Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 17: Yield to Lead Rope Pressure

The horse is now ready to switch gears and learn how to respond to pressure. We start out using positive reinforcement to create the habit of following the lead pressure.

The overall protocol separates catching/haltering (T14) from yielding (T17) to maintain a positive attitude about catching. Yielding to pressure can be done in a positive way, but there is a good chance that the animal will go through a stage of being worried by this procedure. Guard the animal’s positive attitude as a valuable asset.

ALERT: The concept of an instinctive “into pressure” response is based on the automatic response of pulling away from pressure. Donkeys are worse than horses when it comes to a low threshold for an into-pressure response. You really want to use light enough pressure to stay under that threshold, build a habit of correct response, and then teach the animal how to respond to increased pressure.

Task 17 Subtask 1 Yield to side pressure on halter by turning neck

Overall objective: The horse will respond to a pull on the lead rope by following the pressure with its head and neck.

The Set-Up: The horse is wearing a halter and a lead rope 1 to 2 feet in length (should not hang down farther than the horse’s knees). Task 17 is best taught with a trainer on each side of the body, so the animal learns that the cue isn’t where the trainer happens to be, but the cue is rather the direction of the pull on the rope.

Prerequisite Training: The horse must be comfortable about having the halter put on and wearing it (T14). The horse must be comfortable about the humans on both sides of its body (T3, T9). The horse must be desensitized to the sight of the rope (T13).

Protocol: The trainer picks up the lead rope and pulls it very gently at a right angle to the direction the horse is facing. When the animal tilts its head to look at the trainer, the trainer then bridges and feeds. The trainer on the other side of the animal takes a turn doing the same thing. The amount of bend in the neck required is increased as the animal starts to understand the task. Try to not stimulate the animal to actually take a step but don’t punish it in any way for doing so.

QC: This task is complete when the horse has virtually no latency in responding to turn its head in response to a pull.

What ifs:

  • What if the animal is following more than feeling the pressure of the leadrope? This is not a terrible problem. The animal might not learn how to really cope with leadline pressure, so the trainer has to be ready for that possibility later in the training, but you really don’t want to do anything to ruin the animal’s connection with the trainer.

Task 17 Subtask 2 Move feet to follow lead rope pressure *

Overall objective: The horse will respond to a pull on the lead rope by following the pressure with its feet.

The Set-Up: Same as subtask 1. This can also be practiced with a neck rope or you can also just put a little tug on the ID tag rope.

Prerequisite Training: Task 17.1 is required. Reviewing Task 15 will help the animal follow. The animal should be comfortable about wearing a halter (T14).

Protocol: Continue from Subtask 1, and start asking for more of a turn, pulling at least a right angle if not from further back (not from in front of the animal).  Be sure that your body is not blocking the animal from seeing the space to move into, clear the space needed by stepping out of the way in an inviting way. In most cases, the best way to bring the animal around is to face in the same direction as the animal, hold the lead rope with the hand near the animal and turn by stepping away at a right angle to the animal’s direction. The animal will simply follow.

Do not pull hard, just a steady tension is enough. It may take some time, so be patient. At first, reinforce for any movement toward you even if it is just a step of millimeters. The reinforcement is two parts: IMMEDIATE elimination of rope tension, and bridge and reward. It is best if your body language indicates pressure during the tension phase but does not present a barrier to movement; then at the release phase, your body language should echo the release such as relaxing your shoulders and standing with one leg resting.

Bridge for the animal’s first step and feed it so it has to continue another step to get the food. Increase the number of steps required as the animal starts to understand the task. It is helpful to have the second trainer be the feeder, but trade off or take turns being the leader and the feeder so the animal isn’t simply following a person. The horse will very quickly catch on to simply being pulled alternately right and left, so sometimes pull a direction twice before switching.

QC: When the trainer can lead the horse in a full circle in either direction with no resistance, this task is complete.

What ifs:

  • What if the horse is stuck on the side of the pen and I can’t get around it? Move your horse with nose targeting.

Task 17 Subtask 3 Lower head elevation in response to lead pressure *

Overall objective: The horse will respond to a downward pull by lowering its head elevation.

The Set-Up: The horse is calm, wearing halter, and very short lead rope. Bending down in front of an aggressive horse can invite them to bite you, remain very aware if you are training such a horse or skip this step for now.

Prerequisite Training: Continue from T17.2.

Protocol: Put some downward pressure on the lead rope by holding it directly under the halter-leadrope clip. When the horse drops its head, even a centimeter, simultaneously release tension and bridge, then feed. Practice a shallow response several times if possible (the horse will learn this so fast that often you can only apply pressure twice before the horse does the behavior preemptively), then change the criteria to drop the head lower. When the nose is dropping to between the knees and the chest, stop asking for lower but start asking for duration using the countdown. Let the rope become slack when the head is low enough, but then expect the horse to hold it in position during the countdown. Don’t keep the rope tight when the animal is performing the behavior.

QC: The horse will lower its nose to within 1ft of the ground in response to lead rope pressure and hold it there without rope pressure for 5 seconds.

What ifs:

  • My horse is too nervous to keep his head down? Practice just getting it there over several sessions. Introduce a nose target with duration. A horse that is addicted to adrenaline will resist the hardest because the body position automatically induces relaxation. Check your motivational factors.

Task 17 Subtask 4 Turn neck to put nose near girth in response to guiding pull of halter noseband.

Objective: We want to be able to turn the horse’s nose back to the girth and hold it for a count-down(5) without the horse moving its feet.

The Set-Up: You need a motivated horse.

Prerequisite Training: The horse needs to be comfortable about the trainer being on the side (T9). The horse needs to be willing to yield to halter pressure (T17.1)

Protocol: Face the horse’s shoulder and position your bag toward the horses tail (backward to normal hay-bag placement). Place one hand across the width of the nose on the lower bony part of the face (where the halter strap sits) and very gently pull the nose around toward you. At first reinforce even tiny turns, but increase the criteria to bring the nose all the way back to the girth. To do this, the trainer has to get out of the way of the nose coming around. Some people find this quite awkward. When the animal can bend around and is relaxed, start asking for duration using a count-down(5).

QC: When the animal will bend around and hold its position for CD(5), you are finished with Task 17.

What ifs:

  • What if it is not working? You are probably in the way and not feeding in the correct place. Check the videos.

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