Magic Mustang Tamer

Turning Heads with Task 38

There is a lot to unpack about Task 38. It seems so simple, the horse learns to bend his neck in response to rein pressure. But here we are in a whole shifting paradigm of rein pressure, neck position, ancient horse taming techniques, ethics questions. If you are a member of the horse community, you will see at least a few of these red flags where we could stray off into total controversy. Let’s not.

Here is my ethical stand on all things to do with horse training. If you can train an animal to perform a behavior with no aids (reins, ropes, whips, etc.) and no privation, merely in exchange for a bite of alfalfa, it is not an ethical problem. You will not be able to train a behavior that is painful. But taught wrongly, this behavior could be painful.

When you just start with this lateral neck flexion, the horse might not be relaxed enough for a nose-to-girth touch. Let them stretch their muscles themselves and go wide the first couple of times. Then don’t actually hold their nose in place, let it swing away if the horse needs to straighten out.

I personally hold the view that there is something about the lateral flexion than induces calmness in a horse. I have had a few that would adopt this position whenever they were frustrated in their training. It was similar to a stereotypic behavior much like rocking back and forth for a human. I have also trained many horses to adopt this position with the intention of inducing calmness, but is it the training or the position that leaves them calmer? I find no scientific evidence to justify my theories, but horse trainers for the last 2500 years have included lateral flexion in their horse taming toolbox. We need it in our modern toolbox as well.

In the clip, we watch Bravo get reminded of the lessons of Task 17.4, He should have learned to bring his nose around to near the girth on both sides, in response to the hand on his face guiding him to that position. He should have learned to hold that position for a count-down from five. It is apparent that he has learned it on the left, but not on the right.

To teach the response to the rein cue, we merely fade out the hand on face and replace it with the lateral rope pull. We do not pull rearwards because that is very like the “backing” cue from Task 35. As the horse bends his neck, the lateral pull changes direction to remain at a right angle to his head, which does put the pull in the direction of the tail at the very end.

A horse has very little strength to pull laterally or to resist a lateral pull, but we don’t want to induce resistance what so ever. Neither do we want to train this with merely a suggestion of pressure. It’s like Goldilock’s porridge: not too cold, not too hot, but just right. In Task 50, we will up the pressure of this cue, so here is where we help the animal prepare.

Patterns to Develop

  • Discrimination between types of rein cues
  • Accurate response to rein cue

Patterns to Avoid

  • Moving front feet
  • Becoming fearful of halter or reins

In the What Success Looks Like video, you see more training that usual. This training does go fast, but it is something that you should review with your animal on a regular basis.

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2 thoughts on “Turning Heads with Task 38

  1. Post author

    Marja, Good question. I have never driven a horse except for ground driving (coming up in Task 51) so I don’t know the normal rein handling for driven horses. This video series is for saddle training. One of the things I have noticed in putting these clips together is that while it seems that I have my rein handling all sorted out into categories, that I am just explicitly teaching him the most extreme responses. Then what happens in actually directing him is always more subtle and combines cues.

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