Thursday, 5 November 2009

How I taught Grace to lift a foot when I point at it

By special request. To be totally honest - my old horse taught me first - I just passed this method on............

1) First establish the basic 'click and reward'. Get this fairly solid. (If you want to know how to do this, I will do another post.)

2) Teach your horse that a lunge whip is not scary. I loose schooled Grace (quite a bit over a few weeks) so she got the idea that when I point with the lunge whip it is not scary and it won't hurt her. Every time she responded appropriately I clicked (and treated as necessary). As she is a rescue I gave her lots of time for this - a horse which is less scared will probably take less time.

2) Find somewhere your horse can be that they feel safe and comfortable in (including underfoot). Make sure it is a safe space for you too. I chose a quiet spot in the open yard because Grace's stable is tiny and I could easily get pinned against a wall. Grace arrived with a habit of double barrelling on a hair trigger so I needed to be especially alert and careful.

3) Roll the lash part of the lunge whip round the barrel and fix it so it won't come loose. Decide which foot the horse finds easiest to pick up. (Preferably a fore foot at this stage).

4) Then standing in a safe place - I chose slightly in front of and to the side of Grace's shoulder, point at the foot you have chosen (I use the blunt end of the lunge whip). Be incredibly observant.

5) Reward any effort that might be construed as the horse thinking about picking that foot up, even if it just shifts weight off it. (Remember click and treat and be quick about it.) You may have to lightly touch the leg, but be tactful. Think hinting rather than bullying. If you lose patience stop, turn the horse out and do something to work off your mood. Never try this exercise when you are feeling mooish. Keep the whole thing light and cheerful and fun.

6) Once you have a positive response from the horse, even a shift in weight, give the horse a break. I usually sweep the yard (its a very clean yard!). Then if all is still well you might want to try again. But don't push it. I usually keep the whole thing really short. Because its short you can do it most times you 'do' the horse without it becoming a burden. If the process is going badly give it a break for a few days and reflect on what you are doing wrong. Do something positive in this gap, so that your horse and you have a good bond. I used to hold Grace's bucket while she ate. Not much - but she learnt to relax while I was around. (There were other benefits which I will cover another time.)

7) When the horse understands that pointing with the lunge whip means 'lift your foot', you can gradually replace the lunge whip with a simple point of your hand. I used a stirring spoon as an interim pointer. Anything 'pointy' will do so long as it doesn't scare your horse and its safe.

8) Very important - when your horse lifts a foot, even if you didn't intend it - be polite. Thank your horse (even to the extent of holding the foot and pretending to look at it). If you didn't want the foot, don't be mean, you may have 'asked' unintentionally. My old horse got very enthusiastic about the whole foot lifting thing - so I taught a different command for 'keep it on the floor' using the same technique.

9) Listen to your horse - if you get the wrong foot there is probably a reason. In Grace's case she was trying to tell me that her hind foot was sore so please would I fix it first.

10) This method will not work if you are inconsistent, are not clear about what you want or if your horse is too sore to even lift a foot. Remember horses don't lie - we just sometimes fail to understand. And always be cheerful!

I'll see if I can find a willing volunteer to take pictures. One that won't freak Grace out in the process!

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