Sunday, December 28, 2008

Use of Blocker Tie Ring

Hi everyone,

The Blocker Tie Ring first came to my attention about five years ago when I met its inventor, Ted Blocker. I got to know Ted and this tool very well during the time we both spent on Clinton Anderson's tours from 2003 to 2006. To my knowledge, it is still the only piece of gear Clinton sells (as the "Aussie Tie Ring") that he didn't design himself. As the Blocker Tie Ring 2 (an improved, second generation version) is now being advertised on my TV show, radio show, and eBlast, I want to be sure I fully address any questions regarding its use.

I recently received an email from a trainer who reported that a couple of his clients had purchased tie rings and their horses promptly got loose and into things they shouldn't. There was no mention of any training having been done prior to this, so I wrote a rather lengthy reply, which I am reproducing below for anyone who is interested. I'm sure there is more information available at

The tie ring is a training tool used to diminish the feeling of being trapped and claustrophobic so that a horse doesn't panic and pull back hard when tied. It is not intended for tying a horse and leaving the area.
The training goes like this: first, use the least drag (one pass over the tongue), then deliberately spook the horse and get him to pull some rope through. Usually, he will stop on his own before the rope pulls all the way through. If not, use a longer rope. His panic diminishes fairly quickly. You then lead him back to the starting point, pull the rope through and do it all again. He should pull back again, but stop sooner because he is learning that he isn't really tied solid. Do this a number of times and eventually he won't move his feet at all when you spook him. You can then go to the second setting, where the loose end is looped back over the tongue of the ring a second time. This makes the drag considerably stronger. It the horse tried to get loose out of boredom rather than panic, this would make it much more work. The third setting makes it very, very difficult to pull the rope through the ring. There is still some give, however.

Again, this is a training tool, not a set-and-forget way to tie your horse. It's important to give the horse lots of time standing tied so that he becomes comfortable with the idea and he has a positive association with being tied. In other words, it means a chance to rest. People who have problems with this tie ring usually haven't gone through this training process. They often have other problems, as well. They ask too little of their horses. These horses get too much high-energy feed and too little exercise, along with never being asked to stand tied for an hour or more at a time. Then, when the horse is tied, he has too much pent-up energy, a lingering worry about being trapped, and no positive past experience to draw upon.

As with any tool, this one must be used with an understanding of what it can and can't do, as well as good judgement on the part of the human.
Questions or comments are welcome.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Proactive vs reactive teaching

Hi everyone,

A proven way of influencing a horse's behavior is to reward desirable actions and punish undesirable actions. This is called operant conditioning. Note that this is all about consequences. Positive consequences for good behavior. Negative consequences for bad behavior. Notice also that this takes place entirely after the behavior has occurred.

Natural horsemanship uses operant conditioning but it also uses something else. Something that is proactive, that influences the behavior before it occurs. We describe it in different ways. We "set the horse up for success." We "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult." We "make our idea become the horse's idea." This requires more mental engagement, planning, and commitment on the part of the trainer, but there are great rewards to be reaped.

One of the golden rules of natural horsemanship is to be as gentle as possible and as firm as necessary. Being proactive in training increases the opportunities to be gentle and decreases the need to be firm.