In my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food and taking the horses’ emotions into account during training.
Today’s two key lessons are natural behaviours and therefor easy to put on cue: head lowering and backing.
Head lowering as key lesson
Although it is not proven that lowering the head calms a horse down, it still is an indicator if the horse is relaxed or not. How? A nervous horse keeps its head up, if a horse is startled the first thing he does is lift up his head, if a horse hears a strange sound he will… yes, lift his head up to listen. Horses always lift their heads up just before they run. So in a way it is an indicator for nervous behaviour.
Teaching a horse to lower his head on cue comes in handy if you have a tall horse to halter or bridle. If a horse is scared by an object on the ground, you can ask your horse to lower his head in order to invite him to investigate the object. If a tall horse has to lower his head in order to prevent bumping it, it is handy if you have this on cue. There are so many situations in which it is handy to ask your horse to lower his head.
Head lowering can also help during medical care, like eye care or inspecting ears or during deworming. Head lowering is also a good exercise under saddle in all gaits. Head lowering can also help in teaching your horse a specific cue to graze during a trail ride or while hand grazing your horse.
Head lowering as default behaviour
Head lowering is a good behaviour to allow as ‘default behaviour’. A default behaviour is a behaviour you can teach your horse to do whenever he doesn’t know what to do or if he wants your attention. Head lowering is a safe behaviour. You can establish a default behaviour by reinforcing the behaviour with and without a cue.
Key lesson Backing
Backing is a behaviour that helps increase the safety in many ways. If you can ask your horse to back up he can’t reach you, so he can’t bite, step on your toes or push you around.
Backing is a valuable exercise in safe food handling skills: if you teach your horse to backup if you (hand) feed him, he can’t get the food out of your pocket or dive into the bucket your holding.
If you teach your horse to backup first if you open the stall door, he will wait for the bridge and reward instead of pushing you over and walking out of his stall. What about unloading your horse from a trailer? Backing is essential in some trailers.
Last but not least, backing is also a good exercise to help your horse become more athletic, in hand and under saddle.
Links to other key lessons
Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
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