Monday, December 13, 2010

29. Haltering Level 2

This step is hopefully split into enough small steps that it can be used with a young horse that has only basic handling. If it’s not, split them further. For horses that are already used to being handled and ropes etc, you can lump steps as you go or spend less time on each.

To accomplish basic haltering, there are a number of different behaviors that each need to be taught separately before being added together before starting to train the horse to accept a halter on his head.

A. Standing Still for a period of time
B. Lowering Head
C. Allowing Handling by you from within his personal space

Since the halter will be your way of ‘catching’ your horse, take the time to help him learn to really love this process. If he does, he will eagerly come to you to have you put on the halter, from any distance.

Goal: Horse stands with head down while you encircle your arms around his head, 2 cues

Prerequisite: Target level 3

A. Standing Still for a period of time
Practice standing still on the mat. Add duration using the 300 peck method (adding time in one second increments) to 30 seconds standing on mat with the mat being the only cue.  Move the mat to a different locations and practice. Add a cue.

B. Lowering Head
As a separate behavior from the mat, shape him to lower his head to a height that makes it easy for you to place a halter over his nose and poll. The top of his poll about even with your eye level when standing is usually a good height.

Capture any downward movement or head dips by c/t while the neck is in motion. Watch the neck and shoulder areas for any sign of muscle contraction at first and you can c/t for that. You can get more downward motion by only clicking when he is in motion, not when he has stopped moving. Allow him to move his head back to natural relaxed position between each c/t.

When his head is lowered to the height you desire, click when he stops moving at the bottom of the dip.

When he is consistently (8/10 times) lowering his head to that height, you can start adding a cue just before you know he is going to do it. Practice this way a couple of sessions. Test him at the beginning of a new training session to see if he knows what the cue means. Next, practice the head dip cue with other cued behaviors he knows.

Once he knows the cue, stop using it and add duration to head held low by simply withholding the click one second, two seconds etc using the Peck 300 method again. Work your way up to 30 seconds. Add the cue back in.

Next combine the mat and the head lowering by cuing stepping onto mat, then immediately cue the head down. Start with one second duration and add time until he can hold his head down while standing quietly on the mat for 30 seconds with only one cue for each of ‘mat’ and ‘head down’ when he gets there. ‘Click’ of course releases him from the behavior. Move the mat and retrain to 30 seconds, cuing both behaviors.

C. Allowing Handling by You from Within his Personal Space
Next you can prepare him for you to reach up beside his face with your arms to tie the halter on. You can do this without the mat.

At this point, your hands are empty and you are just reaching with your hands and arms, not actually attempting to put the halter on. Stand where you will be when you place the halter on his nose. That is -offset to one side where the halter is tied together. (If the halter ties on the horse’s left side, you stand in front and just off to his left.) Keep your far hand at your side but with your nearest hand, reach upward in steps towards his poll. Your hand should be held flat facing him. Each time return your hand to resting position at your side. This will get him comfortable with you raising your hand all the way each time. C/t in small stages until you can lift your arm all the way up above his head and over him and rest your wrist just behind his poll where the halter will sit. C/t at each step to get there. Add duration to 20 seconds, one second at a time as before.

Once he will accept that, remove your near hand from his poll area and start raising your far hand from your hip to the far side and just behind his mouth line where it will later be holding the lower loop of the halter.

Cue him to drop his head and practice again with each arm.

With his head cued to drop, combine the near hand and far hand so he gets used to the idea that your hands will be encircling him as you put on the halter.
Place your far hand on the far side just behind his mouth and start raising your near hand up to his poll.

But He Won’t allow me Step in Close Enough to Put My Arms Around Him!
If he is not comfortable with you standing very close to him, use the mat to have him stand still while you c/t him for allowing you to step in closer, retreat then closer into his space. Always retreat to your starting position. This will allow him to be more comfortable with the proximity needed for you to encircle your arms around his neck in preparation for placing and tying on the halter. Repeat from the other side.

Always be ready to back out to keep your self safe and keep an eye on his ears, eyes and other language to ensure he is not stressed.  Time put into shaping behavior is well worth it. Consider it an investment in his trust in you and your future relationship!

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