Wednesday, April 28, 2010

28th April, 2010 Tap, tap, tap

Yesterday I had a second visit to a horse to work with his owner on his loading. In contrast to my first visit when he was initially reluctant to load and clearly frightened, this time he was walking on and off calmly, and pausing in the position he would need to be in if we used the partition and at the top of the ramp. We reinforced these pauses with a "tlock" and a treat and he was nonchalant about the whole thing. His demeanour changed however the moment I approached the ramp even though all I was doing was talking to him. The idea is that if he stands still I would walk away and do this three times before even going near one of the doors. Instead, the horse began to piaffe with his back legs and then backed off the trailer (which is a rear facing Equitrek). Once out, he kicked out with short jabbing motions with his back legs something he hadn't done even when we first put his boots on. This pattern was repeated a couple of times so we went back to the original training with no-one approaching the ramp so that we could at least end this session on the very best note. Nevertheless, in time, someone will have to approach the ramp and close up the doors and the ramp itself. Our job will be to prove to this horse that we have no intention of hitting him and will work with him until he is less afraid and then hopefully not afraid of being in the trailer.

This behaviour - piaffe with the back legs and the short jabbing kicks - is usually a clear indication that the horse has been "tapped" and I know that this lovely horse has spent time with a trainer that advocates tapping horses. "Tapping" is a practice used by some so-called natural horsemen to encourage horses to move forward and to load. It is a euphemism for repeatedly tapping a horse on the shoulder or on the back legs, sometimes on both sides, with lunging whips in order to irritate them and thereby create a "pressure" which the horse can only relieve by moving forwards. Andrew Maclean's book "The Truth of the Horse" shows this horrible practice on page 88 this time using tapping at the shoulder which to me is absolutely bizarre. He says, "Lead the horse to the base of the ramp and stand facing its rump. This is so if it does run backwards the handler can run forwards, tapping to set up an irritation the horse will want to avoid. Many horses run off the ramp in soon as it begins to run, however explosively, run with it, and keep up a mild head pressure and quite fast tapping. Run as far as the horse does, and keep tapping until the horse steps forward - and it will.....If the horse tries rearing to avoid loading, keep tapping until it lands and steps forwards....Don't be afraid that it will hit its head on the roof of the trailer; (note from Sarah: The horse depicted has no poll guard on!) if your tapping stops when this happens, the horse will learn that this stops the tapping and then its flight response as it shoots backwards will reward head tossing." The same practice of tapping legs is sometimes actually used to teach piaffe with the horse cross tied on pillars and so it is little wonder that it begins to happen with horses that are frightened of loading and then confined in a small space where they can't go backwards or forwards easily.

In the photo above, which was taken by a member of the audience at a public demo, two assistants of a "natural" trainer are using lunging whips on either side of the horse to encourage it forward and over the tarpaulin with taps.