View Full Version : Training our horses to do the special tasks

Nov. 15, 2009, 11:51 PM
I often get asked questions about how my horse(s) know to do the right thing to help me. There are many comments on various threads about how horses just happen to know and do the right thing, (i.e. shift their balance for the rider falling off etc)

I feel that it all actually comes with the right training. All my horses from the 17 had 3 year old to the 14 hd yearling lower their heads for halter and bridles. They all come to the gates of a stall or paddock to be caught.

So being someone with limited finacial means I try and do as much as I can from my chair to get ready for a show or everyday driving without help. I pull manes, body clip harness and tack up myself.

I have few tricks that I use to train my horses and wonder if their are other secrets I haven't discovered. For example, most of the time sitting and waiting with my hand on the poll of a horse will eventually have the horse lower his head, no trick just patience.

But when I go to pull a mane, they will lower the head but when I go to hold the mane with 1 hand and rat up the other with the other hand they raise their heads to quickly and I'm soon to short. So one trick is to tie their head with a cotten lead rope to forearm of a leg, if they throw the head up the leg goes up. They usually will back up a bit so I do it in a stall where they can move around. Until they stop, this works well for clipping ears, also.

To get a horse to stand perfectly next to a ramp or mounting block, I put a jump rail or piced of PVC on the ground 3 feet from the ramp or block in parallel creates a visual chute horse walks right in and doesn't step sidewase.

My horses understand that I can use them as wheel chocks to keep my chair from rolling but they also understand the difference when I ask them to pick a leg up..

What other techniques do people use? I prefer to not use treats, I don't have pockets or any extra hands sitting in a chair and manauvering around and a head seeking a treat can be dangerous to me:-)

Diane Kastama
Central Coast of California

DressageGeek "Ribbon Ho"
Nov. 16, 2009, 12:38 AM
Fabulous thinking out of the box!!!

Nov. 16, 2009, 02:37 PM
I don't know if this is trained or instinct or I don't know.

The horse I ride will not bump into me ever, even when spooking- I was almost under his bellie doing up the back blanket leg straps and he spooked(from someone sweeping the aisle infront his stall...thats another story) he shifted his weight but did not move his body from where he was standing so he would not step on me or knock me over.

I will give him treats for head down but only because he's headshy and patting near his head will make him freak out and spook...I only do this because he doesnt bite and is really gentle otherwise I prefer pats instead.

Drive NJ
Nov. 16, 2009, 03:43 PM
Great idea on the head down thing Diane. We'll have to give that a shot. We've got the head down and short stay, but not a longer stay down I'd like.

Teddy. The hand on poll (or nearby) even works on headshy horses... just a bit harder to start. When our horse Alex was big time injured in a barn fire we HAD to treat his ears and poll and treats would only get the head down, not stay down even long enough to treat. The light pressure with release when he puts the head down with LOADS of praise worked better for us than treats which just seemed to distract him.

Another we taught our horses is to pick up their feet with light pressure from a fingertip just above the leg (shoulder or stifle). Cooper loves this game and once he understands what we are doing is willing to pick up a foot with the barest touch.

A friend just got a new horse that goes the next step. His former owner had some sort of leg holding device and with a light pressure, he'd pick up the foot and put it in the cradle so the owner could pick out his feet with less bending over and no work. Have to see what that device is and whether its worth using.

Nov. 16, 2009, 05:15 PM
I don't have any disabilities, but I taught my horse to pick things up when I drop them. I used a glove or a towel, and it was really very easy.

It isn't something I do often, but a few weeks ago out of the blue, when I was putting on my riding gloves, I tried it just to see how well it was ingrained in him. I "oops" dropped my glove, and he reached right down and picked it up for me. He seemed quite proud of himself and I was impressed that he noticed since we hadn't been "performing" his tricks. He's a bit short necked (he prefers to be called "long legged") so it takes some manuevering on his part to pick up something as small as a glove, but he loves to be helpful. :D

Nov. 17, 2009, 08:31 AM
I love this thread!

We have been working with Katie, Paco and Troops to lower their heads for halters and bridles. Paco already does, so it is good for Katie and Trooper to see him do it. Paco would probably kneel to the ground for a child if we asked him so he is our "wonder horse" :lol:

Katie picks up things that we drop, Trooper does too. I think they are just looking for a treat personally..but hey...if it works :D

They are learning some tricks for the kids, nothing fancy, just bows and things like that. I am inspired to do much more with them now after reading this thread....thanks!

Nov. 17, 2009, 11:08 AM
Picking feet up, I first taught the horses to rest their hind toe on the ground . Then I moved to putting the foot on an upturned bucket. This is so I could put those screw in studs in their feet. Then my farrier hurt his back and bought a stand that has a fabric sling on it and he rests the hind foot in that. Now we are all happy:-) The front foot I rest on the wheel of my chair for cleaning and for screwing in studs I park under the horse almost and rest the leg on my lap. Haven't taught the greenie to do this yet, beacuase he isn't even trusted with studs yet anyways. The biggest benefit has been that I leased my 12 year old 15.1 hd mare to my 7 year old Niece and she was able to pick up her feet and also bridle the mare, and to saddle her she put an upside down milk crate and used it as a step stool to lift the saddle.

When i put blankets on I put on over the head and they have to lower the head to put it in the hole. Then I rotate blanket around. This works for putting harness on also, the horse shoves his head through the hole and then I rotate the whole thing up and around. I'm not sure i used any training technique other then showing them the hole in the blanket in front of their face and eventually they stuck it in.:-)

As for the horse picking things up that could be useful. But I use my service dog for that:)
Diane Kastama

Nov. 17, 2009, 05:50 PM
I am not disabled, but my 17hh TB has a very long neck in addition to be so tall. He is 22 and I have had him for about 3 years. I am 5'7" by the way. Do ya'll think I could get my boy to lower his head if I can reach his poll? His favority trick is to put his head up as high as he can get it if he wants to avoid something. For the most part, he will lower his head, if I say head please, but there are occasions when he tries for higher. I can reach up to put a halter or bridle on when he goes high, but it is a struggle. Any suggestions for getting his head lower?

Nov. 18, 2009, 10:31 AM
Any suggestions for getting his head lower?

Cookies ;)

Nov. 18, 2009, 10:48 AM
Good thread!

My draft gelding is pretty thick-skinned, but seems to be very sensitive to sound, so he knows a lot of verbal cues. Which was apparently quite nice for the therapeutic program he was in, as long as they remembered to use them. :lol:

You almost have to say "foot" to get him to pick up his feet for cleaning and whatnot. Which was actually kind of nice when I was showing him, since I could scrub his feathers until they were white, and polish his hooves, trim his legs, and so on, without him trying to pick them up.

I have also used the object as a guide technique to get him close to things I want to mount him from. He's generally pretty good about standing next to things, but at a certain point, he sometimes seems to think he's as close as he can get. But with a "chute", you can get him up to touching the ramp or what have you very easily.

Nov. 18, 2009, 08:28 PM
I really wish I could train my goats to behave. That would be a huge help!!!

Nov. 19, 2009, 12:26 AM
I have somehow, without trying, managed to train Mr Fussy to be a second cane for me (Wall Kicker does the same but not as quietly or slowly but does in a pinch). He will walk beside me, with me clutching tightly to his halter and will help me over snow or through deep mud. He will also lend a helping halter when I am having a weak day. He has even pulled me out of mud and up off the ground in this fashion. He will also hold up a leg that has a bump or something on it so I can look without getting down on the ground and if the leg needs treating, he holds the leg up, perfectly still for whatever treatment is required.

Neither horse will bump me and both will shield me if the other is being a fool. They also both respond to voice commands for back and back a step, step for slow forward, get over, come over. I taught the back a step for trailer unloading but now it comes in very handy to get them out of the way. Get over and come over was taught to make them move apart in a double stall, and now has other uses. All can and has been done without lead and they both obey. I also use my cane as a pointing device to show them where to go - still working on this but they are getting better. Now to train the cats :)

Nov. 20, 2009, 11:18 AM
Most horses are curious, if it is difficult for you to stand for long periods of time, sit down, it makes you even shorter but the point is for the horse to lower its head anyways..

And just wait when the head lowers to investigate you can stroke their nose etc as a reward. When head lowers enough for you to put your hand on their poll ask for it to go lower. If they raise their head just wait again.

It took me 8 months to get one of my driving horses to lower his head consistantly for a bridle, the minute the bit was in his mouth he would toss his head up. Then bridle comes off.. So I just sat their and would try again, at first it would take 3,4,5,6... attempts everytime I drove but I was patient and waited. Then one day he said Dammit she isn't going to give up and he kept his head down for the crown piece to go over the ears.

I did not use treats at all in his case because he was obnoxious with them and he would spend his time searching for them.

Diane Kastama

DressageGeek "Ribbon Ho"
Nov. 20, 2009, 01:15 PM
It is absolutely fascinating to me how they figure these things out.

Nov. 20, 2009, 04:55 PM
Still working on the head down for bridling....oh yeah he puts it down all right then when I open the bridle up we go! Now its a game which is frustrating Im 4'10 and he's 16.3hh of course he'll win every time... I tried turning my back to him- he puts his head down and chews, then open the bridle to go on and the game starts again!

I cant force the issue like with other horses any sudden movement or rough movement near his head scares the crap outta him. Sooner or later I call out reinforcement(a tall person) but would be nice to bridle him myself...

Drive NJ
Nov. 23, 2009, 11:13 AM
It takes time, but not as much as you think. Remember, they are curious and typically want to please you. Once they figure out what you want they are pleased as punch to offer that behavior.

The folks that helped us with Alex, said to separate the head down learning from the reason for it at first. IOW, work on head down separately from bridling. You may need to get that bridle on and therefore have less time and patience for practicing head down.

I know you said you can't reach the poll. If your horse is already haltered, you can use the halter chin strap for the downward pressure, but it is a little less effective up front. Just put very mild downward pressure in the chin strap - straight down and light.

Patiently wait for ANY downward movement... even 1/2 inch or lessening of pressure from his side. As soon as you get any movement release any pressure and tell him how good he is with some pets. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Takes time, but they DO get it then love to offer it as an answer to any question.

When we were working with Alex we HAD to get the head down to treat his poll and ears. As suggested we tried our standard (less successful) techniques for treatment and the head down as a separate 'lesson'. It was only a matter of days until he got it. We should have continued to "I'd like your head here and quiet" and will probably go back for that this winter.

Shortly after learning this 'trick' I was chatting with someone in the barn and apparently we weren't paying enough attention to His Highness. He was standing right next to us on a loose cross tie "saying" Hey Guys... I'm over here... look! I'm doing head down here... Carrot stretches too... A LITTLE ATTENTION PLEASE!

Nov. 23, 2009, 11:56 AM
Thanks DriveNJ I will try that- I think it will come too when he starts trusting me more around his head(we're making staedy improvement with it)

Drive NJ
Nov. 23, 2009, 02:19 PM
Another trick with Head Down is to offer a reward of something they love (other than food)

Cooper has a higher neck set and tends to throw his head up when something new comes into the picture - - but he LOVESLOVESLOVES to have his ears skritched and brushed
So if we havent paid attention to head down for a while and he needs a refresher - we practice head down and finish with ear skritches - he'll hold his head down for a long time for that

We actually use "Good Boy" as a reward for most of the things we teach them
DraftyX boys get food fixated if that is brought intothe picture and you actually dont get the response you want

Nov. 28, 2009, 07:51 PM
He decided that after we did our little show together he trusts me enough that I can pet his head(with him making unimpressed faces..) and he allowed me to bridle him no fuss at all.

His down button works he just doesnt trust many to touch his face

Dec. 4, 2009, 11:31 PM
The article that Anne Gribbons wrote in the last USDF Connection talked about horses having the intelligence and empathy to recognize when their riders have unique needs.

I would recommend the article to anyone.

Jan. 10, 2010, 01:14 PM
I have been asked for more info on the techniques we use to teach the beasties to help us.

Now that it is icy and many of us aren't riding as a result, we have some bored horses looking for things to do. Rather than have them considering painting the car for fun, how about some new things to keep their devious minds busy?

Jan. 11, 2010, 03:48 AM
Well, don't know about you guys all in the cold but, we are enjoying 70 degree weather here in California:-) Just had 2 awesome drives this weekend with the pair.

When I need a horse to do a specific behavior for me I approach it by thinking what else can I get him to do that is similar. Like loading in a horse trailer, I obviously can't walk into the trailer... So the horse has to walk in by themselves, I have to send the horse in in front of me. So that is how I put the horse(s) away in their pens, I ask them to go into the pen in front of me, (then turn around for halter to come off) I don't ever go into the pen while leading them. The get use to being asked to go forward past me. I do the same at turnouts etc. Same way all the time, i have my dad trained to do it the same way. Then when it comes time to load into the trailer the only thing different is a step up into. I haven't had a horse refuse to load in a long time. Even the first time they have been asked to go in...

Sometimes I have to think creativly, I have these huge Irish Sport Horse youngsters, and they sometimes decide when I pick their front foot up they are going to lean on me, well, none of us can hold the damn thing up when they do that.. But definetly not a 1300 lb huge young horse, so I tie it up:-) Use a soft cotten rope run it around their neck and over their barrel (I do this in stall or round pen) and hoist the leg up, I hold the rope with a bit of leverage from just far enough away to be safe if they lay down. I'll do the same thing on a hind foot if they try to kick. The key is in timeing and freeing it up when they give just a little, I always try to get 3 times of just relaxing a little then put them away or do something else, a few days of this and usually I can pick the foot up (or at least the farrier can) without getting mushed. Over time they usually learn.

The other thing to remember is it is just as easy to teach a bad thing as a good thing:-) And if they get away with it a few times it is harder to undo...

Diane Kastama

Jan. 19, 2010, 06:20 AM
The article that Anne Gribbons wrote in the last USDF Connection talked about horses having the intelligence and empathy to recognize when their riders have unique needs.

I would recommend the article to anyone.

I'd love to read this article - I can't find it on their website, can you provide a link?

Many thanks!