One horse may learn to sniff his halter (click&treat) and put his head in the halter (click&treat) in less than two minutes. Another horse may take weeks of short sessions to just approach a halter lying on the ground or hanging on a fence. An Individual Education Program (IEP) for such a horse might be sliced to include click&treat for each of the slices outlined below.
We stay with each slice until the horse is ho-hum with it.
One main element of teaching like this is that the handler maintains a relaxed attitude and observes the horse closely to see when he’s had enough for one session. The sessions are usually very short – maybe three minutes. Ideally three sets of two-three minutes among other things being done with or around the horse during any one visit.
A second main element is for the handler to keep a relaxed, consistent body position, orientation and way of presenting the halter (hoop) during the teaching/learning stage. Our focus is on what the horse CAN do (click&treat), not on what he can’t do YET.
We start with teaching the most basic prerequisite behavior. When the horse clearly understands our request for that behavior (which could take a couple of minutes or up to many, many sessions), we add in the next ‘slice’ of behavior that will lead to our ultimate goal.
We can and should move on when:
- The way we give the signal is consistent and clear (e.g., put our right arm over his neck and hold the halter open so the horse can put his nose into it).
- The horse presents the behavior we want 99% of the time (when we hold the halter open, he puts his nose into it).
- The horse does not add in any unwanted behavior (e.g. running away first, chewing on the halter).
If the situation becomes confused, it is usually because we have not cut the whole task into thin enough slices. Although we have an ultimate goal, the ultimate goal is not where we put our attention. Our attention is directed at each ‘slice’ or mini-skill.
Mastering these one by one and linking them together, as the horse is ready, will seamlessly bring us to our ultimate goal – the whole task that we thin-sliced at the beginning is performed smoothly with one click&treat at the end.
When confusion arises (in either the horse or the handler or both), it is essential to return to previous work until we find the ‘slice’ at which both the horse and the handler can regain their confidence. Then we simply work forward again from that point. This is Mastery Learning. Each small part is mastered before moving on to the next part.
By slicing the overall goal small enough, we can gradually create a positive association with a halter.
If the horse is wary about the look of a halter, for whatever reason, we can replace it with a small hula hoop or similar made with a piece of hose.
- The horse looks toward the halter/hoop.
- The horse steps even the tiniest step toward the halter/hoop (Note that for very anxious horses, we can provide encouragement by putting the halter/hoop beside a familiar dish of feed or a pile of hay. In other words, we use complementary motivating environmental signals to help initiate a response that we can click&treat).
- He confidently touches his nose to the halter/hoop.
- As 3. when the halter/hoop is in different places.
- As 3. when the halter/hoop is in a person’s hand.
- Confidence when the halter/hoop in the hand is moved.
- Confidence with allowing himself to be touched on the neck with the halter/hoop.
- Confident with the halter/hoop touching his face.
- Confident with the handler putting and resting one arm up over his neck.
At this point we may want to teach the horse to be proactive about putting his nose into the halter/hoop. Something like a small hula hoop is easier to hold into position to teach the idea of dropping the nose into the hoop/halter.
#65 HorseGym with Boots illustrates. In this clip I cut out the chewing and waiting time between trials to make the clip shorter, but didn’t really like the result as much as if I had left them all in, which would give a better overview of the pace of the session.
It’s easier to hold a small hoop when we first teach the horse to drop his head into an opening. This will eventually be the nosepiece of a halter. I also have to build confidence about having my right arm lying across the horse’s neck.
Eventually we can click&treat the following slices.
- When the horse moves his head toward the hoop.
- When the horse moves his head to the left and drops his nose into the hoop.
- When we can lift the hoop up toward his eyes and take it away again.
- When we can lift the hoop up over his eyes and take it away again.
- When we can lift the hoop past his ears and take it away again.
- When we can lift the hoop over his ears and lay it on his neck and take it away again.
- When we can do the steps above with a halter rather than a hoop.
- When we can slip on the halter and lay the halter strap behind his ears and take it away again.
- When we can hold the halter strap in position for longer.
- When we can do up the halter strap and undo it again and take the halter off.
- When we can put on the halter and leave it on for a short time.
- When we can put the halter on and take it off two or three times in a row.