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.
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?
- 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.
- Helps proprioception (awareness of where feet are, what they are doing and how much effort is involved).
- Builds into a full turn on the forequarters.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Horse smoothly steps across a rail. (See Number 18 in my Blog Contents List.)
- 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.)
#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.
- 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.
- Stay with each slice until it feels smooth and easy for both of you.
- 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.
- If one side is harder/stiffer, do a bit extra on that side, over many sessions, until both sides feel even.
- Keep the sessions short, three – five minutes maximum. This is quite a demanding, concentrated task.
- 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.
- Walk the horse across a rail to park his front feet on a mat. Click&treat.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- For a few sessions, stay with achieving one good step under and across, on both sides of the horse.
- When the time feels right, remove the mat, and ask for two steps. Stay with two steps (on either side) for a few sessions.
- At some point the rail behind and the fence in front will become redundant.
- 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.
- When half circles feel easy, ask for a full turn (360 degrees). Celebrate.
- Ask for the task in different places.
- 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.