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Creating Connection Through Change In Focus

Creating Connection Through Change In Focus

There is no use training your horse with something (flag, stick, leadrope) unless they are connected to it. This exercise will help you connect your horse to you and your tool. They do not have to follow you, the goal is to see how easily you can get them to connect with you. Following you is a by-product but not the objective of this exercise.

This exercise is the most basic step in getting a horse to realize that you are aware of how they are feeling inside and where their attention is. Even if you think your horse is at a more advanced level than this, try it out anyway and just begin to notice where your horse’s attention goes. Practicing this skill will make everything later on much easier for you and your horse.

  1. Turn them loose in a big area (or maybe they are already loose in a big area). Let them wander away as far as possible.
  2. If their ears are fixated on something, work on getting an ear with the flag. Do this from a long way away, as subtle as possible (so no pressure, you want to attract their attention, not force it). Start by moving your feet, then slowing moving the flag.
  3. If their ears are not fixated on something, do the same thing but work on the eye turning toward you.
  4. As soon as you get the ear or the eye, stop and turn away.
  5. Wait a minute or so then start again. It’s a slow process at first. Just reward the change in focus. That’s where the connection starts. You are letting them know how aware you are of that change in focus without asking for it.
  6. Repeat over and over, waiting in between each one. At some point in time, your horse will become more and more interested in you. They may even come over and engage with you.
  7. If they leave, let them get all the way away before attempting to get their attention again.

Success Tips:

– Start as far away as possible.
– If their ears are not fixated on something, do the same thing but work on the eye turning toward you.
– As soon as you get the ear or the eye, turn and walk away.
– Wait a minute or so then start again.
– If they leave, let them get all the way away before attempting to get their attention again.
– Take your time
– No expectations
– Do not wave the flag fast. Do not force anything or it will turn into obedience and you won’t get anywhere.

Common Problems/Mistakes:

– Having an agenda or expectation. This is a relationship-building exercise. That is your only goal. Build a relationship.
– If their ears are fixated on something, work on getting an ear with the flag. Do this from a long way away, as subtle as possible
 (so no pressure, you want to attract their attention, not force it). Start by moving your feet, then slowing moving the flag.

So, on this first day that you are going to go out and try the exercise, it’s more important that you practice getting the changes of focus than it is that they follow you around.   They will learn more in the process of repetition than they will in the following you around.  So, the more times that you can get their attention with the flag and then show them that you saw their change in focus, that is the goal for today.  Not following you around.

Remember, this is just the “next thing” in the process, don’t worry about the “Days” anymore.  You are on your timeline…not ours.

A reminder of how to use this course: click on Mark Complete below and tomorrow you will move on to Day 10.

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I really appreciate how you care to shift the human focus on calling it a day and not packing too much in a single day/session

The illustrations really helped clear some things up for me, thanks!

That seems pretty clear (I’ve been following you for a while, so it was a refresher of stuff I’ve heard before); what my brain struggles with is the end point when I have to gather the horse to put him back away. What point do you need to reach using this exercise where it becomes okay to halter them (and does it cause a setback to not reach that point but have to halter them – say someone else needs the space)? Do you have to get to the point where they are coming up to you? Come up to you and not walk away? Willing to follow you?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) December 15, 2023 at 11:34 am

Hi Megan

Usually in a session they will at least get to where they come up and hand with you, BUT, its not about the end result, its about the number of times you communicate your awareness of their changein focus. So Id say any time is good to finish up.

Hi Warwick!
Thanks for the clarification. I am doing the change an focus with a few horses now and it works really well. My question is: Would you do this with a 9 month old foal? I have her at my own place since birth so she is very relaxed with me and a bit lazy. And when I go into the arena with her she would eat gras on the edge of the fence – I tried it once when her mom was in the arena with her but she would ignore everything – even the flag under her belly – what would you do?
Thanks and a Marry Christmas.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) December 24, 2023 at 12:15 pm

Id be effective. So once you start, you need a change in focus.

I am new to the program and am currently on Step 9 of the 30 Day Jump Start [which I am loving !!]. Having watched this video yesterday and the other two recommended videos I gave it a go with our 14 year old broodmare. It worked just as you said and although I only set out to get her attention and make her aware that I was aware of her, just as I was about to leave she surprised me and started to follow me. She was already wearing a headcollar so I could not use that suggestions as a way to finish the session. Instead I stood with her hoping for a lick a chew but nothing happened. How else can I bring the session to a close or do I just break the connection and walk away.

Finally, you are so right. I rewatched this video again this morning and realised that I missed some of the detail !! Just about to look at the other two videos again so apologies if the answer is in them! Looking forward to giving it another go today

Thanking you in advance

Hi Warwick
I’m just starting (watching all the videos first) but I have a question about this exercise if you have a horse that has more draw than drive how would you approach it?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 11, 2024 at 11:21 am

How much draw does your horse have? Do they want to come up and hang out? Or do they want to come up and push into you?

I have tried this before; but I made the mistake of doing it in a round pen. My horse didn’t run around though. I also made the mistake of walking across behind him, rather than doing an arc on one side only. I am loving this 30 day jump start course! I have made mistakes with my foundational exercises in the past so I am now starting over, once again. I understand how if these exercises are not working very well, it will lead to more problems down the road. I am willing to take the time required to get these things “rock solid” with my horse.

He’s the type of horse that would push into you. He often cuts me off to stop me so I will give him attention if I go into his paddock. But in saying that he also would have the odd day that he would acknowledge that he has seen me but continue to graze.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 15, 2024 at 4:21 pm

Id resolve the pushy first, even if that causes him to not be interested in you. Then you can start the relationship over anmd build it without that in there.

I did this one day and didn’t feel like it was very successful: but I know that is not the way I should look at this. I went back on day 2 to try it again and my horse was actually looking towards me more easily and he came over and engaged a few times. He walked away and went to the far end of the arena. I slowly made my arcs closer to him to see if that would make a difference in getting him to look at me. He started looking towards me more often and each time I would quickly turn away and drop the flag. I was going back and forth in arcs on one side of him, maybe 30-40 ft away from him. He started doing a lot of licking and chewing, started snorting at the ground and then started to paw like he was going to roll. He dropped to the ground and just stretched out and stayed there. I slowly walked over to him and sat beside him. He stayed down for about 10 minutes. He lifted his head a couple of times when he heard noises; looked at me and put his head back down. I just rubbed his head very gently as he layed there.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 15, 2024 at 7:35 pm

Great work.

Thanks for these explanations, they are great to follow. I had an interesting experience with my horse doing this. I can’t let him loose in our school so I went in his field. He came straight up to me being all in my space and a bit bitey. He didn’t want to follow though so I focused on the noticing when his awareness changed to me. As soon as I did this he would come into my space. He didn’t follow at all and eventually he decided to trot off into his second field. I felt he was telling me he didn’t want to interact and so I left him to it. Thoughts?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 24, 2024 at 11:42 am

The purpose of this exercise is NOT to get them to follow you. In the videos the horses come up to me, and leave, and come up to me and leave, many many times before I ever try to get them to follow me.
Thats a common mistake, trying to get to the end, without focusing on the beginning

Hi Warwick,
Im doing this excersice with my horse Winston. I have had him for 4 months. Today was the second attempt with this. First day went great. When i set him lose in the arena we was visably stressed troting and cantering around and hanging out by the gate where he could see his friends. I implemented the things i have learned from your videos. Winston came to visit me 5 times ( we did this for about 40 min) after each visit when he would wander away he seemed more and more relaxed. On his fourth visit to me he actually laid down for a milisecond then got up and wondered away. By the end he was tanding at the opposite end of the ring with a hind led cocked and was pretty relaxed.
Today i went out for attempt number two.
When set free in the arena he walked around and hung out mostly by the gate. We worked on this for about half hour and he did come to visit me about 4 times. I just stood still and let him hang out with me.
My question to you is, when i notice him noticing me and i turn away, put my flag away and relax. How long do i keep my back to him? What do i do, if im standing with my back to him
( maybe 10 -20 seconds) turn around and he is still looking at me?
I noticed he would approach me if i was facing as well as if my back was to him?
Also, what is the next step??
Thanks in advance for your time to respond to me :)

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 26, 2024 at 9:24 am

Hi Tui

Only turn around long enough to show him you saw his change in focus. Could be 10 seconds, or 30, it doesnt really matter. The next step if he starts hanging out is to see if you can arc around him and have him start to follow you.

I started on this exercise today and my gelding came straight up to me as soon as he saw the flag (he’s a friendly and very inquisitive horse so I thought that might happen). He wanted to chew the flag, then started licking my hands and teeth scraping. The longer it went on the harder he pushed into my hands. He eventually stopped, lots of yawning, licking and chewing. We hung out for a bit longer then I turned to leave. He followed me closely, diving for my hands, so I stopped and engaged again. This happened several times before I got to the gate. Does this mean we are missing something in the connection?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 31, 2024 at 10:30 am

No not at all.
One hint is tip always keep the flag behind you.

I have a 6 yr old Molly Mule who has reportedly been broke to ride and to drive.. but… that was as a 2-3 yr old, before she ended up at auction. When her brain gets full, she is all ‘flee’. When she’s done, she’s done… and if I do too much I have to let her percolate and ‘consider’ and steep, left alone for a day.

Considering the differences (in general) in mindset of mule vs horse… will this work be as effective with a mule brain as with a horse brain.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 5, 2024 at 7:54 pm

Yes, possibly even more so.

Q1: When you were standing still and your horse turned to look at you, you turned your body away to show him that you saw his awareness of you. Got it. But how do you know that he didn’t interpret that as a “Turning Away” from a bid to connection?
Q2: Do you incorporate this exercise into daily life with your horses, or do you keep it as a structured exercise? For example, my horses are actually looking at me when I approach their pasture from a long way away, which is new (I haven’t done the exercise yet, only matching steps). When they look at me coming towards their pasture, would I acknowledge that somehow?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 5, 2024 at 8:06 pm

Q1- Im communicating awareness of their change in focus by changing what I am doing. If I had eyes in the back of my head, I could start looking away and as they look at me I could turn towrd them, but I dont have eyes in the back of my head so I have top start facing them. Im not “taking away” something, just changing it to show I noticed the change.
Q@- If you are walking toard them, and they look at you, pause to let them know you noticed the change. Then start to arc so you draw them to you.

I have been doing this exercise for a couple of weeks now, the only result I have achieved is that as soon as he sees I am aware of his changes in focus he lays down and goes to sleep. I did manage to get his head and he turned towards me and then layed down and went to sleep. Should I continue doing this exercise?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 5, 2024 at 8:23 pm

Does he lay down any other time?

What would you do for a horse that strictly wants to engage? He is not a pushy or disrespectful horse, but he’ll lick my hands for quite a long time. On another note, sometimes when I’m waiting for him to relax again (and I still haven’t seen him release) he will come up to lick my hands. Would that be considered him releasing or is that just a quirk? I’ve never met a horse that wants to lick as much as he does. It makes me question what he’s saying by doing so because it’s so consistent.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 1, 2024 at 10:19 am

The release is about them relaxing their tongue and jaw. If he’s licking, he’s doing that.

Shara Teo avatar sharateo@gmail.com May 2, 2024 at 5:41 am

Hi Warwick, where on your website can I find the two videos you referenced in this lesson?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 2, 2024 at 6:56 pm

In the Creating Connection Through Change In Focus playlist

I’m having trouble with the green grass along the way. I can get her focus in the dry lot pen but nothing else exists but the opportunity to catch a bite and she’s stepping into me, trying to drag me and having trouble focusing on anything else outside the pen. I’m disengaging her hind quarters to get her attention back, but it’s on short lead most of the time to keep her from eating the whole time. Just keep practicing or any other suggestions?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 8, 2024 at 7:42 pm

Id just stay i the dry lot, and teach her everything she needs to know, in there, before taking her anywhere.

Shara Teo avatar sharateo@gmail.com May 14, 2024 at 6:22 pm

If I turn away when a horse looks at me, and then after 30 seconds I look back and he is still staring at me, should I turn back again or should I turn around to look at him?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 15, 2024 at 10:11 am

No, just wait. The turning away is just to communicate that you noticed their change, not because looking at them is a bad thing.

EILEEN MANTELL avatar iskater10@aol.com May 15, 2024 at 10:15 am

Where can I find the two videos Warwick is recommending we watch in the video. Thank you!

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 15, 2024 at 11:21 am

hey are both in the creating connection through change in focus playlist

Hi, this is very very helpful. I posted earlier in a different section regarding my 4.5 year old draft quarter horse cross regarding his giving me two eyes but not moving anywhere-just stuck and watching me with two eyes as I walked an arc around him both ways. I am somewhat concerned this is an obedience stance and not exactly what we want at this stage. I have a logistical problem in that my built in sand arena is two steps down from the surrounding landscape and is 3/4 surrounded by grass that grows right up to and under the fence line. The other 1/4 of the perimeter is shrubs, one of which is apparently delicious. So, my horse, when he realizes I am setting him loose in the arena makes a beeline to the far end where the grass is like a lawn. He is aware I and the flag are there but he simply can not stuff his face fast enough. To make a long story short I have put way more energy into waving the flag and this does make him leave at a canter to go to the other end where there is grass also.(He is smart, he knows it will take me awhile to get closer to him by going to the opposite end rather than stopping along the side and during that time he is vigorously grazing). Eventually he does get tired of running from one end to the other and faces me, turns his head and neck to follow me with his eyes, licks and chews, cocks a hind leg or steps slightly to side. Yesterday for the first time he came to me and we walked together to the opposite end of arena with him following. I am concerned that I may be teaching him something I don’t want necessarily since I have used much more energy that could be construed by him as a dominance. I also wonder if a prior trainer had used a somewhat different method to gain his two eyes. Sometimes if I walk too firmly directly towards him when he is on a lead in the arena he may lower his head and back a few steps, keeping distance between us the same(This horse has been saddled and ridden with snaffle and knows leg and seat cues for halt, sidepass, turn on the haunches, etc) Today I will see how long it takes him to give me an ear or two eyes without any majorly energetic waving of flag. I don’t have any access to an area without candy shop temptation short of putting a round pen inside my 60 by 100- 120 arena. He is relatively spooky to tarps and notices new things immediately so I don’t want to sensitize him to the flag in a bad way.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 16, 2024 at 9:17 am

“So, my horse, when he realizes I am setting him loose in the arena makes a beeline to the far end where the grass is like a lawn. ”

Turn him loose in there, and dont do anything. Let him eat.Wait quite a while and then start the exercise.

Thanks. I now know you have had to answer working on grass questions frequently and I apologize. New to this course. I can’t seem to find the specific connection on grass videos being referred to in the online video library but I will modify my search words and try again. Your response makes sense. He gets plenty of high quality hay in his small pasture which has grass but much more sparse than the lawn which is lush and 5 inches tall this time of year in MI. He is out eating ad lib 12 hrs per day. It is so true that each time one reviews a video some subtle but important detail not noticed before comes to light. Thank you.

I notice in the success tips above it says turn and walk away when you get the ear or eye but you say not to do that in the video because you will lose the draw? It also says at number 4 in the explanation you just turn away.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 16, 2024 at 9:00 pm

Just turn away.

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