Training Vlog #1:

Correctly Evaluating Behavior BEFORE Interacting with Horses 

This video is good for professionals and amateurs alike. It is the very first step for any training session with your horse, which is evaluating them before you begin any interaction with them. 

Anyone who has been hurt by a horse before, or been caught off guard by a horse's behavior, should watch this video. It will help you correctly evaluate your horse's temperament before a training session, to ensure they are safe, and willing to work with, right now. We show you how to evaluate behavior correctly,  and how to work with horses in a group, using the principles of positive reinforcement or R+.

We also show you what to do if your horse is not showing signs of wanting to work with or be with you today. If your horse is not showing signs of wanting to willingly work with you, then the next step is to attract them to you through doing some training exercise with them through the fence, which is what professional trainers call "protected contact”. We show you how  in this video. 

First, we  stop and evaluate the behavior of this group of horses to determine which horses are safe to work with,  before determining which horses to work with, first.  We call this the Groundwork before the Groundwork.  Even if you don’t have a group of horses to work with, the behaviors and body language are still helpful to evaluate before you ever go in the corral, put on a halter, or attempt to groom or interact with the horse in any way. We  give them the opportunity to choose if they would like to be with us today or not.  We show you and talk about what that behavior looks like so you can be certain you are interpreting your horse's body language correctly. 

We work on attracting willing horses to us, how to identify and avoid horses just being bullies, and evaluate the willing horses, through some basic target training exercise,  to ensure they really are in the right mind space to want to work with us, and therefore the most safe.

The bottom line of taking this time to evaluate horse behavior, before interacting with them in any way, is ultimately safety first, yours and theirs, and relationship building, second. Because if they are willing in everything we do, then we are stacking the odds in our favor that the horse will be safe to work with today, and we will be deepening our bond, and trust in us,  with them through our training session. This is the scientific guarantee of working with animals in a R+ way, and great news for you!

This is a great video on evaluating horse behavior, and how to interpret it accurately, to ensure your horse is in a willing mindspace to work with you today,  therefore more likely to be safe, and how to respond if your horse is not wanting to interact with you through the fence.  If this is the case, please watch some of our videos on clicker and target training, so you can learn how to utilize this tool to increase your safety and cement your bond with your horse.

What the video does not show, is getting the two most willing horses out of the corral safely.  First, we gave the more dominant horses a reason to not interfere with our getting horses through the gate, by distracting them to another area and keeping them occupied there (by giving hay, alfalfa, grain, or just some attention like placing a bucket near the fence they hope grain might be in).  Using positive reinforcement means doing a lot of thinking ahead, and preplanning, to set you up for success, and minimize (ideally eliminate) the common practice of pushing, yelling, or tossing the ends of lead ropes into the face of the horses who are trying to come through the gate when you don’t want them to. Instead give them a reason to not charge the gate, in the first place.   So how do I know the horse(s) we want to get (attract) aren’t going to leave the gate and head for the alfalfa or grain as well? Because for one, the dominant horses won’t let them share a single flake of alfalfa hay, and two, they already showed a strong attraction to us with our target games and persistence to be near, so we know they really want to be with us. You will see this is exactly what happened on this training day.

However, it’s also good to allow the willing horses to leave the corral without taking the extra  time and fuss of going in the corral to halter them (which exposes you to the other horses which didn’t show much interest in us, and which spells a potential safety issue), so we planned ahead yet again, and made sure we had plenty of grass and alfalfa hay ready just outside the corral, for our willing horses to beeline to. So we opened the gate while the dominate horses were busy, and allowed our two willing friends to exit the corral on their own (faster and safer for us), and set up the area outside the corral to ensure they wouldn’t just run off, but instead, go right to our ‘trap’ which in this case is simply opening the hay room doors, but for you can be a nearby bucket of grain, etc. 

Then, once we thoroughly evaluated their behavior, and got them safely away from the others, then and only then did we put halters on them, and lead them to our indoor grooming area to clean the face of the large mare, and brush and groom them both. 

Potential problems in this part of the process are, them running off and not wanting to be haltered, getting the halters on easily despite the fact they are very motivated to eat the alfalfa hay, and finally, leading to the grooming area at all. If you watch closely, the bay more easily walks away from the hay, but then yanks hard on the halter and lead rope to eat a handful of grass. This is the biggest ‘mistake’ I saw as a trainer that would say we want to make sure it does not get repeated, or practiced, in the future.

Keep in mind that leading a horse, from a positive reinforcement standpoint, is a rather advanced behavior (and requires a different training video). Doing it absolutely correctly, with no pulling at all ie leading your horse with just your mind, takes a concentrated training effort and trust. And in this case, the video does betray the level of trust (low) between this handler and this horse, which is not exactly where it should be, and a mild safety issue, or that sharp yank would not have occurred. In fact, ideally you want to move the horse to the grooming area loosely, first, and do the grooming session without the halter and lead rope at all. That is the correct order of getting horses ready when using R+. However, in our case on this day, we had to bypass this because of limitations from the surrounding construction.  You will see us discussing this though in other ‘groundwork before the groundwork” videos.

On this day, we are able to fully groom, and clean the face of the large bay mare, easily, once they are in our safe grooming area, where again, they can be unrestrained for the entire process.  Then, and only then, would they be ready for the next step in the process of training, which would then be leading to the round pen, saddling up, or whatever next steps you would have in mind for the day, and that the horse willingly agrees to, and shows you throughout the training process. 

I hope this video helps you to evaluate horse behavior more accurately, and helps keep you more safe, and build a deeper bond and more trust with your horse(s). Best wishes to you and fulfilling all your ultimate horse dreams!


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