To teach sidestepping, we carefully and quietly add the forequarter yield and the hindquarter yield together until the horse is able to move sideways in a straight line.
Teaching willing hindquarter yields on request is one of the essentials for safety around horses. Anything unexpected can cause serious harm around the most benign horse. A willing hindquarter yield eases daily care and husbandry, especially around gates, stables, or any tight space.
Teaching the forequarter yield makes it easy to ask our horse to stand in the best position for foot care, grooming or saddling. Teaching these yields on both sides of the horse aids in strengthening proprioception.
Proprioception is an animal’s clear perception about where various body parts are, what they are doing, and the amount of energy needed to carry out a specific activity.
Sportspeople tend to have much better proprioception than people who spend most of their times sitting. Horses raised in flat paddocks and stables lack the proprioception evident in horses who grew up moving extensively in rugged, hilly country.
When our horse can co-ordinate the front-end and hind-end yields to smoothly sidestep on one plane, his proprioception will have improved considerably. Some horses almost fall over when first asked to step across sideways with a front foot, so we have to be gentle and take the time it takes with short, frequent sidestepping sessions.
In horse language, yielding the quarters seems to be an appeasement action. The horse is willing to shift his personal space away from you. Horses with a relatively timid or anxious nature are usually quick to grant you this space.
Horses with a bold or exuberant nature may be less willing (or extremely resistant) when this task is first introduced. They are more prepared to ‘stand their ground’. Who moves whose feet is highly significant in the horse word. Much the same is true for people.
How readily a horse sidesteps on request depends on his innate nature, his opinion of the handler and how he is being (or has been) taught the tasks.
- Handler has taught or revised clear ‘Yield Forequarters’ and ‘Yield Hindquarters’ signals with touch, gesture and body language intent.
- Horse responds readily and confidently to ‘Yield Forequarters’ and ‘Yield Hindquarters’ signals.
Forequarter Yield: April 2018 Challenge: https://youtu.be/eSlin8ZYcRA
Hindquarter Yield: May 2018 Challenge: https://youtu.be/AkjIT8Tjxw0
ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:
- Work area where the horse is relaxed.
- Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
- Safe fences or other barrier to inhibit forward movement and to generalize the task.
- Ground rails and raised rails for generalizing the task.
- Depending on what you choose to do: halter and lead or safe enclosed area for working at liberty.
- Horse warmed up with a few active tasks before asking for these yields.
To have the horse willingly yield six to eight steps sideways away from the handler, in a variety of contexts.
GETTING STARTED WITH A BARRIER IN FRONT:
SLICES (Illustrated in Clip 1)
- Ask the horse to halt facing a safe fence: click&treat.
- Repeat a few times until you are both comfortable and confident doing this.
- If you can, practice at a variety of different fences or other barriers to generalize this first part of the task and make it ho-hum.
- Teach all the slices on both sides of the horse. One side is often easier. Do a bit more with the harder side until both sides feel the same.
- When 1 above is easy and relaxed, while the horse is standing facing the fence:
- Focus strongly on his hip. Use touch or gesture to quietly ask the horse to yield the hindquarters one step: click&treat.
- Try to click the moment the near hind leg passes in front of the far hind leg.
- Walk away from the fence together to a relaxation spot (mat, hoop, nose target): click and treat.
- Repeat a few times, walking to the relaxation spot after each yield, or walk to another barrier and repeat the task there.
- When 2 is easy and relaxed, repeat the procedure but this time ask the horse to yield his forequarters: click&treat.
- Clearly direct your focus plus touch or gesture signal toward his front-end. Click&treat for one step over. Ideally click just as the near foot crosses in front of the far foot.
- Walk away for a break or head to a different barrier to repeat, as you did in 2.
- Start with either 2 or 3 above, whichever feels better for you and your horse.
- Some horses may do these yields smoothly after one session.
- Others may take many sessions over many days.
- When 2 and 3, done individually, are smooth and ho-hum, we can begin to put them together.
- Vary which end you ask to yield first.
- We still click&treat for each yield, but right after the click&treat for the first yield, we ask for the other end to yield (click&treat).
- Now we will ask for front end plus hind end BEFORE the click&treat. This part is illustrated at the beginning of Clip 2.
- Stay with this slice for several short sessions until you are sure the horse is comfortable with it – often there is a bit of tail swishing, blinking and chewing as the horse is figuring something out.
- After a good effort, it pays not to do it again right away. A triple treat or a wee break walking to a target or a spot of grazing helps the horse realize that what he did was what you wanted.
- Be sure not to ‘drill’. We don’t want to lose the horse’s interest or enthusiasm to do it again.
- Once we have the horse easily moving both ends on request, with one click&treat after both have moved, we can begin to ask for additional steps sideways.
- Ask for two sets of sideways steps before the click&treat. Stay with this slice until it is smooth.
- Ask for three or four sets of sideways steps. Stay with this slice until it is smooth.
- This is hard work for the horse, so build up his strength to do more sidestepping gradually until he can easily do six to eight steps.
- Sidestepping is a great suppling exercise when the horse is warmed up.
Clips 2, 3 and 4 look at generalizations
- The first generalization was to ensure that the horse could stand comfortably in front of a variety of barriers.
- The generalizations after achieving part 7 above all serve to help the horse become more fluid with the sidestepping task and to put it into his long-term muscle memory.
- With each new generalization, start right at the beginning with a high rate of reinforcement. Gradually work toward the point at which the horse easily does 6-8 sidesteps with one click&treat at the end.
- It’s important to be consistent with our gesture, voice, touch and body language signals, despite the different obstacles in use. Once the horse understands what I am asking, I add a voice signal, which for us is “Across” because we use “Over” for jumping things.
Generalizations on the video clips include:
- Between two rails.
- Rail under the horse’s belly.
- Half-barrels under the horse’s belly.
- Toward a barrier such as tall cones, (or a fence, a wall, the side of a horse trailer).
- Toward a mat or a hoop.
- Toward a mounting block.
- Without a barrier in front.
- With handler face to face with the horse.
- Around a square of rails (possibilities are: front feet in box, hind feet in box, no feet in box, whole horse in box).
- Straddle a rail.