Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 13: Head in rope loop

Ropes are perhaps the most important and common horse handling tool. This task helps set up the horse to be easy to catch.

ALERT: Assume your horse could instantly become afraid of the rope. Take precautions to prevent your horse from going over threshold.

Task 13 Subtask 1 Target face to rope 10/min

Overall objective: We want to set the appraisal of ropes before we ask the animal to interact with it.

The Set-Up: You need a soft cotton rope. It does not need to be longer than about 3 feet. For a generally anxious horse, you may want to start with a rope about 1 foot long. Don’t use a rope with a snap or clip. You can start this process inside the pen or work through a panel.

Prerequisite Training: The animal should be calm to touch the face and neck (T6 and T10) and understand targeting the fingers (T4).

Protocol: Wad a bit of rope up in your hand and teach the horse to start targeting its nose to the rope. As the horse gains confidence in the task, gradually let more and more rope project from your hand until you have a loop about 9 inches in diameter. Start allowing the tail of the rope to be visible. Offer the target in various configurations from both the right and the left.

QC: When the horse shows engagement with the rope as a target no matter how it is presented, your horse is ready to work with the loop. When the horse is relaxed about this, performing this task ten times per minute will be no problem.

What ifs:

Task 13 Subtask 2 Push head into loop and accept rope above eyes for duration CD(5)

Overall objective: This subtask developed out of our experience with this task. Getting the rope above the eye is usually the biggest barrier. Here, we want the horse to push its head into the loop we offer and to allow it to remain over the eyes for CD(5).

The Set-Up: We have a very soft rope of at least 3 feet long.

Prerequisite Training: The horse perceives the rope as a target and will engage in it (T13.1). The horse knows how to target “star” to fingers (T6).

Protocol: Start getting the horse to target the center of the loop and feed the reward through the loop. Let your loop grow as the horse learns the task. Start requiring more than just the nose into the loop as the rope is larger. Work up to just above the eyes and then build durations to five seconds.

QC: This subtask is complete when the horse will push its head into the loop and you can hold the rope across the brow for a countdown of 5.

What ifs:

Task 13 Subtask 3 Push head through rope loop to neck with latency <3sec *

Objective: In this stage, the animal catches itself when we offer the loop. The animal will put its head all the way through a loop of rope when the human holds the loop up.

The Set-Up: You need an environment with reduced distraction.

Prerequisite Training: The horse remains calm while the top of the rope loop is held above its eye for a count-down of 5.

Protocol:  Continue from subtask 2, asking the horse to insert its head into the loop. Start letting the ends of the rope fall apart and drop off the horse, but don’t deliver the reward if the horse jumps away. When the horse can stand with the rope falling apart, ask for the animal to extend its efforts to push your hand with the rope to the base of the ears and forelock. When the horse can tolerate touching the ears, start extending your arm to push the rope over the ears and onto the mane, but take care that the loop falls apart carefully. Let the ends drop quietly and do not “capture” the horse. Do not confirm your horse’s suspicion that it is a trap. Instead, keep it on the level of a game.

QC: When the horse will initiate the head in loop game and will stand calmly as the loop comes off, then Task 13 is complete.

What ifs:

  • What if the horse gets stuck and won’t put his head in past his eyes (nose, ears, etc.)? Just be patient and keep working where your animal can be successful. Maintain motivation with small rewards at a high rate of reinforcement. Increase your criterion by centimeters rather than inches.