. I think it was eventually found that Hans responded to eyebrow signals from his person to let him know when he should start and stop lifting his foot.

My horse, Boots, and I won’t reach such a level of sophistication, but teaching ‘counting’ can be fun. It also forced me to refine and clarify the way I presented my signals, as well as improve the timing of my ‘click’.

Leg lifts without moving are a good way to play with mobilization. Viewing the video clips, I notice that lifting one leg engages her whole body.

‘Counting’ is a game we developed over many months with several starts and stops to focus on other things. It’s an engaging game when the weather is too hot, wet, windy, or cold to be out and about.

The key, as for most of equine clicker training, is to have two or three-minute sessions over many, many days. By keeping it short, the horse begins to look forward to the new game (trick) as a relatively easy way to earn clicks&treats.

Developing Boots’ Individual Education Program* for ‘Counting’ helped me:

  • Be more aware of deciding and stabilizing my body orientation, which is a key part of any signal.
  • Refine the nature and energy of my signal.
  • Improve the timing for when I turn the signal on and off.
  • Remember to take up my ‘zero intent*’ position to wait for the horse to tell me when she is ‘ready to repeat’ (Consent Signals*) [Items with an asterisk {*} are described in the GLOSSARY which you can access at the top of the page.
  • Relax when the horse attends to external distractions and wait for her to bring her attention back to me.

This exercise is an extension of tasks we did to create confidence with standing on three legs for hoof care. Detail is available in my book, Confident Foot Care using Reward Reinforcement.

Once Boots lifted a leg when I pointed to it, it was not a big leap to ask for two lifts in a row before the click&treat*. She is presently on her way to counting to ten. Which lets us have fun doing simple math questions when the grandchildren visit.

Aim

To have the horse understand a signal for lifting a front leg (either one) and able to repeat the lifting up to ten times on request (number is optional) before a click&treat.

Prerequisites

  1. Horse and handler are clicker-savvy.
  2. Handler uses clear body language to indicate ‘intent’ and ‘zero intent’. Click here.
  3. Horse is relaxed about foot care and willingly lifts his feet for cleaning/trimming. Or this task can be part of improving balance on three legs.
  4. Horse has developed one or more ‘Consent Signals*’ to let the handler know when he is ready to go ahead with current task. Click here.
  5. Horse understands touching a target with his nose, his knee, and his foot. #89 HorseGym with Boots: Balance on Three Legs looks at foot targeting. Click here.

Videos

MATERIALS AND ENVIRONMENT

  • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • The horse is not hungry.
  • A space where the horse stands relaxed and confident.
  • A safe fence (not electrified or wire) or similar barrier.
  • A target safe for foot targeting and easy to handle. I find a piece of cloth slipped into the leather end loop of an old riding crop makes a nice lightweight target. Something bulky like a pool noodle is harder to hold and harder to remove from view so it is ‘take it out of play’.
  • A rail on the ground may be helpful in some cases.

Notes

  1. Using props when we begin a new task makes it much easier for the horse to understand what to do to earn his next click&treat. Use of well-planned props takes us halfway to achieving our aim.
  2. Once the horse understands the task, we gradually fade out the props.
  3. Pawing is not the same as counting with a discreet signal from you for each ‘number’ counted. If pawing becomes an issue, repeated (over many short sessions) click&treat for ONE lift of the foot may make it clearer for the horse.
  4. Each session (once we can count more than ONE, I start with click&treat for ONE, and work up the numbers to our present limit.
  5. I like to encourage the horse to use both front feet for the counting. Boots sometimes uses both and sometimes mostly one foot. Using both gives better distribution of the muscle movement throughout the body.
  6. HANDLER SKILL: Your horse may begin to offer foot lifts once you’ve started this game. Boots does it in the video clips. This ‘offering’ is precious. It shows you that the horse understands the game and is volunteering to start. If I’m ready, I count such an ‘offer’ as ONE and begin to signal for TWO and so on.
  7. HANDLER SKILL: Click as the horse is in the act of lifting his foot. Good timing is not always easy and can always be improved. Don’t worry if you don’t get it exactly right each time. Focus on the upward movement of the foot. Once you are conscious of this, and with practice, our timing gets better.
  8. HANDLER SKILL: Carefully check your body orientation to keep it the same each time you begin to ask for ‘counting’. Horses are super aware of how our body is orientated. Consistent orientation is a large part of signal clarity.
  9. HANDLER SKILL: Ensure that you always use the hand closest to the horse to give the ‘lift foot’ signal. Which hand you use is highly significant to the horse. I use the hand furthest from the horse to give signals for ‘hip away’ and ‘hip toward me’.
  10. HANDLER SKILL: The signal for each ‘foot lift’ is an ON-OFF signal.
  11. HANDLER SKILL: As you click, remove the target to behind your body to consciously take it ‘out of play’ – the OFF part of the signal. When you present it again for the next ‘repeat’ it will catch the horse’s attention and be your ON signal.
  12. HANDLER SKILL: I begin the task by using a voice signal. I say, “Counting – Fronts” and quietly count each foot lift, exaggerating my voice for the number I will click. Boots has learned that while I say the number softly, she will need to do another one – in other words, she listens for my loud, happy final number plus click. I’m also teaching her to count with the back feet, where I start by saying, “Counting – Rear” and my body orientation is quite different.
  13. HANDLER SKILL: In the clips you will notice that occasionally Boots pauses. She is not being slow or stubborn, she is thinking. Be sure to give your horse ample thinking time and sometimes they like a bit of time to enjoy their last treat before resuming the game.
  14. HANDLER SKILL: Always click before you reach for the treat or the horse will learn to watch your hand rather than focus on what you are teaching. This is especially important for this task because your hand moving slightly forward with a finger wiggling will become the ON signal as you fade out the target prop.
  15. HANDLER SKILL: Feed the treat away from your body. Try to position your treat hand so the horse straightens his head to retrieve the treat.
  16. HANDLER SKILL: If the horse is distracted, wait with ‘zero intent*’ body language until the horse brings his attention back to you – hopefully using a ‘consent’ signal*. Sometimes the waiting feels like a long time, but it is usually only a few seconds. Pay attention to whatever has caught the horse’s attention by looking at it keenly, then breathe out deeply. This shows the horse that you have noticed his concern but are not worried about it.
  17. HANDLER SKILL: Teach everything on either side of the horse. One side may feel more difficult. The horse may be less comfortable with you on one side. We are usually less smooth giving signals when we use the non-dominant side of our body. I like to teach each slice of this task on both sides before moving on to the next slice. While the horse is learning, I am learning to be more particular about everything mentioned in these notes.
  18. HANDLER SKILL: Stay with X-number of leg lifts until it feels like the horse is ho-hum with that number (even if you stay at ONE or TWO for what feels like ages. Nothing derails our training as quickly as going faster than the horse is able to absorb each new slice and put it into deep memory.
  19. HANDLER SKILL: If you get a nice series of ‘counting’, resist the natural urge to ‘do it again to see if we can do it again’. Stop when it feels really nice and wait until your next session.

Slices

  1. If you already have a space where the horse stands comfortably relaxed, start with Slice 2. If not, we first need to establish a place we can use consistently for teaching this task. One way is to ensure your horse is comfortable standing between a safe fence and a rail on the ground. Walk him through the space in both directions. Then halt in the space; click&treat, in both directions. The fence and rail help show the horse that you don’t want him to move sideways. When he is relaxed in the space, start with Slice 2.
  2. Set the scene to let the horse know that ‘targeting’ is the game of the moment by asking him to target his nose, a knee, then a front foot to your target.
  3. Repeat touching the foot to the target ONCE with a click&treat each time. Somewhere between three and five repeats is plenty at one time. (See The Rule of Three. Click here. )
  4. When the horse readily lifts his foot once, ask for twice before the click&treat.
  5. When the horse readily ‘counts’ to TWO, ask for THREE before the click and treat.
  6. And so on, to as high a number as you like, always staying within the horse’s ability and interest level.
  7. As you reach a higher number (over five), the horse may pause more often to think. He may be thinking about which foot to lift next.
  8. When it feels like the horse has a good understanding of the task, gradually introduce a finger wiggle with the hand holding the target. Horse peripheral vision is magic at picking up movement, so they will notice the finger wiggle easily.
  9. Gradually lessen the movement of the target stick toward the horse as you wiggle your finger. Eventually you’ll realize that you no longer need the target stick – that your hand/finger movement is the signal.
  10. Remember, bringing your hand forward and the wiggling your finger is your ON signal. Put your hand ‘away’ and out of play as your OFF signal. Then when you bring your hand with wiggling finger forward again, the horse will notice it as your ON signal to do another ‘count’.

Generalizations

  1. When the horse is ho-hum about his ‘counting’ task in the familiar spot you have been using, move to different venues. You may want to begin with fence and rail props in a new venue. Horses let us know when the props are no longer needed.
  2. At some point you can begin to mix up the number you ask for – sometimes THREE, sometimes FIVE, occasionally SEVEN, and so on.