Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 16: Desensitization to Rope

We have introduced the rope in Task 13, but now we must get the horse used to have it touch its body and to move on the ground next to the horse. What we would really like is that the horse would not get afraid of the rope if it gets free and drags the rope.

ALERT:  The horse has been being rubbed, swatted, flicked, etc. by its mother’s tail since the day it was born. If you make your rope behave like a tail, moving in a lazy fly-shooing rhythm, it will seem perfectly natural to the horse to touch him anywhere. An old frayed rope is sometimes the very best thing.  Sometimes beginning at Subtask 3 is better than Subtask 1 for this reason.

Task 16 Subtask 1 Stand for CDP(5) with rope 3x

Overall objective: The goal is for the horse to stand quietly while the rope is rubbed all over as either a single length of rope or as a coil of rope.

The Set-Up: You are working with a calm horse in a quiet place. It is preferable for the horse to be wearing a halter throughout T16.

Prerequisite Training: The horse can stand in “easy” position while CD petted(5) (T10). The horse can be brushed (T11). The horse is accustomed to seeing a rope (T13).

Protocol: Coil the rope up very small and ask the horse to target its nose to it, then proceed as if it was a brush with a CD(5). Allow the coil to grow looser as you proceed, finally becoming unraveled with tails dragging. Experiment with ways of moving the rope to get more flipping of the tail, but never so much that the horse cares. Make sure to thoroughly accustom the horse to the touch of the rope on the croup, thighs, and buttock.

QC: The horse is finished with this when it can stand still while the rope is rubbed all over its body in CD petting.

What ifs:

Task 16 Subtask 2 Stand for rope around girth, neck, rump, back 3x *

Overall objective: The horse will accept the rope around its body. The rope can be moved around and used as a grooming tool.

The Set-Up: You need a soft half or three-quarter inch thick rope of about 10 feet length.

Prerequisite Training: The horse is accustomed to the rope touching its body (T16.1).

Protocol: Proceeding from subtask 1, the rope is allowed to hang over the far side of the body so that the trainer can catch the tail to bring it under the neck or girth (be very careful to not get kicked about getting a rope under the girth or belly). Then the rope can be pulled back and forth, turning it into a grooming tool of sorts. To make it an actual grooming tool, you can use a thinner rope with knots tied every 6 to 8 inches along its length. Do the rubbing with a count-down(5). Hanging the rope around the rump is more dangerous to get started – at first just have it drape around the croup, gradually dropping over the tail and onto the buttocks. The rump rope never works as well as the others but whatever you manage to do will be good for the horse.

QC: When the horse can stand while you encircle its body with a moving rope, you are done with subtask 2.

What ifs:

Task 16 Subtask 3 Accept rope on legs 3x *

Objective: The animal will allow rope to contact and remain in contact with its legs.

The Set-Up: Use a lightweight soft rope.

Prerequisite Training: The animal should be familiar with and not fearful of rope (T13). The horse should accept the human standing on the right and left sides (T3)

Protocol: Let the tail of the rope hang down almost to the ground while you are standing at the horse’s shoulder. Move the rope to make the tail swing slightly so that it momentarily contacts the horse’s leg. As it contacts the leg, hand a bite of hay to the horse. Keep your rope swinging in a slow tail swishing rhythm and just feed the horse to associate the sensation of touch with something positive. Move around to all four legs. When the horse seems to accept that with no concern, switch to flipping the rope on the horse’s legs in a count-down(5) or (3), stopping occasionally to rub the horse with the rope. Double reinforce calm acceptance.

What ifs:

  • What if my horse was previously sensitized to rope? Where the horse has a really deep fear of ropes (always from prior experience), I have had good results training the horse to bite the rope and pick it up. This seems to give the horse a sense of control.

Task 16 Subtask4 Walk calmly with rope dragging beside horse. (1 minute each side).

Objective: To help dampen the panic caused by a dragging leadrope, the horse should be able to walk calmly with a rope dragging beside it.

The Set-Up: Use a salient soft rope about 12 feet long. Do not attach it to the horse in any way. Work in an area with limited distractions.

Prerequisite Training: The animal should accept the touch of rope on its legs (T16.3). The horse should accept the human standing on the right and left sides (T3). The animal should stay with the trainer walking in a moderately sized paddock (T15.4)

Protocol: Review Task 15.3 Walking In Position with Trainer, then start letting the rope play out on the side of you that is away from the horse, first just dragging a foot or two, gradually lengthening it to full length. Reinforce the horse for staying in position for variable lengths of time. Try to keep the game as fun and rewarding as possible so that the horse wants to stay with you. When you can do it on the left side of the horse, train it on the right side of the horse. When you can drag the rope away from the horse on both sides, change to dragging the rope between you and the horse. Do both sides.

What ifs:

  • What if it seems like it is not working? Shorten your rope and keep walking, review task 15 if needed. Wear your best hiking shoes, work when it is good walking weather, and stay hydrated.  Some animals, especially burros, can be quite bothered by the rope at first, but make it rewarding to walk with you and they will come to accept the rope as normal.