Let me start by telling you that there are many ‘wrong’ ways and many right ways to rehabilitate a horse that has a halter or bridle trauma. Here is my story in which I share the wrong and the right strategy.
This is Punky. His problem was that no one, except the owner, could halter him.
You can see how that can be a daily stress for both horse and humans in a boarding facility, right?
The wrong way is to go straight to problem solving. That is what we humans like to do, it is natural to us and it has been reinforced all our lives that this is the way to do it.
That is exactly what I did…
I started the ‘wrong’ way, which was pretty much what most horse trainers would do.
When I was training Punky, I thought I could skip my own Key Lessons and ‘just teach the horse to be OK with a halter’.
I thought just teaching Punky to target the halter would be the one and only step to desensitize him. I envisioned that the next step could be the haltering. Easy-peasy.
It was a bit more complex than that and I learned how valuable the HippoLogic Key Lessons really are. For all trainers.
We can’t skip steps because it is the horse who determines how many steps are needed, not the trainer.
How Key Lessons helped me train a halster shy horse
When I started out teaching Punky to target his halter, he became really excited about all the treats he was (in his mind!) ‘suddenly’ receiving.
Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ (safe hand-feeding)
I needed to teach him Key Lesson ‘Table Manners for Horses’ in order to keep my fingers safe and to teach him that a food reward only can be expected after the click.
Key Lesson ‘Patience’
He started to mug me more and more. Again, I had to lower my criteria about his learning curve. I realized that I should have taught him Key Lesson ‘Patience’ (move his head out of my space in order not to mug me) before I taught him anything else.
Then, when I thought I was ready to work on ‘desensitization of the halter’ I noticed that he wouldn’t even wanted to come near a halter. Every time I wanted to halter him he put his head up to prevent me from haltering him.
Key Lesson ‘Targeting’
I decided to teach him Key Lesson ‘Targeting’ (nose and ears) so I could bring the halter near his body and ask him to touch the halter with his nose.
This wasn’t enough to halter him. Now he was OK with touching the halter with his nose and even putting his nose into the nose band, but he was still putting his head up and backing up when I wanted to pull the halter over his ears.
Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’
Therefor I needed to teach Punky Key Lesson ‘Head lowering’. Asking him to lower his head on cue turned out to be super helpful in giving Punky clarity about all I wanted from him:
- Keep your head near me
- Put your nose in the halter
- Lower your head
- Target the crown piece with your ears
- Keep your head low so I can bring the crown piece over your ears and…
- Keep your head down until I close the snap.
Lumping a common pitfall in training
In other words: I was lumping instead of splitting the goal behaviour. A pitfall all trainers need to beware of.
This was a valuable experience for me. Now I start all horses I train, teaching them my Key Lessons. No matter what I think they already can do or what I ‘think I can skip’. Building a solid foundation first, speeds up training instead of slowing it down!
Here is a video of haltering Punky, training day 4:
Here is a video of day 11, after I taught all the necessary Key Lessons:
How you can turn basic exercises as ‘Table Manners’ for Horses and ‘Patience’ into tools is discussed in part I. Read here part II where you can learn how to use Key Lessons Targeting and Mat training to train complex behaviours. Read part III to learn how you can use Key Lessons Head lowering and Backing for advanced training purposes.
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve human-horse relationships. I reconnect horse women with their inner wisdom and teach them the principles of learning and motivation, so they become confident and skilled to train their horse in a safe and effective way that is a lot of FUN for both human and horse. Win-win.
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Great post! I think we take for granted how good our experienced horses are around food.
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Thank you, Linda.
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