Red Light, Green Light, TB Style.

Reason today after ground-work and a nice hose-down.

I’ll have to get you all a video of this so you can see what exactly is happening for your own eyes.

When I first got Reason the process of graining was simple.  I’d walk in, set the bowl down and walk out.  Later, when he lived in his stall with an attached paddock, I’d walk in, put the bucket on the hook and walk out.  But as time progressed, so did Reason’s expectations that when I’d walk in, the bucket would be set and he’d get to eat.  He’d get chummy.  The fact that I didn’t take action before he got “chummy” is a bad thing.  I should have seen it coming.  I didn’t.  But to be frank it was just a regular routine and I grained a whole barn full of horses in the process.  I also didn’t put forth my previously acquired knowledge that Ink, my food aggressive OTTB, gave to me – the routine, the diligence within the routine to maintain clear boundaries and rules at all times, is especially important, most importantly with OTTB’s who seem to flourish in clear routines with clear boundaries.  Ink’s food aggression disappeared once things where simple and boundaries were set in place.

My reaction with Reason was to send him outside of the stall.  He’d have to wait out in his paddock before he could come in to eat.  I grained him last, after I was finished working, so I could spend as much time needed to begin developing those boundaries and rules.  So it worked.  Reason would go outside, stand and stare in, waiting for the signal that he could come in.  Once he received the signal, usually me looking at him saying, “ok,” and then I’d turn, walk out and leave him be.  His reward was the grain and his private time to enjoy it.   He knew the rules and when he abided by them, he knew what to expect.  Simple.  Same thing every time, always predictable.  The issue of “chummy” flowed out the door.

Once Reason moved to his new home, a pasture space to share with his “woman” (aka my 27 year old mare who also accompanied Ink during his life with me, most notably during his chill time after the track), we had to address the graining process again.  A new place, new environment, new routine.  There is 2 acres of pasture to roam and I had to make sure we created new rules to accompany that.  – No paddock to stand in while I set up the grain in the stall.

In the beginning I’d walk his bucket of grain out, set it out in the field, usually over a pile of hay and wait until he stood somewhere patiently, but a comfortable distance away.  He couldn’t come up to the bucket until I signaled him.  The problem was Reason would get anxious; trot, or canter about wanting to run up to the bucket.  He wouldn’t come to the bucket, however I wanted to develop a secure and clear routine that yielded much better results.  I wanted a routine that gave Reason’s mind and thus body a place to be, so no matter what, he knew where he had to be at all times.  All new boundaries for our all new routine.  With that, I began incorporating signals.  With the use of my body and hands, I’d teach him, “red light, green light” (and the signal for back up just in case).

Once Reason was calm, standing still, I’d signal him to walk towards me.  I’d put my left arm out, waving him towards me.  I also used a high & low whistle, that was used specifically as a signal for, “come.”  Depending on how far he was from me, usually 100feet (guesstimate), I’d ask him to stop periodically.  I’d put my right hand up, lowering my left, similar to what crossing guards do with their hands with signaling traffic to “stop.”  I’d also use “ho” in addition, because I knew he knew what that meant already.  Slowly, patiently, he’d walk up to me, stopping and starting a couple times at my request.  If he didn’t stop when I asked, he’d have to step back as many steps that he over-did.  Calm, relaxed and respectful, all the time.   Once he was about 10 feet from the bucket, I’d ask him to stop.  I’d walk up to him, give him a pat and a “good-boy.”  I used that time to make sure he was with me.  (You know how you release the inside rein, or reins, to check if the horse is truly collected, not leaning, bracing etc?  Similar concept.)  He’d have to stand there – I’d know if he was really “there” or not.  Lasting only a couple seconds, if he showed me his respect through his willingness to stand patiently, I’d walk away, signaling his moment to go to his grain.

And with that, the TB version of “red light, green light” began!  It’s a predictable routine, with clear commands, obvious results and Reason really enjoys it.  I apply the concept to other areas now, including lunging.  I use my hands to “push” (energy) on the hind-quarters if I want him to move his haunches over (at the end of the line, I raise my hand at chest height, position my hand parallel to the haunches and push through my energy), or “push” on his shoulders to move those over.  He’s getting the idea very easy and is getting more and more responsive as time goes on. 

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4 thoughts on “Red Light, Green Light, TB Style.

  1. This is a cute idea! I like the idea of cuing your horse to walk and stop with just body signals. I don't spend near enough time on the ground to develop this with Roxy or Dolly, I'll have to make some time. How long did it take Reason to catch on?

  2. Thank You GraceEquestrian! And welcome to the blog!
    I actually only began doing this for the simple means of graining, so I only spent a small amount of time daily teaching it to Reason. However, in the beginning sometimes he'd “test” the idea. By that I mean he'd wiggle when walking towards me for example. He thought that if he moved left or right to get out from in front of me, that he could get to the grain without this fuss. I stayed very persistent and consistent and if he wiggled, or didn't respect my wishes, I'd send him out and re-try. I'd climb the scale of pressure as necessary but only emphasizing my body if needed. Once he realized that these were the rules and there was no other way to get to the prize, he obliged. I'd say I spent 2 weeks addressing his “tests” before he really began to understand the cues themselves.

    As time has passed though, he's becoming exceptional at the process and no matter what may be going on that would otherwise spook him, concern him etc., I can always count on him being spot on!

    He's a sensitive and very smart horse which I know attributes to how quickly he caught on.

    You should give it a try with your horses! If you do, let me know how it goes. I'll try to do a video so it's more clear what I'm doing. Sometimes it's hard to get a clear visual off the words.

    Best,
    Keri (DH)

  3. Actually, I think you did a great job explaining it – I felt like I could picture exactly what was happening :)(though videos are always great!).

    I might try this with Leo. He's not aggressive, he's actually rather sweet. But I would like my husband or instructor to feed him on occasion and the former has practically no horse experience. The latter obviously has many years of experience but I would still like to make sure he's impeccably mannered.

    Interesting how his behaviour reverted with a change in location.

  4. Kelly, thank you for your comment and welcome to the blog!

    Reason's behavior didn't change a whole lot, but because the parameters were different, I was confronted with a horse who didn't have the same relation to boundaries. – I used the stall and paddock as physical spaces to help me teach him those boundaries, but I had absolutely no physical tools (besides myself) in helping me establish the boundaries so I addressed it just him and I. – He was respectful of distance, but not where he he was supposed to be or how he was supposed to be. Of course he's always testing me, my commitment and consistency until he knows the idea is solid, always. I have to be proactive with him or else he'll find away around it and quickly at that. So he was trying a new way around the graining process during the change in environment. I should have been more proactive the first time. I learned my lesson ;). I hope that made sense and sorry for the long explanation!

    I found the process useful especially when I have someone else feed. I didn't want my friends or family concerned with any ill-manners. Reason responds very well to everyone and knows the rules and prefers graining (and also other parts of the feeding, interaction process) to be handled this way now. He's comfortable with it and knows what to expect. That predictable routine!

    Thank you again for your comment and please let me know how the process goes for you if you try it! I'm no special trainer or professional by ANY means, but this worked for us!

    Happy horsing!
    Best,
    Keri (DH)

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