Tag Archives: thin-slicing

Mat Madness

In the photo above, I’ve asked Boots to put all four feet onto our plywood mat.

With so many new people taking up equine clicker training, I will find some of my favorite blogs from years ago when I started sharing them. The first video clip below demonstrates 22 different tasks we can play using a mat as a focal point. A mat allows us to have a specific conversation with our horse. If we have an exact idea of what we’d like, it is easier to shape the horse toward our goal and reinforce him for each small slice toward the goal behavior. Some further relevant YouTube clips are listed at the end.

Different types of mats are best suited to particular tasks. In this clip we use a plywood board, an old bath mat and pool flotation mat. Rubber door mats are good in that they don’t bunch up like the bath mat does.

The challenge for you is to choose one task and create a training plan to teach the horse as seamlessly as possible. When your first task is mastered, choose another one. Some tasks are much more complex than others. Most of them (but not all) require the horse to know the task before adding the mat into the picture.

Hints: Start with what the horse can already offer. Work in multiple mini-sessions. Three attempts are often ample for one mini-session. Stop when you get a good response or ‘try’. Maybe you can fit several mini-sessions into one longer session when you are doing chores other things with the horse. Work on new tasks one at a time.

Experiment until you and your horse agree on a clear signal for each task. Pay attention to your consistency using the signal. I struggle with staying consistent, but when I achieve it, things suddenly get much better.

Some people life to teach everything at liberty. I like to start most things with halter and lead so I can easily give the horse more clues about what will earn the click&treat, causing less frustration.

List of 22 Tasks: The list below is in the same order as shown on the clip.

1. Horse targets mat as his own idea, at liberty. https://youtu.be/xMaZWt5gK2o

2. Use a gesture to send the horse to a mat.

3. Walk together around the mat before asking the horse to target the mat.

4. Person asks horse to wait, goes to stand on the mat, then returns to the horse.

5. Person asks horse to wait, walks to stand on the mat, then asks horse to recall to the mat.

6. Mat moved to a different venue, encourage horse to target the mat at liberty.

7. Short recall to the mat, handler facing the horse but not standing on the mat.

8. Short back off the mat; handler facing the horse.

9. Back off the mat; handler shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse.

10. Back off the mat; handler behind the horse.

11. Handler on the mat, horse circles to the right and left and halt on the circle.

12. Front feet stay on the mat, yield the hindquarters, from right and left sides.

13. Walk across mat and halt with hind feet on the mat.

14. Yield hindquarters off the mat, from right and left sides.

15. Yield hindquarters onto the mat, from right and left sides.

16. Yield forequarters off the mat, from right and left sides.

17. Yield forequarters onto the mat, from right and left sides.

18. Left front foot onto a mat.

19. Right front foot onto a mat.

20. Right hind foot onto a mat.

21. Left hind foot onto a mat.

22. Handler in front of the horse, ask horse to back both hind feet onto the mat.

These clips may also be helpful or interesting.

#9 HorseGym with Boots, Putting the Mat Target on Cue (on Signal). https://youtu.be/eEGayCdECeQ

#10 HorseGym with Boots, Generalizing Mats. https://youtu.be/wdptBQ0EtK4

#11 HorseGym with Boots, Mat-a-thons. https://youtu.be/Lj9xrwVtRUQ

#15 HorseGym with Boots, Parking with Duration & Distance. https://youtu.be/CYJwu-CyIVE

Starting with a Shy or Timid Horse


It’s tempting to think of horses as big, strong creatures – which they are. But in reality they are just giant squirrels, constantly on the lookout for danger and aware that flight is their best response to anything unusual. So building confidence with every new situation is everything.

Eternal vigilance is what keeps prey animals alive.

A Familiar Feed Dish

Using a familiar feed dish can help if we are working with a shy or timid horse, or one unused to humans. We can use free-shaping to capture the behavior of taking a treat from the feed bucket. If he is not yet interested in eating carrot or apple strips, use handfuls of soaked chaff or whatever bucket-food he is getting, or twists of good quality hay, or freshly plucked long-stemmed grass if you have access to this.

Here is the Thin-slicing for a Possible Training Plan.

  1. Place the feed dish between you and the horse. The horse’s response will show you how close you can be without causing him to move further away. 
  2. While watching the horse, be careful not to stare directly at him, but to turn a bit sideways to him and observe him discretely with your peripheral vision.
  3. Wait in a relaxed manner until the horse looks at the feed dish – click and quietly move to the feed dish and toss in a treat. Then immediately move twice as far away as your former position, giving the horse more than the personal bubble size he needs to feel safe enough to approach the feed dish. It’s good if the treat makes a sound when it hits the dish. If the wait time is quite long, take a chair. Sometimes a person sitting in a chair is less threatening than a standing person.
  4. Wait for the horse to retrieve the treat. If he can’t do it yet, move further away or go do something else and come back later. He’ll usually check the dish while you are away.
  5. Approach the feed dish until the horse moves away (if he hasn’t already). As soon as the horse stops moving away, stop as well and shift your body sideways so you are not directly facing him. Watch for him (without staring at him) to look at the feed dish – click as soon as he does and quietly move to the food dish and toss in a treat, then glide away again to a distance that respects the horse’s current personal bubble.
  6. Repeat 10-20 times or as long as the horse shows interest. He will gradually begin to connect the click with the food treat about to be tossed into his dish.
  7. Each horse is different. Some horses easily shrink the size of the space they need to feel safe and soon approach the dish readily. Others will find it harder to build confidence.
  8. It’s possible to do this procedure on the other side of a fence from the horse. This is protected contact for us, but it can also make the horse feel safer from his point of view.
  9. Gradually we can shift the ‘click point’ to wait for a step toward the food dish, then sniffing the food dish. At the same time, we may be able to gradually decrease the distance we have to move away before the horse will retrieve the treat.
  10. Eventually we can sit in a chair with the bucket near us, then right beside us, then on our lap and the horse will come to retrieve his treat from the bucket.
  11. From there, we can introduce our hand into the bucket and get him used to the idea that he can pick food off our hand.
  12. Eventually we can dispense with the bucket.
  13. It’s essential to work with each horse’s timeline, no matter how long it takes. Each horse is unique. If we give him the time it takes to make up his own mind that approaching the dish (and eventually us) results in good things, he will have a positive outlook to our presence.

The treat has been dropped into the green bowl and now the person will move away just a step or two because the horse is confident enough to come to the bucket as soon as he knows a treat has been put into it.

Putting Slow Dancing Together, plus Extras

When I teach these maneuvers, I teach them one at a time. Then we begin to link two of them together. For example, I do the Do-Si-Do so I can repeat the Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet on the other side of the horse. But doing the line dancing on the other side could easily fit in after one of the Recalls to Heel, presuming we remember which side we did the first time – something I tend to forget.

Most days I practice a few of the tasks, or some aspects of a task, but I’m careful not to do too much of one thing. Now and then I put a lot of them together.

By regularly returning to each task on its own, as well as to different combinations of two or three of the tasks, we keep the whole thing fresh.

We can put the slow-dance routine together in any order that we like. We want to keep it fun for us, as well as keep our horse supple and interested.

Perfection is Not in the Equation

Perfection is never part of the equation. Some days things will go smoothly, other days they won’t. People and horses have good days and less good days.

Simple Bow

We developed the Simple Bow which gives us a consistent way to begin a series of Slow Dancing movements and a way to let the horse know that we’ve come to the end of a sequence.

The Simple Bow – fun to use as a start and finish for our Slow Dancing routines.


This is a review of the ten Slow Dancing tasks we developed over the year. I’m sure there are others you can also incorporate.

This video clip shows an example of the whole routine. #282 HorseGym with Boots: Whole Slow Dance Routine at Liberty.

Accurate Placing of Feet

We started with a review of placing the feet accurately using a rail on the ground. As well as make the horse more aware of what each foot is doing, it is a nuanced exercise that helps the handler become more aware of their orientation to the horse as well as their body language, energy level, gesture, voice and touch signals.

We have halted with one front foot over the rail.

Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet

Next we looked at Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet. In moderation, this a good exercise to keep suppleness in the horse’s amazing shoulder musculature.

Line Dancing in position with the front feet. Doing it regularly on both sides gains and maintains symmetry.


We then looked at the Do-Si-Do, which is a yield of the hindquarters, then bringing the front of the horse past us so we end up on his other side, followed with a yield of the forequarters. I often fit it in as our second task because it allows us to do Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet on the horse’s other side.

It can take a while to get this flowing nicely but once it does, it’s a great stretching exercise. And it helps handlers develop super awareness of their body position and timing.

Do-si-do: This is hard to show with still shots. I’m asking for a hindquarter yield on the horse’s right side. As she comes around, I step back (third photo) so she she can bring her head in front of me and put me in her left eye, at which point I will ask for a forequarter yield. In this case we would finish up facing the cows.

From our position shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse, we can ask for half a hindquarter yield so we end up face-to-face with the horse, which sets us up for the Recall and Back-Up In Rhythm or any of the face-to-face tasks.

Recall and Back-Up in Rhythm

Once we have established a back-up signal while face-to-face with the horse, we add the recall. It is a fairly sophisticated exercise. It is valuable because it asks the horse to shift his weight and balance backwards and forwards in a quiet, no-stress context. Once the horse is adept at this, it’s fun to do a few of these whenever we have the horse warmed up.

We teach the ‘wait plus recall’ and the ‘back-up’ separately, then put them together.

Sidestepping Face-to-Face

While we are face-to-face with the horse, it is easy to morph from Back-Up and Recall into Sidestepping Face-To-Face. First we carefully teach the horse how to smoothly move sideways keeping his body straight while we are in position beside his ribs. Once the horse understands the concept and a voice signal, it is not hard to teach the same movement while we are facing him.

This exercise helps suppleness of the hip as well as the shoulders. If the horse finds it difficult in either direction (or both), it usually indicates chronic stiffness or possibly new or residual soreness. A little bit often (if the horse is not showing soreness) is a good idea, but only if the horse is already warmed up with straight-line walking and trotting.

You can see by her tail that this is demanding physical and mental work. She is doing such a good job of keeping her body straight. I only ask for a few steps each direction before a click&treat.

Recall to Heel

We ask the horse to WAIT and walk a short distance away. From WAIT, we Recall the horse who walks to us, then past us on one side, makes a U-turn behind us so he ends up standing beside our shoulder on the other side (‘at heel’).

Boots walked toward me, moved past my right shoulder, turned 180 degrees behind me to end up alongside my left shoulder.

We also sometimes play with making the U-turn staying on the same side. When the horse is standing beside our shoulder, we can easily move into The Spiral.

The Spiral

The Spiral is a task my horse Boots made up for us and for some reason she seems to like it a lot. We had spent quite a bit of time walking spiral circles, making each time round the circle either larger or smaller.

Just for fun one day I wanted to see how small we could get the circle. We ended up with my back tight against her shoulder, turning on the spot while she curved around me as much as a horse is able to curve. The big celebration and triple treats telling her how clever she was probably set it up as a future favorite exercise.

As long as we stay within the horse’s ability to bend comfortably at the hip area, and ensure that the horse is already warmed up, it is a fun task to do often.

We start with a large circle and gradually make the circle smaller until we can turn on the spot with the horse moving tightly around us. If the horse is not able to keep his hind end on the arc of the circle, we are asking more than he is able to do at the moment. Done regularly, flexion usually improves if pain or past injury is not a factor.


The Balancera exercise is another of our favorites. We built it up slowly with many short practices over the years. It is physically the same as the Back-Up and Recall except that the handler is at the horse’s shoulder. The main difference is that we start with several steps forward (I use between 3 and 10) followed immediately by the same number of steps backing up.

To turn it into the Balancera task, we repeat with one less step forward and backward each time until we are rocking forward one step and rocking back one step. It is another unique ‘balance shift exercise’ done in the context of quiet concentration. I count the steps out loud and the horse seems to hone in on the sound of the numbers.

Here we are in the process of shifting our balance from walking forward to walking backwards. I have dropped my weight into my hips and am raising my outside hand to signal for backing up. We do one less step each time until we are doing one step forward and one step back. This exercise helps the horse become a master at reading our body language and intent. Start with a high rate of reinforcement and only a few steps.

Line Dancing Shoulder-to-Shoulder

The Balancera has us in position beside the horse’s shoulder, which is where we need to be to do Line Dancing Shoulder-To-Shoulder. Our usual body orientation when asking the horse to sidestep is probably facing his ribs.

It’s not too hard to stay shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse instead. We have to adjust the way we give the signal to let the horse know our intent. We need the signal different from the signal we use for Line Dancing in Position with the Front Feet.

In this frame, with the very interested cattle, Boots is sidestepping toward me. I found staying shoulder-to-shoulder for this part harder because our signal is my raised hand for her to target. It can get smoother once a voice signal is well established. We often practice this with a rail under the horse’s belly, which gives the horse a destination – i.e. click and treat once past the rail.

The Twirl

This brings us to the tenth Slow Dancing task, which is The Twirl. For this we leave the horse in a Wait and walk away so we can face the front of the horse with space between us (as we do for the Recall to Heel).

When Boots first learned this, it remained one of her favorites for a long time and she is always happy to do it. When we play the ‘Send Out at Trot, then Recall‘ game, she will easily do three twirls on the way back to me.

For the Slow Dance routine, we do The Twirl slowly. As she does her turn I also turn 360 degrees and we end up face-to-face again; click&treat. The task can be generalized across a longer distance and at trot.

Boots is doing a turn on the forehand (twirl) while I also spin around. Note how carefully she keeps her ear and eye on where I am. As she comes around we celebrate the effort with a click&treat. This became one of her favorites when we first learned it and I had to promptly put it ‘on signal only’, so she didn’t randomly show it off to people and startle them.


The Twirl and the Whole Sequence


In the photo above I am doing my twirl at the same time as Boots is doing her twirl. She is always careful to keep an eye and ear back so she knows where I am. As soon as she comes around to face me again she earns a click&treat.

The ‘twirl’ in this context is a turn on the forequarters. A ‘spin’ usually describes a turn on the hindquarters.

It’s great fun to recall our horse and ask him to do a twirl as he comes in. Once Boots knew this task, she enjoyed showing it off, at walk and trot.

The Twirl is the last task of the dance sequence we worked on for the year. Now we can chain all the tasks together. At first we did the tasks in the same order each time. Eventually we could mix them up.


  1. To have the horse able to remain calm and connected when we touch a rope to his legs and wrap a rope around his body.
  2. As the horse recalls at liberty, we have a signal for the horse to do one or more twirls during his approach.


  1. As usual, we must have each of the prerequisites in excellent shape so we can smoothly build this multi-part task.
  2. Horse is relaxed with a long rope moved along and wrapped around his body and tossed over his head. #22 HorseGym with Boots: Rope Relaxation. https://youtu.be/6Y34VlUk0Iw. And #121 HorseGym with Boots: Stick & String Confidence. https://youtu.be/WIpsT4PPiXo
  3. Horse and handler have developed a good WAIT. Number 65 in my Blog Contents List. (The link to this is at the top of the page).
  4. Horse responds readily to handler’s ‘recall’ signal. Number 90 in my Blog Contents List. This training plan details mainly teaching the recall. https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2022/05/01/recall-back-up-in-rhythm/. Also: Simple Recall Part 1 at https://youtu.be/XuBo07q8g24. And #240 HorseGym with Boots: Wait and Recall. https://youtu.be/_gxXZ7J7eAE


#256 HorseGym with Boots: Teaching the Twirl. https://youtu.be/tenhwp6tQmI


  • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
  • Horse in a learning frame of mind.
  • Handler is relaxed.
  • Halter and long lunge line or similar, long enough to wrap right around the horse.


  1. As with all our training, this is a task to build up slowly over time, so the horse looks forward to it because it results in a click&treat that he enjoys.
  2. Two or three repeats each training session is plenty. Over weeks and months, it will become a solid part of your repertoire.
  3. If things don’t go well, work out which of the prerequisites needs more development. Complex interactions with our horse simply consist of the basics done really well.
  4. The beginning of video #256 shows a fun way of doing a twirl using a food lure. But I don’t recommend this. To teach a twirl while the horse is moving toward us, or even from a halt standing in front of us, it is much easier for the horse to understand if food only appears at the end of the twirl via a regular click&treat.
  5. Often the most recent thing we are working with becomes the horse’s favorite thing to show off. Be aware that your horse may want to show off his twirl when you are not prepared for it, especially if other people are nearby. He can run his butt into you without meaning to. Also, other people might be threatened when the horse offers to move his butt this way. In other words, be prompt about putting the twirl ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’. Don’t reward it unless you’ve asked for it.


  1. Once the horse is comfortable with a rope touching him all over his body (Prerequisite 1), attach one end to his halter and bring the rope around behind him and along his other side as shown in the video clip.
  2. Ask the horse to wait with the rope around him. Click&treat staying at zero intent, starting with one second and building up to about five seconds.
  3. Face the horse and introduce an arm/hand gesture and a voice signal as you apply a halter touch signal via the rope to cause the horse to turn away from you and turn on the forehand until he faces you again. Click&teat (major celebration).
  4. Each session with the horse, repeat 3 above two or three times. As the horse begins to recognize your arm/hand and voice signals, ease off on the halter pressure via the rope until you no longer need to use it.
  5. Ensure that your basic RECALL is smooth (Prerequisite 3).
  6. When 4 above is smooth, play without the lead rope and slot in a little recall before you ask for the twirl. If it falls apart, simply and quietly reset to using the wraparound lead rope again, as lightly as possible. Horses learn at different rates and handler skills are variable. Usually if we strive hard to perfect our own skill with giving clear, consistent signals, the horse magically improves.


  1. Play in different venues.
  2. Play on a slope.
  3. If the horse keenly recalls at a trot, ask for a twirl before he reaches you. Boots would happily fit in two or three twirls, one after the other, before reaching me.
  4. Do half a twirl and morph it into a back-up. This was an interesting Horse Agility challenge from www.thehorseagilityclub.com. Here is the clip:

The Whole Sequence Clip

#281 HorseGym with Boots: All the Slow Dancing Tasks https://youtu.be/mDjUAH6jzbA

Line Dance Shoulder-to-Shoulder


In the photo above we are using a rail to consolidate line-dancing shoulder-to-shoulder. Once past the rail, the horse earns a click&treat. The rail helps in that: a) I don’t ask for too much, b) the horse quickly realizes that a click&treat happens when he sidesteps past the rail, and c) it encourages straightness.

Try stepping sideways by stretching out your arms to the side while you cross your legs. Then cross your arms while stepping apart with your legs. This is how a horse organizes his body when he move sideways keeping his body relatively straight. Front legs apart while back legs cross over. Hind legs apart while front legs cross over.

If horses tried to cross both front and hind legs at the same time, it would be easy for them to lose balance and fall over.

As mentioned when discussing sidestepping face-to-face with the horse, moving sideways in rhythm is not something horses tend to do in their everyday life. It may therefore take the horse a while to get his legs organized when we first teach this movement. Our horse may have to think hard to get this sorted, so be especially patient and celebrate small successes.


  1. The horse understands body language, voice and a gesture/touch signal at the girth to move sideways away from us as we sidestep toward him.
  2. The horse understands body language, gesture and voice signals to sidestep toward us.


  1. In case you have not yet taught basic sidestepping, see Number 29 in my Blog Contents List: Sidestepping. There is a link to my Blog Contents List at the top of the page.
  2. Targeting shoulder to hand is the background needed to initiate movement toward us with a hand gesture signal. See Number 27 in my Blog Contents List: Target Shoulder to Hand.

The training plan for this can also be found in Chapter Twelve in my book: Horse Training: Fun with Flexion using Positive Reinforcement, in case you have that book.

  • Hip to hand is the other part we need. See Number 28 in my Blog Contents List: Targeting Hindquarters to our Hand. It is Chapter Thirteen in the book mentioned above.

Once we have shoulder to hand and hip to hand, we can introduce the idea of the whole horse moving sideways toward us.


#280 HorseGym with Boots: Line Dance in Motion.


  • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
  • Horse is not hungry.
  • Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
  • Horse in a learning frame of mind.
  • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
  • Halter and lead unless teaching at liberty.
  • A lane a few meters long with a barrier in front and behind. For example, a fence and raised rails, a fence and a line of barrels. We can use fencing tape between tall cones or jump stands, as long as the horse is comfortable working around fencing tape which is not electrified.


  1. It’s important to warm the horse up with general activity before asking for yields like this. As we develop and maintain such exercises, our horse’s flexibility will gradually improve.
  2. Most horses find this easier on one side. At first, be happy if he can only sidestep with his body at a 45-degree angle to the barrier. With frequent short practices, he will develop the muscles and flexion to be straighter. Boots’ ability to sidestep has been built up over years.
  3. A horse with arthritis and/or past injuries may have restricted or severely limited movement for this type of work.
  4. Doing a little bit often gives reliable results and keeps the horse keen to seek out his next click&treat. As usual, we are teaching a habit in response to a signal, so we never want to make the horse sore or reluctant.
  5. For the slow-dancing routine, we only need a few steps away and a few steps toward us.


Sidestepping Away

  1. Set up a lane with a barrier behind and in front of the horse so that moving sideways is an easy option for him to choose. Have it wide enough to be comfortable for the horse.
  2. Have a nose target or a barrier a few sidesteps away on each end of the lane so that the horse has a destination where he knows he will get his next click&treat. I used our shelter because it ensured that I did not ask for too many steps at once. The horse quickly realized that reaching the other side of the shelter resulted in a click&treat.
    • If the horse finds one side easier, start on that side. Using your orientation facing the horse’s side, ensure you have smooth yielding of shoulder and hindquarters, then consolidate a light touch/gesture signal at the girth to ask the whole horse to move over (Prerequisite 1).
    • Once 3 is smooth, begin to align yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse. At first, you may need to face him for the original signal but strive to change to using a gesture or light touch while you stay shoulder-to-shoulder. Three-five sidesteps is plenty.
    • When 4 above is good, teach it again from the beginning on the horse’s other side.
    • When 5 above is good, remove either the front or rear barrier. Work on both sides.
    • When 6 above is good, work without the barrier props. Work on both sides. Be careful not to ask for too much. Celebrate small successes.

    Sidestepping Toward the Handler

    1. Set up as for 1 and 2 above.
    2. If the horse finds one side easier, start on that side.
    3. Using your orientation facing the horse’s side, ensure you have smooth targeting of shoulder and hindquarters in rhythm, then develop a gesture signal to ask the whole horse to sidestep toward you. (Prerequisites 2 and 3). At this point, don’t worry about your body’s orientation to the horse. Use whatever signals the horse finds easiest to understand. Celebrate hugely when you get the first sidestep toward you.
    4. When 3 is coming along nicely, teach it all again from the beginning on the horse’s other side.
    5. When 4 is good using the props, remove either the front or rear barrier. If the horse tends to back up, remove the front barrier first. If he tends to inch forward, remove the back barrier first.
    6. When 5 is smooth, remove both barriers.
    7. Now it’s time to focus more on your position so you can stay shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse as much as possible, but don’t make it a big deal.


    1. When the task is sound in a familiar training area, play in different places.
    2. Work on a slope horse facing uphill.
    3. Work on a slope horse facing downhill.
    4. Work with the horse parallel to a gentle slope.

    The Balancera Exercise


    In the photo above, Boots and I are walking a few steps forward shoulder-to-shoulder. We will then pause forward movement and step backwards an equal number of steps remaining shoulder-to-shoulder.

    Horses have an inherent ability to move in synchronization with each other. We can play with this wonderful ability. One way is to devise an exercise where the ‘walk on’ signal balances smoothly with the ‘back up’ signal.

    This is fun to work with once both our ‘walk on’ signals and our ‘back up’ signals individually result in fluid moving together shoulder-to-shoulder. We simply bring those two tasks together to form a sequence of dance steps.

    We pause forward movement momentarily, so the horse’s body has time to organize itself to step backwards. It can look and feel rough at first, but by spending a short time with it often, the change-over can become calm and polished.


    To fluidly change from walking forward to backing up, staying together in the shoulder-to-shoulder position.


    1. Horse responds willingly to ‘walk on’ signals when the handler is beside his neck/shoulder. See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List: Smooth Walk-On and Halt Transitions. (Access my Blog Contents List via the tab at the top of the page.)
    2. Horse understands touch, voice and gesture ‘back-up’ signals. See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List: Finesse Back-Up.
    3. My Playlist: Backing-up (in my YouTube channel: Hertha Muddyhorse), has further clips which show teaching the back-up in a variety of ways. Click here.


    There is a third video at the very end of the blog.

    #173 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 1 of 2.

    #174 HorseGym with Boots: Balancera Clip 2 of 2.


    • 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 8-foot lead (kept loose as much as possible, as we want to use body language for communication, not rope pressure).
    • A selection of barriers toward which we can walk the horse and ask for ‘halt’.
    • A safe fence or similar to work beside.
    • Materials to build a simple dead-end lane. You may have a corner or a fence and an open gate to use as two of the three sides of a dead-end lane.


    1. * Boots’ demonstrations on the videos is the sum of many short sessions over a long time. When teaching something new, we stay with each slice of the task until it feels easy and smooth, then move on to add in the next slice.
    2. * Whenever anything feels ‘broken’, go back to the slice where both the horse and the handler feel confident, and work forward from there again. Click&treat at a rate that keeps the horse continuously successful at earning his next click&treat.
    3. * Teach everything again (from the beginning) on the other side of the horse. You can do this with each slice, or you can get it all good on one side and then repeat all the slices on the other side.


    1. Check you can ‘walk on’ together fluidly, staying in position shoulder-to-shoulder.
    2. Check you can ‘halt’ together fluidly, staying in position shoulder-to-shoulder.
    3. Set up a lane and walk the horse through it in both directions. Horse is in the lane, handler on the outside.
    4. When 3 above is ho-hum, walk the horse into the lane and ask for a halt about halfway along; click&treat.
    5. Repeat 4 above, asking the horse to wait a second longer before the click&treat, until he comfortably waits up to 4 or 5 seconds.
    6. Block off the lane with a barrier about half a horse’s length inside the lane. Walk the horse into the lane and halt at the barrier; click&treat.
    7. Hold the rope in the hand nearest the horse. Lift your rope hand straight up and jiggle the rope lightly to put a distinctive touch signal on the halter. If you have taught a voice ‘back’ signal, use that as well. At first, watch for any movement backwards, even a body shift back, to click&treat. Since the way forward is blocked off, it will make sense to the horse to step back.
    8. Repeat 6 and 7 above, gradually building up to several steps back.
    9. Once 8 above is good, block off the lane a little further along in stages until the horse is halting right inside the lane. Repeat 6 and 7 above aiming for a fluid, confident back-up out of the lane.
    10. Now we want to switch the halter-jiggle signal to a hand signal. At the same time as you lift the rope hand (nearest the horse) straight up to jiggle the rope, lift your outside hand to the horse’s eye level and make a backward gesture with it. Also use your “back-up” voice signal. Click&treat for stepping back. Return to click&treat for just one or a few steps at first, then gradually all the steps needed to exit the lane.
    11. Repeat, using the outside hand and voice signals BEFORE you lift your rope hand to put jiggle energy into the halter. The moment the horse begins to step back, stop jiggling the rope but ask for another step or two with the outside hand and voice signals.
    12. When the horse moves back readily with just your outside hand gesture and voice signal, fade out the rope-jiggle. It’s there to be used in times of need.
    13. Now we want to combine the steps forward, pause, steps backward with one click&treat after doing both. Walk into the lane, halt at the barrier, signal for the back-up; click&treat for any back-up that is offered. Because we are introducing new complexity (changing a parameter), we relax our criteria for number of steps back.
    14. Gradually, over many very short sessions that always end on a good note, ask for more steps back after the halt before you click&treat. Work up to about 10 steps.
    15. When 14 above is in good shape, practice with a lane of ground rails. Still have a barrier at the front (e.g., a fence). Most horses usually veer right or left when they back up, due to the natural asymmetry of their bodies. One hind leg pushes off harder, so their hind end will veer away from the stronger leg.
    16. By frequent backing through a lane of ground rails, we help the horse organize his body to stay straighter. I regularly use this task as part of our gymnastic work.
    17. Practice with a barrier only on the far side of the horse. This gives you another opportunity to note which way his hind end tends to veer.
    18. Generalize by halting facing a fence or any free-standing barrier, then backing up without the prop of a lane.
    19. When you feel the time is right, ask for a halt away from any barriers, followed by a back-up. Celebrate hugely when you get this. Done with finesse, the horse becomes light and keeps his full attention on your body language so he can maintain the synchronization. I always click&treat after this task.
    20. Gradually build up to 10 steps forward (click&treat) and 10 steps back (click&treat) but vary the number of steps each time you do it. Work toward this over many short sessions.
    21. Once 20 above is smooth, begin the actual Balancera exercise. We’re changing a parameter, so start with about 3 steps. Ask for 3 steps forward, then three steps back before the click&treat.
    22.  When 21 above is good, ask for 3 steps, 2 steps, then 1 step forward and back before the click&treat. This is the Balancera. With frequent short practices, the horse becomes more adept at shifting his weight from forward to backing up. This takes considerable energy and effort, so treat it gently. The horse will soon realize that the click&treat happens after the 1 step forward and back, even when you start with ten steps.
    23. When 22 above is smooth, gradually ask for more steps to begin with, then reducing by one step until you are doing one step forward and one step back; click&treat.
    24. Most of all, keep it fun. Stay within the horse’s ability that day.

    The Spiral


    Horses on their own tend to move in straight lines unless they are engaged in play or disputes. But they move a lot as they graze and to access water. A study of wild horses in Australia found that mostly they walked. Sometimes they trotted. Occasionally, they cantered or galloped.

    Horses in captivity often have restricted freedom of movement. Anything we can do to encourage movement adds color to a horse’s day. This spiral exercise is an interesting task we can make part of our repertoire. It encourages and maintains flexibility.

    Horse can only bend laterally (to the side) in three places on their body. (1) from the junction of head and neck and along the neck muscle. (2) at the base of the neck. (3) Between the final lumbar vertebra and the sacrum which consists of five fused vertebrae. Bend in this last area is extremely limited.

    The bending sites.
    Bending mainly the head.
    Extreme bending of neck .
    The ‘haunches in’ exercise develops the little bend possible between the last lumbar vertebra and the sacrum by the horse learning to stretch a hind leg to step well under the belly as in the next photo.
    Horse doing her best to keep her whole body on the arc of the tiny circle she is walking around me. She is placing her right hind leg as far under her belly as she can.

    As with all the other tasks that we teach, the key is to do a little bit often. Over weeks and months, the horse’s suppleness will gradually improve and can easily be maintained with frequent short repeats of a variety of stretching tasks.


    The horse moves in a tight curve around the handler who turns on the spot.


    1. Horse and handler smoothly walk together in the shoulder-to-shoulder position with the handler on either the right or left side of the horse. See numbers 16 and 68 in my Blog Contents List at the top of this page.
    2. ‘Rule of Three’, which is a way to organize training sessions to maintain high interest and motivation. See Number 46 in my Blog Contents List.


    #273 HorseGym with Boots: The Spiral. https://youtu.be/sQ-ELVlIzZA


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    • Horse and handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
    • Halter and lead for the teaching phase.
    • An object to mark the center of a circle.


    1. * Start with as large a circle as the horse finds comfortable. If he starts to swing his hindquarters out of the arc of the circle, the circle is too tight for the horse’s current ability to flex laterally.
    2. * Short sessions as often as possible, as well as exercises such as weaving obstacles, figure 8’s, 90-degree turns (Number 31 in my Blog Contents List) all help with lateral flexion.
    3. * Playing with 180-degree turns also helps (Number 23 in my Blog Contents List).
    4. * Click&treat as often as you need in order to keep the horse interested and engaged.
    5. * The horse may be much stiffer in one direction. If one side seems especially difficult for him, check out the possibility of current soreness or historical injuries.


    1. Set a marker (not a mat that the horse expects to stand on) into the center of your training area.
    2. Walk the horse in a large circle around the marker with you on his left side, which means your circle will be walking anti-clockwise.
    3. Very gradually reduce the size of the circle each time you come around, in a gradual spiral fashion.
    4. Watch carefully for the point at which the horse’s hind end is no longer following the arc of the circle. That tells you when he is beginning to find it too hard. We don’t want him to develop the habit of swinging his hind end out, so when you reach this point, spiral your circle outwards again.
    5. With frequent short repeats, done amongst other things you are doing with your horse (see Rule of Three – Prerequisite 2), you will be able to gradually achieve tighter circles with the horse keeping his whole body aligned on the curve.
    6. Remember, horses have extremely limited bending at the hip area. In the video you can see how Boots moves her outside leg way to the side so she can draw her inside leg well under her belly to keep herself on the curve of the circle.
    7. When you can turn on the spot beside the marker with your back against the horse’s shoulder, while the horse curves around you, you have achieved the task.
    8. Repeat from the beginning on the horse’s right side. As mentioned in the Notes, you may find one side much stiffer.


    1. Play without a marker but in the same area.
    2. Play at liberty.
    3. Play with it in novel venues.
    4. Play on a slope.

    Recall to Heel


    This is a fun task we often teach our dogs. We call the horse toward us, then ask him to walk past our side, turn 180 degrees behind us and slot into the ‘heel’ position on our opposite side.

    In the photo above, Boots has walked toward me, passed my left shoulder and is about to slot herself into position standing beside my right shoulder.

    In the photo below, Boots has walked toward me, passed my right shoulder and is about to slot herself into position standing beside my left shoulder.

    Boots is about to step into position beside my left shoulder where she will earn her click&treat. To make it easier for her I can move forward a step or two.


    The horse walks to us, then past us, turning behind us to end up standing beside our shoulder.


    1. Horse and handler have developed a good WAIT. Number 65 in my Blog Contents List which you reach via the tab at the top of the home page.
    2. Horse responds readily to handler’s ‘recall’ signal. See Number 90 in my Blog Contents List: Recall and Back Up in Rhythm.
    3. Horse understands ‘walk on’ voice and gesture signals. See Number 16: Smooth ‘Walk On’ and ‘Halt’ Transitions and Number 68 in my Blog Contents List: 20 Steps Exercise. We want this in place so we can ask the horse to walk past us and around, rather than coming to halt in front of us.
    4. Horse has perfected the 180-degree turn. See Number 23 in my Blog Contents List: 180 Degree Turns.
    5. Horse and handler have developed clear WHOA signals in a variety of situations. See Number 33 in my Blog Contents List: Willing Response to a Voice Halt Signal.


    #274 HorseGym with Boots: Recall to Heel. https://youtu.be/Giut6wim9KE


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Horse and Handler are clicker savvy.
    • Horse in a learning frame of mind.
    • Halter and 12′ (4m) light lead-rope to start with.


    1. * Have the horse warmed up before asking for 180-degree turns.
    2. * You can also teach this using a target, but as is often the case, phasing out the target can present its own challenges if the horse’s mind is fixated on following the target. I prefer to teach with gesture, body language and voice signals, helped at first with a lead rope.
    3. * Check that your WAIT is in good shape.
    4. * Check that your RECALL is in good shape.
    5. * Check that your WALK ON gesture and voice signals are in good shape.
    6. * Check that your WHOA is in good shape.
    7. * Check that your 180-degree turns are in good shape and the horse knows your voice signal for turning (I use “Around”).
    8. * Devise a signal for asking the horse to walk on past you rather than halt in front of you. Practice this with another person standing in for the horse so you can get it fluent. I adapt my WALK ON arm/hand gesture that I use for walking on when we are shoulder-to-shoulder and that seems to work okay.
    9. * I use a halter and lead to initially teach things like this. I can use the lead rope to indicate that I want the horse to walk past me and then turn behind me. That means he never gets confused about what will earn his next click&treat. Once the horse realizes that the click&treat happens when he shows up on my other side, the lead rope is no longer necessary.


    1. Halter and light lead on the horse.
    2. Ask the horse to WAIT while you walk a few steps away in front of him. Turn, pause, then ask for a RECALL.
    3. Before the horse reaches you, signal with gesture and voice that you’d like him to walk on past you. As he does, step forward so it is easy for him to make a U-turn behind you. Then walk a couple of steps forward to draw him into a nice position alongside your opposite shoulder: click&treat.
    4. Teach it consistently on one side and when that is smooth, teach again from the beginning on the other side.
    5. As the horse gets fluid with this task, you can gradually not step forward as he comes around. But if he gets lost, always resume stepping forward so he is not ‘wrong’.


    1. Work at liberty.
    2. Work in new venues.
    3. Work on a slope.
    4. Recall across rails or through a gap/tunnel or over a tarp.
    5. Teach moving into the heel position after a recall without stepping around behind the handler.



    Having smooth ways of asking a horse to back away from us and to come toward us on request is worth its weight in gold. We teach each of these separately and then meld them together into rhythmic dance steps to use as a suppling exercise.


    The horse distinguishes clearly between our signals for backing up and coming toward us (recall) and readily repeats a few steps of each in a rhythmic fashion.


    1. Horse has learned a solid WAIT. See Number 65 in my Blog Contents List at https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/12/16/the-wait-game/
    2. Handler has developed clear, consistent back-up signals so the horse backs up readily when face-to-face with the handler. See Number 40 in my Blog Contents List for details about teaching backing up. https://herthamuddyhorse.com/2020/02/02/finesse-back-up/


    #271 HorseGym with Boots: Recall & Back with Rhythm. https://youtu.be/7TVgr6_oXlI

    The next clip puts together the first four slow-dancing moves we’ve worked on: Bow, Line Dance in position, Do-si-do to change sides, Rhythmic back-up and recall.


    • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
    • Two or more rails. Low markers at the ends of the rails can be helpful at the beginning. A safe fence is also helpful to keep the horse straight.
    • Halter 12′ (4m) long, light lead during the teaching process.


    1. Before starting this task, we need a solid WAIT (Prerequisite 1).
    2. We first teach a solid face-to-face back-up in a variety of situations using a high rate of reinforcement, so it becomes a favorite task for the horse. Ideally, we do a little bit every time we are with the horse (Prerequisite 2).
    3. The slices in this training plan outline teaching the recall and then putting the recall and back-up together in a rhythmic way.
    4. Teach everything on both sides of the horse.
    5. Use a rate of reinforcement that keeps the horse continually successful.
    6. Essential to keep a float (smile) in the rope unless using it momentarily to clarify our intent for the horse.
    7. Keep sessions short in among other things you are doing with the horse.


    1. Set up your rails (or hose or rope) as in the photo in the Introduction. Use a fence on one side if you can.
    2. Walk the horse parallel to the ground rails furthest from the fence, while you walk between the rails and the fence. At the end of the rails, ask him to make a U-turn toward the fence and step into the lane created by the fence and rails. Walk backwards to draw the horse to you. Click&treat when he reaches you. The fence will encourage him to make a precise U-turn rather than a loose and sloppy one. Set the width of the gap to suit the horse’s current flexibility.
    3. Gradually send him around the end of the rail from further away, as illustrated in the video clip, until you can stay with your feet stationary at one end of a rail.
    4. As he makes each U-turn, add a consistent voice signal. I say “Around” for the turn.
    5. As he begins to come toward you, develop a clear, consistent body language signal and a voice signal. I say “Come In” for the recall and bring both arms forward and down to make a round shape with my arms.
    6. When it all feels smooth, use a pair of rails away from a fence.
    7. When 6 is ho-hum, use just one rail.
    8. When 7 is ho-hum, use just a low marker to send the horse ‘around’.
    9. Now we want to tidy up our WAIT task so we can ask the horse to stay parked while we walk away – so we can recall him (Prerequisite 1).
    10. Once the recall is solid in lots of situations, we want to either teach or polish our back-up while we are face-to-face with the horse (Prerequisite 2).
    11. Once we have clear, consistent back-up body language and voice signals established, and the horse responds willingly, we can begin to put the back-up and the recall together in a rhythmic fashion.
    12. Set up two parallel rails about a meter apart. Ask the horse to wait at one end of the rails; click&treat. Then ask him to recall between the rails; click&treat. Walk a loop together and repeat a couple of times.
    13. Ask the horse to walk between the rails and halt between the rails. Then ask him to back up a step or two; click&treat. Then another step or two; click&treat. Then recall him forward again, between the rails. Walk a loop and reset a couple of times.
    14. When it feels right, ask for a recall; click&treat, then ask for a back-up; click&treat. Work with just a few steps at first. As the horse becomes more adept, gradually increase the number of steps, but stay within the horse’s ability.
    15. Ask the horse to walk with you almost all the way through the lane of rails so you can ask for the back-up first; click&treat. Then recall; click&treat.
    16. Once 15 is smooth, chain together one back-up and one recall before the click&treat (or one recall and one back-up).
    17. Work toward chaining two repeats of back and recall. Then maybe three repeats before the click&treat. But always stay within the horse’s capability. Rushing will wreck things.
    18. When it is ho-hum using the parallel rails, do the task without them. Go back to Slice 14 and work forward from there.


    1. Play with it in different venues.
    2. Play on a slope.
    3. Add one or more rails which the horse crosses during the recall and back-up.

    The Simple Bow


    It’s fun to teach a simple bow to use at the beginning and end of a movement routine. The bow itself becomes a clue for the horse that a chain of tasks is about to begin and equally it tells him when the chain of tasks is finished.

    We can teach the simple bow by capturing any downward movement of the head with a click&treat. Or we could use ‘luring’ while changing our posture as we put a treat on the ground, plus add a voice signal.


    The horse mimics the handler’s bow from the waist by lowering his head, then raising it again.


    Horse and handler are clicker savvy.


    This clip uses the process of luring, which is detailed in the thin-slicing steps below.

    #269 HorseGym with Boots: Simple Bow. https://youtu.be/vwtxTdWaRRQ

    These two clips show the process of free-shaping.

    #257 HorseGym with Boots Head Lowering 1. https://youtu.be/AoqtJj2X1bU

    #258 HorseGym with Boots: Head Lowering 2. Putting it on signal. https://youtu.be/Ol-BHB1QCnw


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed and ideally can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • It can help to park the horse on a mat, if he knows about mats, to let him know that moving his feet is not required. 


    When we use the luring with food system, we will be placing a treat on the ground and we don’t want to put it on sand or loose dirt. If that is all you have available, perhaps use a mat or similar on which to put the treat.

    SLICES (for teaching with luring)

    1. Stand the horse in a spot where he feels comfortable; click&treat. Maybe have his front feet parked on a mat.
    2. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse; click&treat.
    3. Practice a bit of duration standing quietly together at zero intent with head forward; click&treat for x number of seconds, depending on where you are with developing this task.
    4. Quietly remove a treat from your pouch or pocket, ideally during a moment the horse is busy eating his previous treat, so he doesn’t notice you getting the treat.
    5. Show the horse the treat in your hand then bow from the waist to put the treat on the ground for the horse to find.
    6. Wait until he lifts his head and has eaten the treat. Repeat, adding a voice signal to go with your body language. If you’ve previously taught head-lowering you may already have a voice signal.
    7. Once the horse responds to your body language and voice signals, click as the head goes down, but feed the treat as the head comes up again as you straighten your body. For this we don’t want ‘duration’ of keeping the head down.
    8. Teach on both sides of the horse.


    1. Practice in many different places.
    2. Practice around different distractions.
    3. Incorporate into any routines you do as ‘begin’ and ‘end’ points.

    Placing the Feet using a Single Rail


    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.


    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.


    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.


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

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


    • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.

    Developing Soft Response to Rope/Rein Pressure

    Photo above shows how we started teaching voice signals for turning right and left using a target. When the voice signals were established, I added a light rope touch – creating a multi-signal.


    It’s not uncommon for a horse to have bad feelings or mixed emotions about halters and ropes. My book, WALKING WITH HORSES has a detailed section about developing a horse’s willingness to put his nose into a halter. This is a task that needs thoughtful teaching.

    Confidence with halter and lead rope is critical to help horses deal well with life in captivity. Essentially, we want putting a halter and rope on our horse similar to putting on our ‘work clothes’ – an outfit or uniform suitable for the type of work we do. When we work for an organization or with other people, we adjust our behavior to what is appropriate at our job.

    In the same way, a horse carefully educated about halters and ropes will recognize that he is wearing his ‘uniform’ and relate it to certain ways of behaving. Mainly, it limits his behavior choices. Ideally it also encourages him to pay careful attention to requests made via messages send along the rope.

    We can use the rope to send text messages. But, obviously, we must first carefully teach the horse what the ‘letters’ of our text mean. The lighter the pressure of our ‘texting’, the lighter the horse’s responses can be. In other words, the horse can only be as light in his responses to rope messages as we are light in sending them.

    A rope is a way of ‘holding hands’ with our horse, not a tether kept tight to stop the horse escaping our influence. There is nothing so heartbreaking as see a gasping dog at the end of a tight leash or a horse struggling to understand why the tightness of the rope won’t go away, no matter what he does.

    The key to lead rope handling is that the rope is always slack except for the brief moments it is sending a message to the horse. The instant the horse complies with our request, the slack is returned to the rope. It is the instant release of rope pressure plus the simultaneous click (and the accompanying treat) that enables the horse to understand which task we are requesting.


    1. To have the horse comfortable standing in a safe corner.
    2. To teach a ‘head straight’ anchor task that precedes our request to turn the head.
    3. Use a target to teach head flexion to right and left; no rope.
    4. Add ‘right’ and ‘left’ voice signals to the task.
    5. Teach soft lateral flexion (turning the head right or left) using gentle touch on the halter via a rope until it feels equally smooth to the right and the left.
    6. Generalize the task to different places and situations.


    1. Horse is comfortable wearing a halter. (See Number 7 in my Blog Contents List. The link is at the top of the page.)
    2. Horse is comfortable with a lead rope.
    3. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    4. Horse understands standing on a mat with duration. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
    5. For the early sessions, it’s helpful to have the horse standing with his butt in a safe corner so that backing up and swinging the hind end away are not options. The first slices will therefore involve making sure the horse is comfortable and relaxed standing in a corner.


    • A work area where the horse is relaxed.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • A safe corner the horse can stand in confidently. A safe corner is one where there is no chance of the horse putting a leg through wire or rails if he steps back or sideways. Hedges, sides of buildings or a corner made with barrels or jump stands plus rails tend to be safest. Even a raised rail or a log behind the horse with a small barrier on the far side of the horse might be enough of a corner.
    • A familiar mat to ‘station’ or ‘park’ the horse.
    • A familiar hand-held target.


    1. When eventually using the touch signal via the rope or rein, be ready to click&treat for even the tiniest turn of the head at first. If we miss the horse’s first attempt to solve a puzzle, he can think his idea was wrong, and it can take a while for him to try it again.
    2. When we lead, long-rein or ride a horse, it does not take much movement of the head to cause the horse to change direction. What we are doing here is not an extreme flexion exercise. It is an exercise to see how softly we can give what will become our ‘please change direction’ signals once the horse is moving.



    1. Introduce the horse to each corner in small, easy steps. Thin-slice the process to what your horse needs. Use a familiar mat to indicate where you would like his front feet to be. Three kinds of corners are shown in the videos clips.
    2. If the horse readily yields hindquarters and forequarters we can use these to adjust his position (see Numbers 83 and 84 in my Blog Contents List).
    3. Or we can lead him through the corner and back him into it.
    4. If using a rail, we can walk him over the rail and halt with the rail behind him.
    5. Play with as many safe corners as you can find or set up, to generalize the ‘corner task’ to different situations.


    Video clips

    Clip 1: on right side of horse

    Clip 2: on left side of horse


    In the same way that music is made up of notes and the pauses between the notes, we must have pauses between asking the horse to repeat the same task. Because the horse is at halt for this challenge, the anchor task creates the pauses between our requests.

    We begin teaching the anchor task once the horse is comfortable standing in a corner, on a mat, with reasonable duration.

    An anchor task is what we do to ‘set the stage’ for what we will do next. For example, when I play with targeting body parts to my hand with Boots, our anchor task is lifting a front knee to my hand. It tells her what game we are about to play. Another ‘stand quietly waiting’ anchor task might be to always hang a special nose target in the spot you would like the horse to stand (park) while you tack up.

    As an anchor task for this behavior, I’ve chosen to rest my nearest hand lightly on Boots’ withers while she keeps her head forward. It is the position my hand would be if I were to lift the reins in preparation to giving a signal while riding. You might prefer a different anchor task.

    In our case, this is a bit tricky because I use the same anchor position I use when we do belly crunches while standing beside the horse. The handler’s body orientation is often a large part of an anchor task.

    I decided that Boots is far enough along in her training to learn to pause in this anchor position and wait for the next signal to find out whether a crunch or head flexion is the hot topic of the moment. You’ll see that we have a couple of conversations about this.


    • Stand beside horse’s withers.
    • Lightly rest your near hand on the withers.
    • Click&treat when the horse’s head is straight, or he is in the process of moving his head into the ‘straight’ position.
    • Step forward to deliver the treat so the horse keeps his head straight, then step back into position beside the withers.
    • Repeat until the horse confidently stays facing forward until you click&treat for 3-4 seconds.


    Covered in video clips 1 & 2 as above. Clip 2 is on the left side of horse.

    1. Hold the target out of sight behind your back and review the anchor task.
    2. When the horse stands reliably with his head forward in the anchor position, bring the target forward so he has to turn his head a little bit to touch it: click&treat & step forward so the horse straightens his head to receive the treat, putting the target out of sight behind your back.
    3. Step back beside the withers and put your hand back on his withers: click&treat for head forward until that is firmly established again (3-4 seconds). Be patient about establishing (and frequently re-establishing) this step because clever horses will want to skip straight from your anchor (hand on withers) to telling you that they know what to do – turn toward you (as Boots does in Clip Two).
    4. Repeat 2 and 3 above until the horse reliably waits for you to produce the target before turning his head. If he turns without your signal, spend more click&treat on facing forward. Make sure you keep the target out of view behind your back. If bending is harder, spend more click&treat on asking for the bend.



    You will obviously want different voice signals for right and left. Voice signals need to be short, clear, and sound different from other voice signals you use. I use “and Gee” for right. I use “and Left” for left. “Haw” for left sounds too much like “Whoa” which we use a lot. The “and” in front of the key word is a bit of a preparatory signal that lets the horse know a request is coming. My voice emphasis is on the key word.

    • Some horses do better if you teach something thoroughly on one side, then repeat from the beginning on the other side.
    • Some horses may cope well with doing a little bit on each side from the beginning.
    • Some handlers do better when teaching the task thoroughly on one side first.


    Video Clip 3 introduces the rope:

    1. Stand beside the horse’s ribs just behind the withers, facing forward, rope in the hand closest to the horse. Keep a drape or ‘smile’ in the rope. Ensure that the horse can stay facing forward with relaxed body language for 3-4 seconds in the presence of the rope: (click&treat).
    2. When 1 above is ho-hum, say your voice signal and gently use both hands to ‘milk’ the rope, putting light pressure on the halter, looking for the slightest ‘give’ of the horse’s nose toward you. Release (click&treat). Step forward to deliver the treat in a way that has the horse straighten his head again.
    3. Work with 1 and 2 above until the horse waits for the touch signal on the halter and willingly yields his nose. If he turns before you give the rope signal, spend more click&treat time on keeping the nose forward.
    4. If he begins to turn his head as soon as you move back into position behind his withers, also go back to click&treat for a straight head.
    5. Some horses catch on very quickly. Others may need multiple short sessions.
    6. Teaching a horse with no rope experience is usually easier than teaching a horse who has had rough treatment with ropes. In the second case, you must adjust your training plan to help overcome any anxiety the horse carries from previous handling.


    Video Clip 4 includes generalizations:

    1. Once the whole task is smooth and ho-hum on both sides of the horse, move away from the corner but still use a mat. Do the task in a variety of different places.
    2. Once 1 above is good in a variety of places, omit the mat and again work in a variety of places and spaces.
    3. Replace the rope/halter touch signal with a distinctive hand signal that can be used to draw the horse right or left at liberty.
    4. Once the horse understands the halter touch signal via the rope, plus the voice signal, the anchor task can morph into just standing quietly together.
    5. Use the touch and voice signals while in motion to change direction, keeping the pressure on the rope as light as possible.
    6. Building a strong history of response to directional voice signals is most helpful if you are planning to teach long-reining and if you take part in Horse Agility.
    7. These five short clips called Soft Rein Response give further ideas about how we can generalize the task further using reins but without being mounted.

    Line Dancing with the Front Feet


    An interesting aspect of horse anatomy is that their shoulder blades are not linked to each other with bone. Horse shoulder blades are embedded in muscles, tendons and ligaments. The spine passes between them. In other words, horses have no equivalent to our collar bone.

    This ‘line-dancing’ exercise helps keep the muscles and ligaments in the shoulder area supple.

    We can introduce this task once our horse knows the tasks of yielding the forequarters on request and targeting the shoulder to our hand. We ask for one movement yielding the near front leg away from us and a second movement bringing the near front leg back into its normal position.


    When we cross our leg toward the horse we’d like him to move his near front leg across in front of his far front leg. When we uncross our leg and draw away from him, we would like him to bring his leg back into normal position.


    1. Horse and handler understand ‘Intent and Zero Intent’ body language. See Number 10 in my Blog Contents List – the link is at the top of the screen.
    2. Handler and horse have worked out Consent Signals so the horse can tell the handler when he is ready to repeat the task. See Number 11 in my Blog Contents List.
    3. Horse and handler agree on a signal to yielding the forequarters. See Number 85 in my Blog Contents List.
    4. Horse and handler agree on a signal for asking the horse to target his shoulder to our hand. See Number 27 in my Blog Contents List.
    5. Handler is aware of the Rule of Three to help set up training sessions that don’t turn into drilling. See Number 46 in my Blog Contents List.


    #262 HorseGym with Boots; Line Dance Front Feet.


    • A training area where the horse is relaxed.
    • Ideally he can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.


    1. When first teaching a task like, this it helps to always do it in the same place until our signals are consistently smooth and the horse is fluent with the task. I started in our open-fronted shelter because it meant that we could do a short daily practice even when the weather was unpleasant.
    2. Ensure the prerequisites above are all well established.
    3. Once the horse understands the concept, I introduce the voice signal “Across” for moving away and “Return” for bringing the leg back.
    4. Be aware that when we give signals with the non-dominant side of our body, we tend to be stiffer, less precise, and therefore less clear. Awareness of this means we can work on improvement.
    5. It’s important to only do a few of each of these per training session. The Rule of Three, as in Prerequisite 5, is a useful guideline. The brain consolidates new nerve pathways during times of rest. We never want training to become drilling. We want the horse keen to try something new we are teaching because he is keen to earn his next click&treat. If he loses interest we have gone too fast or for too long.


    1. Do a few repeats of click&treat for standing quietly together in your chosen area, using your ‘no intent’ body language during the ‘wait’ time. We need to remember to include this task in every session with our horse, no matter what we are doing.
    2. Cross your feet to model the behavior you want and gently touch the horse’s shoulder to ask him to move his shoulder over, so his near front leg crosses in front of his far leg. Click&treat this movement and at the same time uncross your legs and lean away from the horse to encourage the horse to return his leg to its starting position – feed the treat.
    3. If the horse steps away with both front legs or goes straight into a full turn on the haunches, we probably need to reduce the energy of our signal and time our click exactly to when the near leg lifts and begins moving in front of the far leg.
    4. Once the horse has the idea, shift the timing of your click to when the horse returns his leg into the start position – two behaviors chained to become the complete movement we want.
    5. Pause at zero intent for a little while before asking again. We can click&treat for standing quietly at zero intent any time it seems helpful.
    6. Repeat 2 above. If you get two or three good repeats. Pause. Then teach it again from the beginning standing on the horse’s other side. To maintain suppleness in both shoulders we must work hard to get both sides moving equally freely. If one side is stiffer, it is valuable information for us. Do a few more repeats on that side. And be aware of Note 4 above.
    7. When our signal is smooth and the horse is responding easily most of the time, ask for two ‘Across & Returns’ before the click&treat. Stay with two until it feels ho-hum.
    8. When two is easy, ask for three. You can gradually ask for more if you want to. I tend to stick with three or four on each side as our daily shoulder-stretching exercise.


    1. Do the task in different places.
    2. Work on a slope, standing either uphill or downhill.
    3. Add another element such as standing across a rail.

    Yielding the Forequarters

    Yielding the front end is an act of polite submission between horses. Bold, confident, imaginative horses especially, or fearful horses, may however not be keen to yield their forequarters. They may want to stand their ground and ask, “You and who else is going to make me move?”

    Horses engaged in games nip at each other’s legs and neck in an attempt to make the other horse ‘give way’, so scoring an advantage. This can be good-natured play or in the case of stallions, it can be a serious dispute drawing blood. When young horses living a natural life play this game it teaches them where they stand in the social order among their peers and this knowledge stays with them. A predetermined social order results in a more harmonious group life with reduced confrontational behavior.

    Depending on your horse’s character type and the relationship you have, he may be reluctant to move his front end away, or he may do it easily. By using clicker training, the horse can see the instant benefit (click&treat) of yielding his shoulder.

    People teach the shoulder-yield in different ways. The process outlined below uses props and positive reinforcement by starting with mat destinations that already have a strong reinforcement history.

    Some people use a hand-held target to lure the horse into the movement. However, I use a hand-held target for stretching exercises while the horse stands still, so also using it to ask for movement would contradict the stretching exercises.


    1. Safety. We want to develop a signal that easily moves the front end of our horse away from us.
    2. Smooth counter-turns to aid flexibility to change position easily. It also helps to create smooth weave or serpentine tasks.
    3. Aids proprioception (awareness of where feet are, what they are doing and how much effort is involved).
    4. Allows us to easily position the horse for foot care.
    5. Builds into a full turn on the hindquarters.


    1. Horse keenly targets mats with his front feet. (See Number 9 in my Blog Contents List.)
    2. Horse smoothly steps across rails. (See Number 18 in my Blog Contents List.)
    3. Horse understands ‘Whoa’ signals and can stand relaxed on a mat. (See Number 16 in my Blog Contents List.)
    4. 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.)
    5. Handler has developed the habit of holding the lead rope in the hand nearest the horse.


    • 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.
    • Something to make a barrier to create a corner. I used plastic jump stands in the video clip, but a raised rail, barrels or a couple of big cardboard boxes would do the job.
    • Two mats. Place one mat in the L-shaped corner and lay the second mat at 90-degrees from the corner mat, a few steps away from the open side of your L-shaped barrier.
    • A rail for the horse to step over to get into the corner.
    • Halter and lead or liberty. A short lead rope is easiest to manage.


    • Handler uses clear, consistent orientation, voice, touch and gesture signals.
    • Horse crosses front feet to yield the shoulder away from the handler on request.
    • Horse can eventually do a 360-degree turn on the haunches in either direction.

    Video Clip:



    2. 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.
    3. If one side is harder, stiffer, do a bit extra on that side, over many sessions, until both sides feel even.


    1. Walk into the corner, with you on the open side of the L-shaped barrier. Ask the horse to target the mat with his front feet; click&treat.
    2. Stand together with zero intent* for a few moments (it’s good to vary how long you stay at zero intent each time), then ask the horse to turn with you to exit the corner and head for the second mat you have set at right angles to the mat in the corner. At this point, you are drawing him with you out of the corner. Click&treat the halt at the second mat. For this slice we are showing the horse that the task is to move himself over to target the second mat.
    3. Add a rail for the horse to step over to reach the mat in the corner. The rail will make it less convenient for the horse to step back when you ask for the shoulder yield. In the video, I raised this rail a little bit to make more of a barrier. Proceed as in 1 & 2 above. Click&treat each halt at the mat in the corner and every time the horse targets the second mat with his front feet. FOR THE FIRST ONE OR TWO LESSONS, REACHING THIS POINT MAY BE AMPLE AT ONE TIME.
    4. When 1-3 above are smooth, adjust your side barrier so it has a space at the front where you can stand beside the horse’s shoulder. Walk the horse to the corner mat, with you now on the the barrier side, and end up standing in the gap you made beside the horse’s shoulder.
    5. Quietly place one hand on or toward the horse’s cheek or neck and the other hand on or toward his shoulder. Breathe in and raise your energy as you do this. Send your ‘intent’ (that the horse should move his front end away) out of your belly button. You are asking him to turn away from you and walk to the second mat for his next click&treat.
    6. Repeat once or twice and that is plenty at one time. Repeat in very short bursts. Two or three times during a training session, interspersed with other thing you are doing, is good. Frequent short practices work best.
    7. Each time you walk the horse into the corner to target the mat, put your body into ‘zero intent’ and click&treat a few times for standing quietly with you. Vary how long you stay at ‘zero intent’ each time.
    8. Re-arrange your props so you can do slices 1-7 on the horse’s other side.
    9. If you can, repeat 1-7 in different locations.
    10. Replace the high side barrier with a rail on the ground. The front barrier is still high. You’ll continue to use the second mat as your ‘destination’. Reaching either mat always earns a click&treat.
    11. When the horse smoothly moves out of the corner by yielding his shoulder and heading for the second mat, we can change a parameter. We will now click for the first step of the shoulder moving away. Ideally, we want the horse to step the near front leg in front of the far front leg. As soon as you see this happening, click&treat. In the video clip you’ll see how surprised Boots is to get clicked at this point (rather than moving all the way to the second mat) and she has a little ‘jolt’ to regain her balance when she hears the click which tells her she can stop to collect a treat. Teach in on both sides. Often one side feels harder.
    12. When the horse is smooth moving his shoulder over a single step as in 11 above, remove the side rail and the rail behind. But keep the front barrier in place. Hopefully he will not have formed a habit of stepping back when you ask for the shoulder to yield. Practice without side and back rails on both sides. Click&treat once for the first step yielding the shoulder, then again upon reaching the second mat.
    13. Once the horse smoothly yields the shoulder on both sides without the side and back rails, omit the barrier in front and work with two mats. If that is too big a leap, have a low raised barrier or just a ground rail as a front barrier.
    14. When 13 is good on both sides, work with one mat. Start with the front feet on the mat, then, one step at a time, ask for a full turn until the front feet end up on the mat again. Click&treat as often as often during the turn as you need to to keep the horse successfully earning his next click&treat. Click&treat too often is better than not often enough. We want to keep the shoulder-yield movement as pure as possible, without creeping back or surging forward becoming part of the behavior loop.
    15. When 14 is good, play at liberty without a mat. Click&treat for one good yielding step until that is excellent both sides, then ask for two and stay with two until they are excellent, etc. until you can get 180 degrees before the first click&treat, then the other 180 degrees, click&treat. Keep your ‘yield shoulder signal’ ON for the number of steps you want, then turn it OFF at the same moment you click, then treat. You want to use a ‘constant on’ signal for the duration of your request. If we are really consistent, eventually just our energy toward the horse’s shoulder will be enough of a signal for many horses.
    16. The day will come when you feel ready to ask for a full 360-degree turn with one click&treat upon completion. Objective reached.

    Yielding the Hindquarters

    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*.


    1. 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.
    2. Helps proprioception (awareness of where feet are, what they are doing and how much effort is involved).
    3. Builds into a full turn on the forequarters.
    4. 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.


    1. 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.)
    2. Horse smoothly steps across a rail. (See Number 18 in my Blog Contents List.)
    3. 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


    • 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.


    1. Stay with each slice until it feels smooth and easy for both of you.
    2. 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.
    3. If one side is harder/stiffer, do a bit extra on that side, over many sessions, until both sides feel even.
    4. Keep the sessions short, three – five minutes maximum. This is quite a demanding, concentrated task.
    5. 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.


    1. Walk the horse across a rail to park his front feet on a mat. Click&treat.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. For a few sessions, stay with achieving one good step under and across, on both sides of the horse.
    10. When the time feels right, remove the mat, and ask for two steps. Stay with two steps (on either side) for a few sessions.
    11. At some point the rail behind and the fence in front will become redundant.
    12. 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.
    13. When half circles feel easy, ask for a full turn (360 degrees). Celebrate.
    14. 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.

    Book Launch!

    My new book, Horse Fun Without Riding using Positive Reinforcement, is now available from Amazon as an e-book or paperback. The photo above is the e-book cover. Look below for a free preview.

    The e-book is available for a FREE download until midnight (11.59 pm) on Monday December 13 PACIFIC TIME. Be sure to work out when this is in your time zone.

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    Ringing a Bell


    This is one way to teach a horse to ring a bell. It has the bell suspended at nose height so it is easy for the horse to move it with his lips. Some horses may easily pick up a bell attached to an object and nod their head to cause it to ring.


    On request, the horse nuzzles a bell to cause it to ring.


    1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    2. Horse understands putting his nose on a variety of targets to earn a click&treat.
    3. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Number 11 in my Blog Contents List: Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals. Click here.
    4. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
    5. Revisit the Rule of Three in Chapter 1: Click here.


    #229 HorseGym with Boots: Ringing a Bell as a hand-held target.

    #253 HorseGym with Boots: Ringing a Bell. This clip introduces the bell hanging freely.

    #252 HorseGym with Boots: Bell Ringing.

    #231 HorseGym with Boots:  This clip looks at introducing the idea of picking up the bell and walking with it.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A large bell that can be hung.
    • Something on which to hang the bell so it is freely suspended at the height of the horse’s nose.
    • For generalization, a bell attached to a rope or similar easy for the horse to pick up.


    1. The horse will think about it and be willing to try again next day. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
    2. With tasks like this we can fit several mini-lessons of three repeats in-between chores or other things we are doing with our horse.
    3. When the bell is a hand-held target, remove the bell behind you to take it ‘out of play’ each time you click&treat. This will allow the horse time to enjoy his treat and let you know with a consent signal (Prerequisite 3) when he is ready to do it again. Also, it will be obvious to him when you present the bell into view again.
    4. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
    5. Click for any interest in the bell, even if it’s just sniffing the bell, then gradually click&treat for any sign of moving his lips to nuzzle the bell, even if it is not yet ‘ringing.


    1. Ring the bell yourself, followed by a click&treat for the horse. We want to let him know that the sound of the bell results in a click&treat. We also want to be sure that he is not spooked by the sound of the bell.
    2. If you think he might find it startling at first, use protected contact. Start ringing as softly as possible and make it louder as the horse shows confidence.
    3. Attach the bell to a hand-held stick so you can hold it out as a target. Click&treat when the horse puts his nose on it. This is outlined in video clip #229.
    4. Repeat 3 above with a major celebration if the horse nuzzles the bell enough to make it ring.
    5. Once it is reliable on one side of the horse, teach it again standing on his other side.
    6. Attach the bell to an object where it can hang freely at the normal height of the horse’s nose. This is outlined in video clip #253. Click&treat for targeting the bell.
    7. Wait in ‘zero intent’ until the horse nuzzles it enough to make it ring. Time your click as closely as you can to the very first bell sound. If this is not happening, try taping a string to the bell which you can quietly pull to make the bell ring a tiny bit as the horse puts his nose on it: click&treat at the very first bell sound. We want the horse to make the connection between the bell sound and the click&treat so he is motivated to make the bell ring himself.
    8. Once the horse is nuzzling the bell enough to make it ring, gradually withhold the click&treat, one second at a time, to encourage him to ring it for a bit longer. We might consider the task ‘complete’ if we get up to five seconds of bell-ringing.


    1. Set up the dangling bell in new venues and around other distractions. It could be part of a ‘circuit’ of different tasks.
    2. Once the horse is ho­-hum about ringing a dangling bell, we can generalize to him picking up a bell and walking with it as in video clip #231.
    3. Once the horse is carrying the bell attached to a soft item easy for the horse to carry, play with that in different venues. It could become part of your ‘Fetch’ games.
    4. Teach him to use his nose to ‘ping’ one of the little metal devices some shops use to let you announce that you need attention.
    5. Teach the horse to ‘play’ a keyboard with his lips
    6. Teach the horse to squeeze a bicycle horn for another novel sound.

    Kill the Tiger


    This is a fun trick once your horse is good at picking up rags from the ground or off a fence. However, we have to be careful to put it solidly ‘on cue’ or ‘on signal’ so that the horse doesn’t generalize the task to pulling off his saddle blanket if he is a ridden horse.

    I call it ‘Kill the Tiger’ because we only do it with the striped car seat cover we used in the video because, again, I don’t want her to generalize the idea to saddle pads or horse covers.

    It’s another trick to keep our horse amused if it is too wet, windy, hot or cold to do more active things. The process of putting this trick ‘on signal’ consolidates our ‘wait’ signal. It’s also a lateral flexion exercise.


    On request, the horse pulls a large cloth off his back and delivers it to our hand.


    1. Horse understands a ‘pick’ signal which we’ve taught for picking items off the ground as in Number 73 in the Blog Contents List: Picking Things Up. Click here.
    2. ‘Zero Intent’ is well established. Number 10 in the Blog Contents List: Intent and Zero Intent. Click here.
    3. Horse and handler agree on a ‘wait’ signal. Number 65 in the Blog Contents List:  The Wait Game. Click here.
    4. Horse is confident about having large cloths draped all over his body.


    #226 HorseGym with Boots: Kill the Tiger.

    #254 HorseGym with Boots: Kill the Tiger 2.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A large cloth or similar easy for the horse to grab.
    • Perhaps a mat for parking the front feet to clarify that we don’t want the horse to move his feet.


    1. Ensure that the horse has a sound understanding of the prerequisite tasks. Give them the time it takes rather than focus on the end behavior too soon.
    2. Three repeats are usually plenty to start with. The horse will think about the task and be willing to try again next day. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
    3. Click&treat with a frequency that keeps the horse being continually successful with the slice of the task you are working on.
    4. Decide on a specific cloth or gunny sack or similar that you will always use for this exercise. It’s a task we don’t want to generalize to anything we put on his back.
    5. It’s probably easiest to teach this thoroughly on one side of the horse, then begin again on the other side.


    1. Ask the horse to pick your chosen cloth off the ground; click&treat. Repeat a couple of times to ensure this prerequisite is smooth and reliable and that he understands your ‘pick’ voice and gesture signals.
    2. Ask the horse to take the cloth from your hand when you give your ‘pick’ signal.
    3. Make sure the horse is relaxed with your chosen cloth draped all over his body.
    4. Lay the cloth over his back and ask the horse to ‘wait’, using your zero intent body language.
    5. Gently pull the cloth forward with your hand so it is easy for the horse to reach with his mouth and ask the horse to ‘pick’ it off his back. At first you may need to pull the cloth partially off. Click as soon as he grabs it and treat after he releases the cloth to your hand.
    6. Repeat 5 above a few times each session. As the horse gets to understand the task, gradually use your hand less but make sure the cloth is relatively easy for him to reach. We want him to be successful each time.
    7. At this stage you will often get the horse keen to ‘pick’ the cloth as soon as you put it on his back (or even before you can get it on his back), so we must emphasize the WAIT GAME from Slice 5 and frequently put the cloth on his back for a few seconds and take it off again without asking him to ‘kill the tiger’.
    8. When the task is ho-hum for the horse on one side of his body, teach it again from the beginning on the other side.
    9. Since this is a flexion exercise, routinely do a couple on each side of the horse. If one side feels stiffer, do a few more on that side.


    1. Ask the horse to walk along with the ‘tiger’ on his back before you ask him to ‘kill the tiger’.
    2. Gradually extend the ‘wait’ time before asking him to pull the cloth off his back.
    3. Generalize to pulling a rope off his back.
    4. Generalize to other venues.

    How We Introduce Something New is Critical

    Before We Start

    Ideally, we consider the following points before we start.

    • We have thin-sliced the task into its smallest teachable parts and have an idea of where the early click points will be.
    • We have organized a training environment where the horse is able to relax. Ideally, he can see his herd mates, but they are not able to interfere.
    • We have thought about which part of the horse’s body we need to influence, and we’ve planned possible signal(s) to use (energy levels, body posture, body position, gesture, touch, words, strong intent). My book, Conversations with Horses, An In-Depth Look at Signs and Signals between Horses and their Handlers, looks at this topic in great detail.
    • The environment is set up to make it as easy as possible for the horse to understand what we want (use of a ‘lane’ or a corner; where we place the mat target or a nose target; use of barriers on the far side of the horse; where we position our body).

    We want to make the desired behavior as east as possible for the horse to do. Setting up the training environment to achieve this means we are already halfway there.

    For example, if water is challenging for the horse, we can start with walking through a box of rails on the ground, then put unusual surfaces down, like a tarp or these plastic bottles, before moving on to water.

    If, instead, the horse learns evasive moves during our first fumbling with a new task, our education program has suddenly become more complex and longer. A bit of thoughtful planning can make things much easier for us and for the horse.

    Ideally, we first try out our ideas with another person standing in as the horse. Or we can trial our process on a more experienced, forgiving horse. That allows us to eliminate some of the early trial and error in relation to our positioning and body language. 

    By practicing with a person standing in for the horse, our horse does not have to put up our first fumbling as we learn new motor skills.

    It allows us to be clearer for the horse when we first introduce something new, rather than confuse him because we have not yet worked out a smooth way to proceed.

    The first step is always to make sure the horse is relaxed and in a learning frame of mind. If something has brought up his adrenalin, we do calming procedures or something active until he’s used up the adrenalin and can return to relaxation. If he is uninterested, we need to make ourselves and our treats more interesting. Or stop and just hang out. Maybe the horse is tired due to the weather or other activities.

    Or we wait to start the new thing in a later session. If the horse gets tense during a training session, we must first look closely at our own emotional state and the energy we are communicating to the horse, often unconsciously. Both handler and horse need to return to relaxation before continuing.

    We start teaching each slice of the whole task with click points determined by what the horse is able to offer already. As both horse and handler get smooth with each tiny additional slice leading toward the whole task, we gradually chain the slices together and shift the click point until the whole task can be achieved with one click point at the end.

    When we begin teaching something new, we start by finding a beginning click point. For some things, this may be a very rough approximation of the final goal behavior, e.g. just a tiny drop of the head when we begin to teach head lowering right to the ground.

    This is illustrated in the first of two Head Lowering video clips in my Free-Shaping Examples playlist. Click here.

    We gradually shift the click point toward closer and closer approximations of what we want until we achieve the goal behavior.

    Good timing of the click allows the horse to become more and more accurate. Once the horse understands a task that we are free-shaping, like the head-lowering example, we add a signal (cue) so we can ask for the task and also put in ON CUE so that the horse learns that a click&treat will only follow if we have asked for the task to be done.

    When teaching something new, the focus of click&treat is on the new learning, but we can still click&treat good execution of things the horse already knows.

    Short clip about introducing water as an unusual surface.

    Consolidation of New Learning & Developing Fluidity

    The Consolidation Phase begins when the horse generally understands our intent, our signals and usually responds willingly with the move we want. 

    At this point, we can keep up interest and enthusiasm by providing an extra click&treat whenever any part of the task is done really well. 

    To put a new task into long-term memory (for horses and for people) it needs to be practiced at least 9 or 10 sessions in a row; ideally over 9 or 10 days in a row. Some tasks will take longer, depending on their complexity. If we can’t have a session every day, we need to accept that it will take longer to build a new behavior solidly. Keeping a written record becomes essential.

    How many ‘repeats’ we should do during one session is hard to pin down because it depends so much on:

    • What we are teaching.
    • The character type, age and history of the horse.
    • The skill of the handler.
    • The nature of the handler-horse relationship.

    For some tasks, a rule of thumb might be three practice repeats in a row, unless the first one is perfect and calls for a major celebration. Clicker-savvy horses are usually keen to work until you decide to stop, but even a keen horse can use a short break after 10 repeats of learning something new.

    If the horse is in the initial learning stage, a tiny improvement over last time is a valid click point, followed by celebration and doing something relaxing. During the whole training session, we could return to the ‘new learning’ task three times, in-between doing other things. 

    Generalizing walking in water out and about.

    Playing Fetch


    Some horses easily walk along carrying something in their mouth. Other horses find this a foreign concept. For such horses we must work through a series of slices to build up a new skill. My horse, Boots, has never worn a bit for riding, so walking with something in her mouth was a truly new experience.

    Some horses learn this quickly at liberty. Others gain security by being on halter and lead (kept loose) so we can give more guidance as we walk along together.

    This is only a possible training plan – each person/horse partnership must tweak the ideas to suit their situation – Individual Education Plans are different for each horse.


    On request, the horse moves to an item we have tossed away, picks it up and returns it to us.


    • 1. The horse understands the task of picking items up off the ground and handing them to you. (See Number 73 in the Blog Contents List for the detailed Training Plan).

    #224 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Things Up. https://youtu.be/gis3PF7OLlM

    #255 HorseGym with Boots: Picking up Cones. https://youtu.be/pHAPExzdUPk

    • 2. Horse and handler are comfortable going for walks together.


    #231 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Up Bell. https://youtu.be/x_Jk570Pnlc

    Short clip showing combining PICK UP with WALK TOWARD ME.

    #234 HorseGym with Boots: Playing Fetch. https://youtu.be/9L8xszYARaM

    Clip showing the various slices of the Training Plan.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Places to walk together.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Lightweight items easy for the horse to hold.
    • Halter and lead to go for walks.


    1. With this exercise, we are chaining a whole series of tasks together to build a new skill: 1) pick up, 2) walk holding the item, 3) release the item into the handler’s hand without dropping it, 4) turn holding the item, 5) move toward the item when it is thrown out and pick it up, 6) turn to walk back to deliver the item to the handler.
    2. Several repeats one after the other, of the slice you are currently working on, is usually plenty. A little bit often builds an enduring habit and the horse will be willing to take part next time you bring out your item(s). If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose the horse’s willingness to engage again.
    3. Each time you click, remove the item behind you to take it ‘out of play’. It will then be obvious to him when you preset the item into view again.
    4. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
    5. Any time the horse loses confidence, go back to what he can do confidently and gradually work forward again. Horses instantly pick up any emotion of frustration or annoyance or anger, so be sure to practice emotional neutrality except for gleeful celebration when things go well.
    6. A horse can’t be ‘wrong’ until we have carefully taught him what we want in a way that he can understand and does not make him anxious.


    1. Take your horse for a walk and occasionally halt and ask him to take the item out of your hand, hold it for x number of seconds (starting with one second) before asking him to release it back to your hand; click&treat.
    2. While taking your horse for walks, occasionally ask him to hold, then carry the item for one step, then release it to your hand. With some horses this slice may take many, many repeats. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up and try again, asking for it back BEFORE he drops it, even if so far you haven’t been able to walk one step ­– i.e., return to Slice 1 for a while.
    3. Once you have a single step and it is good 90% of the time, ask for two steps, and so one, adding one step at a time over as many sessions as it takes to maintain the horse’s willingness to try again. It’s easy to rush these early slices. To build a confident, lasting behavior, we do a little bit often over many days, weeks, months, depending on your horse.
    4. Gradually add more steps, one at a time, before asking for the item back. If he drops it, ignore it with zero reaction, pick it up and go back to what the horse can do confidently. Slowly work forward again from that point.
    5. Once he will walk beside you carrying the item for 15-20 steps, we’ll change a parameter* by slowly walk backwards so the horse turns and walks toward us, hopefully still carrying his item. Have a big celebration the first time he turns without dropping it.
    6. When he can reliably hold the item as he walks with you, turns toward you as you walk backwards, and walks toward you, we can add the ‘picking up’ part. We use the ‘pick’ signals we taught as in video clip #224. Ask him to pick  the item up and walk along holding it. Because we’ve changed a parameter (please pick it up first), we again click&treat for one step walking, and as before, build up to numerous steps gradually.
    7. Fetch: when he picks it up readily and walks with it, start to toss it a wee bit further away. Go to him as he picks it up, receive it from him and click&treat right away.
    8. When 7 above is good, after you toss the item away, walk into a position that makes it easy for him to walk toward you after he’s picked it up; accept it from him; click&treat. Gradually position yourself a bit further away ( and eventually at different angles to him) so he takes two steps, three steps, and so on to deliver the item back to you. When you change the angle note how well he can orientate himself to deliver the item to you.
    9. Once the horse understands that the task is to fetch the item and return it to you, wherever you are, toss out the item and stay where you are so the horse picks it up and turns to bring it back to you.
    10. Some horses will get into this game with enthusiasm. Others will do it in a sedate manner to earn their click&treat.


    1. Use a variety of item that are easy for the horse to carry.
    2. Play in a variety of venues.
    3. Add variety like walking over rails, backing up, or weaving while carrying an item.

    Ponying from a Bike or Scooter


    When my hips gave up riding horses but not riding my bike, it made sense to teach Boots to ‘pony’ from my bike. Usually people ‘pony’ a second horse while riding another horse.

    It’s a skill developed for pack horses or to exercise two horses at the same time. When my son was very small we rode together with his pony on a lead. Leading a horse from a bike or scooter rather than another horse comes with its own hazards and challenges.


    The horse walks/trots confidently and safely led by a person on a bike or a scooter.


    1. Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
    2. Horse and handler agree on voice and breathing signals for ‘walk on’, ‘halt’ with the handler beside the horse. Number 16 in the Blog Contents List.
    3. Horse and handler agree on voice and gesture signals for ‘back up’ while the handler is beside the horse. Number 32 in the Blog Contents list.
    4. Horse and handler have a good command of prompt transitions upward and downward using voice signals.
    5. Horse is relaxed about a dragging rope. It’s inevitable that we will drop the rope at some point to stop being pulled off our bike. #60 HorseGym with Boots – specifically the second half of this clip. Click Here.
    6. Horse and handler agree on voice signals for ‘right turn’ and ‘left turn’. #137 HorseGym with Boots: Click here.
    7. Horse and handler agree on signals for ‘go around and turn’. This is important to have smooth because as much as possible, we want ourselves between the horse and anything ahead that he might find worrisome. If he needs more space, we want him to move away from us, not into us. # 250 HorseGym with Boots: https://youtu.be/3oqPs4LM5AM and video clip #251 below.
    8. If riding on public roads or tracks, we must ensure that the horse has been given the time and opportunity to be comfortable around cars, motorbikes, trucks, dogs, pushchairs, other people on bikes, tractors, hikers, and children while the handler is walking with the horse. We need to feel secure with other road users approaching from in front or from behind. Trailers with flapping plastic are an ultimate test. Essential to get used to flapping plastic at home.


    #247 HorseGym with Boots: Boots and Bicycle. Older video – short.

    #228 HorseGym with Boots: Intro to Bike. Recent video.

    #230 HorseGym with Boots: Bike on the Road. Recent video.

    #251 HorseGym with Boots: Changing Sides. Recent video.

    #249 HorseGym with Boots: Scooter Outings. Recent video.

    #248 HorseGym with Boots: Bob meets Bicycle. Click here. Older video featuring a young horse seeing a bike for the first time.

    Materials and Environment

    • We need a safe enclosed place where it’s possible to use free-shaping to introduce the horse to the bicycle and establish the basic protocols using a lead rope.
    • A helper is great to have at the beginning.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • Quiet tracks, trails or roads to expand confidence. For public roads, the key is usually choosing the quietest part of the day.
    • Walk with the horse on the routes you will take, for many days, weeks, months, so the route is as familiar as possible. I’d walked or ridden our routes for a long time before ponying on my bike.
    • Bicycle or mobility scooter or similar.
    • Be especially sure the horse is not hungry before you set off. For some horses, a light mesh grazing muzzle can be a safety feature if the horse tends to dive for grass. Use it first walking out so it is not directly related to the bike. Munch-N-Go make a muzzle that is light and its easy to slip a treat into the side.


    1. It’s important to take the time to get all the prerequisites established. Although I put up monthly challenges, each challenge is just an idea that you may like to work toward. The real magic is in getting the prerequisites into good shape, which can take months or years, depending on many factors.
    2. Keep each session short. Three repeats is often plenty. Many short sessions keep the horse keen to ‘do it again’ next time.
    3. Click&treat often enough to keep the horse continually successful with what you are asking him to learn. Build duration gradually, but always be conscious of increasing duration as you can.
    4. Create a strong habit of using your voice signals all the time when they are appropriate, not just with the bike. Our “Whoa” response has saved my bacon numerous times. The “Back-up” with voice and gesture signals is essential. We don’t want the horse crossing in front of us unless we are inviting him to change sides.
    5. You may be fortunate enough to have tracks and trails where the horse can accompany you on your bike without the need for a lead rope. Some horses, like mine, will gravitate to the closest grass and stay there. If you are limited to public roads or tracks, safety with the lead rope is a must.
    6. When I take my horse out and about in the neighborhood, we have grazing destinations. If there is no grass, I take an ample supply of carrots and horse pellets which we stop to enjoy at the furthest point of our outing. In other words, I don’t expect the horse to randomly go with me. I give her a destination that makes sense to her. Horses who can move freely always know where they are going and why. We remove much of this self-determination from them when we want to do something with the horse. Working with destinations is a way to return it in a small way. See also Number 17 in my Blog Contents List: Destination Training.


    1. Have someone walk with your bike and you follow behind with your horse wearing halter and lead. Allow the horse to decide how close (or not) he will get to the bike. As soon as you see/feel interest or less tension (sighing, blowing out, lower head, softer body) – click&treat.
    2. Repeat 1 above until the horse is confident enough to walk right up close to the back of the bike, with click&treat for each sign of greater confidence.
    3. Ask the person wheeling the bike to slow gradually to a stop so the horse can touch his nose to the bike if he’s ready for that step; click&treat. Repeat a few times to consolidate.
    4. Have your helper ride the bike and repeat 1-3 above.
    5. At this point, if it feels safe, take off the lead rope so the horse makes his own decisions about approaching and/or following the bike.
    6. Without a helper: Walk with the bike yourself. Click&treat any movement of the horse toward you and the bike. The aim here is for him to want to come and target your hand or the bike to earn a click&treat.
    7. When 6 is smooth, ride the bike. Click&treat coming over plus any offer to move with you and the bike. At this point, it’s helpful to expect little but click&treat each tiny sign of increasing interest and confidence.
    8. Gradually work on duration of staying with you and the bike. Setting up a roomy reverse round pen is helpful at this stage – protected contact for you as the horse gains confidence. You bike inside the barrier while the horse follows outside the barrier. You can use foot targets in set places on the path of travel where you will always stop to click&treat, so the horse knows that there is a destination – a stop point if he stays with you. Eventually have just one foot target on the perimeter of the reverse pen.
    9. When the horse stays with you on the bike willingly and with confidence, see if you can speed it up so he trots. Sometimes transitioning to a higher gait brings out a spurt of excited energy. It’s good to test this out while you are in protected contact inside the reverse pen. It’s also a good place to work with upward and downward transitions using voice signals. Use your downward transition (trot-walk or walk-halt) voice signals as you approach the foot target when slowing down makes sense to the horse. Use your upward transition signal (halt-walk) as you leave the mat and your walk-trot signal a little while after you leave the foot target when the horse is anticipating reaching it again.
    10. Build duration without the reverse round pen by using foot or nose targets as destinations. Start with them close together and gradually put them further apart. If you used this method for teaching good leading behavior while walking with the horse, the horse will already be familiar with the concept.
    11. Introduce the lead rope into the situation. At first, walk the bike while leading the horse. When you introduce a new element to a situation, always go back to click&treat more often (in this case, anytime the horse is coming along smoothly for a few steps), then gradually less often as the horse gains confidence.
    12. When ponying from the bike at home in familiar places is smooth, venture out on the road first walking the bike. As mentioned in the prerequisites, ensure that you have walked with the horse many times on the public roads you plan to bike with your horse, so that dogs running out, horses or cattle galloping in adjoining paddocks, vehicles, children, and so on, have all been met before and worked through.
    13. When walking with the horse and bike is smooth, one day it will feel right to get on your bike. Keep the early sessions going away from home and returning home short – celebrate your safe return. It takes a long time to build confidence (yours and the horse’s) but it can be lost in a nanosecond.
    14. When you reach the farthest point of your day’s outing, allow the horse grazing time or stop for a generous jackpot of treats, before heading home again. This gives the horse a sense of ‘destination’ as outlined in NOTE 6.
    15. Slowly build up confidence with the types of landscapes you have for biking or scootering with your horse. Shorter distances done often are preferable to long distances less often.
    16. If you have graduated to a mobility scooter or similar, play with it at home first. Play with having the horse follow it with you while another person drives it. Walk the horse on the left side and the right side of the scooter, first with you nearest the scooter, then with the horse nearest the scooter. Practice the ‘walk on’, ‘halt’, ‘back-up’ transitions. Practice the ‘go around in front and turn to change sides’ maneuver (Prerequisite 7) from both sides until both sides feel smooth.


    1. Different venues.
    2. Electric bike.
    3. Four-wheeler – avoid horse having to breathe in exhaust.
    4. Golf cart.
    5. Introduce a rider to horse’s movement without having to ‘be in charge’.
    6. Ride one horse and lead a second horse.

    Signals versus ‘Cues’ or ‘Stimuli’

    This is an extract from my book, Conversations with Horses: an in-depth look at signals and cues between horses and their handlers. Please see the BOOKS tab above to easily preview any of my books.

    Defining a Signal

    In the horse world, there are several terms used for the signals we give horses. One is ‘aids’ which is commonly used when riding. The term ‘cue’ seems to have become popular with clicker trainers.

    Much more about Clicker Training is available in my book, How to Begin Equine Clicker Training. The term ‘stimulus’ comes from animal behavior laboratories.

    I prefer the term ‘signal’ because it suggests that a message is sent and the ‘correct’ or intended message is received by the other party.

    If a Morse code sender carefully sends his message, but the person at the other end does not know Morse code well enough to decode the message accurately, then the signal has failed. The garbled message may well lead to troubled times.

    In other words, if a signal does not relay the desired message, then whatever we have used as a signal is not acting as a signal. By definition, a signal must communicate the person’s message and be received as such by the other party, in this case, the horse.

    If it is not working as intended, the signal needs to be adjusted or changed so the message sent equals the message received.

    When we are with the horse, he is busy sending us signals about his emotional, mental and physical well-being. If we can’t pick up these signals accurately, then the horse becomes frustrated and misunderstood and often retreats from willing interaction by trying to leave or ‘shutting down’. He becomes reactive rather than responsive.

    Cues and stimuli are constantly bombarding all of us. A signal is something we want to stand out from everything else the horse is noticing and everything else we are noticing. We want the horse to easily separate our signal from all the other many cues that are constantly flowing in.

    At the same time as we are communicating our intent with our signals, the horse is trying hard to communicate his intent and his feelings with his body language. The more ‘in tune’ we can get with the signals our horse sends us, the better our two-way communication can become.

    In this work, I will use the term ‘signal’ rather than ‘aid’, ‘cue’ or ‘stimulus’. I’ll also refer to all horses as ‘he’ for ease of reading, unless I’m talking about a specific mare or filly.

    Like the rest of us, horses thrive on clarity and consistency of communication. 

    Building a relationship with a horse is like locating a set of keys to unlock a door so the horse’s true nature can come out.

    The horse’s total well-being depends on how well we can help him adapt to the peculiar life a horse must live in a human-centered world.

    While we are trying to get to know our horse better and understand his emotional, mental and physical boundaries, the horse is doing exactly the same with us.

    He is trying to read our intentions so he can be ready to react or respond, according to his perceptions. The more we understand about the signals we are giving the horse, the more we can develop a mutual language.

    Boots is reading my body language and gesture signals for stepping onto the balance beam.

    The more we realize that much of what we are communicating to the horse is in our unconscious body language, the more we can ‘still’ our body between meaningful signals. 

    ‘No Intent’ body language tell the horse that all we are doing is standing together quietly.

    We would like the horse to respond confidently to our requests rather than become anxious, reactive and bracing against the pressure of our signals. 

    The horse would also prefer to respond rather than become anxious, adrenalized and feeling the need to react by trying to escape, push through pressure or mentally and physically ‘shut down’ – hiding inside himself. 

    A horse needs a sound foundation of knowledge to enable him to cope with the very strange things people expect of their captive horses. 

    To do this we need to:

    • Take the horse through a careful education program 
    • Set up a teaching schedule suited to the individual horse’s background and ability and adapted continually to the feedback the horse gives us 
    • Give him every opportunity to master each small step of a large task, before asking him to string all the parts of a big task together. 

    This cutting of a whole task into its smallest teachable parts can be referred to as ‘thin-slicing the task’. 

    My book, How to Create Good Horse Training Plans, looks in detail at thin-slicing and writing Individual Education Programs (IEPs).

    For each step of the teaching process, we must make sure we are sending a clear message rather than a confusing mumble. Therefore, a key element for the success of any teaching and learning program is ensuring that our signals are consistent and clear.

    Horses are so sensitive that if we alter a signal even a little bit, they often think it means something else. The more things we teach our horse, the more carefully we need to think about the signals we use.

    We can give our horse the best deal by becoming more aware about:

    • The specific types of signals we can use
    • How we are orientating our body
    • How we can refine our signals as the horse becomes confident
    • How to use a ‘signal bundle’ or ‘multi-signal’
    • When we are ‘nagging’ rather than communicating.

    As mentioned earlier, it is the most natural thing in the world to expect the horse to change so it does what we want. However, in reality, it is by changing what we do that yields the results we want. 

    There will be variations in horse behavior based on each horse’s innate character type, his personal history, his relationship with the handler and the situation of the moment.

    Horses will always be horses and will respond in the way that horses respond. Being prey animals, their main concern is safety.

    Before we can cause change in the horse, we must become hyper aware of what we are doing while the horse is watching.

    Whenever we are in our horse’s view, he is picking up all sorts of signals from us – our posture, our energy level, our intent, what we usually do that time of day, any specific signal we may be giving and so on.

    Once we learn to pay close attention to the horse’s body language, we get better at understanding the signals the horse is sending us.

    A signal is a direct, purposeful communication between horse and handler. If we’ve carefully taught a signal for backing up, then the horse will back up when we give that signal. 

    Boots understand the ‘raised fingers’ signal to mean ‘please back up’. I may be using a “Back” voice signal at the same time, which means I’m using a multi-signal to be especially clear.

    If the horse raises his head and points his ears with strong concentration, we pick up his signal that something in the environment has his full attention. 

    The horse’s body language of raised head and ears focused strongly forward tells us that some cue or stimulus in the distance has captured his whole attention.

    First, we learn the horse’s language – his signals. Then it is up to us to teach the horse the language he needs to remain safe and comfortable in the human world – our signals.

    Since we have taken the horse away from his natural lifestyle and made him our captive, it is up to us to become fluent in Universal Horse Language and learn to use it effectively. To be effective we need:

    • An understanding of different horse character types.
    • An understanding of our particular horse’s character type.
    • Awareness of our body language and the different ways we use signals.
    • Knowledge about horse senses and sensitivity.
    • As much knowledge as possible about a particular horse’s background experiences.
    • To write good training plans which can be turned into individual education programs (IEPS) designed for a specific horse.
    • Adept use of body language, body extensions, ropes, reins.
    • Timely application of release reinforcement.
    • Adept use of reward reinforcement along with release reinforcement.

    There is detailed information about using reward reinforce-ment in my book, How to Begin Equine Clicker Training.

    The more fluent we are about understanding horse body language and the mechanics of both release (negative) and reward (positive) reinforcement, the better a teacher we can be for our horse.

    It is hard for the horse to learn from someone who doesn’t have a good understanding of who and what they are teaching.

    Before we head into an overview of the signals we use with horses, followed by a detailed look at each signal type, we need to look in detail at how horses sense and perceive their environment. (The next part of the book delves into this.)

     Once we are conscious of the biological differences between horse and human perception, it is easier to allow horses the leeway they need to feel safer in our company.

    Counting with the Hind Feet

    This task is an excellent exercise to work on the timing of our ‘click’ and melting into ‘zero intent’ to wait for the horse’s ‘consent signal’ to do a repeat. The task forces us to focus on the timing and consistency of our On/Off gesture signals. It is also an excellent mobilization exercise for the horse.

    Boots and I played with this occasionally for over a year, especially when time was short or the weather was rough, but also as a regular ‘end of session’ exercise. We did this after a year of working on confident ‘counting’ with the front feet as in Prerequisite 3 below.


    When I face the back of the horse and point to his hind feet with my inside hand, using an On/Off gesture signal, the horse lifts a hind foot when I point and sets it down when I remove my hand signal.


    1. Horse and Handler have developed good table manners standing quietly together. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
    2. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: Click here.
    3. Horse and handler are already confident ‘counting’ with the front feet. Click here.
    4. Triple Treat: #16 HorseGym with Boots. Click here.
    5. Horse is comfortable rubbed all over with a long object (video clip below).

    Videos: Counting with Hind Feet

    #246 HorseGym with Boots

    #243 HorseGym with Boots. The following clip shows the detail of working with ‘zero intent’ and waiting for the horse to give a ‘consent signal’ that tells us he is ready to try again.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse is able to relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A long-handled target to introduce the idea of lifting a hind foot to touch a target (which we eventually fade out).
    • A shorter target to accentuate the On/Off gesture signal (also gradually faded out).
    • A mat at first, to help the horse understand that we want him to stand still.
    • A safe fence or barrier alongside which we can stand the horse.
    • A variety of other barriers to use for generalization.
    • Two raised rails (or similar) to stand between.


    1. It’s important to stay with each slice of this task until the horse is fully ho-hum with it. In other words, repeat each slice a few time over as many short sessions as it takes for the horse to respond smoothly to your ON/OFF signal. If we take the time it takes to establish each slice, all steps of the overall task will be embedded in the horse’s long-term memory, giving us relaxed responses.
    2. Timing of the click is essential at first. It is the only way the horse can understand what you want him to do (lift his foot). Try hard to click as the foot is coming UP. If you’re unsure about your timing, practice by bouncing a ball and clicking when it leaves the ground. Or practice with a person standing in for the horse. Eventually we can relax the timing and click for the completion of one UP and DOWN movement. In the video clip you will notice that at one point I had to specifically wait to click after the foot returned to earth. Each horse will show his own little foibles.
    3. I don’t mind which foot the horse lifts. I prefer if he uses both. If a horse seems to use the same leg most of the time, make a big deal (triple treat / celebration) when he uses the other one. This is a mobilization exercise, so using both legs is good.
    4. When starting with this task, use the same location, same mat, same targets (until faded out) until the horse is truly confident with what you are asking.
    5. Often, it’s helpful to start on the horse’s left side, but we need to build the pattern standing on his right side as well. Spend a little more time on the side that feels harder. I like to teach each slice on both sides as we go along. An option is to teach all the slices on one side then teach them all again from the beginning on the other side. Or teach several slices on one side and then on the other side.
    6. Any time there is confusion (horse and/or handler), return to where you both feel confident and gradually work forward again. I had a terrible time remembering to use my inside hand for the gesture signal. When I used my outside hand I thoroughly confused my horse because gestures with my outside hand already had two different meanings, as shown on the video clip.
    7. Consistently use the hand closest to the horse (the inside hand) for your signal.
    8. A major part of the signal is the turning of our body to face the horse’s hind feet while we remain at his shoulder. As I turn, I add a voice signal, “Counting Rear”, to help differentiate this task from other things I do facing the back of the horse.
    9. It took us a long time (months) to put all these pieces together, with a short practice most days. I started in a consistent place as mentioned in Note 4.


    1. Stand the horse alongside a safe barrier in a place that you can use consistently for each session. The barrier stops the horse thinking we want him to move his hind end away. Ask him to park his front feet on a mat.
    2. Set the stage for the exercise by asking the horse to count with his front feet – a major prerequisite for success with this task.
    3. Turn so you are facing his hind end. Holding your long-handled target in the hand nearest the horse (inside hand) gently touch it to his hock; click as you touch and deliver the treat as you move the target out of play behind you.
    4. Repeat 3 above with Click&treat for any movement, even a shift of weight off that foot. When first teaching this, remember to click as the foot lifts UP.
    5. As the horse begins to understand that you click&treat when his foot comes up, hold the target near his hock, not touching it. The movement of your arm will become the horse’s clue.
    6. When 5 above is good, use a shorter target to point to the hind foot. Or shorten the target you have been using – or use the same-looking end on a shorter stick (a different-looking target may confuse an extremely sharp horse). Boots did not find this a problem.
    7. When 6 above feels ho-hum, go to an even shorter target and/or introduce the wiggling of your finger along with the target.
    8. When 7 above feels confident, refine your gesture to just lifting your arm and wiggling your finger. Immediately the horse lifts his foot, click, return your signaling hand to its OFF position lying on your belly, feed the treat with your other hand.
    9. When getting one foot-lift is reliable, and it feels right, ask for a second lift before the click&treat. Huge celebration if you get it. Remember we are using an ON/OFF signal, so put your signal hand into neutral on your belly before asking for the second lift.
    10. Vary between asking for one lift and two lifts. I count out loud as the horse lifts the foot: “One, Two” with a voice emphasis on the number I will click&treat if it is more than one. The horse learns that a soft counting voice means a request for another ‘lift’ is coming up.
    11. When 10 above feels ho-hum, ask for a third lift before the click&treat. Again, a huge celebration.
    12. Over time work up to as many lifts as you want. I usually stick with a maximum of five standing on the left and five standing on the right, but I vary the number requested each time we do it and might occasionally ask for six or seven.
    13. Once you have reliable lifts standing alongside a familiar barrier, generalize to other locations where you can stand the horse with a safe barrier along his far side to maintain the idea that he doesn’t need to move his body.
    14. Once 13 above is relaxed, stand the horse between rails raised to gradually wean away from a high barrier.
    15. The task is ‘finished’ when you can easily count your decided number of lifts on either side of the horse without needing any props.


    1. Play with the exercise in different venues.
    2. Play on a slope.
    3. Incorporate it into your WAIT game or your Four Corners Exercise. Click on the Blog Contents List at the top of the page to access these (Number 65 and Number 71 on the list).
    4. Use it as a mobilization exercise when it’s too hot, cold, windy, wet to do much else.

    Picking Things Up


    Some horses show a natural inclination to pick things up, in which case we can ‘capture’ the behavior with well-timed click&treat. The challenge with such horses is to quickly put the task ‘on signal’ or ‘on cue’ to counteract a tendency to pick up anything and everything in the hope of earning a treat.

    Others, like my horse Boots, learn to pick things up because it earns a click&treat. For such horses, we can thin-slice the whole process, starting with sniffing an item, taking an item out of our hand, and so on. Such thin slices might also help to put the task ‘on signal’ for the keen horse.


    On request, the horse picks up items , holds them, and presents them to our hand.


    1. Horse has a strong history of positive reinforcement for standing with front feet on a mat. #8 HorseGym with Boots: Duration on the Mat. Click here.
    2. Horse and Handler have developed good table manners standing quietly together. Number 10 in my Blog Contents List: ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’. Click here.
    3. Horse and handler agree on signals the horse gives when he is ready to do something again. Seeking the Horse’s Consent Signals: Click here.
    4. For Generalization with the bell as in the second video clip, handler and horse agree on a clear ‘recall’ signal. February 2018 Obstacle Challenge: Simple Recall Pt. 1. Click here.


    #224 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Things Up.

    #231 HorseGym with Boots: Picking Up a Bell.

    Materials and Environment

    • A venue where the horse can relax. Ideally he can see his buddies but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A variety of items safe and easy for a horse to pick up.
    • One or two objects that can serve as platforms so we can gradually put the items closer and closer to the ground. E.g. chair or a tub turned over.
    • Horse at liberty if possible.
    • For some horses, rubbing something that smells nice to the horse on the item can gain initial interest, but make sure it does not encourage the horse to eat your item, especially if it is something like a cloth.


    1. Three repeats of the slice you are currently working with is usually plenty. A tiny bit often is the key. The horse will think about it and be willing to try again next time. If we turn it into a drill, we usually lose willingness to engage again.
    2. Each time you click, remove the item behind you to take it ‘out of play’. This will give the horse time to enjoy his treat and let you know with a consent signal (Prerequisite 3) when he is ready to do a repeat. Also, it will be obvious to him when you preset the item into view again.
    3. Some horses quickly progress through the early slices as soon as you start. Others need a great deal of patience over may days of mini-sessions.
    4. Any time the horse loses confidence, go back to what he can do confidently and gradually work forward again. Horses instantly pick up any emotion of frustration or annoyance or anger, so be sure to practice emotional neutrality except for gleeful celebration when things go well.
    5. A horse can’t be ‘wrong’ until we have carefully taught him what we want in a way that he can understand and does not make him anxious.
    6. We are building a little chain of behaviors: pick up – hold – move item to my hand – release item to my hand.


    1. With the horse parked confidently on a mat so he knows you want him to stand still, offer your item: click&treat any willingness to sniff the item.
    2. Look for and click&treat any tendency to move his lips around the item. As always, take the item ‘out of play’ as you click&treat
    3. Look for and click&treat any tendency to open the mouth and use the teeth to investigate the item.
    4. Look for and click&treat any instance that you can momentarily remove your hand and the horse doesn’t drop the item. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up, and go back to click&treat a couple of times for the previous slice the horse IS able to do, before finishing the session.
    5. Once you can remove your hand momentarily, gradually build duration of him holding the item one second at a time. We want the horse to eventually hold the item until we put our hand out to receive it. Three seconds is good. Five seconds is great. Also praise and click&treat any indication that the horse is moving his head toward your hand to deliver the item to you.
    6. At this point, we can introduce a voice signal for picking up an item. I use the word, “Pick”. I also eventually introduce the voice signal, “Hold”, once the horse can hold the item for three or more seconds without dropping it.
    7. Once 5 above is smooth and reliable over several mini-sessions, introduce something that can act as a platform about halfway to the ground and put the item on it. At first you may need to keep your hand on it or near it by pointing to it and using your voice signal. Gradually move your hand further away. Pointing to the object along with the voice signal makes a useful multi-signal.
    8. We’d like the horse to move his head toward our hand to ‘deliver’ the item to us. Gradually move your receiving hand a bit further away so the horse raises/turns his head a bit more to ‘deliver’ the item to you. If he drops it, have zero reaction, pick it up and return to the slice where he can be successful.
    9. When 7 and 8 above are smooth, organize a platform a bit closer to the ground and repeat.
    10. When 9 above is smooth, put the item on the ground and ask him to pick it up and hand it to you.


    1. Set out a series of items and move along to to pick each one up.
    2. Ask the horse to pick objects like ropes or rags off a fence or similar. Some people have fun setting up a ‘clothes line’ with cloths for the horse to take off.
    3. Ask the horse to walk a step or two holding the object. Boots had great difficulty with this. She happily picked things up and gave them to me, but the idea of moving holding something in her mouth was totally foreign to her, maybe because we never used a bit when riding. I started out asking her to walk-on after giving her a willow twig which she ate as she walked. Then we progressed to one step holding an old riding crop; click&treat. When one step was solid we added steps one at a time. It took us all winter of playing with this during our morning walks before she felt comfortable carrying an object for about 15 steps.
    4. Ask the horse to recall a few steps, to ‘deliver’ the object to you. This is the beginning of teaching ‘fetch’.

    Counting with the Front Feet


    You may have heard the story about a horse called Clever 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 for a few minutes at a time 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 many short sessions, two or three minutes long, over many, days. By keeping it short, the horse begins to look forward to the new game as a relatively easy way to earn clicks&treats.

    NOTE: Items with an asterisk {*} are described in the GLOSSARY which you can access at the top of the home page.

    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. Horses are super aware of body positioning.
    • Refine the nature and energy of my signal for this task. We do a lot of different things, so it is tricky to keep all my signals ‘clean’.
    • 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*)
    • 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 developed to create confidence with standing on three legs for hoof care. Details of this are available in my book, Confident Foot Care using Reward Reinforcement.

    Once Boots readily 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.


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


    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 also 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 what we are doing. 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.



    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • The horse is not hungry.
    • A space where the horse can stand 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. Bulky things like pool noodles are harder to hold and harder to remove from view to ‘take out of play’.
    • A rail on the ground may be helpful in some cases.


    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 the handler for each ‘number’ counted. If pawing becomes an issue, repeated click&treat for ONE lift of the foot may (over many short sessions) may make it clearer for the horse.
    4. I start each session (once we can count more than ONE) 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, your timing will improve.
    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 a signal for ‘shoulder away’.
    10. HANDLER SKILL: The signal for each ‘foot lift’ is an ON-OFF signal.
    11. HANDLER SKILL: As you click, remove the target (and later your hand/finger) 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 as your ON signal. Once you are using your finger, make your moving finger the ON signal and learn to tuck your finger way for the OFF 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.


    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 the back of 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 has become 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 is 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’.


    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.

    Using Hoops for Foot Awareness – and More

    Hoops are handy obstacles to use for teaching a variety of skills. They are easy to set up and store. We can use them in numerous contexts. They can help us achieve a variety of objectives. For example:


    • Identify prerequisites for each exercise.
    • Practice thin-slicing the tasks.
    • Practice writing a training (shaping) plan for each configuration.
    • Hone our timing of the click.
    • Make our signals as clear and consistent as possible.


    • Develop foot awareness.
    • Gives a defined spot to learn the ‘wait’.
    • Generalize signals (cues) to new situations.
    • New puzzles to work through – mental stimulation.
    • Flexion exercises.

    Boots and I have played with hoops on and off for quite a while, as in the following video clips.  For a 15hh horse hoops about one metre across work well for trotting through, but we also use smaller ones for some of the other activities.

    The hoops are made with plastic water pipe with the ends held together either with the right-sized twig pushed into the ends or a stretch of hose either one size smaller to fit inside the ends or one size larger to form a sleeve across the ends. To make them more visible I wound electrical tape around them.

    Clip 1


    Clip 2


    Clip 3


    Clip 4


    Clip 5

    20 Steps Exercise

    Photo: Our horse walking with us confidently is basic to everything else we want to do.


    This is one of my favorite exercises. It is fun to do as a warm-up or a cool-down or if horse time is short. If you are energetic you can eventually do it trotting.

    This exercise encourages the horse to walk with us in position beside his neck or shoulder. It is a way of teaching ‘leading’ without the need to put pressure on the lead rope or use a lead rope at all. We can teach this exercise totally at liberty once the horse is clicker-savvy.

    The more precise we can be with our body language, the easier it is for the horse to read our intent.

    When we invite the horse to walk with us in the ’20 Steps Exercise’ we adjust our pace to the horse’s natural pace, so we can walk ‘in step’ with each other.

    When we do this task at liberty, it’s easy for the horse to let us know if he is not in the mood to do things with us because he can peel off in his own direction.

    If you have a safe, enclosed area, and protected contact is no longer needed, starting at liberty is ideal.

    If the horse is exuberant and protected contact remains a good idea, you can still do this exercise with the horse at liberty by using a reverse round pen (person in the pen, horse moves around the outside of it) or a stretch of paddock fence. If your fencing is electric tape, make sure it is turned off. Lots more about reverse pens here: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-64e

    Doing a little at a time keeps this exercise fresh and lively in the repertoire.

    If protected contact is a good idea, we can set up a reverse round pen with uprights and fencing tape. The horse moves around the outside of the ‘pen’ while the handler stays inside. We can make it a size that best suits the task we are working with.


    1. Handler refines clear ‘walk-on’ and ‘halt’ body language, energy level and voice signals.
    2. Horse willingly mirrors the handler’s energy changes and stays in position with his neck/shoulder area beside the handler.


    1. Handler is aware of using breathing and body energy level to indicate ‘energy up’ before moving off and ‘energy down’ before coming to a halt.
    2. Handler had decided on clear ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ voice signals.
    3. Handler has developed a consistent ‘walk on’ arm gesture.
    4. Handler uses clear preparatory body language before coming to a ‘halt’, e.g. slowing down, breathing out and dropping weight into the hips.

    Optional: These prerequisites are nice but not essential. This task is a way of achieving or improving the three skills below.

    1. Horse walks smoothly beside the handler’s shoulder.
    2. Horse understands ‘Whoa’ voice, breathing and body language signals.
    3. Horse willingly responds to ‘Walk On’ voice, breathing, gesture and body language signals.


    • A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
    • Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
    • Horse is not hungry.
    • A safe, enclosed area for working at liberty.
    • If protected contact is the best choice, use a reverse round pen or use a paddock fence, whichever suits your situation best.
    • If there are no other options, use halter and lead, keeping a non-influencing drape in the lead rope. A light-weight lead is preferable.


    December 2017 Obstacle Challenge: 20 Steps Exercise.


    #30 HorseGym with Boots illustrates Boots helping Zoë learn the process with halter and lead.


    1. Standing beside the horse’s neck/shoulder, do the following pretty much all at the same time:
    • Raise torso and look ahead.
    • Breathe in deeply.
    • Gesture forward with the hand furthest from the horse.
    • Step off with your outside leg to walk one step using ‘draw energy’ to encourage the horse to move with you. The horse can more easily see movement of your outside leg.
    • Halt after one step by breathing out and releasing your energy; click&treat when your feet are stopped. If the horse has moved out of position accept that for now – deliver the treat as close as possible to where you want him to be.
    1. We will click&treat for EACH halt.
    2. If the horse is a bit surprised and moves out of position, move YOURSELF back into position beside his neck/shoulder and start again, raising torso breathing in, gesturing and stepping off to walk on. Slow down, breathe out, and drop into your hips to stop. If you are consistent, the horse will begin to take note of your breathing and posture.

    If you are on the other side of a barrier or fence from the horse, walk on and click&treat any indication that the horse is willing to come join you, then start again with 1 above.

    1. If you are not in protected contact, it’s ideal to start with the horse between the handler and a safe fence, so the option of swinging the hindquarters away is removed. I didn’t show this part in the video clip.

    If protected contact is necessary and the horse is unsure about what you want to do if you try using a reverse round pen or paddock fence, we can use a lane. A lane can work well because it reduces the horse’s options. The horse walks in the lane and the handler walks on the outside of the lane.

    Lanes can be set up with fencing tape and uprights next to an existing fence or made with bits and pieces like the one in the photo below.

    We can usually make learning easier for the horse by organizing our training environment so that what we will click&treat is easy for the horse to discover. Here ware are using a lane to initiate walking side-by-side together.

    Next Slices

    1. When one or two steps together is smooth, take three steps before the halt, click&treat.
    2. When three steps together are smooth, take four steps before the halt, click&treat, and so on.
    3. Each time you walk on, begin counting at ‘one’ again.
    4. Stay with four-five steps until moving off together is smooth and the horse stays in position beside you for the halt.
    5. Adjust how many steps you add before each halt and click&treat. It will depend on how fast the horse catches on to the pattern, the clarity and consistency of your signals, as well as how the horse is feeling that day.
    6. With some horses you can soon add steps in 2’s, 3’s or 5’s to reach the twenty steps.
    7. If the horse gets lost or seems to forget, go back to where he can be successful and work with a smaller number of steps until you gain true confidence.
    8. Gradually work up to 10, 15, then 20 steps before each halt, click&treat.
    9. Asking for 20 steps before the click&treat, carried out on both sides of the horse, is usually plenty at one time. But there is no reason we can’t do several sets of 20 steps if the horse stays keen.

    Be sure to teach this walking on either side of the horse. One side may be easier. Start again from the beginning (along a fence or in a lane) for the second side. Some horses easily transfer new learning to the other side. Other horses find everything harder on one side.

    Handlers usually must also focus to consciously produce clear, consistent body language with the less dominant side of their body. If the horse’s and handler’s stiffer sides coincide, everything will feel a bit harder at first.

    When a task feels equally smooth on either side of the horse, a big milestone has been achieved.


    • If you started with a lane, move from the lane to working alongside a fence.
    • Play the game in an open area, away from a fence-line.
    • Teach, then add drawing the horse into arcs and turns with the horse on the outside of the turn. See also: Smooth 90-Degree Turns: Handler on the Inside: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
    • Teach, then add walking arcs and turns toward the horse (counter-turns). See also: Smooth Counter Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5WK
    • If you can run, play with it at trot. It’s best to begin this in protected contact in case the horse finds it exciting.



    Reverse Pens

    Photo: using the fence around a grazing area as a reverse pen.

    A reverse pen is set up so the horse moves along one side of a barrier and the handler moves on the other side. People come up with all sorts of ways to make reverse pens. Larger is better for reverse pens so that the horse is not working on a tight bend. It’s important to change direction often. The video clips coming up show several ways of setting up a reverse pen.

    Any fence line that allows delivery of the treat across or through it can be used for reverse pen exercises. In a couple of the video clips I used the fence around the area Boots is grazing so I had nothing extra to set up. If the horse is comfortable working across electric fence materials (not electrified) we can easily set up (and take down as necessary) pens of any size or shape.

    Reverse pens are useful for:

    • Keeping ourselves in protected contact while in motion.
    • Some horses also feel more secure if the handler is on the other side of a fence at first. 
    • Working without halter and rope.
    • Discourage the horse moving his shoulder into the handler.
    • Encourage the horse to develop muscles that help him stay on a circle and not ‘fall in’ with the shoulder or to navigate corners elegantly if we use a rectangular or triangular reverse pen.
    • Using a hand-held target to encourage walking with us, gradually morphing into a hand gesture.
    • Consolidating ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ multi-signals (also see https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT).
    • Creating duration – maintaining a gait for longer.
    • Playing with transitions: halt to walk to halt; walk to trot to walk; trot to canter to trot.

    Often reverse pens are round, as in Connection Training’s ‘Around the Round Pen’ exercises. But they can also be rectangular or triangular, giving the horse the different challenge of organizing his body to negotiate the corners effectively.

    Using a Hand-Held Target to Encourage Walking with Us

    If we are going to use a hand-held target and a reverse round pen to encourage the horse to walk with us, we want to click&treat for the movement, not the catching up to and putting nose on the target. We don’t want to turn it into a chasing game. We present the target to encourage forward movement, click for the number of steps we decided to take before moving off, put the target down behind us out of sight, then deliver the treat.

     Building Duration Walking with Us

    #210 HorseGym with Boots: Reverse Pens Clip 4; Duration Walking Together


    We must decide how many steps will earn a click&treat before we begin. That is:

    1. We present the target.
    2. Walk ‘X’ number of steps (previously decided – kept within the horse’s present ability)
    3. Click.
    4. Remove the target while we reach for a treat.
    5. Feed the treat.

    Start with one step; click&treat. Add one more step at a time as long as the horse shows interest. Stop to do something else if his interest wanes or wait until your next session. Start each session with a few steps and gradually add more.

    Keep the sessions short and as you present the target, also use your body language, big breath in, energy raised and your voice ‘walk on’ signal.

    Fading out Hand-held Targets

    While targets are a great tool to initiate all sort of behaviors, it is important that we teach voice, body language and gesture signals once each behavior is established, so we don’t need to rely on carrying a target.

    By consistently using your ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ multi-signals, you will soon be able to fade out using the target, keeping your hands free. Your voice, energy and body language tell the horse what you would like him to do. Voice and body language ‘halt/whoa’ signals (as well as the click) tell him when you would like him to halt.

    Using Foot Targets

    If the horse has a strong history or reinforcement for putting his front feet on a mat, we can use that to work with a reverse pen. Using a mat target has the advantage of leaving our hands free. This clip looks at using mats after the first minute.

    In the following video clip, I began with the horse on a lead because that can be another way to start. Not everyone has the facility to work safely at liberty. The video clip explains the process: #162 HorseGym with Boots: Introduction to Liberty Circles.

    Once the horse understands our body language, gesture, voice and breathing signals, we can use them whenever we lead the horse. For walking side-by-side at liberty, we can develop the Twenty Steps Exercise: https://youtu.be/xYYz0JIpZek

    The mat idea works with riding as well as with groundwork.

    Some More Reverse Pen Clips

    In the next two clips I’m using the fence around the area that Boots is grazing, so there nothing extra to set up/take down.

    Over and Between Things

    Other Shapes of Reverse Pens

    The Planning Process

    Our training behavior and the horse’s response behavior are totally intertwined.

    Creating a detailed but flexible training or ‘shaping’ plan is essential for successful progression. A good plan helps us develop our training skills, and through our skills we show the horse how to relate confidently to what people ask of him.

    A written plan lets us to look both forward and backward, giving us a good idea of where we have been as well as where we are heading.

    If we keep records of each session, we can easily see where we must tweak our plan; where we must slow down and where it is going smoothly.

    Difference between a Training Plan and an Individual Education Plan (IEP)

    A Training Plan is an outline of the possible thin-slices (click points) that we might be able to use to teach a horse a particular skill. We can share training plans with other people to adapt to their own horses in their own environment.

    A Training Plan is the starting point for writing an Individual Education Program (IEP) that suits a specific handler, the specific horse and the specific training environments that they have available.

    An Individual Education Program (IEP) is a Training Plan carefully customized to suit the character type, age, health and background experience of the individual horse to be educated.

    The IEP must also consider the same factors in relation to the handler. For example, although I was athletic in my youth, bionic knees now set a limit to how fast and far I can move.

    My book, How to Create Good Horse Training Plans has much more detail than I can fit into this blog post.

    If you would like  a hand developing your next plan after reading this post, send me an email at: herthamuddyhorse@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to have a look at it.

    Summary of the Planning Process

    1. Decide Your Overall Objective

    Everything we do with our horse needs to be designed to increase his confidence with the human-dominated world he has to live in. If we are watching and listening, the horse will usually tell us what we should work on next to reach the overall objective we have set.

    Training that relates to the care, welfare and safety of all horses includes:

    • Haltering.
    • Rope relaxation and calmness.
    • Leading along and backing up.
    • Staying parked at a target or ground-tied.
    • Grooming.
    • Feeding time behavior.
    • Specifics like safely navigating gates and other tight spots.
    • Understanding the handler’s various leading or guiding positions.
    • Hoof care.
    • Vet procedures.
    • Being tied up.
    • Ground-work skills.
    • Gymnastic exercises for general fitness.
    • Road and traffic confidence.
    • Walking or driving out without other horses.
    • Walking or driving out with other horses.
    • Water and hill confidence.
    • Trailer loading, travelling and unloading if we intend to go elsewhere or if we need to evacuate due to flood, fire, earthquake
    1. Scope your Overall Objective

    A. Decide on your Overall Objective

    Now is the time to create a mind map or make a list of all the aspects of teaching  our overall objective that we can think of. We write down all our ideas, large and small, without giving them a value judgement at this point. Also pick the brains of other people you trust, especially if they also use positive reinforcement training.

    1. We then use the mindmap/list to come up with a set of TOPICS that relate to and underpin our overall objective.
    2. Next, we must put our TOPICS into a logical order of progression.
    3. Then we must decide which items on our mindmap/list are GOALS which fit under our various TOPIC headings.
    4. Then we organize the GOALS within each TOPIC into an order that seems to make sense.

    B. Next we define and sort specific GOALS that fit under our TOPICS.

    If our overall objective is complex, we achieve it by first teasing out the topics involved as in the mindmap above. Then we decide what goals fit within each topic.

    If we let the ideas ferment in our mind for a while and revisit them over several days, we usually end up with a more comprehensive plan. Every time I revise my initial lists or mindmaps, I have a few more ideas to add or I see new connections between things that I didn’t notice before.

    1. Break Down Each Goal

    It is helpful to have an overview of the whole planning process. We can outline the decreasing complexity of what we are teaching like this:

    • overall objective (most complex)
      • topics
        • goals within the topic
          • tasks to achieve a specific goal
            • thin-slices to achieve each task. (least complex)

    If we read this from the bottom up, thin-slices allow us to achieve a task. Several tasks allow us to achieve a goal. The goal is part of a larger training topic. Good training in all the topics allows us to achieve our overall objective.

    It’s important to set tasks that can be achieved in a relatively short time frame. Some goals might be so small that they easily become one task.

    On the other hand, a major goal may take months or years to achieve. But the individual tasks leading to that goal should be small enough so that the horse and the handler have a continuous experience of small achievements.

    1. Define the Tasks that will Achieve each Goal

    For each goal we teach a set of related tasks. When we have achieved all the tasks for each goal in a topic, we have mastered that topic. All the topics together achieve our overall objective.

    To review where tasks sit, let’s quickly revisit this outline of the decreasing complexity of what we are teaching:

    • overall objective e.g. FOR YOU TO DECIDE.
      • topics are all relevant to teaching confidence with the overall objective.
        • goals which all relate to a specific topic
          • tasks we need to master to reach a goal
            • thin-slices organized to achieve each task.

    Defining specific tasks is made easier by using a format called the ABCD method.

    A = Audience (of our teaching), B = exact Behavior we are seeking, C = in what Conditions will we ask for the specified behavior, D = what Degree of proficiency does the behavior need to achieve our purpose.

    A = Audience: your horse is the audience of your teaching. Think of the horse’s character type and what best motivates him. What do you think he may find easy or hard? If you are coaching another person, consider the character type of the person too. If you are working by yourself, consider your own character type.

    B = Behavior: exactly what do you want to see when the horse is carrying out the task the way you want? Sometimes as well as seeing, we can feel the horse’s response through the rope or reins, or we feel his body energy, relaxation or tension. Additionally, how do you want your signals for the horse to look and feel?

    C = Conditions: in what venues, with what props, in what environment(s)?

    D = Degree of Perfection or Proficiency: how are you going to measure what you are doing? Decide on how long, how many strides, how many rails, zero tight lead-ropes, how far, how fast?

    Once you have taught the basic task, it can be further developed to be performed more proficiently or to a higher standard as well as in different contexts and environments.

    When you describe each task with these ABCD points in place, your Individual Education Plan will progress nicely.

    Not defining tasks clearly is a major hurdle to good planning and good training outcomes.

    5. Brainstorm Possible Thin-Slices for Each Task

    Now all your thinking about your defined tasks can be put to work to create a brainstorm mind map or list of the smallest parts (slices) that make up each task.

    We can begin this part of the planning by writing down all the possible slices of the task as they came to mind, without putting them in any specific order.

    Remember, it’s easy to have too few slices, but we can never have too many. The more we can keep the horse feeling successful, the more he will enjoy his sessions (and so will we). If the horse is not being successful, we must adjust our plan so he can be almost continuously successful.

    Pretty much everything we ask horse in captivity to do is entirely unrelated to their natural life in the wild. If we always keep this in mind during our training, it is easy to cherish each small accomplishment toward our final objective.

    6. List your thin-slices in an order that might work

    Once you have a brainstormed list/mindmap of the smallest slices you can think of, it’s time to put them into an order that might work nicely for you and the horse.

    If the slices have been clearly thought out on paper, it’s easier to know what we are doing while we’re out with the horse. We can stay in the moment and our mind is free to interact with the horse rather than wonder what we are doing next.

    Pocket cue cards with the slices listed in order can be helpful. I generally use these if I’m working on a complex task.

    None of the sequences in a plan are written in stone. We get important feedback from each session with the horse. Either things went smoothly, or we need to tweak something.

    Maybe we need to spend a lot more time on a certain slice. We are always free to add, delete, expand or move our ideas around.

    When we have thin-sliced all the tasks for all the goals in each topic leading to our overall objective, our Training Plan is written! More accurately, the first version of a Training Plan for the overall objective is written.

    We don’t have to write the whole plan all at once. We can simply choose the first topic to work on, set the goals for that, work out the tasks needed to achieve one of the goals, then thin-slice the tasks one at a time.

    Thin-slicing tasks gets easier as we practice it. We get better at imagining all the pieces that make up the puzzle we have set for ourselves and the horse.

    7. Venues, Props and Time

    Think about:

    • The training venue(s) you have available.
    • The time you can spend with your horse.
    • How long you think it may take the horse to learn the task you are currently working on?
    • How long might it take the horse to learn all the tasks relating to the goal you are presently working on?
    • What props and helpers do you have available?

    You outlined the Conditions for teaching when you defined your task with the ABCD format. Now is the time to work out the detail of where and when and how you can set up the conditions that will make the teaching and learning as easy as possible for you and your horse.

    This is especially important if you must book venues or check when your helper(s) will be available.

    1. Decide How You Will Document Your Progress

    As part of your Training Plan, decide how you will keep a record of what you’re doing, when you did it and how it went during each session.

    My book, How to Create Good Horse Training Plans: The Art of Thin-Slicing outlines a variety of ways to document progress. There are digital record-keeping formats that some people find useful. One possibility is illustrated below.

    This format has numbered spaces to record ‘session scores’ – one for the horse and one for the handler, to fill in after each training session. This chart has spaces to record 18 training sessions.

    The format above has the benefit of being quick to fill in. Most of us have busy lives into which we must fit our horse time. Once our mind switches over to other parts of our life, it is easy to forget the detail of what we specifically did with our horse and how the session felt. The horse and the handler each get a ‘score’ which is just a shorthand way of recording a ‘session assessment’.

    We can use symbols or emoticons to indicate how we felt, how we thought the horse felt and weather details (make sure you create a key for your symbols). Hot, cold, wind, wet all affect how a session goes. If we train in various places, we can have a symbol for each place. If there is a time-break in our training due to life and/or weather interfering, we can note this as well.

    The sort of detail mentioned above is priceless when we look back on it. We can see how many repeats we did to get from introduction of a new task to getting it fluent and generalized to different situations.

    If we keep charts like this in our tack room or car there is an increased chance that we will fill it in right away while the session is still fresh in our mind.

    The following chart shows one possible way to score each session’s progress. Some people may prefer a ten-point scale so more nuances can be recorded.

    It probably works best for each person to make up a scoring details page that best suits their environment and their horse and how they like to record things.

    Note that the ‘score’ is just a quick way to define our assessment of a session. It helps indicate where we are while working through a process.

    There is no other value judgement added to the score numbers. For some tasks the handler may stay at ‘1’ for a while until he/she has sorted out the best way to introduce an idea to the horse.

    Every task we undertake will have its own time-frame to move from Score 1 to Score 5, depending on the many variables that relate to the horse and the handler.

    A possible scoring (session assessment) range may look something like this:

       Score    Horse’s Score (session assessment)      Person’s Score (session assessment)
          1 Situation and signals are unfamiliar to the horse. Experimenting to find best props/gear, best orientation, clearest signal and best timing.
          2 Horse is experimenting with responses to find those that yield a click&treat.


    Gear, body orientation and body language, voice and other signals are developing to be as clear as possible for the horse.
          3 Noticeably more fluent with the requested movements (or stillness).


    Signals are becoming smoother. Beginning to link one or more thin-slices of a complex task.
          4 Getting it right in a familiar area most of the time. Feeling the rapport of two-way communication with the horse.


          5 Desired responses are reliable in various situations and venues. Signals are fluid and consistent.


    Remember, the ‘scores’ are session assessments which are simply points along a continuum ranging from first introduction to something new all the way to smooth execution of the task. We are assessing the session, not critiquing it.

    Most things we want to do with a horse is a trick/game to the horse – something he would rarely do on his own. To teach the rules of our games fairly we need to be aware of the following questions that underpin all training.

    • What thin-slices do I needed in order to teach this horse this task?
    • How little or how much does this horse already understand about the task?
    • What gaps are there in my knowledge, gear handling and training skills that I should address first?
    • Am I aware of how am I orientating my body in relation to the horse?
    • How consistent are my signals?
    • How good is the timing of my release (click&treat)?
    • How good and consistent are my rope handling skills?
    • How well and consistently do I handle my body extensions (including rope/reins)?
    • How good am I at using my breathing and core body energy to show intent or relaxation?

    The horse can only be as smooth as the handler is smooth. The horse can only learn as smoothly as we can teach smoothly.

    9. Experiment with Horse and Self to Find a Starting Point

    This is where you find out whether your proposed thin-slices are thin enough and whether you have thought through the prerequisites carefully enough. The aim is to begin each task at a point where both you and the horse are relaxed and confident.

    You can, of course, do gentle experimentation all the time during the planning process. If you mostly work with the same horse, your starting point for a specific task may become obvious while you are doing other things.

    For example, if your horse is not able to easily lift each leg in turn to touch a target, then he may find it difficult to sort out his balance on three legs when you want to tend a foot. So addressing this would be a starting point for relaxed hoof care.

    10. Create your Individual Education Program (IEP)

    Now is the time to tailor your Training Plan by considering the character type, health, age, fitness level, and background experience of your horse and yourself.

    You already considered this to some extent when you thought about the Audience portion of the ABCD used for defining your task.

    Consider the time you can put into the project. Be careful to link your expectations realistically to the time you have available to be with the horse.

    Your experimentation may show that your Training Plan is too ambitious, and you need to slow down and do more thin-slicing of certain parts. Or you may discover that the horse already knows more than you realized, allowing you to move quickly through some of the foundation lessons from your IEP.

    It is important to still work through the exercises that already feel easy, rather than leave them out.

    You may discover that your horse finds something particularly difficult, so you give that more time and attention. Life, weather or injury may interfere, forcing you to adjust the time frame.

    As mentioned earlier, it’s important that the tasks you set are achievable in a relatively short time frame. Each small success is worth its weight in gold for motivation to keep learning, for both the handler and the horse.

    You may decide that some of your defined tasks are too large, so you go back to redefine them, slice them more thinly, until you have tasks that you can master in a comfortable, shorter time frame.

    11. Tweak Your Individual Education Program (IEP)

    Every horse, every handler, and every horse-handler combination are unique. What works magically with one horse may be a total dead-end with another horse. Each horse brings new challenges and triumphs.

    Every session with a horse gives you valuable feedback and new ideas. Things that don’t work are just as valuable as things that do work. By using a pre-planned set of thin-slices, we avoid a lot of unfocused activity that confuses the horse and leads to handler frustration.

    Inevitably, we’ll still get confusion. The IEP is always a work in progress. Tweak it as you get new information by listening to your horse, and when you make new connections as you think through a challenge.


    A good plan does the following:

    1. Decides on the overall objective and expresses it clearly.
    2. Scopes the topics that fall withing the overall objective and decides which topic might be best tackled first.
    3. Works out the individual goals that are part of each topic and decides on an order in which you will tackled the goals – but stays flexible.
    4. Carefully defines the tasks you need to master in order to achieve each goal and decides the order in which you will work with the tasks. You might work to develop elements of one, two or three different tasks during one training session.
    5. Diligently thin-slices each task into its smallest teachable/clickable portions and organizes these slices into an order that will probably make sense to the horse. Again, we must stay flexible and adjust our training to the horse that shows up on the day.
    6. Experiments gently with the horse to find a starting point at which you both feel comfortable. We do this for each task within each goal.
    7. Sets up your Individual Education Program (IEP), once you know your starting point, by customizing your plan to suit the horse you are working with.
    8. Tweaks your IEP to make learning easier for the horse any time you and the horse are not being continually successful most of the time. A vibrant planner is always thinking of different ways to approach things. If we are listening, the horse usually shows us the direction we should take.



    Movement Routine 3 – Fence for Focus

    Photo: Walking concentric circles is part of this routine.


    For Movement Routine 3 we are back to using a fence as a focal point to initially build the routine. A fence helps the horse maintain straight movement. It also makes it easy to establish beginning and end points for each circle in this sequence of tasks.


    • Transitions from walking forward into finesse back-ups.
    • Walking concentric circles.
    • Stay and Wait.


    1. Smooth ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ transitions staying shoulder-to-shoulder. (See Related Resources 1 at the end of this post.)
    2. We have taught the finesse back-up. (See Related Resources 2 at the end of this post.)
    3. Handler has developed a clear ‘Zero Intent’ signal so the horse knows when standing quietly is what is wanted. (See Related Resources 3 at the end of this post.)
    4. While walking shoulder-to-shoulder, the horse follows the movement of the handler’s body axis away from the horse to move into a circle. (See Related Resources 4 at the end of this post.)
    5. We have taught the horse to ground-tie. (See Related Resources 5 at the end of this post.)


    • 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 10′ (3m) or longer lead.
    • A safe fence or similar. A safe fence or barrier is one the horse can’t put his foot/leg through if he suddenly steps back. Tape fences can work well with some horses – NOT electrified.


    With halter and lead:  https://youtu.be/BHSztrpA8oo


    At liberty: https://youtu.be/O0dpTo6mXSs


    1. Memorize the sequence of tasks by walking the pattern without the horse and then visualizing the sequence often.
    2. The number of steps you take walking forward is not important. I tend to not take many steps when making the video clips to keep the viewing time short. I sometimes suggest a number of steps, but please suit that to your horse and your environment.
    3. However, the number of steps I suggest for moving backwards is significant. Horses don’t naturally do a lot of stepping backwards. We want to stay with only 2-3 steps at first, and gradually, over many short sessions, build it up one or two additional steps at a time. We want to avoid making the horse sore.
    4. While teaching this routine, or revisiting it after a long time, I generally click&treat for each part of each task. When the routine feels familiar, I move the click point along so we are doing more before a click&treat. Each horse will be different and each time doing the pattern will be different. I like to move the click points around a bit to stop the horse anticipating a treat at a specific point every time.
    5. The key to all these tasks is to keep a continuous drape in the lead rope, using halter pressure via the rope only momentarily for additional guidance. Most of our guided shaping comes via our body position, gestures, breathing, energy level and voice signals.


    1. On the horse’s left side, with the horse nearest the fence, walk forward maybe ten steps, halt for a second or two, then turn into a finesse back-up – asking for 2-3 steps back. Repeat two more times (three times in total).
    2. Walk a large circle (handler on the inside). At the point along the fence where you began the large circle, switch to walk a medium-sized circle. Reaching the same spot again, carry on walking a small circle. The circle sizes will depend on the space you have and how flexible your horse is. Start with large circles and gradually make them smaller as indicated by the increasing suppleness of the horse.
    3. Ask the horse to HALT alongside the fence, either ground-tied or put the rope over his neck/back. Then ask him to WAIT while you walk away about ten steps with your back to the horse. Turn to partly face the horse and take up your ‘Zero Intent’ body position for x number of seconds. Then walk back to the horse; click&treat. Gradually (over lots of short sessions with this routine) work up to a WAIT of ten seconds or more.
    4. Walk forward shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse, then turn into a finesse back-up without a halt first. With practice this can get lovely and fluid.
    5. Repeat the whole sequence of tasks walking on the horse’s right side.


    1. Practice alongside different fences/walls/hedges if you can.
    2. Once the horse shows that he knows the pattern, play with it at liberty along a fence using the same signals you have used all along.
    3. Once the routine is smooth along the fence, play with it out in the open first with a lead rope, then at liberty. Alternate on which side of the horse you begin the routine.

    Note that during backing up, horses usually push harder with one hind leg, so their hind end tends to veer away from the stronger leg. You may want to teach a gesture signal that allows you to regain straightness.

    Experiment with how your position to the right or the left of the horse’s head affects his backing up.


    1. Smooth Walk and Halt transitions: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT
    2. Finesse Back-Up: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5XL
    3. ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5RO
    4. Smooth 90-Degree Turns: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5VM
    5. Ground Tie: https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5WX