How many steps, exactly, go into haltering a horse?

I have been spending some time refining Tarot’s self-haltering behavior, making sure I didn’t skip any steps and “lump” any of the behavior. Lumping is when you try to teach behavior in too big of chunks and end up skipping steps, so the animal is confused and the behavior isn’t as solid as it could be. A “shaky tower” of sorts.  I had noticed that even though Tarot was putting his face willingly into the halter and holding it there while I threw the crown strap over, sometimes his head was coming up a bit when I reached my hand from the right to the left and sometimes when I put my hand to the buckle to secure it into place.  So I went back to the place where the behavior was perfect and made sure I had all my steps in place.  I had to start back at bringing my right hand down:

Once he could keep his head down with my arm dropping down, it was time to move it up to touch the buckle. Here’s that step:

So, our next step is the buckle, re-visited, with a low, still head. I was laughing at myself, thinking about how in traditional horse training I would likely be viewed as crazy. Who cares if the horse raises his head 3 inches when you latch the buckle? There’s bigger and better things to get onto, like riding! And, I agree, riding will be great, but not until we both think so. If I skip just this tiny step of making sure Tarot is comfortable with his halter, then I am ignoring his comfort level with equipment on his body. I don’t want to do that because his comfort is my safety, among other things.

4 thoughts on “How many steps, exactly, go into haltering a horse?

  1. I think there are as many steps as one needs. I am also convinced we are always lumping to some extent because we don’t know what the animal is teasing out while we are training (they might be thinking about an ear flick or a whisker movement while we are looking at head down.) You are doing a superb job of starting from “crawling” and working up to “college”.

  2. Hi🙂 I think your blog is GOLD. I am working with a shy horse much like Tarot. I have a quick question about his training. When you started training him to self halter, had he already had experiencing targeting other object? The horse I am working with is very, very wary of targeting objects so teaching him to self halter without a food lure has been difficult (I don’t want to use a lure – I’d rather click THEN reward like you do). Any tips on this? Or just go very, very slowly with many, many splits?

    • I did do quite a bit of targeting with other objects before I started self-haltering with the target. If he is very wary of objects, though, you can shape a head down behavior or a “half head down” and put it on a verbal cue. So, you can teach the motor pattern you want without the halter involved and then you could introduce something like a piece of climbing rope held in a loop and you can cue the head down behavior once you have it under his nose. So you can teach a nose loop target without the halter and then add in the halter once the loop targeting is good. Does that make sense?
      Of course there are a million ways to do it. You can also go slowly with many many splits, too! Do you have some video of your work with him?
      Let me know how you do!
      Jen

      • Thanks so much for your help! I have gotten him to the point where he will allow me to lure his had through his halter for treats, buckle it on for treats, attach a lead rope for treats and lead him around the pasture for treats. He will also let me curry comb him for treats. I want to get away from luring. I haven’t started clicker training with him yet (I’ve only been out there maybe 8 different days and a lot of that time was spent getting him comfortable with me approaching him. I couldn’t touch him at all for about half the time we’ve been working together).

        I attempted to teach him to target a coffee can lid but the sound of the clicker (muffled, in my pocket) caused him to outright bolt (he hadn’t touched it, just moved slightly towards it). So I will be using a mouth “cluck” like you do instead.

        I will start by teaching him a head down behavior. Shouldn’t be too hard because he is comfortable grazing with me nearby now so I can capture it easily a few times before even attempting to shape it. 🙂 One complication is that I have to work with him in the pasture (he doesn’t like to be caught and I don’t want to ruin our trust by tricking him into being caught and then confining him for training sessions – and I want him to feel free to leave at any time) and the other horses sometimes get in the way. It’s very much a juggling game.

        I will see if I can get some video. Currently the only video I have is of the first day he allowed me to touch him, which quickly led to him allowing me to grab his halter and lead him around a few steps with it (he has to wear one all the time because he’s so hard to catch – but when I work on putting his halter on, I tell the owner/manager that I will not leave it on him – she will have to put it on him after I leave if she wants to keep it on for a week – I am working very hard not to betray his trust). Anyhoo, the video of the first day I touched him is here if you’re interested but it doesn’t have much to do with the halter skills I was asking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4F6oA-a_To It was a little awkward as we are just getting used to each other and perhaps I should have gone slower. He was also being a little grabby towards my treat hands. In the future we will work on this – and it’s one thing I think clicker training will help a lot with (as opposed to luring or rewarding without a marker).

        I want very much to work with him as well on just walking with me like you do with your horses and c/ting for being in the right area relative to me, etc. Thanks again – sorry this got so long!

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