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Head Down: Part 2

I hope you have all tried the up for down method and are having some success. There are usually three ceilings that the horse will stop at. To get them past this sticky level first make sure you are allowing him to go as far down, but releasing both hands fully so the belly of the rope is on the ground.

You can also try at the ceiling re-cuing head down with another lift of the rope rather than clicking and treating. This is also how you build duration in the head down. As he starts to lift his head you re-cue the down and click for that little bit longer duration.

If neither of these works, try feeding lower so he gets the idea that he can go lower. You may have accidently reinforced this height so long he figures that is the way it is and you can’t change the rules on him!

If you are having problems with the walking forward, as your rope handling skills are not there yet, try doing it on a mat if his mat work is solid to help you stay in one spot. You might have to settle for just a little head down as he may find it really difficult to find his balance doing this and standing still.

Why teach head down? Head down is a calming behaviour. Often horses that are taught this with clicker training will offer this behaviour when they feel stressed and actually use it to calm themselves down. I have seen clicker trained horses voluntarily do this in the pasture after being scared.

For most horse handler situations this works well but how can you teach head down by lifting the lead rope if you have a short person and a very tall horse? This was the case with Sarah and Oli. If Oli put his head up enough Sarah could not follow him to maintain the contact needed to teach the behaviour.

The beauty of clicker training is that the foundation lessons can be used together to make the horse successful. Oli knew how to target so we could use this lesson to help us teach head down.

We would pair the old familiar lesson of targeting with the new lesson of head down. We reviewed targeting to make sure he knew that this was the ‘hot’ behaviour. Next, Sarah would slide on the lead rope as described, just to a point of contact. I would then present the target and when Sarah felt Oli start to go down to touch the target she would click, release and treat him. He did not need to touch the target to get his reward. Within just a few repetitions, we no longer needed to present the target to have him lower his head in response to the lift of the leadrope. And even better he had not learned that he could get a release by lifting his head waaayyy up out of our reach.

Sarah could now use head down to help Oli to round and relax his back and also use it as calm down cue for those exciting moments.

Here are a series of pictures showing how head down can be used to settle a young horse in those exciting situations!

For more in-depth lessons I encourage you to go to www.theclickercenter.comand look at the new online course available. The reviews have been very positive and you can get personal online coaching with myself or several other fabulous clicker trainers.

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