Goal: Allows trainer’s hands to stroke anywhere neck and shoulders, both sides, no cues
There are a number of criteria to be considered when training a horse to be comfortable a person touching him. Luckily, most of these criteria come naturally to us, when we continuously assess the horse’s reaction to touching that specific location. We want our touch to be a comfortable, even pleasurable experience to the horse, especially in the beginning. Later on, we can add speed & greater pressure that might mimic straps, saddles etc that might not be as comfortable to the horse.
Profile of hand approaching
Time hand spends in contact
Length of stroke (movement)
Pressure of touch
Shape of hand
Location of touch
Speed of hand approaching
Type of Touch
Number of hands
For this part of training, make sure your horse enjoys every step, not just tolerates it. Take it slow and he will reward you by staying calm and learning to love your touch.
How long this process will take totally depends on the horse and his previous handling. Some might breeze through the process (needing only one click at each step of the criteria), others might take awhile (needing many repetitions at each step of criteria). It is well worth the while to invest more time than less at this behavior since many other behaviors rely of your ability to be close to his body.
This process can be used later when you discover sensitive spots on his body that he prefer you not touch. A simplified version can be used to determine the extent of pain in injuries, starting far away from the suspected injury point with light touches and methodically moving towards it.
Fading the Clicker
Fade the use of the clicker quickly, using it only to mark new behavior. When he is consistently comfortable with that criteria, repeat it several times without the clicker. When you have finished one criteria, move on to the next, starting with the clicker again, then fading its use.
If you do not trust the horse, you can start training this from the other side of a low fence at first. If he reacts, step back out of his space to protect yourself. You may need to lure him there with food. You can also place a pile of hay beside the fence to graze on (keep him there) as you train.
Start by standing just outside the horse’s personal space to one side.
Choose a location on his body that he is most likely to accept someone touching. Maybe you’ve seen him allow the other horses to jostle him near his shoulders and not had a reaction. Maybe you’ve seen the other horses groom his butt. For many horses, the shoulders and neck are a good place to start. However, if your horse does not like this, choose another likely non-threatening location and one that is safe for you.
Extend one arm and make a flat hand so your palm is visible to him (an easy target for him to see). Make sure he is aware that you are near and sees your hand. You do not want to startle him. The other can hold the clicker. Food needs to be in a pocket or pouch.
Advance and Retreat
Use an ‘advance and retreat’ approach with your hand towards his shoulder. Starting from at least 3 feet away, move your hand one foot towards his neck, click if he stays calm and retreat your hand. Then move it a little closer to his shoulder, click and retreat (c/r) again. The idea is to shape him to allow the approach of your hand. When you work your way to actual physical contact, just lightly graze his shoulder with your hand. c/r
Duration of Contact
Now let your hand linger on his shoulder, slowly increasing the amount of time your hand spends in the one spot without moving. Use 300 peck method to do so (one, one thousand, two, one thousand etc to 5 seconds)
Now add movement. Move one inch, two inches etc until you can slide your hand with the grain of his fur for one foot.
Now target different parts of his shoulder for the starting point. Use the ‘work the clock’ method’ where your first touch is at 12 O’clock and next one is 1 O’clock, etc all the way around his should until 12 O’clock again.
Add a little more pressure and repeat the ‘work the clock again’
Change the Location
Now stroke towards his neck using the lighter touch. Stroke a little higher and higher, each time as you add distance, always watching the horse’s ears, eyes, mouth and neck muscle tension for how comfortable he is with you touching that area. If he showing sensitivity with any spot, back off and work an area just outside the sensitive area with a lighter touch before working your way back to the sensitive spot. Use this method any time you notice a spot that he is uncomfortable with you touching.
Work your hand with the ‘advance and retreat’ method all the way up and around his neck.
Size of Hand
Decrease the size of your hand on initial approach and ‘work the clock’ on his shoulder and neck to see his reaction. If he is uncomfortable, enlarge the size of your hand.
Speed of Approach
Increase the speed of your approach to a more normal one and ‘work the clock’. If he is uncomfortable, slow your approach.
Change the type of touch to scratching, rubbing etc. and repeat from the start in his shoulder and neck area only.
Location of Approach
Move your hand towards his shoulder or neck from varying angles so he learns to accept touch from any location you might be.
Vary the angle you stand as you touch him. Use your other hand etc. Really help him to generalize that the approach of your hands is nothing to be worried about, in fact should be pleasurable.
Use two hands to stroke.
As a final approach, use the ‘advance and retreat’ method to do longer strokes. Start at the back of his neck from behind his chin and eventually work your hand all the way down to his lower shoulders and around, staying with the direction of his fur. When you have successfully completed one long stroke, try other just parallel to that first stroke.
The Other Side
Repeat this process on his other side starting at his shoulder.
Advanced Level Adding other People:
Have other people the horse is familiar with train the same ‘advance and retreat’ and ‘work the clock’ processes.
Ask a less familiar person (to the horse) to train the process with him.
Ask a stranger (to the horse) to train the process with him.