Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tarp Training for Your Horse


Gary wrote in and asked: "I saw one of your videos where you had your horse crossing a tarp. How essential do you think tarp training is for horses? I tried this with my horse with a yellow poncho since I did not have a tarp. My horse did not want to go anywhere near the poncho when I had it on the ground and when I picked it up, he liked that even less."

Hey Gary, I don't call using a tarp - "tarp training", it's just a prop that I use to get my horses comfortable with different things, the same as ropes, standing water , large balls, etc. Tarps are useful since they can be folded up smaller and made larger as the horse becomes comfortable. They make noise which can be scary to the horse. They can be used in many different ways such as on the ground for the horse to cross over or can be draped over the horse to get him ready for a blanket for the first time.

If you horse ran from the poncho, and then you took the poncho away, your horse probably thinks he did the right things by running away. So be careful on rewarding the wrong response.

I've heard some people say that they would never use a tarp since it's something the horse will never see. I have a difference of opinion. While horseback I have found large blue tarps in the desert where hunters (or poachers) have laid out game for field dressing.  I have ridden in a rodeo grand entry, right past signs (basically tarps) lining the fence panels and flapping like crazy. I have untied my slicker and put it on while horseback and from the horse's perspective, that slicker was just like a tarp, and I have seen the obligatory tarp obstacles in many trail or obstacles challenge events.  You are really just helping the horse learn to think first as opposed to reacting first.  And like I said before, sacking a horse out on a tarp before moving to a blanket for the first time, is probably a smart thing to do.

There is a lot of debate of colors of tarps (or of other objects) having something to do with the horse's acceptance. I just don't know.  I'd have better luck figuring how women think, rather than learning how horses see colors, so I just use different color tarps - whatever is handy basically.

With an extra suspicious horse, I may fold the tarp up small and just lay in over the rails or on the ground where he can take his time investigating it. Being a curious animal, eventually the horse will seek out the tarp, drop his head and nose onto it, and pretty much figure it out. That's really all about letting him have as much time as he needs to convince himself that the tarp is nothing to worry about.

In a pen with a horse and a tarp for the first time, I would do basically the same thing - fold the tarp up so it's not to large and let the horse get comfortable with me approaching him with the tarp. If that horse moved away, I would continue a slow approach until his feet stopped, then I would retreat, give him some time to think about it, then do it all over again.  You can do the same thing with a horse under halter.  As the horse stops moving reward him with removing the tarp.  Each time you'll be able to get closer and he'll be more accepting of it.

If I'm moving, say lunging, a horse across a tarp on the ground and that horse wants to stop to drop his head and investigate the tarp, I'll let him do so. If he side steps around the tarp, I'll let him do that too and continue to move him by the tarp. It isn't too long before he is ready to step on it, maybe with only one hoof, but soon after that all four feet are on the tarp. While on horseback and crossing a tarp, I won't ask the horse to move forward across the tarp until he is ready. You will know or will soon figure out what signs such as head and ear set, tension in his body, etc., indicate if he's ready or not.

With a tarp or any other obstacle, I won't buy into avoidance such as turning around. If the horse moves his front or back end end away from the obstacle, I'll just correct him to stay straight on. If the horse does turn around on me, I'll turn him right back into the tarp and again not ask him forward until he's comfortable with the tarp.

I progress to draping the tarp over the horse, and hanging it on a lead rope as I lunge them. I have had my horses drag the tarp which is something you should only do when they are really comfortable with and even then starting by approaching the horse while dragging the tarp, then maybe tying the tarp to a rope and running the rope around the saddle horn so you can stand back and pull the tarp towards the horse.

It probably took me longer to write this post than it does most horses to get accepting of a tarp, but every horse is different and it's best to give him the time they need. But to answer your first question Gary, sacking a horse out on a tarp is not mandatory or anything, it's just useful. Be safe.

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