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Common Mistakes – Creating Connection Through Change In Focus

Common Mistakes - Creating Connection Through Change In Focus

Did any of these happen with your horse yesterday?

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New horse and new to WSAH, subscribed when I found holes in my relationship with the self which created a dangerous insecurity in my new young horse. The place I have to practice the CCTCF is plenty big but also has food (and other horses but their presence is benign). At the start, from very far away, a few times I got my guy’s ears and eyes. Quite quickly though his interest softened and after that, he kept his head down eating. No ear flicking, just the ear mostly trained on me and keeping a soft wobble along with the wobbling of the grazing head. I think I got the same kind of soft focus from his eye but it’s a dark eye in a dark face with a dark forelock over it so it was hard to tell. There were times he turned his underside of his jaw to me so that I was out of his ears and eyes but I didn’t think that was a big enough contrast to heed. I kept at it, walking and flapping lightly, trying to “be effective” which I thought meant getting the head up off the food for a moment of focused attention onto the flag and me. For that, I had to finally get right up in his flank with the flag. For how big and rude I got it was only marginally effective in getting the tiniest ear flick before he just moved away a little and buried his head again to feed. So now I think I need to either go bigger, go smaller, or go differently. Bigger would be SSTDP and do what it takes to be effective like the video, “Being Effective Even on Grass”. However the field is a flat 10 acres so he could just saunter away with his head still buried, so it’s a little different setup from that video. Smaller would be SSTDP with CCTCF but change my metric of success, ie., turn away when he goes from showing me the underside of his jaw, to having me in his ear’s and eye’s soft focus. But I think I got in trouble previously, lacking leadership and accommodating him as if he were flighty instead of confident. Different would be to halter him and follow the flow chart, and the basic exercises (which are going much better than the CCTCF), and try CCTCF at liberty in the field again later once we have more practice at the other things. Once haltered he gives me soft kind interest. However to halter him while eating I have to first loop the lead rope around his neck to pull his face up off the food. He usually manages to position himself at the feeders so that my approach is from behind his shoulder. This would be dangerous if he was overtly defensive. But the horse I have today is tactically inert, not overtly defensive, so that’s ok for now. Right?
Do I go bigger, smaller, or different?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 15, 2024 at 4:17 pm

Hi Louise,
Does he have 24 hour access to food?
Or does he get food twice a day and you are attempting this exercise while he’s eating it?

I tried this today in the arena for the first time with my horse. He used to be very clingy and wanted to be in my space all the time, I have managed to get him to not be so clingy. I started this 30 day jump start program and am trying to correct some problems I have been having with him. Maybe this isn’t an exercise that I should be doing with my horse? He seems to me to be a bit shut down when I work with him. When I did this today, I had a hard time to get him to turn his head towards me. he was getting better towards the end of my session. He walked up to me 2 times, the first time he really didn’t seem to want to engage as he didn’t extend his head towards me. He stopped about 6 feet from me and then turned and walked away. The second time he came up to me, he reached his head out so I engaged with him. He engaged with me a couple of times and then just stood there. I turned and walked away, maybe that was a mistake? He did not follow me. Should I continue with this exercise tomorrow and see how it goes?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 15, 2024 at 7:42 pm

” He did not follow me”

Today is the first day, and one of the most common mistakes is trying to get the horse to follow before they are ready. He had only walked up to you 2 times. Whats important is communicating your awareness many times, which means if he walks up and just stands there, just stand there with him. When he leaves, start all over again. Repeat that a lot before ever trying to get him to follow you

Had my first try at this today. Maybe I didn’t stop/turn fast enough.. but when she takes notice of me she just pins her ears and looks away fast. :( I am going to try again tomorrow. She is odd because she will come up to me in the field ears forward, sniff, sometimes follow me, and other times it’s just ears pinned and just doesn’t want to be bothered. (Most of the time)

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 20, 2024 at 11:17 am

How far away were you?

When walking in an arc, if I get their attention before moving the flag, do I still implement the flag at some point? Should I walk and use the flag together?
Guess I’m wondering if part of the purpose of this exercise is getting them used to paying attention to the flag, or is it mainly just getting their attention? I have been able to “join up” with my horse and walk together in the pasture before without a flag.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 20, 2024 at 10:59 pm

“When walking in an arc, if I get their attention before moving the flag, do I still implement the flag at some point?”
You may have to, depending on what happens in the next steps of the exercise, when you start to asc further arounbd and draw their feet.
The ability to draw their attention with the flag is a huge part of the rest of the exercises, so Its good to ensure it works at this point

Hi Warwick ,
I’ve been doing this for a few weeks and have watched the videos multiple times (including the on grass video) but I still am struggling and think I must be missing something .

Could you please clarify, If you’re doing the exercise in their paddock (full of long grass) , and you get an ear flick whilst their head is down grazing do you acknowledge that? I’m struggling with been effective with the flag whilst his head is down and his ears flick back and forth, it’s hard to see when his eye comes to me whilst his grazing away.

Or would I use the flag and release as soon as he lifts his head/ or moves off or changes thoughts , sort of like how you did with the video you had with the horse with his head through the fence eating.

Just want to make sure I’m doing it right because I’ve spent a lot of time doing it and don’t seem to be winning on the grass !! I try and pick my timing so his just chilling not eating and I have a lot more luck then however after a few minutes if he goes back to grazing I have the same dilemma .

Thanks so much ☺️

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 31, 2024 at 10:32 am

Id wait for his head to come up.
BUT, some questions.
Does he live on grass? Because horse who live on grass don’t continually graze, they graze then rest then graze then rest.
The grass may not be the problem, you horse may be willfully ignoring you.

Thanks for your reply !! That’s what I’ve been doing wrong.

Yes he lives on grass 24/7, wet season in CQ and there is green grass everywhere after an awful dry spell ! As mentioned I usually wait till his just hanging out and not eating however it’s pretty hard to time that when I’m home and not busy. I think he definitely could be ignoring me , if his head doesn’t come up would I do what you did in the video and go up to him with the flag until he lifts his head?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 5, 2024 at 7:46 pm


Warwick, when I walk around and “lose” their head, do I stop and turn away or do I go back to where I started again to try to capture their head again right away without stopping?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) January 31, 2024 at 10:32 am

Turn and go back along the same path you were on and get the head back.

I have been trying to create connection through change in focus for a couple of weeks now. I can get his head to turn towards me; but his feet will not untrack. I did actually get his feet to untrack today; but he did not follow me. He started to turn towards me and then turned away. When he started to walk away, I was a distance from him, so I just matched steps from a distance. He noticed me, and when he did he laid down. I walked over to him and petted him as he slept. He has been consistently laying down during these sessions as soon as he sees how aware I am of his changes. Should I not go near him when he is laying down? Is this laying down a learned behavior that has become a habit now? He usually sleeps for 15-20 minutes; but today it lasted for almost 30 minutes. He is turned out daily with a young filly (9 months) and she tries to initiate play with him and he doesn’t even follow her.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 5, 2024 at 7:52 pm

I wouldnt pet him when he lays down, just stand near him, he’s trusting you to stand guard while he sleeps.

Should I continue with this exercise until he stops laying down and sleeping every day? Today I just turned him loose in the arena and read a book. He immediately layed down and looked around to see where I was because I had not taken the chair in the arena yet. I walked in and sat down and he stayed down for about 5 minutes and then got up and came over to where I was. He stopped about 6ft from me and snorted at the chair, then proceeded closer to engage with me. He soon walked away again.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 6, 2024 at 3:47 pm

When he walks away you could then start the process with the flag all over again

Today I tried the exercise again and managed to get him to turn his head towards me and then he walked over to me a few times. The second time he came over to me, reached out to engage with me, and then just stood there. I decided to walk away after waiting a few minutes and he was just standing there, to see if he would follow me. I walked away from him and he eventually followed me, he reached out to engage with me again and then walked away. I got his attention and he walked over to me a couple more times and then he laid down and slept for about 30 mins. I stood and waited while he slept. After he got up I ended the session. Do I just keep doing this exercise until he just wants to follow me around all the time? Other people at the stable keep telling me that he is simply bored with doing nothing with me or is confused because I used to work with him and now I am not. One lady keeps insisting that this is a learned behavior that he is doing so he doesn’t have to do anything with me. I can see the small changes happening in him so I just try to ignore the comments and stay with the course outline. What are your thoughts?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) March 7, 2024 at 10:23 am

Dont focus on the following part. In the common mistakes video I say that this is a common problem peole do, try to get to the end first. Its more important that they come up and leave , then you do it again, they come up and leave, many times. If they dont leave, theres nothing to do, just hang with them, like horses hang out together in the pasture. This part teaches the human patience, we tend to think we always need to be doing something.

Tried this for the first time with my mule, earlier today. She’s six, but has not been ridden but once in the last three years. She’s skittish and flees what she does not understand – and wants to leave as soon as her brain is full for the day. This work is teaching me to slow down and relish the journey.

I got ears and eyes almost immediately – eyes and ears that lock in on me and linger long. I think it was the third time stopping and turning away that I heard her approaching from behind. I gave her the interaction she wanted and walked away and waited till she engaged with something else, then did two more arcs with the flag. This time, she came up behind me and nuzzled me.

So, I hope THIS was a good decision. I put her back with her buddy for awhile, then brought her out to a grassy front yard and went through the Connections through change in focus exercise again. In this new surrounds, she was much less attuned to me at the start, so I feel like more was accomplished.

Now that I’ve seen the ‘common mistakes’ video – I see where I made some mistakes and look forward to working again tomorrow.

If I am understanding you correctly, this is not an exercise that needs to be done with a horse that already wants to be with you. Correct?
My gelding just tuned 3 and my filly turns 2 this month. For the past 2 1/2 years I have spent countless hours just being present with them in the pasture so they are used to me being around and as soon as I enter their space they come and greet me.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) April 6, 2024 at 9:38 am

You are correct

I have spent a lot of time with my mare building a connection with her. She always meets me at the gate when i walk to the barn or the grass lot I turn her out on. I take her on walks and match steps with her. She will lunge but wants to look out and not bend or arc very well towards inside of circle sometimes. I use a flag to get her attention by waving it. I don’t get carried away waving it just softly move it to get her to move she can be a bit lazy. My question is what exercise should I do to get her to follow flag. I have not been using the flag to move her after I watched your video on CCTC. Sometimes it feels like she is ignoring me so would like to get her to focus more. Would this be a good exercise to get her to focus to change towards flag or me?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) April 22, 2024 at 10:44 am

This CCTCIF is where they learn to have their thoughts follow the flag.

Hi. Initially CCTCF worked really well and , without aiming for it, I got Hunter walking to me and a couple of times walking with me. This was when I took him into the back field and he wanted to stand looking over the fence towards his 2 friends over the other side of the yard and just visible from one place. The good news is that he did not even look over the fence today but was happy grazing on the new grass coming through without showing any sign of looking for his friends. The bad news, from my perspective, is that when he is grazing I can not tell if his ear moves towards me so am not sure how to proceed. I did try using the flag to get his focus off the grass but 1. this isn’t going back to getting the ear 2. I sometimes had to go right up to him to change his focus from the grass and 3. I just felt it was a bit wrong and not achieving much ( other than to make him a bit concerned about me I think) and he would just go straight back to grazing anyway 4. I was afraid I could make him dull to my energy/ the flag.
So, not sure how to get another meaningful session if I can’t detect his ear on me and all he does is graze. I won’t often have the time to wait for him resting after a period grazing.
Any suggestions would be very welcome and I would be interested to know if you think it can have solved some mild to medium separation anxiety of his without actually connecting to me fully in that first couple of sessions?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 5, 2024 at 11:07 am

If you cant see his ears, just work on him turning his head toward you

Hi. Had another session on the grass today to work on turning his head towards me but did not go as well as it could I fear. He lifted his head from the grass if I used lots of energy but didn;t really look at me much and I had to be quite close. He got well pissed off and over thresh hold once – squealing and legging it down the paddock so I did a wee bit more and then called it a night. He seems to be getting shut down to the flag and fed up with me. Again he showed no signs of wanting to keep looking for friends or staying at the side of field nearest them – he just wanted to graze. What do you think to me putting his friends in the field and him in the sand paddock so that he has no grass and will , hopefully, want to watch for them? We definitely did better when he had a real focus towards them.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 6, 2024 at 9:12 pm

“squealing and legging it down the paddock” is the opposite of “He seems to be getting shut down to the flag”. Squealing and legging down the paddock is a response, horses that shut down have no response.

“Again he showed no signs of wanting to keep looking for friends or staying at the side of field nearest them – he just wanted to graze” Does he live on that grass?

Ha, ha Yes, I can see that’s the opposite …..it’s very hard to explain nuances and detail this way but he squealed and legged it, I feel, because the pressure was too much because I am having to give it lots of energy and get pretty close to get a change in focus.

No, he doesn’t live on that grass.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 7, 2024 at 9:59 am

Squealing and legging it IS a response, so let him know you sa that.

If he doesnt live on the grass, dont turn him out there then try this exercise, thats just making it hard on yourself. Set the situation up so its easy to achieve what you are trying to do, so either do it somewhere else, or put him on the grass for a few hours before attemting to interupt his thoughts while eating it

Thank you. That is exactly what I have done today. He has been out there an hour and I hung around with him a bit just being, no pressure. I will head back in a bit and when he is full and starts resting or looking over towards friends I will try then. I am bad for not trusting my thoughts and ideas ( I came to it not being a fair ask of him or me) so thank you very much for your response and helping my confidence.

OK. I have noticed that I have to be pretty close to Hunter with the flag to get a change in focus from the grass. It did work better after he had been out there a few hours but still just lifting his head and sometimes walking forwards a bit. Only a few times ( 5 out of 30) did he turn his head toward me. I acknowledged any change he made – even just lifting head a little off the grass…..is that correct?
When he was full and resting he really was resting and dozy and I was unsure whether to do anything with the flag at that stage so I just sat and was present with him. I saw a previous post where the lass had said she would try when her horse was resting but did not see any result. What would you recommend I do att hat point please?

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 8, 2024 at 7:53 pm

I cant comment on what some else does, but for me, I want to make sure I am effective, and get a change in focus.

“I acknowledged any change he made – even just lifting head a little off the grass…..is that correct?”


My horse Cricket is here alone. I have a 3 acre pasture. So when he’s out eating, I have to walk to other side of pasture in order to walk an arc with him facing the other way. However, he is VERY aware of me, ears flicking toward me, while I walk out far away to arc. So I use flag, mildly, and start the arc toward him. I stop and turn when he gives ear, eye and turns his head to me. But by now I’m quite close to him. I stop, relax, turn around. He goes back to eating. Now I’m close to him. Should I walk away other direction then. If I get far away and he goes to eating, what do I do next? Turn around and make an arc toward him again til he changes focus? Then stop and turn around? If I am facing away and start to walk away and he just continues eating, that’s where I’m not clear what to do next. So please help. I did this 3x and get too close sometimes. Then walk away turned around and am puzzled. Thanks for your reply.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 14, 2024 at 11:00 am

I think you are running out of room because you are arcing toward him, instead of around him. Act like he is the centre of the circle you are arcing around, not on the circle.

Thank you for responses Warwick

Regarding my comment yesterday, thanks for the reply. But now I think you mean I start with my horse turned away and start a circle around him, stopping and turning back when I get his ear, eye and head turn if he reacts, then goes back to ignoring my presence. So I follow the circle path a ways. THEN do I turn around and continue my original circle, wave the flag, get an ear, eye and head turn? Then stop, and again pivot? If he stays commected and moves, then do I continue walking my circle but if he goes back to eating grass, then after stopping, do I again pivot and stand awhile, continue walking awhile, then turn back around and continue walking? I’m confused.

Warwick Schiller avatar Warwick Schiller (Administrator) May 15, 2024 at 11:26 am

“THEN do I turn around and continue my original circle, wave the flag, get an ear, eye and head turn?”
Id say yes.

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