Asking the horse to back up in response to a rope wiggle is a common natural horsemanship training plan. We teach the horse to do this simple behavior using positive reinforcement and a quasi-pressure cue.
ALERT: Be strict about your increasing criteria.
Task 22 Subtask 1 Back up one step in response to rope wiggle
Overall objective: The horse will back up at least one step when the trainer stands to face the horse and wiggles the rope.
The Set-Up: The horse should be in a moderately large paddock with a length of a flat fence where it is safe to work. The horse should be wearing a halter and the lead rope must be six feet or longer.
Prerequisite Training: The horse should know how to back up in the Walk, Whoa, Back (WWB) exercise (T21.1). The horse should be accustomed to seeing the rope in various configurations (T16).
Protocol: Review WWB without any variation in the number of walk-on or backing steps, but vibrating the rope slightly on the back cue. When you are sure the animal will do it, as the animal starts to back, turn your body to face him and reward generously (multiple small bites) for performance. When the animal accepts you turning at a right angle, then turn farther to face him from the front. Increase the amount of rope vibration to be a true wiggle. If you reward with multiple small bites, the horse rarely has problems with this transition. Cease putting the walk-on and whoa steps in and just fade to only doing back. You do not need multiple steps at this stage, but you do want low latency.
QC: When the horse responds to the rope wiggle stepping backward, it is time to move to subtask 2.
- What if the animal turns his body instead of backing straight? Move to work along the fence so that turning is not an option.
Task 22 Subtask 2 Back up immediately upon rope wiggle request
Overall objective: We now want to drive the latency out of the response so that the horse responds quickly.
The Set-Up: You will be best off with a highly motivated horse. Feed multiple small bites if the horse isn’t very motivated.
Prerequisite Training: The horse should respond to a wiggling rope by backing up (T22.1).
Protocol: Continue from subtask 1 and differentially reinforce quick responses with multiple small bites and slower responses with a reward of only one miniature and meager bite. Having long periods where the horse doesn’t respond by backing at all should be avoided. Return to Subtask 1 if that happens.
QC: When the horse offers a very quick response 3 times in a row, proceed to subtask 3.
Task 22 Subtask 3 Back up six steps in response to rope wiggle *
Overall objective: The immediate response to a rope wiggle continues at least 6 steps.
The Set-Up: You have a motivated horse working on a longer lead-rope (about 12 ft).
Prerequisite Training: The horse backs immediately in response to lead-rope wiggle (T22.2)
Protocol: Use a countdown to help the horse understand it should continue backing. Do not continue wiggling the rope as the horse backs as it may be slightly aversive to the horse, but immediately restart the animal backing with a wiggle if the animal tries to stop.
QC: Task 22 is complete when the horse will back 6 steps in a row.