When a behavior is performed freely by the horse and we are able to reward it to encourage the behavior to occur again.

So many times we will look out and see our horses doing something incredible or just incredibly silly. If only we could get them to do these things when we ask them to!

Capturing a behavior is exactly that. Taking the things a horse does naturally and getting them to do it again, when we ask. We can do that by using our handy clicker. It allows us to ‘capture’ anything that we are there to see happen. Using capturing is an easy way to teach many tricks. Laying down for example.

When your horse goes to roll, click and reward. It is that easy.

Does that mean you have to wait patiently for your horse to offer a behavior by chance? Not at all! We can set up the environment to encourage our horses to offer a desired behavior. What will cause a horse to want to roll? Riding, a bath, a good place to roll. We can introduce these things to the horse so that they will be more likely to offer the behavior we want to capture. Go for a nice ride, give a bath, trickle water down your horses back. Take you horse to a good soft spot with deep dirt. Then wait. By introducing all the necessary ingredients our horses will most likely be happy to offer the behavior we are looking for allowing us to capture it.

What other behaviors do you like to or have you been able to capture with your horse?


I decided that it would be fun to teach the horses numbers and see how far we could go with it from there. They already know colors. Numbers are the same concept, put a cue, word, with an object. What else can we do with it though? Can they learn an order? How about addition? Can they pair the picture, number, with a number of objects?

Double Whorled Complications

The slightest change in the location of a horse’s whorls can make huge differences in temperament.

No where is that more difficult to figure out than in side by side and diagonal double whorls. These whorls show almost exact opposites in temperament types among horses. The whorls themselves can be almost impossible to tell apart!

High side by side doubles can be two very clear whorls, in a straight horizontal line, touching or very close to each other. Or, one whorl can be barely visible, there can be lots of feathering, or not, or, most difficult of all, they can be set at a slight angle. When the side by side whorls are at a slight angle they have to be perfectly clear. The whorls can’t be faint and they do have to be very close together. These horses are extroverts, bold, brave, sensitive, will let you know exactly what they are thinking.

Diagonal double whorls are always set at an angle to each other, they can be set at a small distance apart. In fact that is one way to tell the difference. Diagonal double whorls are usually an inch or so apart and one of them is usually very faint and hard to see, a ghost whorl. Feathering will arch over, or under, the two whorls connecting them. When a diagonal double whorl looks like this they are easy to recognize. These horses are introverts, hesitant, need time to think things through, will draw into themselves and not show a reaction until they explode if you keep pushing and miss the subtle signs they’re upset.

The difficulty comes when the diagonal double is clear, easy to see, set close together, and only at a slight angle.

How do we tell this apart from a side by side double at a slight angle?

I don’t have a good answer. One possible way would be ears and head shape. Introverts tend to carry their ears back. Not laid back and mad, just facing backwards. Side by side whorls tend to have moose noses, bold features, convex, and sensitive. Right brain introverts tend to have very sensitive features and can also have convex profiles, making the difference even harder to tell.

So where do we draw the line? How do we tell for sure which diagonal double whorl will be introverts and which extrovert? I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that. Here’s to more learning and getting this figured out!

These two horses are not going to help solve this puzzle. One is a diagonal double the other side by side, according to their owners descriptions of temperament. Can you guess which is which? If we look closely there is a small difference in the whorl placement that seems to be our only clue.



Chaining is linking behaviors to create a new behavior.

We do this with almost every trick we teach our horses. We teach a few separate, simple behaviors. Then we put them together to form a big complicated behavior. Once they are put together the horse receives his reward at the end of the chain instead of after each piece of the chain like the do in the beginning. If we tried to teach the big behavior we would overwhelm the horse, confuse everyone, and get nowhere.

In chaining behaviors there are certain ways to put them together that are more effective than others.

That brings us to Back Chaining

Back Chaining:

When we start at the end of the trick, instead of the beginning, as we teach it. Then we teach each step back towards the very start of the trick.

Fetch is a trick, one of the many, that are taught using chaining. Picking something up, walking to us, carry the something, hand it to us. Trying to do it in that order can get confusing though. Instead I start by teaching the horse to target my hands with his nose. Then I start working on teaching them to hold an object, Then to bring that object a very short distance to my hands, gradually increasing the distance as he understands what is being asked.

By starting at the end of the trick the horse always knows what comes next. The hard part, the new part of the trick, is first. Then it gets rewarded by doing the piece the horse already knows and understands. As long as a hard piece is followed by an easy piece the horse will happily keep doing the hard and the easy thing. If an easy thing is followed by a hard thing the horse will stop wanting to do the easy thing.

The order that we do our training in is very important and makes all the difference.



Contrafreeloading is when an animal would prefer to “work” or “play” for its reward versus simply being given food.


I had Heildof and Rusty out hoping to get them both worked with. While I played with one the other was free to roam about and graze. Rusty was happy to do so while I played with Heildorf. Those last bites of grass before winter sets in are cherished.

Then I lead Heildorf over to Rusty, let him go and grabbed Rusty.

Rusty and I were working on things when I heard a clatter behind me. Turning to look I saw Heildorf has stepped up onto the pedestal we had been working on. He was standing there looking around expectantly. Waiting patiently. I looked at the camera still set up and pointing at the pedestal but sadly no longer on and sorely regretted turning it off. I rushed back over to turn it on again! Even with all the green grass he could eat there at his disposal he would rather work for his food.

Contrafreeloading is the idea that animals in general, horses in this case, would rather do something to earn a reward than have it freely given. Obviously they aren’t going to turn down a cookie when we offer it just because we are glad to see them. When given a freely available resource though, they prefer to need to put in some effort to get it.

Is it that they enjoy the game? I hope so. If we make the effort too hard or not something they can enjoy they will happily go after the freely available resource. I’ve had that happen plenty of times when I ask for too much, or don’t explain clearly, in small steps what it is I’m asking for.

Whatever the reason that animals do this in general, I was happy to see that what Heildorf and I had been doing was apparently something he wanted to do more of. Bringing Rusty over I hurried to reward Heildorf’s efforts. Then we all spent some time hanging out on the pedestals.

Mare In For Training, Horse Whorls

This mare has high double whorls. She is in training to help her with some issues her people had with her.
Double whorls have a bit of a reputation, many people will say to avoid them at any cost. She is here because she couldn’t be safely handled. Does that mean that the reputation of double whorls for being ‘bad’ is true?
Not even slightly. That said the whorls are clear indicators of what problems her people were having with her.

High double side by side whorls show a horse who is sensitive, and an extremely quick learner. Bold, calm, curious, and confident, they can concentrate intently on a job but will get bored with repetition. You have to give them a reason to be interested, repetition bores them and they will start to look for other ways to entertain themselves. When that intelligence, sensitivity, and focus is properly contained they can be a super power. Without steady confident handling they can completely run over a person smashing through them literally as well as figuratively.

The whorls have feathering coming up from both of them. Feathering shows a brave and curious horse. They are thinkers who can think up all sorts of trouble with their very active minds. They are curious and clever, very friendly and add even more pushiness to an already assertive demanding horse.
A confident horse who has no hesitation about pushing through, or over people can cause trouble with the wrong people, ones who are easily intimidated. The traits themselves are in no way a bad thing. They can be an incredible thing. With the right training.

This mare was striking when unhappy and running people over when they tried to make her do things she didn’t want to do. She will not be forced into doing anything. In this case refusing dewormming or shots.

Luckily they sent her to the right place to find help. Positive reinforcement training works wonders with this type of horse. They can not be forced to do anything. If you can convince them that it will be a good thing and give them proper incentive, these horses will do anything for you. They will also stand at the gate and demand that you come work them with the same fervor that they refuse to do things that are forced on them. The determination and focus they are able to give needs to be directed in a healthy happy fashion. Once that is accomplished they make amazing horses, fearless, sensitive, devoted.

Looking at whorls on horses is not about labeling them, jumping to conclusions before allowing the horse to tell us who they are. It is about gaining every clue we can to what will best suit the horse. It is about finding the best matches between horse, human, and training style before huge commitments are made to everyone’s detriment.

Beyond the whorls on the head we can look at the rest of the body and see how the horse will move. Whorls are closely tied to conformation and muscle capability.

One her chest this mare has a small center whorl. That will bring her neck down to come lower out of the chest and put her a bit onto the forequarters.  It is small  so the effects it has shouldn’t be overly dramatic.The whorls on the crest of the neck show where she will bend through the neck when she tucks her nose. Whorls on the underside of the jaw are easily over looked but extremely important. When these aren’t evenly placed it will affect the entire body to the point that front hooves will grow unevenly. Even the whorls on the underside of the belly have information to give us. Where these are placed is where the hind legs will track. Hers appear to be mostly even, spaced moderately apart, and up a nice distance under the belly. Sometimes they will be in the center or placed with one far forward and one towards the back. In extreme cases one side wont have a whorl at all. Those horses have lots of trouble controlling hind legs and performing basic gaits.

This mare has all the makings of a very nice horse. No body issues and forehead whorls that can make a great horse. Hopefully when she goes home the training will be able to continue.


Bay Gelding, Horse Whorls

I stopped by to see my friend Verla Schear, of Schear Quarter Horses, the other day. She breeds some very nice horses. This one is not of her breeding but is still a very nice horse. She says he is great fun to ride cutting cattle.

The first thing we noticed looking at him was his perfectly straight profile, steady. The nose bone is pronounced though, determined. His chin has some slight dips and ridges to it for a slightly complicated temperament. At each temple he has small whorls, this shows a horse who is a thinker, extremely smart they spend a lot of time thinking up ways to keep themselves entertained and can often out think their people.

From the front we see a slightly high whorl for some slight extrovert traits, emotional, reactive, sensitive. Most of Verla’s horses had high whorls. Most of her horses are bred to be good cow horses, fast moving and alert. I don’t think it is coincidence that they have whorls that go along with that desired temperament type. He has large well defined brain muscle, it is supposed to show a smart horse, if nothing else it shows a healthy horse  without apparent teeth or jaw issues.

His chest was very interesting. A low zipper whorl. This shows a horse who will work well off the hind quarters, being set low will give an arched neck without being set high. The pectoral whorls are high, almost like a shield, the hair is growing upwards until it reaches mid chest. I don’t know the exact trait that this accompanies.

His flank whorls end fairly high. We can see straight hind legs set well out behind him. A flank whorl that ends high shows a horse who wont reach up under themselves with the hind legs. How does that go with the zipper whorl?That is a very good question.

While looking at the flank whorls I noticed a slightly clubbed hoof behind. Because we had already looked at the rest of his whorls without seeing a reason for this I had to investigate further.

Not being willing to stick my head under the belly of an unknown horse, I stuck my camera under there instead. His belly whorls were very uneven! They were both set right up against the sheath. One of them, the one on his left, is just out on the belly. The other one is actually on the side of the sheath. The belly whorls show where a horse will track with the hind feet. Not very far up underneath himself, which we see also from the flank whorls, and towards the center. I’m not saying that the belly whorls are the cause of the very slight abnormality. They are certainly related though. The hoof doesn’t cause him any trouble and he is completely sound. It sure is an interesting trait to me at least.

All of this combines to make a horse who is reactive and quick to move after a calf, smart enough to think about how he can better be ready for the next move cattle might make, but also steady and dependable. He is Verla’s go to horse for getting work done, steady, dependable, and fun to ride.

Interview, Horse Whorls

I had a very big day yesterday.
It was a bit of a secret, I thought about mentioning it ahead of time but there was no way to share it in process. Besides, what if I messed the whole thing up? I didn’t want to tell people ahead of time and have everyone know I did awful. So I waited.
I did an interview about Understanding Horse Whorls on our local radio station!
We live in a very rural area, a farm and ranch community. Things involving horses qualify as legitimate news. I expected maybe ten minutes. A half hour later we were still talking away. People were calling in with questions.
My favorite part of the whole thing was when an older gentleman walked into the studio. Very small town here, keep that in mind. The station is a cement block building that sits in the middle of a pasture just off the highway. The receptionist had left to do other things. All the doors are wide open.
He walked into the room where we were talking. It was during a break, so the mics were off. He said he was driving truck, hauling corn from somewhere to the south up into South Dakota. He had the radio on while he was driving, listening to us talk.
So he decided to stop in!
He said he couldn’t take notes and drive but wanted to remember the name of the book. Could he please get a picture of the cover?
It was so sweet it nearly made me cry. I wish I had been thinking clearly, I would have ripped the copy I gave the guy at the radio station out of his hands and given it to this guy instead. Or at least gotten his name and sent him a copy. It was such a shock my brain wasn’t able to catch up until much later unfortunately.
If you would like to listen to the interview you can find it at this link  

Negative Punishment

It’s hard to get past the idea that something bad has to be done before we can reward for being good.

We run into that problem with horses all the time. We think a horse needs to pull back before we can teach them to give to pressure. We think a horse has to spook before we can teach them things aren’t scary. We think a horse needs to say no before we can teach them to say yes.

It is easily over looked that we should be rewarding our horses for doing good without waiting for that spook or pull first. Think of all the trouble we could avoid if we didn’t wait for the bad but looked harder for the good that was offered willingly?

The school my children go to is trying very hard to use positive reinforcement with the children. Finding a reward that is motivating is much harder for teenagers than it is for horses. Finding a high enough value reward is only part of the problem they are facing though.

That idea that bad has to be done before we reward good is so deeply ingrained in all people, not just horse people.

Lots of children are well rewarded for lots of things. Children who are having trouble reading are rewarded for any improvement. Children who can’t sit still are rewarded for stillness. It works nicely in many areas. Children who don’t get work done are rewarded for turning in assignments.

The children who read well, sit still, do their work, try hard all the time, seldom get rewarded. They watch the children who seldom perform the behaviors being asked of them receiving a high rate of reinforcement and wonder why they are trying? Should the reward for doing good be intrinsic? Yes, in large part it should. Convincing an elementary students of that as they watch another child get treats and trinkets is a little more difficult.

Do the other children need a higher rate of reinforcement? Yes. They most likely do.

Does that mean that children who are performing the desired behaviors don’t need rewarded? No. It most certainly doesn’t.

When we withhold a reward we are performing positive punishment. When these children are watching another child receive something while they get nothing for the same behavior that is strong negative punishment.

Don’t think they don’t notice. Comments are made all the time. As the children get older the negative punishment achieves exactly what it would be expected to. Many children stop trying. They get bitter about the rewards. We have conditioned them to negative associations with the rewards and the work the rewards are supposed to be rewarding.

What if instead we looked for the good that was willingly being offered?

There are no easy answers. Horses are so much easier to train than children. The try should always be rewarded though. If we punish the try we soon loose the greatest power a child, or horse, possesses.