In the photo above Boots is leaning her weight toward me to connect with my hand which I held a small distance away from her shoulder.
Teaching the horse a signal to target his shoulder to our hand fits in nicely after we have taught him a signal to yield his shoulder away from us.
- Horse and handler are clicker savvy.
- Horse is mat-savvy.
- Horse is comfortable standing ‘parked’ with the handler standing alongside. To review, check out my ‘Using Mats’ blog.
- Handler has developed his/her ‘zero intent’ and ‘intent’ body language. To review, see the clip #153 HorseGym with Boots: Zero Intent and Intent toward the end of this blog or check out the ‘Zero Intent’ and ‘Intent’ blog.
ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS:
- A work area where the horse is relaxed and confident.
- Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
- The horse is not hungry.
- Halter and lead (kept loose) and a safe, enclosed area for working at liberty, if possible.
- For generalization, a hoop, ground rail, mounting block or similar.
Horse confidently moves his left or right shoulder toward the handler’s ‘outstretched hand’ gesture signal.
Video Clip: #160 HorseGym with Boots: TARGET SHOULDER TO HAND
When we request the shoulder to yield away, we project energy at the horse’s shoulder from our body’s core at the belly-button which causes our posture to be upright.
When we request the shoulder to move toward us, it is important to pull our belly-button back so that we create a ‘draw toward me’ energy with our whole body. Horses are so sensitive to advancing and receding energy from another body, that they easily read the intent of our posture as long as we are totally consistent and not sloppy.
Stay with each slice until it feels ho-hum and smooth for both of you.
Make each session extremely short, 2-3 minutes. The magic is not in the final result as much as it is in the process of helping the horse figure it out.
- Ask the horse to park squarely; click&treat.
- Take up a position shoulder-to-shoulder with the horse and relax; click&treat. Work up to standing together quietly for five seconds before the click&treat, on each side of the horse.
- Reach out the flat back of your hand to lightly touch the horse’s shoulder; click&treat the moment your hand makes contact.
- Take up the ‘no intent’ or ‘zero intent’ body position and wait to see if the horse is okay for you to carry on. If he continues to stand in a relaxed manner, he is probably okay to carry on, or you may have sorted out one or more ‘okay to proceed’ signals.
- Repeat 3 and 4 above, watching for any weight shift the horse makes toward your hand as you move it toward his shoulder. If he does, celebrate hugely with happy words and a jackpot or triple treat. Avoid the urge to see if he will do it again. Wait until your next session.
- When you feel the time is right, hold your hand a tiny distance away from touching the shoulder and WAIT for the horse to shift his weight to make the contact; click&treat. Some horses may step toward you to make the contact right away. For either one, celebrate hugely once again. Maybe do it once or twice more to consolidate the idea.
- It took Boots a couple of weeks of daily mini-sessions before she consistently leaned toward my hand to make the contact. Then it took more days before she confidently stepped toward my hand when I held it further away.
- Decide whether you want to continue teaching on the side you started with, or if you want to teach slices 1-6 on the other side of the horse before proceeding.
- When 6 is ho-hum, gradually hold your hand a little bit further away so the horse must take a sideways step to contact your hand; click&treat.
- Whenever the response seems slow or unsure (or is missing), go back to touch the shoulder; click&treat. Then work forward again at a rate that keeps the horse being continually successful as much as possible.
- When starting a new session, always introduce the task with a shoulder touch; click&treat, to let the horse know which game you are playing.
- Work to having the response equally smooth on either side of the horse.
- If the horse is mat-savvy, lay a mat beside the horse to act as a destination. Place the mat so the horse takes one step over to reach it. Gradually increase the distance to get two steps, then three steps.
- Turn on the haunches: ask the horse to step around to complete one/quarter of a circle (90 degrees). When that is smooth, work toward 180 degrees, and finally a full turn on the haunches (360 degrees). It can take a while to build confidence to do more than a quarter or half circle keeping the hind feet relatively in one place.
- Repeat 1 above on the other side of the horse. Because our bodies and the horse’s body are asymmetrical, one side is usually easier. It helps to do a bit more on the harder side until, after lots of short sessions, both sides feel smooth.
- Add a hoop (made so it comes apart if it catches on the horse’s leg) to the turn on the haunches exercise. This increases the level of difficulty, so start at the beginning with just one step and work up very gradually. Be careful not to make the horse feel wrong if he steps out of the hoop with a hind foot. If he does step out, quietly walk away together and return for a reset. The video clip demonstrates where I got too greedy, wanting too much, and it blew Boots’ confidence for a while.
- Keep each session super short and celebrate each new success hugely. This exercise enhances foot awareness.
- Stand the horse with his hind end nearer the mounting block than his shoulder, step on the block and ask him to bring his shoulder over so he is in the mounting position.
- If you want to focus on the horse moving toward you in a straight line, rather than in a circular pattern as above, stand the horse over a rail and see if he will bring his hind end along. If not, leave moving straight for now until you teach the ‘ribs toward me’ lessons.
- When shoulder to hand is smooth, start again at the beginning with ‘ribs to hand’. Follow the exact same procedure but start with a touch to the center of the ribs instead of the shoulder.