Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 14: Stick head into Halter

This task involves teaching the horse to wear the halter (but not to be led). Just let them wear it and feel smart for doing so. All the good ways for haltering a mustang involve getting the crown-piece on first and the nose in the loop second. There are four good ways of getting the crown-piece on first: 1) pull the strap under and behind the neck then reach over mane to get strap end; 2) dropped halter over mane holding on to crown-piece; 3) dangle halter by strap and have horse put his head under arm and strap; and 4) for a halter with a clip on throat, have the horse target through the crown-piece loop and into the nose loop. If the horse will be adopted, it is best to teach them all four ways. We start with the halter with the throatlatch clip. Any method that starts with the horse putting the nose in the loop should be avoided with a fresh mustang as the movement of the crown-piece is likely to startle them.

ALERT: When a halter goes flying across the pen, the horse may change its classification of halters as less like rope and more like birds. No horse wants an unpredictable bird wrapped around its face! Maintain a secure hold on the halter to prevent this training problem.

Task 14 Subtask 1 Target buckle spot to two hands for duration CD(5)

Overall objective: Being able to handle the buckle with two hands is helpful, but your horse has not been accustomed to hands in pairs. We want the horse to actively put its “buckle spot” towards two outreached hands, and then accept touch and scratching there.

The Set-Up: You need to be in a low distraction environment with a calm, motivated horse.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should know how to target face parts and neck to a single finger target.

Protocol: You can work on getting the horse to accept the two hands first or you can work on targeting the buckle first. Try to decide which will be better for the horse.

To get the horse to accept two hands, target head parts a few times with the single finger target. Change the target to a flat outstretched hand with the thumb side up (this will be your right hand). Then when the flat hand is accepted, put your two hands together as if in prayer, and target to them held tightly together. Gradually relax them, move your fingers, and then let them come apart over the course of the individual trials. Start touching the horse in two places at the same time, first only an inch apart, growing to be a foot apart or more. This will be extended later in Task 14.5, the Mustang Hug.

To the horse to target the “buckle spot”, after targeting a few familiar spots (star, ear, eye, jaw, face, and neck), name the buckle spot [“buckle”] and touch it with a finger and bridge. Do this 3 times in succession, then hold your target a few centimeters from the spot and ask for [“target buckle”]. The horse almost always immediately understands and complies unless it is basically still fearful of being touched.

QC: This task is complete when the horse moves its neck to touch its buckle spot to a 2 handed finger target.

What ifs:

Task 14 Subtask 2 Push head into throatlatch-clip halter with latency <3sec

Overall objective: Horses that assist haltering are a joy. The horse should enthusiastically stick its head into the halter.

The Set-Up: Use a web throatlatch-clip halter that is a bit large for the horse. Set the crown-piece to where the noseband will land just above the soft non-bony end of the face. This will keep the animal from feeling its airway get restricted by the noseband.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should target head parts (T6.1), be accustomed to having its ears touched (T9), and push its head under the trainer’s hand when asked (T6.2). It should be able to target its head through a rope loop (T13). The trainer should know how to unbuckle a halter with one hand without pulling on the strap. Mustang halters are never buckled with the strap through both sides of the buckle in our facility because it makes it hard to take them off in a delicate situation.

Protocol: If the horse is sensitive to noises, you can associate the sound of the halter hardware jingling with food before you start. Then wad the halter up in your hand (I know… it’s really too big) and get the horse to targeting it. Let it gradually out of your hand so the horse has targeted to it in various configurations. As soon as the horse seems willing to respond to the full halter as a target, start holding the halter by the peak of the crown-piece and feeding through the open loop.  When the horse can stick half of its head into that loop, arrange things so you can hold the nose loop open as well. Feed through the nose loop and don’t give any hay outside the nose loop. Gradually require the animal to push its head farther into the halter. Try to make it a game for the animal in which the animal almost always succeeds if it tries. Make sure the animal is very calm about the whole process before you take the crown-piece all the way over the ears. You don’t want to surprise the animal with a halter on its head that you can’t get back off. No need to violate the animal’s trust, just go slow and keep it fun. Deliver lots of small bites (at least 5) for getting the halter on.

When the halter is finally on the head, you could pull it back off over the ears, but some horses do not like that. It is better to target the buckle and remove it with one hand. Keep a careful hold of the halter buckle as the halter falls off so that the animal cannot flip it across the pen and scare itself silly.

QC: When the horse will immediately participate in putting the halter on and you can take it off, this task is complete.

What ifs:

Task 14 Subtask 3 Stand for throat strap to be snapped 5x

Overall objective: The throat latch must be clipped after the halter is put on in subtask 2. But some horses are very fearful about the hand reaching under their jaw. Usually, this is not really a training task, but we have had horses take a week on this minor goal.

The Set-Up: Use a web throatlatch-clip halter that is familiar to the horse.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should be able to get its face into the throatlatch-clip halter (T14.2) and the horse should allow itself to be petted on the chest and ventral side of its neck (T9).

Protocol: Before the horse is wearing the halter, try putting your hand into the empty space between the jaw and the chest. Some horses are very sensitive to people reaching into this kind of blind spot. If the horse has no problem with this, you will have no training to do. If the horse is fearful, then either respondently condition the horse to allow the hand into the blind spot by associating it with food, or review Task 9 focusing on the chest, neck, and throat areas. Take your time if the animal is fearful.

QC: When you can reach down and pick up the throatlatch strap and clip it to the halter while the horse remains calm, you are done.

What ifs:

Task 14 Subtask 4 Stand for halter to be removed 5x *

Overall objective: Different parts of the haltering process can be frightening to a horse, some need extra work on de-haltering.

The Set-Up: You need to work in a low distraction environment if de-haltering is a problem for this horse.

Prerequisite Training: Your horse participates in getting the halter on (T14.3).

Protocol: Experiment with moving your arms and body as if the horse was being haltered without a halter at all to determine if the thing that scares the horse is the halter or the activity. Use a count-down while you perform the body movements without a halter and reward for standing still for the count. You can also associate the most fearful part with access to food, scratches, or the opportunity to practice a favorite operant behavior (such as targeting body parts).

QC: The horse is done with this subtask when you can remove the halter without the horse stepping away or pulling its head away.

What ifs:

Task 14 Subtask 5 Stand for mustang hug (arms around neck) 5x

Overall objective: The trainer needs to be able to put her hands and arms on each side of the horse’s neck and be able to scratch the withers on both sides at the same time.

The Set-Up: The horse must be calm and the environment should not be distracting.

Prerequisite Training: The horse must be calm about being touched (T10) and accept two hands on its neck (T14.1).

Protocol: Starting from where you left off in T14.1, change to count-down petting with 2 hands, and gradually increase the distance between hands so that the right hand can be on the withers and the left on the ventral side of the neck. When that is no problem, start extending your left hand around the neck to the other side, moving your body closer to the horse. Gradually deepen the hug until your body can be against the horse’s neck and both hands are scratching the two sides of the withers. (Note: OMG! YOU ARE HUGGING THE MUSTANG!!)

QC: When the horse stands calmly for a 2-handed wither scratch from a hugging human, you can proceed.

What ifs:

Task 14 Subtask 6 Target into crown strap over poll 5x *

Overall objective: When the trainer offers the halter by holding the unbuckled crown-piece, the horse should put its head under the crown-piece and then its nose into the nose loop on a normal side-buckling halter.

The Set-Up: Use a web halter that is a little bit big for the horse and that has a nose loop that tends to remain open. It is easier with a quiet well-trained assistant to feed the horse, but don’t keep an assistant that makes the horse nervous.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should put its head in a rope loop (T13), and stick its head in a throatlatch-clip halter (T14.2).

Protocol: With your right hand, hold the crown-piece out to your right side so that it forms a loop. Invite the horse to put its head through the loop (as you did with the rope in T13) and reinforce good effort. When the horse can put its head in far enough that you can hold the crown-piece above the eyes, switch to a countdown so the horse keeps its head under the crown-strap for CD(5). When the horse masters that part, start moving the crown-piece over the ears to rest on the poll and hold it for CD(5). Completely remove the halter between each trial. When the horse can stand still for the halter strap on the poll, start feeding through the nose loop, and then require the animal to put its nose through the nose loop. When you can get the halter on the nose with the strap over the poll, then just hold the end of the crown-piece and the buckle side and feed the horse very small bites of treat hay for at least five bites, then remove the halter and give the horse a tiny break (5 seconds) before the next trial.

QC: The subtask is complete when the horse participates in getting the halter on from a crown-piece loop configuration and can stand with the trainer while wearing the halter.

What ifs:

Task 14 Subtask 7 Stand for crown-strap to be buckled 5x *

Overall objective: The horse will allow the trainer to put two hands on the buckle and manipulate the buckle to fasten it.

The Set-Up: The horse has a halter on but not buckled. A well-trained assistant is helpful.

Prerequisite Training: The horse must be able to get into the halter and be able to have it remain on the head (T14.6).

Protocol: Continuing from T14.6, start doing a count-down(5) for the halter to stay on after getting it onto the head. Remove it between trials. When the animal seems like it is accustomed to the halter going on and it can hold for CD(5), then buckle the halter during the CD(5). Feed at least 10 small bites before taking the halter off.

QC: At the completion of this subtask, the horse will be able to be haltered by the poll-strap loop method.

What ifs:

Task 14 Subtask 8 Stand for halter to be put on 3 ways and removed with no evasions

Objective: The horse stands for the crown-piece to be put around its neck (either by dropping halter on the far side of the neck while holding the strap, or by sticking strap up on the far side of neck), then will help put its nose in the halter and let you buckle it.

The Set-Up: The web halter is comfortable and the horse is not afraid of it. A well-trained assistant is helpful to deliver the reinforcer.

Prerequisite Training: The horse can already be haltered two ways (T14.2 and T14.6).

Protocol: Desensitize the horse to having both sides of the neck rubbed with the halter. Use one of the two methods (strap passed under and behind the neck, or halter dangled down behind neck) to get the crown-piece over the neck and the halter hanging down on the other side of the neck. Pick up the hanging halter and help the horse get its nose into the nose loop, fasten the buckle and feed at least 5 bites before removing the halter.

QC: When the horse doesn’t mind you haltering in these new ways, and you can demonstrate the previous two ways of haltering, you are done with Task 14.

What ifs:

  • What if the horse is scared when I reach up to touch the buckle? Without the halter, target that area on the left side. If it takes 100 times, do it 100 times, but get the horse to where your hands there are nothing to fear. What if the horse the horse won’t try? Review your system for motivation issues.