Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 18: Turns towards and away from Trainer

In Task 17, the horse learned to turn towards the trainer, but we also have to turn away. Don’t worry, this is an easy lesson for the horse. We review that lesson and then focus on turning away.

ALERT: Do not reinforce the horse for getting in front of you, either by bridging and feeding while horse is in front, or by offering Premack reinforcement such as redirection.

Task 18 Subtask 1 Turn towards trainer while walking with trainer

Overall objective: The animal will be able to follow a leading feel on a slack rope to do inside (towards) turns. This exercise is not about yielding to pressure but instead responding to body language.

The Set-Up: Start in a small space like the training stall. The horse should be wearing a comfortable halter and leadrope at least four feet long.

Prerequisite Training: Moving following the pressure of the lead rope (T17.2) should have prepared the horse to automatically do this.

Protocol: For the inside turn, use body language to invite the horse to follow. Bridge and reinforce for him following with his front legs. Do not try to control the horse with a short hold on the lead rope, instead, make sure the rope is slack and drooping a bit between your hand and the horse.

QC: This task is complete when the horse can make a left hand full-circle turn following the trainer, despite distractions.

What ifs:

  • What if the animal overly turns and passes me with his nose? An animal that does this is a bit dangerous as it is likely to hit you with its head as it swings by. Try reinforcing earlier and even if the horse gets passed you, require that it come back to get its treat.

Task 18 Subtask 2 Turn away from trainer while walking with trainer

Overall objective: The animal will be able to follow a leading feel on a slack rope to do outside turns. This exercise is not about yielding to pressure but instead responding to body language.

The Set-Up: Start in a medium-sized space like the training stall or an alley. The horse should be wearing a comfortable halter and leadrope.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should walk with the trainers in leading position on and off the leadrope (T17.2). The horse should move the front feet away laterally when the trainer gets too close (T15.3).

Protocol: Start walking along a straight fence, so that the fence is on the right side of the horse about 3 feet away. You will be turning to the right, back along the fence. Stop parallel to the fence and start crowding the horse to turn away from you. Raise your hands slightly to block his ability to continue forward and tell him he is too close. This hand block becomes part of the cue. Step into his space with the intent of moving his front end around (some authority in your body language) and if he gives way to you by turning his head to the right or moving his front legs sideward to the right, bridge and reward with food and scratching (if the horse likes it). On the first trial, I usually reward for 1) any head turn, 2) for getting the body to a right angle with the fence, and 3) for completing the turn. Make a big deal of it to help the horse understand he performed the correct response.  If he goes forward or back, just be patient. Practice beside the fence until the horse can perform the task smoothly, and only then train it in an open space.

QC: This task is complete when the horse can make a full-circle right-hand turn without contacting the human despite distractions.

What ifs:

  • What if the horse is nervous about this? Two undesirable things could happen. The horse could run away or the horse could turn a little bit farther, kick you, then run away.  If the horse is likely to run away and you are in a controlled space, remove the leadrope and let it work at liberty until it has confidence. If it runs away, it won’t be as dangerous to you. Shaping the turns in small approximations in a bigger space will help some nervous animals. Do not try to force the situation and out muscle the animal. Reward for the correct behavior and ignore other behaviors.

Task 18 Subtask 3 Follow in figure 8 with jaw at trainer’s shoulder *

Overall objective: The animal will be able to follow a leading feel on a slack rope to do inside and outside turns. This exercise is not about yielding to pressure but instead responding to body language.

The Set-Up: Start in a familiar open space. The horse should be wearing a comfortable halter and leadrope. We use a pair of 35-gallon tubs turned upside down to be obstacles to walk around in the figure-eight. For some horses (and especially burros), the tub itself will be an issue and it will be better not to use it. Our burros can eat out of a hopper all morning and be fearful of it when it is turned upside down — go figure!

Prerequisite Training: The horse should know how to do right and left turns from leading position (trainer on left side) (T18.1 and T18.2).

Protocol: Practice the first two subtasks in an open pen, turning in the corners, reinforce engagement. When the animal is sure to succeed, start turning more in the center of the area. If you use the obstacles, at first turn around them staying at least 3 feet out from the obstacle since brushing it may frighten the horse.

QC: When the horse is able to stay with the trainer on a slack lead walking in a figure-eight at least 3 repetitions in a row, Task 18 is complete.

What ifs:

  • What if my animal is afraid of the obstacle? They are rarely afraid of things that are common in their environment unless they are “Trigger-Stacked” or already in a state of anxiety from other aspects of the environment. Try to simplify things, make them easier, remove distractions, and turn it all into a game they enjoy. Keep the activity fun for them even if it means taking longer to get to your final criteria.

2 thoughts on “Task 18: Turns towards and away from Trainer

  1. Patricia Barlow-Irick Post author

    The “comments” are actually the descriptions on the YouTube videos. The one that is cut off says this: “Here we turn on the haunches. Notice the hand positions for the turn away from trainer, some variation of that will often help the horse make better turns away, even while walking.”

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