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My Horse Won’t Move!

The Horse "Go-Forward" Cue

Training Question:

I receive John Lyon’s Perfect Horse, and I have been using many of his techniques. My horse are very comfortable with strange things I bring to them, from bags full of cans, big blankets that blow in the wind, tarps, ladders, what ever is handy. I’m sure you get the idea. Anyway, the go forward cue involves having the horse on halter or snaffle bit, and using a 36″ crop to encourage forward movement by tapping on the horses hip until the move forward. Well, my one horse will not move.

She drops her head, and it seems like she just excepts the tapping of the whip as something else to put up with. She leads well, I just want to be able to send her forward when I am not beside her. Like into the horse trailer and such. She a very smart horse,and I know that when I can make my cues clear to her what I want, she will follow through, I just have not figured out what will work.

My Horse Won't Move!
My Horse Won’t Move!

Trainer’s Response

Your horse sounds quite comfortable with your tapping. And, since she is comfortable with it, she doesn’t have any motivation to change what she is doing. In fact, she probably thinks the tapping feels good or relaxing. In order for your horse to see your tapping as a good enough motivator to make her want to change what she’s doing (standing still), it will need to be more annoying (or irritating). You will need to find a level of annoyance that your mare responds to.

For example: on a hot summer day a fly buzzes near your face…this is annoyance. This annoyance creates a motivation for you to swat at the fly to get it away from your face. Increase the pressure of your tapping until she decides the tapping is enough of an annoyance (the motivation) to make a change in what she’s doing. She’ll learn that the annoyance won’t go away by standing still, so she’ll start to test her options.

The instant she responds correctly by stepping forward (or even leaning forward as if she was “thinking” about it), stop tapping and immediately reward her with verbal praise while rubbing her neck. About 3 seconds later start tapping again. It’s important to give your horse a big enough reward that encourages her to repeat the correct response.

Although you won’t need to give her verbal praise and/or rubbing on the neck every time, it works very well as an additional motivator until she gets the hang of it. In addition, it’s also important to begin tapping again within a few seconds of your last reward so that she retains the information in her short-term memory. She’ll remember that she received a reward for stepping forward, and it will be easier for her to remember the “correct answer” to your request. Through many repetitions, the training will go from her short-term memory to her more permanent long-term memory. Once this has happened, her response to your request will be almost instinctive.

All in all, the key to this exercise is motivation. When you give your horse a motivator that good enough to make her want to change, she will change. Let her be the judge as to whether the motivation is good enough, and use her responses to adjust your cue to be more or less annoying or irritating for her. Once she knows exactly what you’re asking her to do, you can begin to make the tapping softer and softer until she is responding well to a very light touch.

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