Harry Whitney Trick Training Clinic

~By Peggy Martin

Los Angeles, Ca
November 2000

This report is as much as possible my effort to use Harry's words. Please forgive me if I have mis-stated or misunderstood his words or intent. Harry told wonderful stories with great humor. Often he just asked questions to ponder, or he would say, "Think about it." He was always asking us to consider and notice how the horse feels about what we are doing. I watched him many times through the two days give extra ways to help a horse understand what he was asking, or ask in a different way if the horse wasn't understanding at first.

Clicker Training and Types of Reinforcement:
People have trouble doing nothing. Clicker training is more beneficial for the human (gives humans something to do), than for the horse. It's more useful for other animal species. Harry described the difference between the behavioral theories of "positive" and "negative" reinforcement. ("Negative" in this context is not negative as might usually be thought). Positive reinforcement is waiting for something to happen and then giving a treat. Negative reinforcement is creating pressure (by asking for something to happen) and then releasing the pressure. It is a "going away of the ask".

Negative reinforcement is normal in horse-to-horse interaction., pressure is released at the time, not delayed. Horses don't hold a grudge; there is no such thing as punishment which comes after the fact. Example: a lead mare indicates that she wishes another horse to move, kicks or whatever, and it's over.

Make right thing easy and the wrong thing hard: The horse has not done anything wrong. If a horse knows better, he would be doing better.

How difficult does difficult have to be to be difficult???

Think about horses' reactions to flies. Pigs are effective motivators for horses.

Solicit responses from your horse like a fly, a bit difficult but persistent. Question: How can we irritate our horse without being an irritation?

Clarity and the electric fence
Sometimes we have to get way bigger than we'd like to when humans have left horses in a grey area too long. At those times we have to be clear. Too often we teach our horses to ignore us. Then we need to take a big action with the right intention. Set up the horse to come into increased pressure with no fear.

With an electric fence, the horse knows he created the pressure (the shock of the fence). The electric fence is so clear, a big bite, zero hate, respect, zero fear. The horse can and will just stand next to the fence, but he knows exactly what will happen if he touches it. There is no question in the horse's mind.

Confusion and the electric fence
Now, in the dark, put a horse in a box stall, set up an electric fence 100 ft. away, open the door, horse hits the fence. How long does it take for the horse to know where that fence is? Then the next night move the fence in to 50 ft. Keep changing the boundary, then 150 ft, then 25 ft. Soon that horse will be worried or maybe just give up. The boundary is not clear.

Question: Is it OK or not OK for our horse to eat in the halter or bridle? Often a grey area for the horse. With clearly defined boundaries, the horse is happier. The human needs to know what is OK and what is not. Whatever you want to do is OK, just make sure it is clear from the horse's perspective.

Why do we own/ride horses? If we own a horse to escape from thinking, not good for the horse. If we own a horse to think and be present with the horse and not think about the rest of our world, good for the horse. You decide and then be consistent. That makes a happy horse. Lead mare has her own style, but she is consistent, 24 hours a day. Let go of your agenda. Slow down and be present.

Take care of your horse's needs minute by minute from the stall door. If the teacher is in the classroom, class is in session.

If you can get something to work for your horse, you can get anything to work.

Harry gave an example of a horse that was head- first in a narrow area. In Harry's wisdom, instead of asking the horse to back by conventional means, he tapped the horse's hip to ask him to back. In the horse's search for the release, he learned to back with taps on the hip. Why might you want your horse to back tapping on the hip?

Precue and cue
Precue is the cue that precedes the one the horse already understands. Therefore the precue becomes the cue.

Do something obvious, such as cracking the whip to come forward paired with the cue of helping the horse come forward with the lead (the cue he understands). Always start with what you want to finish with. Example: teach horse to back out of the trailer by pulling on his tail.

Harry then set up various activities for the horses and handlers. I'll cluster his directions and comments under headings of the particular activities. Other main discussion points will be titled separately.
*Pole laying on the ground
Some activities to do with your horse and a pole:
- place horse's front feet at close as possible to the pole,
- ask for one foot to step over the pole,
- two feet over the pole then back one foot over,
- now you select which foot comes,
- shift weight left and right,
- rock forward and backward,
- ride to the end of the pole and walk with left feet on one side and right feet on the other,
- place a foot on the pole.

One step at a time, direct the feet, human needs to slow down. Question: Can you do it at a greater distance from your horse (longer on the lead line)? Requires good timing on your part and listening on your horse's part. If no timing from you, there is no reason for your horse to listen. If you are having to do more than you want to do, then just don't do it. Take the tries you get, and then it'll take less. You do less so your horse can do less.

In tricks or training, start with something big, example: a step, before something smaller, example: a lean. Or start with something extremely small and build to something bigger.
* Leading Nothing is more difficult than leading.
Lead your horse so he knows where you want him to be. Back a step. Smooth, no die out/stuck spot. Did you make a clear change in preparation to go forward? Be clear in your preparation and firm in asking back, and then the horse will be getting ready sooner. Horse is late if he is ignoring your preparatory signals. Think how to get it smoother. Do more? Do less? Prepare yourself and your horse so you can get it done. If your horse gets stuck or doesn't flow, get 3 or 4 good steps, and then work on one step.

Freer feet allow straight backing. As the backing gets better the feet will straighten out. Take the first step or two and rejoice in that. Backup brings better life into the stop. Never back a horse a hundred steps, back one step one hundred times. Say, "Thank you!". Be consistent every time you lead your horse. Your horse is always working on it; where is your brain?

Keeping connection with the horse comes from the person. Harry told a story about a woman who was walking her horse off lead a long distance down a road back toward her barn. Nice picture, her and her horse walking along together. Then she thought of something else, and her horse left her. She had lost the connection. We are in the awareness business. Especially to recognize a try from our horse.

It is a lie to ask your horse something and not mean it. If a person doesn't know, then the horse can't know. Example: reaching your hand to his nose. Are you asking horse to back or to pet him?

Variety and Variation
Keep it interesting to the horse. Do not drill repeatedly. Think of variety and variation. In the circus the elephants do a variety of activities with no variation. They just go through the motion. With variation the horse feels better about trying. When he knows he can get an answer right, the horse feels good.

Closure and Parts of a Picture
Always get closure on a particular thing. Be careful how big a case you open up. Don't open it if you can't get closure. Adjust and find a place for closure. If your horse tries something, say "YES" and get closure. Example: Asking a horse to get in the trailer, horse runs backwards, work to get a step toward the trailer, and say "yes". It's not helpful to have a horse going in a circle behind the trailer and don't back the horse up. Neither relate to the act of going forward into the trailer. Chose the work that specifically relates to the work that is too much to do all at once.

There is a whole picture. Give the horse each piece until he knows it, then another piece and then bring it all together. Story: Wife asks her husband to remember a phone number. Later she asks him the number, and he can't remember. She whacks him over the head with a skillet. That is what we do with horses. Does it help them learn better? They have the right to forget.

Another version: Wife asks husband to remember a phone number. Later she asks, and he can't remember. She mentions that it started with a "4". Then he gets it. If the horse gets confused, keep presenting it until the horse can get to closure = understanding. It has to develop meaning for the horse.

How the horse feels about it makes all the difference. Example: crossing water. Not whether he crossed but how. Anytime the horse is too worried, try to get him in a less worried place. Then work on the same thing (example: a step forward). If horse is emotionally in scared place, he won't/can't take in information. Fear and lack of confidence in the rider are two sides of the same coin.

A person needs to be ready to do something and to do nothing. Timing! Release. With trailer loading problem, most often the groundwork can be improved on. Other times, if the horse has been used to getting away, the horse needs to learn where the end of the halter rope is.

It is important for horses to interact with each other. The herd is the established social life for the horse. If youngsters just play with other youngsters, it's not helpful in understanding limits.

Harry recommends that a person audit the first time with a new clinician. This allows a person to take in all the information and not split your attention. Then you can present it to your horse. Also you can evaluate whether you want that clinician touching your horse. The clinician may not know what is right for your horse. It's easier not to take your horse to a clinic than it is to stop something in progress.

Harry's clinic goals: I care about how the horse feels about the steps along the way and that the person understands the steps. How much we get done is not what I care about. It is beneficial if I get one little thing from a clinic that can help me and my horse. Then I consider that I got my money's worth.

* Bowing and Laying Down
Harry demonstrated and then assisted folks in the parts of bowing and laying down a horse. The parts consist of picking up the foot with a rope, relaxing the hind, bowing, and lastly laying down the horse. He emphasized releasing when there is a softening, letting the horse find the sweet spot, and getting each part good before going on. The value of laying down a horse is his "letting go" of the muscles that allow him to flee. There are other ways to let go and feel good without laying him down.

It is the handler's fault if the horse bows when the farier asks for a foot. Start where (the cue) you want to end up, examples: tap on shoulder, approach a certain way, face the front. The horse knows the difference if we know the difference.

Sweet spot
If, when working on things, a horse isn't looking better, you aren't finding and releasing to the sweet spot. When the horse gets the answer right, he feels good about being around you. As the horse tries, rejoice. Wait until the horse relaxes into whatever you are doing. Playful energy from a relaxed horse in performance is rare and precious.

* Wooden bridge/ teeter totter
Use a "stick" or whip as the last thing you do, or else you'll have to carry it the rest of your life. If you rock on the teeter-totter before the horse is ready (comfortable), you are likely to scare him, and he won't get on again.
We would like to become as big a motivator as a horse buddy.

* "Yes" and "No"
Use something with a small but not sharp tip (like a fly). Tickle on the mane to get horse to shake his head. Need to experiment to find where on the mane (closer to head or in middle). Tickle the chest for "no". Trick is best looking if horse raises his head first before dropping it.

* Drum
Builds confidence in the horse. Anything you are asking your horse to put his feet on must be safe for him. Approach straight and square. You can do many things to help him understand to put foot up, examples: lift the foot with your hand, use a rope around his fetlock. You are working on more than that one trick. You are directing the feet, looking for the sweet spot.

Think about how he's going to get off the drum (or whatever). For a long time, let the horse get off when he needs to. Ask for the horse to get off, before he needs to. Back him off.

If the horse takes a treat, he "runs into" my hand. I give the treat. Put it under the horse's lip. Do not use treat as a bribe (example: using grain to get horse in the trailer).

Slowing/speeding up
If a horse is not giving you all he has to give in the walk, he's not giving it in any other gait. If a horse isn't able to walk as big as you want to, he can't be as slow as you want to. Play the whole scale. Three gaits are just three notes.

Often when a horse is wanting to go faster (e.g. trail ride), you may slow the feet, but actually you are just a drag, the horse is still working to go forward. The horse never gave and softened to the bit (mentally and physically). Harry almost never asks a horse to stop with out also asking him to back up. Therefore, you get a clear change if you back when you stop. Otherwise you are teaching the horse to ignore your aids.

For moving the feet faster, ask for an active walk. Encourage him if he trots, "Yeah". Too often a person quits riding as they bring the horse back to the walk, and the horse quits. Then you are back to the old pattern. Capture the life that is in the feet. Then feel a little from the full trot to a good active walk.

When horse gets slow, we are allowing it, or we are allowing his brains to be somewhere else, then the horse can't take care of his feet.

Whinnying for buddy and exploding box
Imagine putting a box in the middle of a round pen with a horse, and the instant that the horse takes his eyes off the box, it explodes. Reset the box and again when his attention goes away, blow up the box. He learns he is in control of what happens in his world. He can control the situation by paying attention. What would then happen if you just wiggled something on the box?

There are two ways to get your horse's mind with his feet:
1) draw his attention like the exploding box,
2) keep the feet busy enough that he needs to think about his job. It's his choice: If he thinks (pays attention) out there, here gets pretty wild. If he thinks here with me, his world gets pretty nice. Get bigger in your asking and your horse may be able to get focused.

Pawing or Where the brain is
Horse's feet are always working to be where his brain is. With pawing and fidgeting, his brain is not there. When horse paws, give him a job to do. If you think he's going to paw, direct him elsewhere. When the horse in content to be there, his feet get quiet. He can do nothing to the best of his ability when his brain is not here. When he feels better inside, he finds the sweet spot. He appreciates you for helping him feel better. Then, there is no better place than being with you.

If the brain goes first, it's easy for his feet to go, example trailer loading. There is a huge difference than when you are making his feet to go in. You need to notice where his brain is, not what the feet are doing.

Know how to ask for a specific activity to stop as well as to start. Must tell a horse not to do something when not asked for.

* Picking something up/ fetching
Good to teach if horse is prone to use his mouth (when to do it and when not). Put a treat (pieces of carrots are good because fragrant) on a bandana, then under the bandana, or in a sock. When horse picks up fabric, take it and give him another treat. After horse is picking it up, then move object to different places to be picked up, then you move away so he brings it to you, then to go get it.

* Come when called or whistle or whatever you wish to be the cue
Harry set this up in the round pen. First, think about what cue. Back up and call him to you. Then ask him to stay and you back up and call him. If he takes a step toward you, walk up to him and pet him. Then leave him and call him. Ask for faster feet (he had person use a long whip to ask the feet to move, to hurry). Get a few steps, PET him. No big deal if he goes the wrong way or past you. No hurry on these things. Don't be too critical.

* Large plastic ball and hula hoop
Roll the hoop toward horse to have it come back to you ( For this it was clear that the older folks of the hula hoop generation had a distinct advantage.) If horse is very worried, roll it away from the horse and at a greater distance.

Rub the horse with the hoop. There is a different feel of materials like your hand, a rope, the hoop; you need to think about this.

What the horse takes in with his feet moving is 10 times more than when he is standing still.

* Dragging log/tarp/whatever
Walk and drag the object in front of the horse (so horse is following the object). You can have horse on longer lead and the object on short lead or use a helper to drag. Horse feels in control of anything he can chase; makes a huge difference. He'll start feeling better about it. Then drag on one side, adjusting the distance, then other side, then at hip, then behind. Watch your horse. How is he feeling about it?

* Push a barrel
Put treat next to the barrel, then under, then treat after horse moves the barrel, then treat when pushes when you tell him to (the cue). How would you teach a horse to open a gate?

Get them good inside. Resistance will all go away. Resistance equals anxiety. Help the horse find the sweet spots so that he comes up with the thought. It's best when he thinks he found it. Then he's not doing what we want, no struggle, no win/lose. Keep it straight in your own head. Makes it easier for the horse. Be clear and consistent.

[ Home ] [ Bio ] [ Mules ]

[ Brain Gym ] [ Photos ] [ Q&A ] [ Links ]
[ Articles ] [ Contact ] [ Clinic Reports ]
[ Pure Bull Ranch ] [ Educational Opportunities ]