La Vie en Rose: take my hand, soft leading

Whilst Rose and I continue to develop cues at liberty with our R+ target work (luring, which has such a bad rap but is often in play whether we know it or not) we are also beginning to advance our ‘on rope’ work.

When Rose arrived at Jenny’s she was quite typical of a lot of cobs (horses in general) I meet. See a blade of grass and off to eat it…oh there’s a human on the end of my rope, really hadn’t noticed! There was no agenda of offending (horse’s don’t), no disrespect (nor this) in fact no human constructs at all. Just grass being higher up the interest scale than the human on the rope and a lack of knowing how to behave around us.

Much of her determination to get somewhere was fuelled by wanting tasty morcels but also a lack of understanding of the human world and fear of the unknown. Whilst it’s just great to let horses be horses there are times when, for practical and safety reasons, horses need to understand how to hang out in the human world. This requires a good deal of clarity from the human. No verbosity, no random physical movements, clean cues, clean reinforcement.

Yes, I know, horses learn to feel what’s in your heart, they can ‘sense’ what you want. They really can. And no I haven’t given up my last semblance of sanity, I’m still rooted in science but that’s what it feels like sometimes. The reality is that they are so darned clever at spotting things in our behaviour that we don’t realise we’re giving the signals. Heck who gives one whether we see that in my cold light of day or in a mysterious out of body way, the end result is that horses attach meaning to throw away behaviours that we exhibit.

Day one…horse I love you, I will bury my head in your mane and laugh or cry as you are THE only thing in my world…. Day two…I will share our space with other humans and almost ignore you while I give them all my attenton… Day three…human, I am confused and will just get on with being a horse…human determines horse lacks respect! What’s a horse supposed to do with all those mixed messages? Likely do what they want to.

Anyway I digress. Long and short of it Rose had learned that it was easier to do her own thing, at least she was reliable. Jenny has worked really hard on giving all her attention to Rose when they are together. Equally importantly she’s been careful to be cleaner with her cues and her food delivery. Every horse/human partnership is different and depending on the path they want to tread together will have different essential basics to put in place. For Rose and Jenny one of the essential basics was soft rope walking with easy turning, stopping and starting. We began a long way from there with Rose bracing her neck and leaning on the rope.

In the video we start by putting the headcollar and rope on. I was pleased that Rose interacted with the process and remained soft and calm, she waited patiently for me to finish. This is a big change and credit due to Jenny for working with this as well.

As I pick up the rope she doesn’t move her head- I’ve worked on a neutral response to this so that she understands random rein cues mean nothing. She then responds softly to a cue we’ve added recently; a light feel towards me (originally lured using a target and the rein cue attached later) to ask her to be with me when she becomes distracted. I loved her soft ears after this. This is a cue to be used when there is no time to wait for her to bring her attention back to me, say on a road when traffic means we might need to move quickly.

What I loved even more…I know I’m an excitable geek…was the cue she then gave me that she was ready to go at around 40 secs. There is a lot of talk lately of start buttons giving the horse some control in the training but I always look for the horse to check in first before asking more and in modern parlance this cue is a start button. Rose gives obvious cues to me that she is ready to continue. Sometimes these signals are tiny, observation is everything.

At 54 secs I again add the soft rein cue to bring her attention back to me, softly flicking ears suggests she accepted my request. Towards the end (around 1m) I included a little startle reaction from her, she impressed me with the way she just came back alongside and softened into the walk. All this with builders to her right, Pete the peacock strutting his thing and racehorses exercising up the lane alongside!

So pleased with her progress!

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