Magic Mustang Tamer

Task 24: Stand Tied in Various Places

This is the most dangerous task we will undertake. Tethering a volatile animal to an immovable object is problematic, but also necessary to the long-term prognosis for the animal becoming a useful member of a horse/human relationship.

ALERT: Don’t tie the animal to anything that is moveable even if it seems heavy to you unless the object weighs more than 2 tons and cannot roll. The first thing you tie to should be a slick heavy gauge pipe rail. In the end, you should be able to tie to upright posts as well, but whenever you tie your horse in an unfamiliar location in which it may become nervous, you run the risk of a tragedy. Use a triple layered strong halter with good hardware for all of these things. As a safety precaution, you should have on hand a strong pair of sharp clippers that would cut the leadrope in an emergency.

Task 24 Subtask ½ Station at a rope hanging from the fence

Objective: The horse will station at a rope hanging from the fence while you walk around the pen.

The Set-Up: You are standing with the horse in front of a fence panel in a small pen. You need a very salient piece of rope at least 4 feet long but not too much longer than 10 feet. The rope being white and /or fairly thick will make it more salient. The horse should be haltered but be at liberty.

Prerequisite Training: The horse needs to know how to touch things with its nose when asked to target (T5.1). The horse needs to be accustomed to rope (T16).

Protocol: Offer the rope to the horse and bridge/feed to reinforce touching the coiled rope with its nose. As the horse increases its frequency and decreases its latency to touch the rope, rearrange the rope to get the horse comfortable about the rope hanging to the ground. When the horse has very low latency to touch the rope, hang it over the fence in a configuration that makes it more salient at the rail above eye level to the horse. Continue reinforcing targeting the rope. When the horse seems comfortable and eager to target the hanging rope, switch the criteria to maintaining contact with or being in proximity to the rope for CD(5). As the horse is able to keep its nose near the rope for CD(5), start moving your feet as you count, at first in place and working your way up to being able to walk around. If the horse moves, stop counting and return to near the rope to wait for the horse to start touching the rope again. The horse learns what doesn’t work by when you stop counting, so be careful to stop as soon as the horse turns its head away from the rope.

QC: When you can walk completely around the hind end of the horse to the other side while the horse stays in the proximity of the rope and you can turn and walk four steps in any direction, T24.5 is complete.

What ifs: x

Task 24 Subtask 1 Tie at hay-bag (30 minutes with no OMGs <4)

Objective: The horse can be tied in a quiet place with a filled hay-net, where it stays focused on eating and responds passively to feeling tethered.

The Set-Up: The quiet place should be no larger than about 15×15.The horse should have been introduced to eating from a hay-net prior to this training. Horses that are not familiar with them may be afraid of them or be insulted by the stingy way they serve hay. They should be familiar with the location. This training should not involve desensitization to other stimuli such as hay-nets, or scary places. The hay-net should be at least half full of especially nice grass hay, or hay sweetened with stemmy alfalfa. The rope used to tie the horse should be at least 20 feet long and should not be “tied”, but rather wrapped around the slick rail that will be above the horse’s withers. Wrap the rope on the rail before you bring the horse to the pen. The clip that will be attached to the halter should hang no lower than the horse’s chest. Think about the way the horse is likely to pull in a panic and be sure the rope is not likely to get crossed over itself in the moment. Carefully plan how you will move from tethering the horse to a safe place out of the pen so you don’t get trapped if things get “western”. Have a way to cut the rope if things go really wrong and the horse’s safety is compromised (In 500 horses, I have never had it happen, but better be safe than sorry.)

Prerequisite Training: The horse can be allowed to spend some time in the tying location at liberty with a buddy and a hay-net full of hay. The horse should station at a rope hanging from the fence (T24.1). The horse should have learned to yield to lead rope pressure (T17).

Protocol: In the safe tying place, clip the horse to the prepared rope and invite it to target the tail of the rope or nibble on the hay-net. Slip around to the other side of the rail and continue to keep the horse engaged with targeting or have someone feed them for a few moments while you get out of the pen and to the other side of the fence. If the horse is busy with the hay-net, you can just watch it; but if it is worried about the situation, reinforce it for remaining stationed at the rope at varying but generally increasing duration. If the horse starts eating from the hay-net, fade yourself out of the scene. Stay close in case something goes wrong (not that you can do anything but control the tail of the rope).

It is really important that at some point the horse trials pulling on the rope and finds out that it doesn’t work to escape. All the precautions above are aimed at keeping the horse from really panicking at any point, but if it happens, control the rope so it is difficult, but possible, for the horse to pull the rope longer. If it gives a little, it is not nearly as aversive as a rope tied hard and fast. Roll up any excessive slack when the animal is close. Remain quiet and offer emotional support and maybe encouragement to return to targeting the rope. Stay close until you can see that the horse is able to respond to the limits of the rope without stress.

In the best possible scenario, the horse accepts the limit of the rope without a fight. Some horses are not disposed to do so (maybe 20%). It’s these same horses that are going to throw the same fit when you try to lead them into somewhere they don’t want to go. You can let them work out the reality of being tied in this protected environment, or you can have them break leadropes, halters, injure themselves, get loose, etc. at the time and place of their choosing. A horse needs to understand the limits of a leadrope.

QC: The horse must be able to be tied for 30 minutes at the haybag with no pulling or escape attempts. Sometimes this takes a few days, but be strict about the criterion.

What ifs: x

Task 24 Subtask 2 Tie at highline (30 minutes with no OMGs <4)

We don’t always train this behavior for horses which are soon to be adopted, but all horses that we are keeping for ourselves have to learn this important task.

Objective: The horse should be able to be tied at an overhead highline with no rail.

The Set-Up: This requires a heavy-duty (3/4in thick or more) overhead line about 12ft high that spans an empty area of about 30 feet in all directions. The lead rope should be strong and the halter should be a flat-web trap halter (not a rope halter). Pre-tie the lead rope to the overhead line in the center of the open span so that the clip is just below the elevation of where it will clip to the horse when the horse is relaxed. Get the horse to station at the rope and then walk away. Most horses are going to trial walking away and realizing they are tied, will stand.

Prerequisite Training: Make sure the horse is relaxed about being in the highline area by spending some time there eating hay from the ground or just practicing behaviors with the trainer there. The animal should have already been successfully tied in a more closed space.

Protocol: Get the horse to station at the rope and then walk away. Most horses are going to trial walking away and realizing they are tied, will stand. If the horse is able to stand for a minute with no issues, then return and adjust the length of the leadrope to be not quite long enough to reach the ground and put some hay on the ground for the horse to graze. Some horses, though, are going to be upset by this limitation and will fight it. Let them work it out on the short lead set up so they can’t start running enough to break their neck. They are less likely to fall down with the short lead, but sometimes it happens. Let them work out the idea that fighting the rope doesn’t result in being able to escape. The overhead line is going to flex a great deal as they put their weight against it. Don’t add to their fear if they are fighting it by running in or shouting. When they can stand quietly for three minutes, you can lengthen the lead rope to grazing length and let them eat hay from the ground.

QC: The horse can be tethered to the highline and graze on hay for 30 minutes without any escape attempts.

What ifs: x

Task 24 Subtask 3 Tie at rail/post in quiet area (30 minutes with no OMGs <4)

Objective: The horse should now be able to be tied to a rail in a new place without any escape attempts.

The Set-Up: Pick out a secure strong tie location in which the animal will be comfortable. Avoid intense sunlight, bugs, rain, too much wind, loose animals vehicles, etc. It would be best if the horse just took a nap there, so think about what is likely to spook them and control the antecedents. Make sure there is nothing they could get hurt on and that they can’t pull down the rail or post they are tied to. Do not underestimate their strength.

Prerequisite Training: Your horse should already have a history of successfully being tied (T24.2).

Protocol: Try getting your horse to station where it will be tied to assess if the location itself is going to be a problem. If there will be a problem because the horse is not desensitized to the location, you can work on stationing without tying until the horse relaxes. If the horse seems like it can stand there, then leave it for 30 seconds. It is likely to trial leaving for a pull or two, but it should just stand there after it doesn’t work. Don’t be next to the horse or anywhere the horse could kick or jump on you. When you return, make a big deal of the horse being a good fellow, and go for a longer interval. Keep growing your intervals until you can go for five minutes.

QC: The horse can stand tied in a third place for five minutes without any escape attempts.

What ifs: x

Task 24 Subtask 4 Stand tied while getting brushed (30 minutes with no OMGs <4) *

Objective: The horse can stand tied while the human brushes it and walks around it.

The Set-Up: The location needs to be free of competing contingencies and distractions. Diminish the potential for surprises. Choose a rail that is strong and immovable in a location that provides lots of room for the trainer to escape if things go badly. Use a 10 or 12 foot long leadrope.

Prerequisite Training: The horse is accustomed to being brushed (T11). The horse can station at the rope while the human walks around it (T24.1). The horse has been tied successfully in several places for lengths of time (T24.2 & T24.3).

Protocol: Wrap the end of the leadrope around the rail four times, and start doing count-down brushing (5) in a way to make the horse relax. If the horse pulls on the leadrope, hold the rope’s tail so it makes it harder to pull away. If the horse doesn’t immediately give up go back to subtask 3. If it stops pulling, go back to CDBrushing(5). When the horse has gone five minutes without pulling, tie the rope fast and continue CDBrushing(5) but start increasing the length of time between sets and turning away from the horse between sets. Randomly reinforce the horse for simply standing relaxed.

QC: The horse is finished with Task 24 when it can quietly stand tied while the human goes about normal grooming activities.

What ifs: x