Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tricky, Tricky

In this month's issue of Dressage Today there is an article on teaching your horse to bow. Actually, it's about how to use the High School movements to get the horse to enjoy learning and remain interested in the regular work, but the article only gives in depth instructions on how to teach a horse to bow. It's a cute trick, and good for stretching, too. I thought I might try it out on Spider.

He already knows how to pick up his feet for me when I tap his shoulder. Since I injured my back, I don't like to bend over to pick up hooves, so I teach the horses to pick them up for me when I tap their shoulder. Makes my life much easier. Since the first step in teaching a horse to bow is teaching him to pick up his feet when cued, I figured I was already on my way.

The next step is getting them to keep the foot up. That's a little more difficult. I usually hold the foot while I'm picking it, so I've never felt the need to ask them to keep it there without me holding it. Obviously, me holding the foot up isn't going to work for the rest of the trick. The idea is that the horse needs to keep the foot up as long as the cue is being given, so as long as I'm touching his shoulder, he needs to have his foot up. Not that much of a stretch from what he's already been taught, or so I thought. I should know never to underestimate Spider's ability to be thoroughly confused by new activities.

I did try to make it as clear as possible. Since I didn't want him to associate this trick with regular hoof picking, I led him away from where I usually groom. I also faced the same direction as him (to pick his hooves I would usually face the opposite direction) and I used the butt of the whip to tap him, rather than the hoof pick or my hand. All to make a clear difference in what we were doing. He was fine with picking the foot up, but holding it there was a little trickier. He ended up getting frustrated, so we moved on to lunging. A frustrated horse can't learn anything.

We revisited it the next time I had him out and it went much better. He will hold the foot up for a short amount of time.....about as long as it takes for his little Thoroughbred brain to become distracted, but that's really all I was asking for, anyway. The point of the exercise is to move to the next step just before he gets distracted, to keep him engaged and focused on me.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself and Spider's good progress (for only two days worth of work). Then I had a thought. Spider is always eager to please. He will do pretty much anything to get praise and attention. This has caused problems in the past.........

When I first began asking Spider for collected steps at walk and trot he found the work quite difficult. Like most horses, he wanted to suck back behind my leg to avoid the more difficult work. One day, as I was being very insistent that he get in front of my leg and take the contact, he piaffed. It was a pretty good natural piaffe and it caught me completely off guard. In my surprise, I stopped using my aids. I should have kept driving him forward to get the steps I actually wanted, but like I said: I was caught off guard. Big Mistake. For several weeks afterwards, any time I asked for collection at the walk or trot, I got piaffe. He will still throw a bit of piaffe at me when he gets frustrated, all because I accidentally rewarded it that one time. And I want to teach him to bow? That could be disastrous! Can you imagine a horse bowing unexpectedly under saddle? I can, and it isn't pretty!

So I decided to scrap the bowing trick. It just sounds like a bad idea. But now that he knows to lift his foot and hold it, it seems a shame to waste that. And I happen to know that lifting a foot and holding it is also the first step in teaching the Spanish Walk. How much trouble could we possibly get in with the Spanish Walk?
(Don't answer that!)


  1. Spanish walk? I dunno....I can imagine all kinds of Thoroughbred "inventions" from that one! *L*

    Speaking of, years ago, I went to a German trainer for some reason. He got on my Russell--the horse I had trained from a 2 year old--and headed along the side of the arena in a Spanish walk. He refused to tell me how he had done it
    but obviously there was some secret cue he was using as I know I'd never taught Russell to do it. Just another one of those circus tricks, I guess, although, I suspect it could have some value in teaching the horse something???? One of those extravagant "extended" trots? Passage?? How to kill your owner while you are on the crossties? *G*

  2. AAAAh my comment got deleted!
    Thanks for your post very inspiring! I am reading Karen Pryor's book : The lads before the wind. It is her work with dolphins or porpoises as she calls them. She insists that when you train a behvaiour ON cue, you must train the OFF cue i.e. the start and the stop of the behviour otherwise you run in trouble with intelligent animals ...

    Thanks again for your post!

  3. This is funny! tricks are fun until they get used against you- if he gets it down anyway post pics!

  4. Haha, what a smart boy. I think you should teach him to capriole. That sounds like fun, right?


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