KBR Horse Training Information

Exercising Body AND Mind

My Wild Horse is Home;
What Now???
Part Three

  BASIC GENTLING APPROACHES:
  ADVANCE & RETREAT AND THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Earlier in this feature we talked about stress and flight in the wild horse. One of the common approaches used when trying to make contact with a wild horse is called "Advance and Retreat." The idea here is to close the gap between the handler and the horse, but retreat before the horse generates enough stress to take flight. In other words, if the horse is going to leave when you take three steps forward, stop at two steps, give the horse time to consider the situation, then back up before he feels the need to leave. You can't expect him to learn that standing still is a good thing if you apply pressure until he leaves, thus causing him to equate solveing the problem by escaping.

You also need to consider how you approach the horse. The horse has no depth perception to the side so he relies on some basic instincts when he perceives something closing in on him. Most horses have a point at the shoulder which we call the "Neutral Zone." If we approach behind the neutral zone the horse will tend to squirt forward. If we approach ahead of the neutral zone the horse will either back up or roll away and leave. The secret is to find that exact spot where the horse isn't sure whether to move forward or backward so that he will stand for a few seconds and take stock of the situation. If at that point he recognizes that you are not posing a threat, he may well just stand and deal with the situation.

For related topics, go to

Gentling Wild Horses- 101

Catching Difficult Horses

The blue line points to the drive line
Approaching ahead of the drive line...
will cause the horse to roll away

  BASIC GENTLING APPROACHES:
  SETTING UP THE DRAW

Problem: I can get close to the horse but I still can't get my hands on him.

Since the horse has greater confidence if he approaches the scary object than if the object is approaching him, oftentimes first contact can be gained more effectively by letting the horse make the move. Once you find the neutral zone and can approach fairly close to the horse you can try to draw the horse to you.

You can get the horse to come toward you in a couple of ways. With a very forward horse you can just let him run around for a while in the round pen until he looks in at you. At that point you can apply slight pressure just forward of the drive line, just enough to get his attention, then back up and move slightly behind the drive line. Many horses will recognize this as a non threatening gesture and bend around towards you. This maneuver is known by many names such as "The Draw," "Join Up," "Hooking Up," etc.

With a quiet or stoic horse you may find it more effective to set up the draw through advance and retreat. In this case you put enough pressure on the horse during the advance that he just starts to move off, then back up to draw that movement towards you. It may take a few attempts to get the feel of this but if you start your draw just as the horse unlocks his legs and starts to move, he should naturally want to fill in behind you.

If this process doesn't work at first, just tune up your approach and try again. The idea is to keep the work as quiet and stress free as possible. Let the horse come to you. It make take several attempts before his confidence builds up sufficiently to stifle his instinctive wariness of you. When the horse does make contact, settle for a short, quiet and gentle touch, then quietly back away. He has to understand that coming to you, not leaving, was OK. If you push things until he leaves, he's more likely to feel that he "escaped" from you.

The Horse is moving and I back up
The horse starts to follow
The horse continues to follow
And eventually catches up

Go To "Round Corral Logic"

  BASIC GENTLING APPROACHES:
  OPERANT CONDITIONING (Clicker Training)

One of the most successful and safest approaches to gentling wild horses is "Clicker Training." This approach uses a marker "clicker" and reward method for shaping behavior. Virtually every horse quickly picks up on this approach and they can be taught to be haltered, stand still for grooming, lift feet for cleaning and trimming as well as a host of other behaviors that would otherwise be very foreign and anxiety producing to the horse.

Clicker training involves the use of treats in a very controlled environment so that the horse doesn't equate the handler as a walking buffet and be constantly begging for handouts. It does, however, require the horse to recognize treats.

We find carrots to make ideal treats. They can be grated onto the horse's hay so that he will acquire a taste for them. They can be cut into slender spears for horses that don't take treats by hand very well. Then they can be cut into thin oval slices so that a few carrots will go a long way when you're heavy into the clicker training.

Besides teaching new behaviors, clicker training can be used to interrupt stress cycles and to keep the horse focused on learning, all through using motivation rather than correction.

Targeting a scary object
Wild horse's first trim.
This 6 Y.O. former stallion was
taught to place his foot on the
stand using clicker training.

Go To "Clicker Training"

Continue to Part Four;
More Gentling Fundamentals

Return to Part Two

Return to LRTC Help Desk


Important Note: If you take on the project of developing an untrained horse, everybody will want to give you advice. Don't act on any advice, including the ideas offered in this site, unless it makes sense to you and fits your individual situation. Your abilities and the sensitivities of your horse(s) may differ from the examples given. Be alert and rational with your actions so neither you nor your horse will get hurt. This information is offered as illustrations of what we do and the reader must apply common sense since he or she is solely responsible for his or her actions.

Happy trails!

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