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Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Several people have asked me how I taught my horses to tail and what's the "logistics" involved.

Tailing is basically long lining. Minx was easy. Since she came from a sulky driving track, she already knew how to drive (and how to pull something behind her!). She responded to voice commands very well and tailing her was a simple as grabbing her tail and telling her to "walk on!". Farley was a little more difficult, as she didn't quite understand the concept of driving. Here is what I did with Farley. As always - this is just my opinion and you need to use common sense and good judgement when training horses. I'm not a professional and this is just my fun (most of the time) hobby. Be safe and take care of yourself!

1. Make sure you have 100% of the horse's respect. You notice I didn't say "trust", I said "respect". Neither of my horses will invade my personal space. I am positive that if a cougar was chasing them, they will jump off a cliff before they run over the top of me. That translates to tailing. No matter what happens, they know that it would be DEATH to kick me or even threaten. Gain that respect before grabbing onto their tail and releasing them up the hill. There should be no question in the horses mind that just because you aren't in front of them or on them, where the orders are coming from. The better your horses ground manners, the faster they will learn to tail and the safer you will be.

2. Voice commands - I know a lot of people hate them. I think there's a use for them - if I'm trying to get a horse learn something new, Most of the time I'll cue with my voice until I can coordinate my non-verbal aids. I'm not the best rider in the world and I think my intentions are clearer to the horse when I use them. As my aids improve for the task, I generally use the voice cue less and less. The other use for voice commands is while driving/tailing. Here's the rules: Be specific, be consistent, and enforce it. I use: "walk on", "ho", "easy", "trot", and "walk". I work first on the lunge line with these cues. I don't encourage turning towards me at "ho" at this stage because that becomes awkward if you are trying to get behind the horse while tailing and it keeps turning to face you.....

3. Long lining (ground driving) isn't necessary for a horse to be able to tail. In fact - if you've never done it before I would advise against it, as you could easily confuse the horse, yourself, and get the lines wrapped around where they shouldn't be.

4. Put the horse in a halter and a long leadrope (10 foot at least, but will need a 12 foot if the horse is large or long bodied). Walk with the horse at your shoulder. Encourage your horse to walk ahead of you by slowing down and say "walk on". Practice stopping ("ho") and walking on with you by the horses barrel. For turns I usually reach up and touch the neck (they should move away from pressure). If they don't respond I thump them in the barrel with my elbow and shoulder to get their attention and ask for the turn again. The important thing here is to get them used to the fact that even though you are not in front, you still have control. Gradually walk slower until you are behind the horse and they are walking forward. Gently grab their tail and experiment with different pressure. Some horses might get a little nervous at this, so keep your energy up and say "walk on" in a strong voice. Sometimes I'll use my leadrop to slap the barrel of the horse in conjunction with the command.

5. Some horses will try to turn around when you say anything at all behind them. Farley was like that. The trick was to aggressively move her away from my body (which was behind her so it translated to forward movement) while saying "walk on". Do NOT be inviting with your body language. You want them to move AWAY from you. It can be hard to judge how aggressive to be behind the horse. My instinct when I'm behind a horse (albeit to the side) and it starts to get confused and agitated is to try and comfort the horse. However, what I'm trying to do is teach it to go away from me, so I must apply pressure. This is where it's important to have to horse's respect and be able to read your horse's body language. If you have done your homework with the voice commands on the lunge and the horse is comfortable with you at it's barrel moving forward, you should be successful. If you have to put a significant amount of pressure on the horse to get it to move forward while you are behind it (resulting in a significant amount of agitation of a confused horse), your best bet is to back off and continue to practice on the lunge line, walking beside the horse etc.

6. Taking it out on the trail! I think tailing practice starts in the saddle. I expect my horses to see the trail and follow the trail without a lot of input from me. I may have to make some decisions, but for the most part - there's the trail, so follow it! If you can get your horse taking some responsibility for moving down the trail, it will make tailing go smoother. I like using the reins for tailing because if I used a leadrope, the reins are still draped on the neck and can get caught on something (like a hoof!). I use scissor snaps so the reins are easy to make into a leadrope. Depending on the situation, either unsnap the bridle on on side and tail with the reins attached to one side of the bit, or unsnap from the bit entirely and snap one end of the reins to the halter to make a leadrope. I usually tail with the leadrope/reins on the left side of the horse.

7. So now you are on the ground with the line in your hand. Now what? I ask the horse to go passed me. If I back up, it is more likely that the horse will turn and try to face me, so I stand still and tell the horse (in a ridiculously cheery tone) to "walk on". Usually Farley will hesitate as her barrel passes me so I usually reinforce the cue with a poke in her ribs, where my heel would usually go if I was in the saddle. I let the lead rope slide through my hand until I reach the end, then grab her tail.

8. The most important thing in tailing is anticipation. Do not wait for the horse to stop or start to try and turn around before you give a command. As the horse slows down, give the walk on command in a firm voice and get them moving again. I've found that once they are stopped in front of you, at least in the beginning, it's hard to get them started again and you will likely have to move up beside them and give them a physical, as well as a verbal cue.

9. Now that you're hanging onto the tail for dear life, your feet bounding across the rocks, you want to stop. Scream your stop command at the top of your lungs (just kidding) and maybe increase the pressure on the line. Be careful with this - you do NOT want the horse to turn around. Tell the horse to stand and then move up to his side.

10. So how does this all look when I do it on the trail? I'm in the saddle riding along. My leg is cramping to a decide to get off and jog. I leap off her back, put the reins over her ears and take off running. Farley follows me at my shoulder like a good girl. Now there's a big hill. I reach over and unsnap the reins from the right side of the big, slow to a walk and tell Farley to walk on, as she moves past me she hesitates (which I like because I'm on a single track and I don't want her to blow past me). I give her the "yes you heard me right" poke in the ribs and she slips past me at a walk. As she goes by I gently grab her tail (she's still a bit goosey). After a couple of steps she slows to take a bite of grass, I get very aggressive and tell her to walk on with a wiggle of the lead. She sighs and takes off again. (she is not allowed to eat while tailing - it's hard enough to get a horse to focus while tailing AND there's all sorts of disasters that are more likely to happen if they put their head down to eat, your behind them, AND there's a long line involved....). After the big hill I say "ho" and put gentle pressure on the line. As I'm still on the single track, she stands still while I creep around her. Then I either mount up or continue running. Now, if I had been on a road instead of single track, I wouldn't have asked her to stop. I would have let go of the tail, swung out away from her hindquarters and come up to her side at angle either at a faster walk or jog. If she started to trot while I did this, I would have asked her to walk.

Is that clear to everyone? Any more questions? I know this was quite long and detailed. But hopefully it gives you a clear picture of what I do. I do drive as well as ride, which helped me visualize what I was trying to train my horses to do.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting description and it makes a lot of sense to me. I've never tried tailing but it's something that could be useful on the trail. I'm going to have to give this a try- moderated by common sense, of course. :-)

    Your comments about having the horse's complete respect are very true and apply to all situations, especially on any trail. I've been in some jams where it was essential that the horse does exactly what I want (or it could have been ugly) and voice commands definately help. I've found that having a slight growl in my voice seems to work with Max- it's sort of like saying "pay attention- I'm not screwing around!"

    Keep it up! :-)


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