After a number of requests for help Vanessa Bee has written a short article about that perennial problem…how can we help an equine to pick his feet up so that he doesn’t knock a pole as he walks or backs up over it.
‘Having judged many thousands of OLHA videos I have identified the two most common reasons for horses knocking the poles. (We have of course ruled out PAIN here, so if in doubt get your horse’s back checked because he may not be actually able to pick his feet up because it hurts!)
Reason 1 The handler unknowingly rewards the horse for knocking the pole (!)
Reason 2 The handler does not present the pole to the horse in such a way that makes his feet easy to lift up over them.
So looking at the inappropriate reward one first.
So often when the horse knocks the pole (forwards or backwards) the handler says ‘good boy’. I think they must do this to reassure him, but just think what message that sends to the horse…knocking the pole is what she wants so I’ll do it again.
By ignoring the knock and really making a fuss when he doesn’t knock the pole will help the horse work out what gets a positive response.
Now let’s look at pole presentation.
Get on all fours (if you can!!) and walk over a pole or similar. Quite quickly you will see that you have to arrange your ‘feet’ so that you don’t hit the pole. In other words if you’re too close as you lift your ‘foot’ it will touch the pole if you are too far away you will knock the pole because you have to stretch or shorten the step to try and accommodate the pole and that takes a lot of practice.
When you work out the perfect starting position of the feet you can set that up from the start before you ever try and go over the pole.
Really put yourself into the horse’s feet. Walk on two legs and on all fours over and backwards around a pole, what do you have to do so that you don’t touch it?
Remember: If every time you walked over or backed up over the pole I gave you something nice (wine, chocolate, money!) I bet you’d get pretty good at missing that pole!
Start practicing with just ONE pole, keep the sessions short, only concentrate on one foot in each session. Really isolate what it is you are asking the horse to do.
Remember they haven’t a clue what we want them to do, most of the time it’s by trial and error so we really need to help them learn what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’.
Acknowledge the answer you want and ignore everything else!