Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 23: Lead in Open Spaces Through Obstacles

Here is where your horse that has been a star pupil all along can suddenly come undone. Being herd-bound is a big problem when it comes time to walk alone. When the horse leaves Mustang Camp, chances are good that it will have to lead from a trailer parking place to its corral. In New Mexico, this can include going past a dog chained to a dog house, a pen full of ducks, through a carport, down a road, and/or over a stream. Will your trainee be able to handle it? Set them up for success now.

ALERT: This is where you get rope burns if you are not careful. Wear gloves, don’t use braided ropes, but use only twisted cotton. Learn to keep your hands low and close to you to have maximum control in a tugging contest. After a horse escapes, it is likely to be very frightened by the rope it is dragging. If your horse escapes and panics and runs around, you must not terminate the session, but instead, spend at least five minutes leading correctly and calmly in more familiar areas. Nurse your rope burns later; your responsibility is with the horse first.

Task 23 Subtask 1 Lead in pen areas (no evasions) *

Objective: The horse will lead without balking or bolting in familiar pens.

The Set-Up: This task requires going out of the smaller pen that the horse lives and trains in, but not too far away from buddies. We use adjacent spaces such as the alley, the training plaza, or an empty paddock. Each space should be evaluated for potential problems such as neighboring stallions, conflicting uses, and random scary things. Control the antecedents. The horse should wear a halter and have a leadrope of 8 to 12 feet. A strategically placed knot in the leadrope will help you hold it in most situations.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should know to walk with the trainer with its head in line with the trainer’s shoulder and turn out of a circle to face up (T21).

Protocol: Review Task 21 and simply extend it into bigger spaces. It is helpful, but not required to practice going through narrow gates and turning to close them. Reinforce the horse for maintaining correct position.

QC: When the horse can be led into any familiar area and maintain a correct leading position, this task is done.

What ifs:

  • What if my horse bolts away from me? Catch it and go back to Task 21 in a smaller space for at least five minutes until the animal is calmly performing leading behaviors. If the horse seems as if it will try this again, train Task 24 before returning to finish Task 23.

Task 23 Subtask 2 Lead into new area trainer with guider stick and leadrope on each side (or bulldoze) (no evasions)

Objective: The horse will lead into an unfamiliar space away from the herd while the horse is prevented from escaping.

The Set-Up: This task requires assistants. For most horses, one assistant is sufficient, but in really herd-bound horses, you may need enough assistants to outweigh the horse. The horse must wear a very strong web halter. There should be two 16 ft lead ropes to clip on either side of the halter. The trainer and the 1st assistant should each have a guider stick.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should be accustomed to the guider stick (T5), should be accustomed to being led from both the right and left sides (T21), and should lead well in familiar areas (T23.1).

Protocol: The horse should be familiarized with this two-person set-up before leaving the familiar pen area. With a trainer on each side of the horse, the trainers should hold their leadrope in the hand nearest the horse, and the guider stick and tail of the rope in the hand farthest from the horse. The guider sticks get used as if they were a gate, opening for the horse to walk on, and closing for the horse to stop. Don’t ask the horse to stop unless it is in the correct leading position, then bridge and reinforce for stopping. The trainer on the left side communicates to the horse and assistant what the group will do (always using the preparatory signal “ready”), and rewards the horse for responding well to “whoa”. The guider stick “gates” open with the “(ready) walk-on” command, and close on the “(ready) whoa” command. Again, be sure to prepare your horse for each command with the preparatory signal (see T15). The more anxious your horse is, the shorter the time between commands should be. The trainer should adjust to cope with potential problems once they leave familiar territory. Work at first where the horse is comfortable, and gradually extend to areas out of sight of the training pens. Make the areas of highest reinforcement always the edge of the horses comfort zone and be very stingy with food inside the comfort zone.

QC: The criterion for this task is that the animal can be led into new places away from the herd without evasion attempts.

What ifs: What if the horse keeps bolting away? Then you need to train Task 24 first to help your horse learn to understand the limits of its halter. Accustom the horse to follow a trained experienced horse into these new areas first. If the horse has learned it can get away, proceed to Bulldozing in the Troubleshooting Section.

Task 23 Subtask 3 Lead through unfamiliar area (no evasions) *

Objective: The horse will be able to be led away from the herd into less familiar areas without evasions.

The Set-Up: By now, you may have exhausted your supply of truly new areas. The most important criteria is that the horse be out of sight of the herd. The trainer may decide to retain the guider stick used in subtask 2 if it was useful, but now the horse is lead without an assistant.

Prerequisite Training: The horse should be able to be led by two trainers into new areas away from the herd (T23.2).

Protocol: The trainer should lead the horse into the new area, reinforcing the horse for maintaining the proper position next to the trainers shoulder. If the horse starts to become even slightly anxious, then return to an area where the horse is comfortable. Differentially reinforce new places, while barely reinforcing at all for any behaviors the horse performs in its preferred area. When the horse is comfortable about going into the area, use any features to make obstacles for the horse to go around or over. This can include bushes, vehicles, fences, feeders, sidewalks, hills, natural trails, gates, etc.

QC: The horse has completed this task when it can walk through a complex environment away from the herd.

What ifs: A lot of things can go wrong in 23.3. Control the antecedents. Limit the damage. It is a good idea to have Task 24 trained first in case you need to tie to a random tree or post in an emergency. Good luck. May the Gods of Random Events overlook the opportunities you are presenting.

2 thoughts on “Task 23: Lead in Open Spaces Through Obstacles

  1. marybenson

    I know I saw you post somewhere about when a horse gets “stuck” (and that 20% of horses do do this) but I can not find that information again. My mustang and I are doing very well but my current situation is he gets stuck and plants his feet and won’t move when we are walking. I’ve upped the reinforcer to carrot pieces and that has seemed to help and I do use my hand and cue “target” but do you have any other suggestions? I can also get him to move right or left or even back up so I’m hoping this stickiness is just a short term hiccup. We are at a working barn and I’m concerned if he doesn’t learn how to move freely while he’s being lead then others may be inclined to add pressure with a whip. Thanks for your help!!

  2. Post author

    I would work in a pen that is at least 40×40 with the horse at liberty. I would review task 15 carefully. If the horse stops, do not go back to get them. Just hang out and wait him out. When he arrives to you, give three reinforcers, counting them out. 1,2,3… then move off again at a normal walking pace. Things to check: don’t be carrying anything between you and the horse. Just make stopping prematurely not pay in any way shape or form. You might also use your hand to invite him forward when you first set out.

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