Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 15: Leading at liberty

Mustang Camp always strives to create habits in its training, giving the animal maximum freedom. This avoids a lot of misunderstanding and resentment in the animals as they give up control to the humans. In this task, we establish a pattern of following that will soon turn into the constraints of a lead-rope.

ALERT: Do not bridge the horse when its face is turned toward you. Feed in front of the horse’s chest, not in front of your body. You will train it to do very bad behaviors if you are not consistent in these matters.

Task 15 Subtask 1 Move to put jaw next to trainer’s shoulder by moving forward or back

Overall objective: In this subtask, we teach the animal where it belongs. The animal will move to get into correct leading position (its jaw parallel to the trainer’s shoulder).

The Set-Up: The horse must be motivated and seeking to earn its treats. Halters are suggested (just for the practice of wearing one) but not required.

Prerequisite Training: The horse must be able to take food from the trainer’s hand (T1.3) and be comfortable about the human on the side of the horse (T3, and T9).

Protocol: Stand in the correct leading position facing the nose end of the horse. Put your right shoulder parallel to the horse’s jaw. Play target face using tiny bites of food, making the game as fast and fun as you can for the horse. When the horse seems comfortable about all of this, take a step forward passing the horses nose, then wait for the horse to take a step to get into position before you start the game again. Repeat this stepping forward until there is no latency and the horse has performed perfectly 3 times in a row. On the next trial, step backward, and wait for the horse to back up. On this trial only, bridge as the hoof starts to step backward. Go back to the face targetting game and then stop to ask for another backward step. When the horse is comfortable moving forward or backward to get you to play, dispense with the game and bridge and feed directly for moving. Bridge as the foot starts to move and offer the feed where the horse should end up. Do not reach back or forward to deliver food to the horse.

QC: When you can step forward or backward and the horse will adjust and return to the correct position, this subtask is done.

Task 15 Subtask 2 Move head/body away from trainer in response trainer being too close

Overall objective: If we are not careful, we will train our horses to be pushy. The animal must move out of your space when it is too close to you.

The Set-Up: Limit distractions and train when the horse is not overly motivated. If the horse is too hungry, it will be more likely to be more aggressive than nice. In general, it is a good idea to feed an overly motivated horse a few pounds of hay 30 minutes before you want to train.

Prerequisite Training: The horse needs to know how to adjust to the movement of the humans (T15.1) and be touched on the neck by the human (T10).

Protocol: Stand in leading position and play target face with the horse as in T15.1 (tiny bites of food, fast), then step closer to the horse’s neck so that your body contacts the neck or the shoulder. Just wait for the horse to move away and as soon as it does go back to the targeting game. Repeat until the horse will automatically step away laterally with the front legs when you get too close. When the horse will automatically step, start naming it with the cue [“too close’]. Later this cue will be useful for leading.

QC: The horse is finished when it will move away from being close to the human with the command “too close” or contact with the trainer’s shoulder.

What ifs:

  • What if I can’t stop myself from feeding the horse when I am anxious and it is begging? You have a problem that you have to fix. No one can do it for you. Your coping skills need to get better or you need to find some kind of tiny animals to train instead of horses.

Task 15 Subtask 3 Walk in position with trainer without pushing against trainer *

Overall objective: The animal should walk with the trainer without leaning on the trainer or wrapping its head in front of trainer.

The Set-Up: The horse should be in a bigger paddock, alley, or pen where there is room to actually walk.

Prerequisite Training: The animal should move with the trainer to stay in leading position (T15.1) and move away when trainer gets too close (T15.3).

Protocol: Review T15.1, then start moving farther. Bridge and feed for the animal being in perfect leading position. Do not use redirection to stop a horse from doing something you don’t like. If the horse passes you, do an abrupt about-face and stride off in the opposite direction. When the horse catches up to us, reinforce it getting into correct position. If the horse leans into your space, continue walking and tell it [“too close”], then ignore it as much as possible and let it figure out that there is no reinforcement available as long as it touches you. If it doesn’t immediately realize what to do, stop and review T15.2. You must be cognizant that the horse will learn to make you stop and play the too close game if you keep stopping to play too close. The horse will manipulate you if it can, so don’t teach it bad habits. The Premack Principle is very powerful and can be quite problematic in Task 15.

QC: The horse is done with T15.3 when it can walk in leading position with the trainer in the training area for at least one minute.

Task 15 Subtask 4 Follow trainer at liberty at various speeds *

Objective: The animal will follow in the correct leading form while under no form of restraint. The animal will keep its left jaw at the level of your right shoulder as you walk, trot, or backup. The horse will walk slow, backup, or will trot to maintain its position.

The Set-Up: Work in the largest pen that the animal can handle. Let the animal have some time to get comfortable with the location if it is new to the animal. DO NOT TRAIN THIS TO AGGRESSIVE HORSES: they tend to get excited, run past you, and kick you on the way by. Don’t ask me how I know this. Wait to trot with an aggressive horse until after it can be restrained by a lead-rope.

Prerequisite Training: The animal should walk with the trainer in the correct leading position at liberty (T15.3).

Protocol: Extend 15.3 by varying your speed and direction. Start out with small changes, then when the animal can adjust to small changes, let them become bigger. If the animal gets in front of you, abruptly turn and go the opposite direction. If the animal wanders or scoots off, respond with a Least Reinforcing Scenario. If the animal is not paying attention, terminate the session making sure not to leave any food behind.

What ifs:

  • What if my animal did poorly and I terminated the session? Do a motivation check. Try to reduce the food packet size and speed up the rate of reinforcement next time. Stay in the stall until all the issues seem to have cleared up. If the animal can’t handle it (eg. Stallion distracted by mares), then wait until you can attach the rope to the horse.