Monday, June 29, 2009

A Little bit of Bomb Proofing

In this series of videos, you can see me doing some Bomb Proofing with Jake the Wild BLM Mustang. He is very skiddish and suspicious. It is important to understand that I am not trying to make Jake completely fearless. I do not think there is such a thing as a completely fearless horse. But what I do want to do is make Jake able to manage his fears. So the more frightening things he is exposed to, and survives, the more experience he will have with dealing with that emotion. Ultimately, if Jake encounters a scary thing on the trail, I want him to spook in place, not bolt, not rear or buck, and I want him to look to me for instructions.

Right now, Jake has 'flight or fight' as his reaction to the emotion of fear. Through these Bomb Proofing exercises, I keep Jake near me. When he does not move, I stop applying the stimulation. I do not continue for long. Nor do I expect him to be completely calm. But I do expect him to be completely still. And I expect him to stay close to me on a loose lead rope. Thus I am giving him the tools to manage his fear in an acceptable manner by teaching him that the sooner he stands still, the sooner, I will deal with the threat. So STAND STILL JAKE, AND AWAIT MY INSTRUCTIONS.

In this first video below, you will see me manipulate a Lunge whip around Jake. I slap the ground with it. I crack it, I make whistling noises with it and I flick it over his back. I do not do this gently, or slowly. I need it to be frightening. I am not trying to get him over it completely, I just want hims to get scared, and stand still, and realize that I will handle the hazards. Eventually, he will lose his fear of the whip, and the movements. Then I will move on to something else that scares him.

In the following video below, you will see me working with Jake with a small cane and a string attached to it. I am working it the same way I would work a lunge whip. I can also use the cane to touch different parts of Jake's body in order to make sure that he is not excessively sensitive to touch. It allows me to touch him in a way that keeps me safe and my anxiety level low. I can even use it to hook his back legs and if he kicks or lashes out at it, I wont care. The beauty of Jake is that we have been working with him for about 4 or 5 days now and we have made sure that each step of his training has been small enough that he conquers it with flying colors. I truly believe that the fastest way to get things done with horses is slowly. And if you try to squeeze a ten day job into ten minutes, then it will take ten months, assuming you ever get it done at all.

In this next video below, you will see me working with Jake and a blanket. I do not ever want a horse to be afraid of blankets, flapping things and tack. As far as scary objects are concerned, in my mind there are two kinds. The first are normal everyday objects with which the horse should be totally familiar. These are the class of objects that the horse will encounter everyday, and which should not scare him at all. The horse needs to be completely comfortable with these objects. And furthermore, he needs to be comfortable with these things being dropped around him, knocked over, tossed, and tangled. And so I work at it so that at some point, it almost looks like I am assaulting the poor horse with the object. The last thing I want is a horse that needs to be carefully tacked, and if a blanket were to slide off, or a saddle dropped that the horse would spook and hurt someone or himself. So over a couple of days, I make sure the horse is completely comfortable with the objects NO MATTER HOW THEY ARE HANDLED.

The second class of objects are things which I cannot possibly expect a horse to be accustomed to. These include 18 wheeler trucks, wild animals, parachutes, parasails, and all sorts of things that the horse will inevitably encounter on a beach or a trail. Unfortunately I do not have the resources to expose him to all these things even if they were not an infinite list. However, through the exercises I have laid out in the videos above, I am doing my best to give him the tools to manage the fears which he will inevitably experience.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Calling a Wild Mustang to come on Command

In this video, you will see a student applying pressure to a horse. The strange thing is that although the pressure seems to be applied directly toward the horse, you will see the horse come toward the pressure in order to relieve it.

The horse is Jake, and the human in Emma. The horse is a wild BLM Mustang on his 4th day of training. This horse has had a total of 8 hours of work done with him. The first 4 hours were dedicated to getting him to allow himself to be caught. The next two were dedicated to sacking him out. During this process, we get him to be familiar with blankets, ropes, saddles, multiple people and whatever else we can think of. By request from a follower, I decided to go over calling the horse. To call the horse, we need a cue that:

1. Is Visible

2. Can be Escalated

To begin with, we teach the horse to yield his hindquarters under pressure. This is shown in the previous blog. Often when taught this, a domestic horse will simply start to follow the human. Even one that was previously hard to catch. This is an excellent outcome and if that is the case, simply allow him to come to you.

However, in the case of a wild horse, he will learn to yield his hindquarters, but is unlikely to come to you. This is because the flight instinct of a wild horse is far greater than that of a domestic. So he may yield and pivot all day, but he will not take a step forward toward you.

This is when you implement the following:

Using a lunge whip, get the horse to yield his hindquarters. He needs to yield his hindquarters easily and quickly. When he keeps facing you, stand a few feet in front of him and slap the ground with the whip to the left and right of you. Do this until the horse moves. If the horse starts to move away, place the whip in your opposite hand and use it to move his hindquarters away so that he is facing you again. For example:

1. You are facing the horse.

2. You slap the ground to the right and left of you.

3.The horse moves off to YOUR Left.

4. You place the whip in YOUR Right hand and use it to apply pressure to HIS Left hip and make it move to HIS Right, which is away from you.

5. He will turn his hindquarters away from you and start facing you again.

6. Wait a few seconds, then start slapping the ground to the left and right of you again to make him come.

Sooner or later, he will stop backing up, either because he thinks he is far enough, or because he has bumped into the fence. Either case is acceptable. As soon as he stops backing up, for either reason, stop slapping the ground. Wait about 3 to 5 seconds, and start slapping the ground again.

If the horse has backed all the way up to fence, he will have two choices, one, try to move off to the side, or two, take a step forward. If he moves off to the side, make him move his hindquarters and keep him facing you. If he steps toward you, stop slapping the ground. If he does nothing after you have slapped the ground NO MORE THAN 5 TIMES, take a step toward him and keep slapping. Again, if he does not move, step closer, and slap harder.

Make sure that you escalate the cue every 5 slaps. Do not wait longer. Remember, if you wait to enforce the command, then the horse will wait until the command is enforced to obey. So do not wait.

It will be amazing to see the horse actually move into the pressure of the whip until he standing right in front of you. In this process, the horse will learn two things:

1. Stepping toward you is the way to get you to stop slapping the ground.

2. The safest and quickest place to get relief is right next to you.

These are both excellent and important lessons for your horse to learn.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Catching Mustangs

In this video, I have a student working with a BLM Mustang. The Mustang is about 3 years old and has had limited contact with people. If this mustang were to be released into a large pasture, it could become very difficult to catch. Thus, we are keeping it in a fairly small round pen and are working through his various issues. The first of which is him being very difficult to catch.

The trainer in the arena is working the Hindquarters of the mustang. She puts pressure on the Hindquarters of the mustang and when the horse moves his hindquarters away, she relieves the pressure by turning away from the horse and moving to apply pressure on the hindquarters from the other side. It is important that when she wants to relieve the pressure, that she turn AWAY from the horse instead of into the horse. Thus, if she is on the right side of the horse (as she is facing the horse) then to relieve pressure, she will turn to her own left.

In this video below, the rider is getting used to the idea that she needs to put pressure on the horse's hindquarters with the whip or flag in the appropriate hand. She is also learning that any indication on the part of the horse deserves a release of the pressure. Thus, if the horse even so much as turns his head in her direction, she should give a release.

I hesitate to include this video below but I think it is best to do so because nothing is completely predictable when working with animals or students. The main thing to notice is that the rider keeps the pressure on the horse until the horse turns and faces her.

The next video below shows a very good example of the rider putting pressure on the hindquarters and then turning away from the hindquarters to relieve the pressure as soon as the horse responds. The rider will then turn completely away from the horse in a small circle as if walking away from the horse only to appear on the horse's opposite side. In this case, however, the horse kept facing her and so she returned to the original side. The horse continuing to track her and face her is a desirable thing and we reward the horse by turning away.

This is a great video of the rider putting pressure on the hindquarters of the horse and then immediately turning away as the horse moves away from the pressure. When she turns away, she walks a tiny little circle to the other side of the horse and starts over. Pretty soon, the horse is right on the riders hip, and tends to want to follow since he is pretty much tired of her chasing his butt.

In this last video, you can see that the rider is able to get pretty close to the Mustang. He simply does not want her near his hindquarters and will turn to keep her from getting there. Thus, if he never lets you near his hindquarters, then by default, he will be following you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Catching the Wild Mustang

In this video, I am trying to catch a wild mustang who is in a 30 foot round pen. This job is made significantly easier because I am in a small round pen already and I am able to stay fairly close to the horse. In order to catch the horse, I need to perform the following:

1. Understand that the horse thinks I am going to cause harm

2. Prove to him that he is wrong. Which means that I have to:

-Get close enough to be able to cause harm
-Stay close long enough to be able to cause harm
-Not cause harm long enough for him to be convinced that he was wrong on his original assumption

3. Teach this horse that there is a direct correlation between his actions and mine. This is extremely important because it tells the horse that I am not an unknown unpredictable variable. He learns that he has some control of my actions.

4. Show him that if he moves away, I will approach quickly, but if he stands still, I will approach very slowly, or not at all.

5. Teach him a specific cue that tells him to move his Hindquarters away. I do this by cocking my head to the side, looking at his hindquarters, and then slapping my side or making a noise with a flag to make him move. As soon as he moves his hindquarters so much as one step, I stop looking and stop making noise and step away from him. In this way, I can repeatedly tell him to move his hindquarters away so that he is always facing me. When he is facing me, it is harder for him to run away.

In the following crappy video of extremely poor quality, I show a tiny bit of how I look at a horse's hindquarters to get him to move them away. This is a wild mustang that does not allow anyone near him. In order to teach him to be caught, I remove all other distractions, and place him in an enclosure small enough to get close, but not so small that he feels trapped. I never trap a horse, nor do I ever place the horse in a position where he feels like he cannot escape. Remember that the greater the restraint, the greater the wreck. A restrained or trapped horse is a dangerous horse. I always want the horse to feel like he can leave. That way he never feels the need to hurt me or himself in his attempts to escape. Sorry about the video, I know it sucks, but a point and shoot camera that gives me about 4 minutes of video is all I can afford. I promise I will do more videos and present the subject more fully in the very near future.

In this next video below, I apply pressure to Jake's hindquarters by staring intently at them, by tilting my head slightly, and if needed, I may even wave a flag, (plastic bag tied to the end of a stick) at his hindquarters to make them move over. When he moves his hindquarters away, I immediately remove the pressure, give him a break, and then start putting pressure on his hindquarters on the other side. In this way, I can keep controling his hindquarters and make him keep facing me.

In this third video below, I further encourage Jake to keep facing me by stepping close to him everytime he looks away. Thus he learns that he can stop my forward motion by facing me. This makes it harder for him to run off since it is more difficult to leave me if he needs to keep facing me. If he does not look away from me, then I will occasionally take a small step in his direction. Usually this will make him look away at which point I will start taking larger steps in his direction until he looks back at me. When he does this, I will stop completely and not move for awhile thus showing him that he can stop or slow me down by looking at me. If he walks or runs off, I will place pressure on his hindquarters by staring intently at them until he moves them away from me and faces me again.

In this final video below, you can see me switching from one side of the horse to the other as he has learned to keep swinging his hindquarters away from me. You can also see that by doing this, I am essentially getting closer and closer to him while at the same time keeping him from turning away and leaving.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Come to the Fence for the Rider

This video series starts with a grey TB gelding. He is a nice boy but he is only accustomed to being mounted from his left side. He may never have been mounted on his right in his life. So he is jittery and excitable when you approach to mount on his right and he has been known to buck fairly strongly on occasions when he is agitated. The trick here is to get him accustomed to being mounted on his right, and to teach him to present himself to be mounted on his right. Sorry about the video quality, but I cannot afford a decent camera.

In the video below, you will see the horse learning the first stages. In this video he learns to bring his right side to the fence alongside me instead of his left. The progression of my aids are as follows:

1. Lift the rope
2. Shake the rope
3. Lift the whip
4. Shake the whip
5. Shake the whip until it makes a whistling noise through the air

I progress through these aids quickly and smoothly if the horse ignores me and does not move. But if the horse moves, then I stay at whatever state I am at even if he does the wrong thing, until the horse does the right thing.

For example: I lift the rope, horse does not move, I shake the rope, horse does not move, I Lift the whip, horse moves but the wrong way, I keep the whip up but DO NOT SHAKE. If the horse starts moving in the right direction, or even stops moving the in the wrong direction, I drop the rope and stroke the horse with the whip. Then start over at stage 1.(Lifting the rope) Make sure that you drop the aids at every indication that the horse is moving in the correct direction. In other words, do not wait until he is all the way up against the fence before you drop the aids. Drop the aids for every single step or movement in the correct direction. Remember, if you want ten steps, you never ask for ten steps, you ask for one step ten times.

In the next video below, you can see that Oliver has now learned to come to the fence and present his right side to the rider. But he is still reluctant to be mounted from that side. But the beauty of this action is that while I am on the fence, there is no precarious bouncing, boosting, hopping, or climbing that is so typical of people when they have to get on a reluctant horse. I can sit on the fence, and mount him slowly and comfortably. And if he has objections, I can quickly and easily grab the fence and NOT FALL OFF or get a foot stuck in the stirrup. Nothing worse than getting taken for a drag. In this video, Oliver is willing to come to the fence, but he is reluctant to be mounted, so he steps away from the fence. But when he does, I can call him back. If he had not been trained to come to the fence on command, then I would have had to start all over in positioning him by a mounting block, fence, or some other way of boosting myself up to his back.

In this video, Oliver has become much more comfortable with being approached from the right and is letting me sit on him and put my weight on him without stepping away from the fence. This is a good breakthrough and I will not push him further. I could get on him today, but what's the rush? He is expecting something unpleasant to happen but is following orders to stay by the fence. Instead of proving him right and riding him to ground, I will prove him wrong, get off him, give him some treats and let him go play in the pasture. Tomorrow, he will be much more compliant and happy to accept me on his back.

In this final video below, I am using a different horse. His name is Rashid, and he is a nice little Arab. He is also not familiar with being mounted on the right side. This video should illustrate the progression of the aids.

I apologise if I am not teaching a horse how to do this from scratch but when I got to the stables, I found that every horse present had already had this lesson and knew it. So in the spirit of improvising, I decided to teach them to pick me up on the right side. If I get another horse in one day that does not know it, I will make sure to tape that one for you. But in actuality, it is really not any different and is in fact easier than what you have seen in these videos