In Task 41 Bravo Learns to Ground-tie
Bravo is not very likely to stay where you want him. The probability is that he is going to circle around you, cuddle up close, walk over to the fence to threaten Denali, nose the dogs, and look for dropped hay, then come back into his training session. It’s a total wreck waiting to happen as we start putting on his blanket and saddle without having him tied.
I don’t like tying horses. It’s dangerous for them and so I am very particular about what I will lash them to. There has to be very little probability of getting tangled up with anything, no chance that the anchor point will move, and a low probability that something panic-inducing will happen. My favorite place to tie is on the highline.
My highline is a big thick rope over an open area between some massive trees. It’s flexible so they are less prone to neck injuries if they do lose their composure, and, in all honesty, you want them to lose it in a safe place like this because, later on, it might all go horribly wrong. Here is a photo of Tesla losing his composure on the highline. They learn that they cannot escape by pulling or fighting it. Horses don’t really like being tied up.
So I avoid tying them. I want them to just stand still while I am grooming, saddling, cleaning their feet, or whatever. We teach them to stand as if tied by teaching them to “station”. We designate their station with a rope. In Task 24, we prepare them to stand tied by teaching them to station at a rope hanging from a fence. That behavior is the prerequisite for Task 41, ground tying or stationing at a rope on the ground.
Patterns to Develop
- Duration maintained by a variable schedule of reinforcement
- Relaxed posture
Patterns to Avoid
- Rotating to watch the trainer
- Fear of rope
In Task 16, our mustangs and burros become habituated to a dragging rope and this can help them in a situation where their lead drops to the ground, but, for all intensive purposes, a rope chasing them and trying to grab their legs is an equine nightmare. For this reason, we don’t attach the lead rope to their halters until we are quite sure they understand a rope in front of them is a station and that a dragging rope is nothing to fear. The first time we let the horse actually drag the rope from the halter would be in a very small pen where he couldn’t get too much speed.
I’ve taken to calling what we do the least-coercive way to train, but, in all honesty, it’s still kind of unavoidably coercive at it’s core. We need to be the ones making the decisions, but, we can still make it fun.
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