Magic Mustang Tamer

Short and Sweet: Task 36 Arm over Back

It is hard to find a horse at Task 36 that actually needs the lessons of Task 36, walking with the trainer’s arm over the animal’s back (AOB). Bravo certainly didn’t care! But once in a while, you get an unwilling one. I considered getting some old cranky mustang out of the pack and insisting that it agree to let me walk around with my arm across the back, for pedagogical purposes. They could help me demonstrate how to convince a horse to tolerate deviant behavior on the part of the humans. We’ll get to that rodeo in the next round of animals when I promise to trot out some cranky ones. For now, we’ll use a sweet pony.

Meanwhile, here is a few tricks to get a horse to tolerate your hand on it’s back if it is cranky.

  • Be predictable. You can act weird, but you need to be predictably weird.
  • Give the animal control. Let it move to you to touch its withers to your hand rather than you moving to touch its withers. This subtle change makes a lot of difference. Don’t stretch, let the animal stretch.
  • Keep moving the hand farther away in subsequent trials, not putting it closer. Make the animal work harder to touch, but don’t be tricky.
  • Pay double (tiny bites) for success and ensure your animal can always succeed.
  • Up to reinforcement schedule to continuous for as long as the hand stays on the withers, then abruptly stop feeding when you remove the hand.
  • Condition the hand on the animal’s back to mean good things by keeping a tight contingency between the hand on back and food.
  • Wait until the next session to try asking for the walk-on if it’s been difficult.

The video clip is Ricky. Please notice how well behaved he is. If you don’t reinforce impolite behaviors, your animal can be equally well behaved.

Patterns to Develop

  • Acceptance of body contact during movement
  • Generalization of walk-on cue (in the video I use “tsking”)
  • Discrimination between being asked to lead and asked to walk on with body contact

Patterns to Avoid

  • Lateralized fear

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