Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 19: Interact with a Flag

Many times mustangs and burros in holding facilities have been chased with a flag and it has become a signal to run away. In this exercise, we create a positive appraisal of flags and desensitize the animal to the touch and movement of a flag.

ALERT: If you keep the horse under threshold for escape, things will go a lot faster.

Task 19 Subtask 1 Move head to target face to flag

Overall objective: The goal of this subtask is for the horse to acquire a positive appraisal of the flag as an object. This is not simple desensitization but rather counter-conditioning.

The Set-Up: Use a soft flag that is at least 16inx16in. Make sure it smells neutral or like horses (if people make them from household materials, they may smell like laundry soap, mothballs, etc.). It is best not to train this on a windy day, but if you must, make sure the wind will blow the flag away from, rather than towards, the animal.

Prerequisite Training: The animal should target to the guider stick (T5).

Protocol: Start out wrapping your flag cloth around the stick so it is small and doesn’t flap. Offer it to the horse to examine with only a few inches of the rolled flag sticking out of your hand. When the horse will target the rolled flag, gradually reveal more of it, and then let the flag gradually become looser on the stick until it is totally exposed. Be sure to lower the flag to your side between trials. DO NOT leave it in place. This subtask should take at least 15 trials.

QC: The animal should be able to target to the hanging flag at a rate of 10x per minute.

What ifs:

Task 19 Subtask 2 Stand for flag to be rubbed on body, legs, and head 5x *

Objective: The horse will ignore a flag waving around him, including over his back or near his legs. The speed of the flag will not matter.

The Set-Up: You need a moderate-size pen and the horse to be haltered and on a lead rope. Distractions should be limited.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should yield to sideward pressure on the lead rope (T17.2) and should have a positive appraisal of the flag (T19.1).

Protocol: Stand about five feet away (or more) from the horse, holding the lead and facing away from the horse. Start slowly waving the flag in front of you (as far away from the horse as possible). All waving should be done in a rhythm so it is good to sing a song while you are doing this to keep a defined rhythm. Try not to look at the horse while you are doing this; instead, let him just passively watch. Then turn to him and offer it as a target. Turn back around to wave it away from the horse, gradually increasing the lateral width of your wave. Make it monotonous as possible adding no emotional energy to the horse at all until you turn to offer it as a target.. When he is calmly accepting this and has no reluctance to targeting the flag, gradually increase the lateral movement of your flag to the point you are waving it out to your side where it will look the longest. Keep the flowing energy of your wave steady. As the horse targets the flag, remove it by dragging it up the front of his face. When the horse accepts this calmly turn your body to face the horse, gradually start letting the flag get closer to his sides and over his head. By maintaining a perfect flow, you can quickly have the flag over the horse and then begin letting the flag contact the horse. Usually, the horse is so mesmerized that it enjoys being touched. The slower you go, the more certain you are to be successful.


What ifs:

  • What if my horse has been hazed with a flag has learned to be afraid of it? Then it is very important to spend a lot of time on this activity or your horse may always be fearful of flapping things. Match the length of your leadrope to the size of your pen, so you can start in the opposite corner of the pen and spend a lot of time in the first positions of this activity as far away from the horse as it can get.

Task 19 Subtask 3 Walk to target flag on both right and on left

Objective: The horse will follow a guiding target offered from either its right side or left side..

The Set-Up: The extension on the flag should be 3 to 4 ft long, so the animal can trot after it without you having to trot. It is best to do this at liberty in a medium size training pen.

Prerequisite Training: The animal must be desensitized to the target, and know how to target objects to its nose.

Protocol: Remember that while the animal is eating and not performing, you should drop the target end to the ground making it a neutral signal. Review T19.1 with the horse, and then start moving the target to get steps, gradually building up to a walk around the pen. Use the flag to get the horse to walk a circle around you. When the horse can circle you, start moving the target faster to get a trot around you. Practice “walk-on”, “trot”, “whoa” and “back” using the target.

QC:  When the horse can follow the flag to circle the trainer going both to the right and to the left with no sign of fear, the task is complete.

What ifs:

  • What if my horse won’t hustle to get the target? Check your motivational factors. Start rewarding small increases in speed and nothing else until you get the speed you want. Be a model of the speed you want by picking up your own energy.
  • What if my donkey just cuddles up to me instead of targeting flag? Donkeys can be like that. Work through a fence if necessary to limit the donkey’s opportunity to touch you.