Rosie and I have been doing a lot of bareback riding recently. One handy trick when riding bareback is to be able to climb up on a fence or bench and then have your horse line herself up perfectly so you can slide right on. This can be hard to teach some horses because if the horse does not want to be ridden she will back up or turn her hindquarters away to prevent the rider from getting on.
Rosie has had trouble in the past with standing still. She likes to move her feet and has still not learned a whole lot of self control in this area. We’ve been working recently on standing by the mounting block for mounting bareback and she’s gotten a whole lot better at this. So, I thought we ought to take a stab at mounting from the fence.
I was astonished at how fast she picked this up using clicker training, plus small amounts of rein pressure.
I started by sitting on the fence with her nearly perpendicular to the fence. Rosie is great at leading and following the feel of the lead rope. So, I picked up what would become the inside rein (the left rein) and took up some contact while pulling forward slightly. At the same time, I held the right rein with my other hand, gently pulling towards me and back slightly. The outside rein was more to offer support and direction, although I was not putting much pressure at all on either rein.
Then I waited.
The first couple of times I did this she offered a step forward, and I clicked and treated. Then I started waiting for a step forward, plus some sort of movement of her hindquarters towards the fence. Click and Treat. The first attempt probably took 8 clicks or so until she had moved her hindquarters enough to be parallel to the fence. I mounted, we took a lap around the yard, and then we tried again.
The next few mounting attempts were faster. Just a bit of pressure, and she’d take a step towards the fence with her hind end. Sometimes she ended up parallel to the fence, but too far away, so we’d start again.
After about half a dozen tries, I could climb onto the fence, put a bit of pressure on the inside left rein and she’d slide right on up to the fence and stand perfectly still waiting for me to mount. Wonderful! It was definitely one of those times where afterwards I wished I had the video camera on.
Why did this work so well?
A handful of factors meant that Rosie was able to learn this behavior really quickly.
Rosie enjoys being ridden. She knows how to stand for mounting in other settings and isn’t afraid of people or things above her. So, I wasn’t asking her to do anything scary.
Rosie has a solid understanding of lead rope and rein pressure. Even though she didn’t know what I wanted at first, she understood that the pressure from the reins meant she was suppose to move her body in some way. Since she’s a clicker savvy horse, she began experimenting to figure out the correct answer.
Rosie and I built the behavior in small steps. At first, I rewarded her for offering anything, even if it was just a step forward. I wanted to reward any movement so that she would continue to try and experiment and so that I could build toward what I wanted. Later I rewarded even a tiny bit of movement toward me. Each small try on her part was recognized and reinforced.
I tried later on to show a friend how I had used the rein cues to teach her to move over. It was nearly impossible, because she would line herself up perfectly as soon as I hopped on the fence! A good exercise for next time to really make Rosie think will be to train the behavior for mounting from the right side as well.
(The picture above is from earlier this year, by the way. It hasn’t been cold enough to wear a jacket in months!!)