Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fun With In-Hand Trail Work

Larridb at Dancing With Bailarina gave me an interesting idea - she does a lot of in-hand work with her young horse, including on the trail. Since Maisie was a bit sore when we last worked, and I had p.m. horse bring-in and feeding duty yesterday (our wonderful p.m. lady is taking a much-deserved holiday) which limited my time to work with her, I decided to try some in-hand work on the trail.

We continued to work on our transitions, halt/walk/halt and walk/trot/walk, trying to use the concept of momentary transitions I talked about in yesterday's post. This time, of course, she had to pay attention to me in a different way - to what I was doing with my body and energy as I halted, walked and trotted with her on the trail. We did our work on a loose lead - she already knows how to lead well. We had a blast - at least I did - I think Maisie enjoyed the variety, too. When I walked, she walked; if I walked faster, she picked up the pace; if I trotted, she trotted; if I trotted faster, she sped up. If we were trotting, and I slowed down, even for a second, she would slow too! It was delightful! She was a little late on some of the first trot/walk transitions, but a few more fixed that. She would instantly halt when I halted. She and I were really tuned in - it was if we were the same person.

The only thing she struggled with at all was backing in hand - she doesn't give to halter pressure (I was using an ordinary web halter) as well as to the bit - but after working a bit on getting her to first drop her head and then back - making sure we got a proper two-beat diagonal back - and a few repetitions, she got the idea and the next tries were better.

Then, since the Scary Large Pieces of Plywood were still lying in the middle of the trail, we used this as a good occasion to work on our obstacle training, using the one-foot-at-a-time technique. This was a really good way for us to pay attention to each other - she had to respond to the very smallest cue I could give to move one foot at a time onto and then off the board - and I had to be sure not to overcue and to release as soon as she commenced to move so that she didn't move more than one foot at a time. My objective was to have her move one foot on and then off the board, then two feet, to stand still with two feet on the board, and then walk slowly and calmly across - it was too narrow for her to stand with all four feet on it. It couldn't have been easier - first she did some sniffing:

Then some pawing - which is a common horse response to a new obstacle - I think they're checking out its texture and solidity:

Then she easily stepped up with one foot, and then two:

Then she easily and calmly walked across. We also did some backing off the board, again with no difficulty. I'm pretty certain that she would attempt any obstacle I asked her to in hand - she's a little less confident under saddle but is already pretty brave and getting braver all the time.

Maisie got a break and we had a lot of fun!


  1. I am glad you guys are getting so tuned into each other. I love Maisie's socks by the way! I think I will try this exercise with Dancer the TB mare I am working with. We worked on walk and halt transitions on the way back from the round pen yesterday. She is ready to go but not so willing to halt! We will work at it.

  2. Sounds like you and Maisie had a good day and a lot of exercise for you both. I've done this sort of thing before and it's always been fun and a learning experience for both myself and a horse.

  3. Wish I could do more of that kind of work, but my knees are so bad, I can't trot at all. Makes it hard to long line from behind the horse as well, so most of my lining is on the circle.

    To help the backing, I stand in front and just the handle end of the dressage whip on the horse's chest/shoulder area to encourage him to step back with a bit of a prod...not a hit, but a push on the shoulder, and I say "back" as well, eventually developing a response just to the word. Then, the voice command translates into the rein/seat cue from the saddle.

    Have to laugh about the plywood as I remember a Linda Tellington Jones clinic PJ and I attended. He was doing all the ground exercises perfectly until we headed for the plywood. Then he stopped. (I knew all he wanted to do was check it out before crossing, but LT decided he was balking out of fear.) LT took charge to teach the audience how to get a horse to cross a scary object.

    At that point, PJ was quite ready to cross the wood, but LT got some grain to entice him. PJ refused to eat. So then LT said he "wasn't in touch with his mouth and he needed to be reminded to chew." She stuck her hand in there and I shuddered as PJ had been known to take a chomp when he was annoyed. (He'd been abused at the track and would defend himself) He made it pretty clear he wanted none of LT's hand on his gums and she gave up pretty quickly. By then, of course, he marched right over the wood to the applause of the audience who were convinced LT had performed a miracle.

    While much of what LT taught that day was valid, I quickly realized most of her methods were simply commercial packaging of good horse handling techniques. Mystical labels and magic formulas were really concepts the average person could learn to do the things most people already in touch with their horses did every day.

    All that you are doing with Maise, using mostly your own perceptions of how to successfully train/handle her are exactly those kinds of techniques without the glitzy packaging.

  4. Those types of exercises are so valuable, and your horse did so well crossing the scary plywood-well done!

  5. I used to do that with Gilly when he was young. We walked all over the farm, through creeks, up and down banks, across logs. The plywood made me think of an old solid wood stall door that my neighbor had. I used it for a platform for Gilly to walk up on. I laid it flat on the ground and had him step his front feet on it then tapped his withers to make him step his hind feet on it. He did it and would stand there until I told him to step off. We haven't done that for a long time, I need to have him do it again. He kind of looked like a circus horse standing there! He really enjoyed it too.

  6. I have a quick question for you. I've noticed Panama pawing too as a a response to new things, particularly with the trailer. Do you praise the pawing as a step forward, or just keep quiet and let her move on to the next step herself? I worry that if I praise the pawing, I'll encourage bad habits.

  7. Kate, the fly predators are based on number of horses. Here is the company I order them from:

    Cost depends on the order, of course. You only place them in areas where the flies might breed. I think it's around $16 a month for 3 horses. The company is great about answering questions, so you could about the acreage.

    They also give an early order discount, but I don't remember how that works. I think they mailed me something in the winter. And when I order I get one month double order free during peak season.

    They know when you need to start using the predators in your area and will contact you to remind you to start your order.

    I've noticed a difference in the past, but this year it's really been good. With all the rain, I would have expected lots of stable flies by now.

    By the way, if you use the fly predators, you do not want to use area sprays or insecticides where the predators are as they will kill them. I do not use area sprays at all, but just spray on my horses themselves. I don't like to spray inside the barn anyhow because I don't want to hurt my barn swallows and their babies.

    I may be imagining it, but I haven't seen any ticks on my horse this season yet. I am wondering if my wild turkey invasion is helping that? I will have to see what happens in the fall, though.

  8. Katharine - As a first try at something, I might reward pawing once. But next time I ask I'd wait for the next action - an attempt to put a foot up, say, before I reward again. I don't use treats - I just take the horse away for a walk-around as a reward - but that's just how I do it.

  9. What a fun idea! I think I'll try it with Izzy soon.

  10. Your approach to working with your horse is marvelous. I think you would enjoy the information in Basic Training for a Safe Trail Horse with subtitle of Eliminating the Fear Factors. It is a small inexpensive paperback narrative with instructions about how to teach your horse and relate to him/her like the alpha mare member of his herd. It shows how to teach with words without having to use a lunge line or a round pen. It is available at or from the author at

  11. Fun work with Maise. She seems to be tuned into you and your cues. I really think In-hand work is a very important skill that unfortunately gets left out by many people. Good reminder to keep it a regular work in progress.

  12. I hafta say, "Back" is the one thing Poco does pretty darn well. That's because it's my default win if things aren't going as I'd planned.

    I really enjoy working with them on the ground.

  13. This sounds great Kate, I've had moments like this with Anky, it's a wonderful feeling isn't it.

  14. Good job Kate! I was thinking when I read Maisie would not back very well when cued that possibly a "head down" would help her give to pressure....awesome results! Our horses do show us where the holes are and it's up to us to listen and fix it! By the way, love her leg markings! Fun stuff! Luanne


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