Here’s a look at my present experiment: Starting a horse using mostly attraction.
All of these video clips were shot on our third ride. The first two rides looked exactly the same. I put the videos in the basic order of the sequence that they were taught. My goal was to create in Raleigh’s mind a wonderful first and lasting impression of what it would be like to carry a rider. Prior to to this he was rock solid in his ability to target, follow and retrieve an object (such as a ball) and in his ability to target his feet to a pedestal.
Raleigh is a PMU Clydesdale. I’ve had him since he was 15 months old. He’s had minimal handling and has a calm demeanor. Here he’s almost three. I spend less than 10 minutes on his back at a time, maybe two or three times a week. I’m very aware that he is still growing. We’re presently taking driving lessons, from an amazing instructor, who doesn’t think my methods are insane.
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1 of 5: I’ll Take My Job Lying Down!
I almost feel that something magical happens when a horse will lie down on cue. This I think was one of the easiest things to teach him because of his love to snooze flat out in the sun. You should have seen the look on his face when I began rewarding him for something he already loved to do. It was that I must have died and gone to heaven look. Consequently this is one of his favorite behaviors.
It’s one of mine too. I have a feeling this will come in handy when I’m on the trail with him and have no mounting block. For now, it was how I got him used the concept of “human on the back.” I would simply lay across his back and show him how to accept rewards from either side. Soon I was able to mimic sitting on his back.
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2 of 5: Step Up to the Plate
The other invaluabe tool was teaching him to target his feet to a stationary block. It looks a bit like a base used for baseball. It lets Raleigh know he’s standing exactly in the right place, also because he can feel it with his feet.
I like to use 20″ x 20″ x 2″ garden type cement blocks from any local home improvement store. This is the foundation for skills such as stay. It also is great way to tack up and mount and other things that requires a horse to stay in one spot. Instead of being physically tied, their brain is mentally attracted to and attached to staying on the block. I also taught him to pick up his ball and hand it back to me while I was standing at his side and he was standing on his block.
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3 of 5: Tacking Up on a Tire
Here’s Raleigh targeting his tire pedestal with his hooves while I tack him up. We’re using Dr. Cook’s BitlessBridle for his headstall and a Best Friend’s Bareback pad with an extra pad to compensate for my bony butt bones. I like using the tire pedestal, as I believe it stretches his back and neck, perhaps giving him a little warm up before I hop on.
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4 of 5: Combination of Laying Down and Stepping Up to the Plate
Getting on his back was truly was easier than I thought. I asked him to target his hooves to a block. He also knows the cue for hips over to align him self close to the ‘mounting spool’. I layed across his back and began treating him from either side. Then I got on. It was no different than when he was laying down. Not once did I feel he had any other other desire than to be with me. Once high atop his lofty back, I asked for head down a few times. Again, there was no inclination for him to walk off. (I usually have a helmet on for this.)
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5 of 5: All Together Now
Again this is our third ride. I wanted to see if I could get him to move forward, happily with a rider. He was familiar with verbal cues from our ground work, but I knew it would be different, with me on his back. On the ground, he reads my hand cues as well as targets me. So to help him move forward for the first time I brought his ball along.
Once seated, I threw the ball and said ‘walk’. He happily walked after his ball. Notice I was merely a passenger, no tapping of his sides, no pressure. I had a built in stop when he lowered his head to pick up the ball and hand it back to me. I personally love the the interaction that took place. At all times I felt very connected to him, because I knew he had a very ‘targeted’ focus.
For me personally, I was really pleased with our progress. I’ve never started a horse nor helped anyone else start one. I truly expected lots of bucking and bandaids. I experienced the opposite. Raleigh offered only attentive participation and gave me exactly what I asked. It felt great for me, and I think felt great for him too.
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To see more videos about targeting and pedestal work, visit The Diary of DaVinci which covers the following:
- Object Training
- Moving Forward
- DaVinci Sponging
- Fancy Footwork
- DaVinci Trailer Loading
To watch all of our videos, see our Videos page at PaintingHorse.com.