Training Exercises: The Squeeze

Years ago my dog mysteriously got out of my backyard and into the neighbor’s back yard. I asked the neighbor’s 4-year-old boy, my dog’s best friend, if he had any ideas how it happened. He ran on his stubby little legs to the back corner of the yard where the back fence met the side fence and pointed. “He queezed”, he said. “He queezed right there”. Sure enough there was a practically unnoticeable gap.

Since that time I, myself, have “queezed” through many a fence.

Horses are claustrophobic. Their bodies are strong, but not very flexible. The rib spring is not soft, and they don’t know how to shimmy through. Therefore, squeezing into tight spaces is not a natural behavior.

This exercise is very good for horses that are not easy about tying up, loading in a trailer, going through a gate, going into a chute, even picking you up off of a fence. You want your horse to keep his head if he gets into a tight situation.

Pre-Requisite Exercises:

Your horse should know how to line lunge and how to disengage his rear.

The exercise involves sending your horse from one side of your body to the other between you and another object such as a fence. Eventually, he will follow your “send” signal, move in the direction you indicate in a controlled manner, and turn to face you when he has passed through and is on the other side.

It starts with you facing the fence, perhaps 20 feet away from it. Your horse should be somewhat in front of you where he can see your send instruction. Raise your forward hand with the rope and point in the direction you want him to move. If he has done his lunging properly, he will know that you mean for him to move off in that direction. He is correctly anticipating lunging.

However, after he passes your body, restrain the rope and step into a rear-disengage posture. That should bring him up short and disengage his rear so that he is now facing you and standing still. It’s a little confusing for him the first couple of times. It’s like a mini-lunge with an abrupt end.

Teach him the “short-lunge” steps while you are a pretty good distance from the fence so that he is not so worried about squeezing that he cannot think his way through the steps and get the new maneuver smooth.

Progressively narrow the opening between you and the fence until he has just enough room to get past you without stepping on you and his disengage is automatic.

The closer you are to the fence, the more nervous he may become because the passage is narrow. If he is nervous, he may shoot through the gap or go through at a trot to get through in a hurry before he is trapped. Let him make his own pace at first. After a few practice sessions, he will slow down. Eventually, you want him to walk calmly through the area between you and the fence without a second thought.

Now he can pass easily in front of you going to your left, turn, wait for the signal, then pass in front of you again going right. Then back again.

The video above shows a horse learning the exercise. The video below demonstrates a horse who is using this routine to pass easily through a gate, giving his handler plenty of time and hands to control the gate and any other horses that might want to barge past.

This video shows a horse using the exercise during de-sensitizing training. Reign “squeezes” between Chuck and the tarp and between the tarp and the tree. Paying attention to Chuck’s requests keeps Reign in his “thinking” brain instead of his “reactive” brain.

This exercise is also an important step in getting a horse to self-load in a trailer. If you can stand at the side edge of the ramp or trailer and point him in, how easy is that?

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