TRAINING A BACK-UP
One of the most important behaviors I train is backing. It’s also a behavior that MOST people train early on. There are a gazillion trainers with as many methods that are teaching people to train their horses to back out of their space!
One real popular way is to jiggle the rope so that the halter bounces around on the horses face. When the horse complies, the jiggling stops. Another way is to rhythmically tap the horse on the chest with a stick of sorts. But watch the horses who have been trained to back using this method. Usually the first step they make is to throw their head up and back to avoid the pressure or discomfort.
Sometimes the horse doesn’t back up and then the rope wiggling increases or the tapping is increased in intensity, and so does the head tossing and the potential for even more physical distress.
So is there another way?
Yes….shaping the backup, or even capturing the back. When you watch a horse back who has been trained using a marker signal and a reinforcer, you’ll see willing, snappy backups. The horse is happy to offer the behavior AND the motion is usually more coordinated.
So why do people want to continue to wiggle that rope when there is a way that is so much more rewarding for the horse? I think it’s a control issue. But that is another discussion for a later date.
In the meantime, the next time you watch a horse who has learned to back up by wiggling ropes, watch the level of coordination and the effort the horse is putting into the response; it’ll tell you a lot about the methods of training that are being used.
If you’re interested in learning from a short video, I have two of them on my website. They both are designed to show you how to create a shaped backup and put it on cue.
You’ll find both videos at: