Tag Archives: gesture signals

Placing the Feet using a Single Rail

INTRODUCTION

In the photo above we are using a line of 5-liter containers as our ‘rail’.

This is another exercise that helps a horse with proprioception – knowing where his feet are, what they are doing, and how much energy is required.

Equally, it is a superb exercise for the handler to refine communication skills. All training with a horse is about building a mutual language. If we are consistent with our body language and energy changes, the horse will use these as his main cues for following our lead. For further refinement we add gesture signals and perhaps voice signals.

Sometimes people think, “Oh, I’ll try that”. They do an exercise once or twice and think that it’s ‘done’. They totally miss the point that exercises like this are little workouts for both handler and horse that need to be done often, always stiving for more refinement of handler communication until it feels like magic with the horse at liberty.

For this exercise there are five different basic tasks, but since we do them in the horse’s left and right eyes, we have ten tasks. Then we consolidate the tasks by doing them in two directions for each eye, giving us a total of 20 tasks.

Once the five basic tasks are mastered, there are eight refinements we can add. Doing these on either side of the horse gives a total of 16 refinements.

This series of tasks also makes a good warm-up or cool-down exercise. And they can be stretching and accuracy exercises if time is short to do other things.

AIMS:  

  1. Handler works on using clear, smooth ‘walk on’, ‘halt’, ‘wait’ and ‘back up’ signals using a single rail as a focal point.
  2. Handler uses ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ body language to create short WAIT times between requests.
  3. Horse develops confidence with walking across a rail (or similar).
  4. Horse gains confidence standing with a rail (or similar) under his belly.
  5. Horse practices placing his feet carefully in response to handler signals.

PREREQUISITES:

  1. Horse leads smoothly beside the handler’s shoulder. See Number 68 in my Blog Contents List. The link for my Blog Contents List is at the top of the page.
  2. Handler and horse agree on ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ signals. See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List.
  3. Handler and horse agree on clear ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ signals. See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List.
  4. Handler is aware of The Rule of Three. See number 46 in my Blog Contents List.
  5. Horse and handler agree on a back-up signal, either with the handler turning to face the horse – See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List, or the handler staying in the shoulder-to-shoulder position – See the first clip in Number 32 in my Blog Contents List.
  6. Handler knows to stay with each small task until it is ho-hum, before asking for a different task.

VIDEOS: 

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

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

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 single rail or several single rails (or similar) laid out a good distance apart.
  • Halter and lead or liberty. A light, shorter lead is easier to manage.

NOTES:

  1. A little bit of these tasks during one training session is plenty. If it’s all done quietly with no fuss or drilling, the horse will think on it and remember what behaviors earn a click&treat. The Rule of Three can be useful.
  2. Asking a horse to lift a front foot to back across a rail means that he is moving it back against the pressure of his whole body which is not easy. Ignore any touching of the rail at this stage as the horse draws a leg back. Frequent short practices will strengthen the muscles and ligaments so lifting the foot up and back becomes easier for the horse.
  3. To help the horse strengthen, and maintain the strength, to lift his feet easily, we can lay a raised rail or similar in a gateway that the horse uses regularly during his everyday life. I’ve done this with two gates, and it seems to do a good job at helping to maintain suppleness. I leave a small gap for my wheelbarrow to squeeze through.
  4. When confusion arises, it is because we are not clear enough or are going faster than the horse is able to absorb the new learning. Horses working for a food reward are usually super-observant of all our body language as well as carefully taught and executed voice and gesture signals. We must continually strive to ‘speak’ clearly with our body language, orientation and gestures every time we request an action (or inaction). Otherwise, the horse will only ‘hear’ a mumble and be confused, just as a person mumbling to us is frustrating and makes us give up trying to understand.
  5. Once all the tasks are going smoothly, we can mix them up in any order, which teaches us to be crystal clear for the horse and has the horse watch us carefully to pick up the next signal that will lead to a click&treat.
  6. When we use the less dominant side of our body, our body language and gesture signals tend to be less clear until we become super conscious of what we are doing. If you are right-handed and haven’t usually done much on your horse’s right side, there will be a lot of learning going on for both of you.
  7. I find it useful to take written memo cards out with me when first doing a series of moves like this.
  8. In-between moving, build it WAIT time before asking for the next movement. I.e., MOVEMENT – WAIT (x number of seconds) – MOVEMENT.
  9. In the video clips I only show each request once to keep the clip short. When in the teaching (acquisition*) phase, three repeats in a row is usually a good number to work with.
  10. If the horse finds one of the slices difficult, spend as many short sessions as necessary to build his confidence before asking for anything new.

SLICES:

  1. Walk right over the rail, halt a few paces beyond the rail, click&treat. Walk a loop and repeat a couple more times. Or you could have more than one rail laid out in your training area and walk to each rail in turn to get the repeats. I used one rail in the video clips for ease of filming with a set camera.
  2. Halt with the rail under the horse’s belly, click&treat; pause for a WAIT, walk on forward over the rail, walk a loop (or move to next rail) so you can repeat a couple of times.
  3. Halt and WAIT before stepping over the rail, click&treat; pause and WAIT, walk on over the rail and into your loop or on to the next rail.
  4. Halt immediately after all four feet have stepped over the rail, click&treat; pause and WAIT, walk on into your loop or to the next rail.
  5. Halt with the rail under the horse’s belly, click&treat. Pause and WAIT, ask the horse to back his front feet across the rail, click&treat; pause, walk on forward over the rail. Be gentle teaching this. If you have taught a ‘Lift’ voice signal for foot care it can be useful here.
  6. Repeat 1-5 above but this time approach the rail(s) from the opposite direction.
  7. Repeat 1-5 above walking on the horse’s right side.
  8. Repeat 7 above (on his right side) in the opposite direction.

GENERALIZATIONS:

  1. Work in different venues.
  2. Repeat slices 1-5 trotting.
  3. Play at liberty once you’ve built up good communication for each task.
  4. Work on a slope.

ONE RAIL REFINEMENTS

  1. Walk all four feet over the rail and halt. Back only the hind feet over the rail; wait; walk forward again.
  2. Walk all four feet over the rail and halt. Ask the hind feet to back over the rail, then the front feet.
  3. Approach the rail but turn in front of the rail to set up the horse to halt/wait with his hind feet at the rail but not over it.
  4. As 3 above, then ask the horse to back all four feet across the rail.
  5. If you’ve taught sidestepping (see Number 29 in by Blog Contents List), ask the horse to step his front feet over the rail at one end and sidestep along the rail. If you are facing the horse’s ribs ask him to sidestep away from you. You can also ask him to sidestep toward you if you’ve taught this previously. You can also build a signal for sidestepping along a rail while you are face-to-face with the horse.
  6. Straddle the rail. See Number 67 in my Blog Contents List.
  7. Ask one front foot to stand across the rail and WAIT. See if you can do it with either foot. Then either ask the horse to lift the foot back over the rail or walk on forward.
  8. Back one hind foot over the rail and wait in that position; walk forward. Work to be able to do this with either hind foot.

Mainly, HAVE FUN developing your communication skills.

The WAIT Game

Introduction

Once we have taught our horse to park on a mat, we can begin to teach WAIT. WAIT is parking with duration. Along with duration, we can teach WAIT while we go further and further away from the horse.

We can then generalize by asking the horse to:

  • Wait in unusual places including over, between or on obstacles.
  • Wait to be invited through gates, into and out of wash-bays and stalls.
  • Wait as a way to explain ‘being tied up’ to the horse.
  • Wait for mounting/dismounting or harnessing/unharnessing.
  • Wait while we go out of sight.
  • Wait to enter a trailer/truck and wait to be asked to exit a trailer/truck.
  • Wait during husbandry care – grooming, tending feet, vet procedures.
  • Wait while we adjust our camera position.
  • Wait while we move around obstacles we are using for training.
  • Wait anytime and anywhere. Maybe paired with ground-tying.
  • Wait while we talk to another person.
  • Wait for our turn at a competition.

AIM

Horse and handler agree on WAIT signals and horse is able to WAIT in a variety of situations.

PREREQUISITES

Horse understands that going to a mat yields a click&treat. https://youtu.be/xMaZWt5gK2o

Horse is keen to target feet to a variety of mats in a variety of venues. https://youtu.be/GotLjG8931I

Generalizing mats to different places.

https://youtu.be/wdptBQ0EtK4

VIDEOS

Park and Wait: https://youtu.be/UvjKr9_U0ys

The horse can’t be wrong when he is learning something new. We have simply not YET explained what we want clearly enough in a way that he can understand. Never make him feel wrong if he needs to move.

Wait: https://youtu.be/ktwTUGvXNwM

Once it is solid with halter and lead, it is fun to generalize to liberty.
An older clip from when Boots was first learning this.

Parking out of Sight: https://youtu.be/X4rmbVvE6nw

You can see that Boots is not yet comfortable with me staying out of sight for long. We are in her paddock, not somewhere strange and new.

TARGET SHOULDER TO HAND

INTRODUCTION:

In the photo above Boots is leaning her weight toward me to connect with my hand which I held a small distance away from her shoulder.

Teaching the horse a signal to target his shoulder to our hand fits in nicely after we have taught him a signal to yield his shoulder away from us.

PREREQUISITES:

  • Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
  • Horse is mat-savvy.
  • Horse is comfortable standing ‘parked’ with the handler standing alongside. To review, check out my ‘Using Mats’ blog.
  • Handler has developed his/her ‘zero intent’ and ‘intent’ body language. To review, see the clip #153 HorseGym with Boots: Zero Intent and Intent toward the end of this blog or check out the ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’ blog.

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 (kept loose) and a safe, enclosed area for working at liberty, if possible.
  • Mat.
  • For generalization, a hoop, ground rail, mounting block or similar.

AIM:

Horse confidently moves his left or right shoulder toward the handler’s ‘outstretched hand’ gesture signal.

Video Clip:  #160 HorseGym with Boots: TARGET SHOULDER TO HAND

 

Note:

When we request the shoulder to yield away, we project energy at the horse’s shoulder from our body’s core at the belly-button which causes our posture to be upright.

When we request the shoulder to move toward us, it is important to pull our belly-button back so that we create a ‘draw toward me’ energy with our whole body. Horses are so sensitive to advancing and receding energy from another body, that they easily read the intent of our posture as long as we are totally consistent and not sloppy.

SLICES:

Stay with each slice until it feels ho-hum and smooth for both of you.

Make each session extremely short, 2-3 minutes. The magic is not in the final result as much as it is in the process of helping the horse figure it out.

  1. Ask the horse to park squarely; click&treat.
  2. Take up a position shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse and relax; click&treat. Work up to standing together quietly for five seconds before the click&treat, on each side of the horse.
  3. Reach out the flat back of your hand to lightly touch the horse’s shoulder; click&treat the moment your hand makes contact.
  4. Take up the ‘no intent’ or ‘zero intent’ body position and wait to see if the horse is okay for you to carry on. If he continues to stand in a relaxed manner, he is probably okay to carry on, or you may have sorted out one or more ‘okay to proceed’ signals.

ZERO or ‘NO’ INTENT POSITION

  1. Repeat 3 and 4 above, watching for any weight shift the horse makes toward your hand as you move it toward his shoulder. If he does, celebrate hugely with happy words and a jackpot or triple treat. Avoid the urge to see if he will do it again. Wait until your next session.
  2. When you feel the time is right, hold your hand a tiny distance away from touching the shoulder and WAIT for the horse to shift his weight to make the contact; click&treat. Some horses may step toward you to make the contact right away. For either one, celebrate hugely once again. Maybe do it once or twice more to consolidate the idea.
  3. It took Boots a couple of weeks of daily mini-sessions before she consistently leaned toward my hand to make the contact. Then it took more days before she confidently stepped toward my hand when I held it further away.
  4. Decide whether you want to continue teaching on the side you started with, or if you want to teach slices 1-6 on the other side of the horse before proceeding.
  5. When 6 is ho-hum, gradually hold your hand a little bit further away so the horse must take a sideways step to contact your hand; click&treat.
  6. Whenever the response seems slow or unsure (or is missing), go back to touch the shoulder; click&treat. Then work forward again at a rate that keeps the horse being continually successful as much as possible.
  7. When starting a new session, always introduce the task with a shoulder touch; click&treat, to let the horse know which game you are playing.
  8. Work to having the response equally smooth on either side of the horse.
  9. If the horse is mat-savvy, lay a mat beside the horse to act as a destination. Place the mat so the horse takes one step over to reach it. Gradually increase the distance to get two steps, then three steps.

GENERALIZATIONS:

  1. Turn on the haunches: ask the horse to step around to complete one/quarter of a circle (90 degrees). When that is smooth, work toward 180 degrees, and finally a full turn on the haunches (360 degrees). It can take a while to build confidence to do more than a quarter or half circle keeping the hind feet relatively in one place.
  2. Repeat 1 above on the other side of the horse. Because our bodies and the horse’s body are asymmetrical, one side is usually easier. It helps to do a bit more on the harder side until, after lots of short sessions, both sides feel smooth.
  3. Add a hoop (made so it comes apart if it catches on the horse’s leg) to the turn on the haunches exercise. This increases the level of difficulty, so start at the beginning with just one step and work up very gradually. Be careful not to make the horse feel wrong if he steps out of the hoop with a hind foot. If he does step out, quietly walk away together and return for a reset. The video clip demonstrates where I got too greedy, wanting too much, and it blew Boots’ confidence for a while.
  4. Keep each session super short and celebrate each new success hugely. This exercise enhances foot awareness.
  5. Stand the horse with his hind end nearer the mounting block than his shoulder, step on the block and ask him to bring his shoulder over so he is in the mounting position.
  6. If you want to focus on the horse moving toward you in a straight line, rather than in a circular pattern as above, stand the horse over a rail and see if he will bring his hind end along. If not, leave moving straight for now until you teach the ‘ribs toward me’ lessons.
  7. When shoulder to hand is smooth, start again at the beginning with ‘ribs to hand’. Follow the exact same procedure but start with a touch to the center of the ribs instead of the shoulder.