Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Question on Flag Training

QM wrote to ask about flag training. "I have watched several trainers use flags on horses. Hitting the horse with the flag to get the horse to stand still and some times using a flag to get the horse to move away from them. Can you explain or do a video on using a flag on a horse?"

You are actually describing someone using a flag for two different reasons. I can see how it confuses people, but the flag in and of itself isn't a cue to stand or to move unless you are using the flag to move new horses around a pen. In this case, the horses are concerned about the flag and you use that concern to get forward momentum out of them.

You probably shouldn't use a flag to move other horses around while you are horseback unless you first get the horse you are riding accepting of you using the flag from his back.  In the picture at left, I am riding a horse and sacking him out to me using a flag while on his back.

When you describe a trainer using flags in ground training, what you are likely missing is how the lead rope is handled when the human uses the flag. Likely, when the handler is flapping the flag around a horse standing still, he/she is holding the lead line loose and using the flag to desensitize the horse to a scary object - the flag. When the horse accepts the flag flapping around them, the flag is taken away. The flag is just an object used to teach the horse to think before reacting.



In the two pictures (above right) I am standing off 45 degrees from my horse's head which is a safe position if the horse bolts.  The lead rope is slack and my body posture is pretty neutral telling the horse I am asking him to stand.  I am bringing the flag up from the ground to over the horse's withers which is the easiest place for them to accept a moving, noisy flag at first.  I usually do this to a horse during initial ground training without a saddle and start with the flag much further away and wait until the horse accepts this before moving closer with the flag.  My next step would be the rub him with the flag on his shoulders, butt and then the neck. If the horse did not accept the flag and started moving, I would move with him still using the flag until he stopped and accepted the flag.  Then I would wait a few seconds then stop using the flag. If you do this, don't try to stop the horse from moving, just move with him and let him figure it out, but be sure to take the flag away once he stands for just a bit.......and give him some time to think about it.   

I have not used a flag on this horse (in the pictures) for many years and he had no problem at all with the flag.  it goes to show you how good horse's memories are, and how you can replace some of the instinct to act with thinking first.  The only thing with a better memory than a horse is a wife - now that's a fact.           

If a flag is used to drive or move a horse around, the handler is providing direction through the lead rope and his body position.  In the photos above at left, I am directing the lead rope telling my horse to move in the direction.  I have opened my shoulder, basically getting out of the horse's way.  If I working with a green horse I would be more careful about moving his shoulder away from me as I was directing him forward to give me more space.  Space can equate to safety, unless you are on the Space Station and the oxygen tanks have run out. 

I'll use the flag to move the horse as I need.  The flag is really just an extension of my arm.  I won't be chasing the horse around with the flag.  The flag is just to reinforce the cue of direction from the change in feel of the lead rope and to provide momentum. 

A flag can be a good training tool.  I think the major mistake some people will make with the flag is trying to get their horse to accept the flag too quickly then the horse get spooky and moves away,...maybe even bolts,....then they take the flag away. This is teaching the horse to fear the flag and to move away from it, as once the horse moved away, the flag is gone reinforcing that they did the right things.   

Hope this helps. Safe Journey.

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