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Episode 277: In Conversation Pt 2: Rope Handling and Reversibility

Toward the end of March Dominique and I met for an afternoon’s conversation which I’ve divided up into three episodes. Last week we talked about puzzle solving. This week rope handling is in the spotlight. Dominique is going through my on-line rope handling course. She’s just reached a section which describes what it means to turn a lead rope on and off. This is involves what can seem like a very fussy rope handling skill but the horses have shown us this use of the lead makes a difference to them. That’s especially true when you’re working with nervous horses.

This detail emerged through the in-person clinics. We were looking for differences that made a difference and helped horses to settle. That’s when I spotted this little turn of the hand that I was doing when I shifted from an active use of the lead to a more passive use during an at ease version of grown-ups. The lead signaled to the horse that he didn’t need to pay close attention or try to offer behavior. The lead was switched off which meant he could switch off as well.

Once we spotted this simple turn of the hand that turned leads on and off, we could test it with A/B reversals. What happens when we use this signal? How does the horse respond when it is not used? The horses all told us they preferred the clarity that activating and deactivating the lead provided.

Okay the horses liked it. The handlers didn’t. That’s because this simple turn of the hand was anything but. It’s only simple once you have the pattern in your hands. Otherwise, it can become a head spinning puzzle that could easily put someone completely off rope handling - especially since turning a lead on is a first step in whatever you are about to ask.

I’m not going to try to teach you via this podcast how to turn a lead on and off. What we are going to talk about is reversibility because that’s the teaching strategy that you’ll use to learn this finger twisting puzzle.


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