Asking the animal to touch us, rather than just touching the animal, is one of the most distinctive aspects to our training program. We believe that giving the animal control of this process ultimately produces a stronger bond of trust and a more empowered animal.
ALERT: To control your urge to reach for the horse, practice this without a horse or figure out how to physically restrain yourself. Extreme self control is needed!!
Task 6 Subtask 1 Target body parts to fingers with 1-3sec latency
SECOND ALERT: Make the animal touch you, don’t do the work for them! No reaching!
Objective: We overcome the doubt the wild horse has about humans touching its body by giving the animal choice and control. It desensitizes the animal to touch to various places and teaches the animal to respond by presentation of specific parts of the body.
The Set-Up: This can be done through a panel if the horse is still unreliable. It requires a relaxed motivated horse. You need to know what words you want to teach. Do not use “back” to mean his topline, but reserve that word for a direction to move. I use face, jaw, ears, neck, star, chest, shoulder, and withers. I do not teach body parts behind the withers to a recently wild horse for safety reasons. Once the animal learns a couple of parts, this goes quite fast as they seem to generalize the task to mean move the body part the human is pointing at toward the human.
Prerequisite Training: The animal must know how to target his face to the target in response to the cue pointing finger and verbal “target”.
Protocol: The animal may be more comfortable about either the jaw or the shoulder. Pick the one that the animal will be most willing to let you touch and point to it while verbally requesting target. I would say something like, “Target shoulder”. It would be more technically correct to not use the verbal cue until the animal is already doing the behavior and then fading in the cue, but the animal has previously learned the cue “target” and horses learn this quickly.
Shape a response of the animal moving to touch you with that part, either by placing your hand very near the body part, so it “accidentally” bumps into your hand, or having criteria of just getting closer and closer. When you get one body part, keep practicing it until the animal is very relaxed about it. Pick your next body part and start on it. By the 3rd or 4th part, the animal will be cueing off of your pointing finger. You can use the ones the animal knows to reinforce less certain ones (Premack Principle). Keep it a friendly game and differentially reward faster responses.
QC: The horse will move to put the requested part of his body in contact with the target.
- What if my animal does not want me to touch anything more than his face? Start with the face, star, eyes, ears. Add the cheekbones if you need a halfway step to the jaw. For more extreme cases, you may want to condition a tactile bridge of a double tap with the tips of your fingers. This helps the animal start to look forward to the tactile stimulation of touch. For this procedure, put the target fingers on somewhere the horse is comfortable with and let them move their body to reduce the distance between the fingers and the target. Shape the behavior to reach the target.
- What if my horse does not want me on one side of his body? That is the side of the body that you want to do this more on. Don’t even bother training the other side until you get the hard side done. Go back to Task 3 if needed.
- What if my horse seems like it wants to bite me? You can use the glove-on-a-stick until you build your confidence in your animal or you can train through a fence panel.
- What if the animal seems like it wants to kick me? Work with a panel between you and ignore kicking. You can arrange the animal to be in a corner where it will be kicking a fence, which is basically self-punishing. If the kicking behavior doesn’t just vanish as you are working with the animal, go to the Trouble Shooting Guide.
Task 6 Subtask 2 Push head under hand with 1-3sec latency
Objective: The horse will push his head forward under the trainer’s outstretched hand, so that the hand goes up the forehead, over the ears, and onto the neck. This prepares the horse to have the rope or halter strap passed over its ears.
The Set-Up: The trainer should be standing on the left side of the horse parallel with the poll.
Prerequisite Training: The animal must know how to target and accept touch to the face, star, and ears.
Protocol: Ask the animal to target its star to your outstretched flat hand. After reviewing this three times, keep your hand on the animal’s forehead and try to feel any hairs moving suggesting the head is moving downward relative to your hand. Reinforce this downward movement and shape it into the desired behavior. The trainer should only move her hand after the hand is on the ears, and at that point the trainer can push the hand on down to the mane and neck. This should be overtrained as an aid to haltering.
- What if my animal can’t tolerate touch on the ears? Be strict with the criteria but shape the behavior very gradually. Keep all touch very light. Offer 5-bites for a good try. Be patient and let the animal say “no” for now.