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Approach and Retreat

18 August 2011 No Comment

Approach and Retreat
By: Rhett Russell

This is a technique used to introduce new situations or stimulus to a horse. The main point to remember with this method is that you don÷t go for everything all at once, this is a building block method of introducing something to the horse. Approach or gradually introduce new stimulus to the horse in small steps and retreat or remove the stimulus before it becomes unpleasant, keep working until you get to your goal. Be patient, depending on what you are trying to do, this may take some time ¿ 20 minutes, 2 hours, 3 days, 2 weeks, etc. You need to make sure that this is a good experience for the horse. And most importantly, reward the horse for appropriate behavior.

By gradually introducing stimulus or a tool to the horse you not only get the horse to respond the way you want, but you can predict what the outcome of a situation will be. Instead of just flopping a saddle pad on a green horse, a better method would be:

Show the horse the pad, let him smell it.. REWARD for appropriate behavior.
Touch the horse with the pad on the side, legs, back, and belly. REWARD for appropriate behavior. When the horse is calm and can stand still, move on to the next step.
Place the saddle pad on the horse. Move it around the horses back. REWARD for appropriate behavior. When the horse is calm and can stand still, move on to the next step.
Throw the pad on the horse÷s back. Take it off, and throw it back on. REWARD for appropriate behavior.

This process may take 10 minutes on one horse and 4 days on another. Don’t give yourself a time limit. Take what the horse will give and work with it. If everything goes well, you have introduced something new to your horse with minimal risk for failure at each step in the process. You can do this with fly spray, plastic bags, flags, balloons, or just about anything.

We have a young horse that was ear twitched by the previous owner in order to get a saddle on. As you can probably guess, this horse wouldn÷t allow anyone to touch her ears for fear that they would get twitched again. This was kind of important because we figured that someday we would want to put a bridle on this horse.

picture of leather horse saddles

The approach & retreat method worked very well in this instance. We started by rubbing her head. When we were able to do this reliably, we worked up to rubbing the base of her ear using a stroking motion. It÷s important not to move fast with your hands here. After we were comfortable with the base of her ear we tried a long slow stroking motion on the entire ear. At first the horse would quickly move it÷s head away. After a while the horse tolerated this contact. The next step was to introduce my thumb on the inside of her ear. Again, the horse would quickly move it÷s head away. Eventually, we have gotten to the point where the horse likes to have it÷s ears rubbed.

It only took two minutes for the original owner to screw this horse up and it took us two weeks of 15 minute sessions per day to get this horse back to where she would tolerate someone touching her ears. Remember to constantly reward the horse for appropriate behavior.

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