One of the interesting things that happened when Dante realized I was going to allow him a bit of freedom to say NO, was a reluctance to stand still at the mounting block. No, he isn’t afraid of it. He knows exactly what the mounting block is about and he wants no part of it.
When the horse realizes that he doesn’t have to be a slave 100% of the time and could actually have an opinion you run into these little glitches
Once this happens you are at a crossroads: will you go back to dominance-pressure training which requires a submissive horse or will you try another approach and encourage a partnership? Hmmm time to change his mind with Clicker Training.
Note: in all these exercises I am working both sides.
Exercise #1: The first thing I tried was standing on the mounting block and asking him to come over to touch target. Yes, he would do that but he would angle his hips away from my block so his back wasn’t parallel. Once he got the treat, he would back away or pivot his body even further away.
Unlike a green horse, Dante knew what I wanted and was going to do the bare minimum to get his reward. I could have continued with this method trying to cajole him to stand better but I wanted something that would engage him more and presented the task in an easier way.
Exercise #2: I moved the mounting block along a fenceline so he would have to step between me standing on the mounting block and the fence. He would come through, touch target and immediately back out.
At this point I could wait and not click until he stood for a moment as a way of increasing the duration of the Click-Treat but overall I didn’t like his agitated attitude about the process; he wasn’t in a calm state of mind and that was more important to me then getting the job done quickly.
While the above two exercises could probably get me what I eventually wanted, I wanted a method that was clear and easy for him to succeed at but which also allowed me to align his body parallel to the mounting block and gave him peace of mind while doing so.
Exercise #3 This exercise could also be adapted for teaching a horse to enter a wash rack or trailer. “Chunk it down” a term Linda Tellington-Jones uses when teaching your horse something using smaller lessons to get to the bigger goal.
A. Using a Mat, ask the horse to follow Target and stand square at the Mat. Increase duration before the CT is given.
B. Move the Mat, next to a ground pole and ask for him to stand square with forelegs on the Mat (this mat is a piece of rubber stall mat) with his body parallel to the ground pole. The ground pole is to discourage moving the hindquarters away. I’ve added cones as a visual barrier.
C. Place the mounting block where he has to come and stand on the Mat, between the ground pole and the mounting block. He took to A and B so easily that we jumped to C within the first lesson. Increase duration of the time he spends standing there before giving CT.
D. Add person to the mounting block. Reward duration of time standing square and quietly on the mat, without the evasion of the hindquarters. This is the part he gets sticky at and will take more time to get him to stand quietly and calmly. Most of our lessons will be doing this activity!
Do this exercise many, many times without actually mounting. The point is for the horse not to equate the mounting block with the “punishment” of riding. You could do other pleasant chores there such as feeding him and after he gets done always do something he likes as a reward, even if that reward is a release from all work.
E. The last portion is the actual mounting of the horse. Approach first by scratching or petting the back, maybe using a saddle pad to stroke the back, leaning over the back etc.. before proceeding to fully mounting the horse.