Monday, June 15, 2009

Green, Yellow, Red Behavior Zone Training

The first clinic I attended at the Horse Expo ( was Ryan Gingerich ( For those that have RFD-TV, Ryan is "The Behaviorist" and during his show, he travels around the country and works with various owners and their horses on issues and problems they are having. I had seen one or two episodes of his show before, but didn't really know much about him or his methods. The topic of his seminar was "Red, Yellow, Green: Behavior Zone Training for Your Problem Horse" which I thought was appropriate for what I was looking for. =)

During his clinic Ryan talked about how there are three "zones" for the horses in regards to their behavior. The green zone is the first zone, where the horse is responsive, attentive, and controlled. This is the zone you want to be in all the time ideally. This is the zone where learning can take place. The yellow zone is the second zone. This is where the horse is unfocused, worried, and nervous. Like a yellow light, this zone is the warning zone. The goal is venture into and achieve a positive response in yellow, to enlarge and return to the green zone. The red zone is where you don't ever want to be. That's where negative actions such as bucking and/or bolting occur - where the horse is not paying attention to the rider or is trying to get rid of the rider. If you push a horse too hard or too fast in the yellow zone, you can get the red zone.

In regards to cues, Ryan mentioned that many time people worry too much about how they are cuing their horse's. He demonstrated how he asks for forward with his legs, one side at a time, specifically requesting a certain leg to step forward and begin the walk (or increase the speed). The main point was that for any sort of cues, you need to be CLEAR, CONCISE, and CONSISTENT. Don't change the "code" on the horse. Teach them that 1 cue = 1 response, every time. For instance, teach your horse that leg forward near the girth means to go forward, always. Then, if you want to teach sidepassing - you need to either add or modify you leg cue. You can't just use leg at the girth, you need to use something else. He compared this to our teaching our horses a language. We can't change our "words" and expect them to still understand what we want.

Working with our horses, we need to establish the basic controls: forward, back, left, right, stop, and stand still. Everything else that we ask stems from these basics. These must be solid before we ask the horse to progress on to other maneuvers (including speeding up). He uses three different leg cues, using only ONE leg at a time: 1) Go forward - ask at the girthline, 2) Go faster - where your legs hang in a neutral position, bump side to side with hind leg, 3) Hip/Hindquarter control - near the back cinch.

For a starting basic exercise, we should ask our horse to carry us in a straight line down the rail (or down a road). We ask for forward with our inside leg, the horse should step forward with that front foot as its first step. If not, you need to "delete the response" by stopping and backing up a few steps. Stand still and try again. You need to correct the wrong response immediately, and the backing helps to "delete" that response, the standing puts the horse back in "neutral" and you can proceed again from there. This should be repeated for any exercise where you receive the wrong response. So back to the rail, we ask for forward with our inside leg, the horse moves forward at a walk, the stop, back and stand still.

You need to repeat the correct response **5 to 7 times**. Ryan mentioned that this is where many people get into trouble, they'll get the correct response once or twice, and then stop the exercise, or move onto the other side. Horses learn by repetition, so we as riders need to repeat the process, and ensure the horse understands what we are asking for by repetition of success, with praise and a release of pressure for the correct response. I can see myself not always repeating the exercise I'm working on enough (i.e. trot to walk transitions on the lunge), I often get the correct response two or three times, and then have Diego change direction and start to work his other side - according to Ryan's theories, I need to repeat more before I change. 5 to 7 times successfully on each side before you transition to something else.

Our training should progress through four stages: 1) impulsion and lightness, 2) rhythm - gait and transitions, 3) line - straightness and bend, and 4) connection - hip and shoulder control. So the first thing we need to establish is impulsion (go forward) and then lightness (give to the reins). Ryan had an interesting technique that he used for a drop/vertical flexion. He said that as he was playing around with establishing a new cue, he realized that everytime he set is outside rein (hold with light connection) and then went up and across the neck/withers with his inside rein, his horse would drop his nose. So he used this as his "head down" cue for vertical flexion. The other tools for lightness are circles and serpentines, bump, bump, bump on the inside rein in connection with the inside foreleg to cue the horse through the turn. Again, "delete" the incorrect response immediately by stopping and backing up. Then proceed with the exercise again.

My thoughts: As mentioned above, I can see the value of the repetition of correct response, and I don't think I follow through with ENOUGH asking before I move onto doing something else. I like the idea of the green/yellow/red behavior zone and only focusing on training/teaching something new in the green zone. When you are in the yellow zone, your focus needs to be getting back to green. My issue is what happens when you're in the green zone and then suddenly catapulted (sometimes literally) into the red zone, and yellow was skipped entirely. I did purchase his DVD on Bucking horses - which I'll review later. Overall I liked a lot of things about his approach. He was more willing to back off the horse and take a step down than to continue the pressure to "work the horse through" approach that some other trainers use.


txtrigger said...

Here is what I have found with Arabs. Repeat a lesson too many times, and they will start doing something "different". We often think they are not getting it, but many feel, as do I, that they got it after the first 2 or 3 times, and now they think they must be doing it wrong, so they try something else, to see if THAT is right. When teaching the Arab, I repeat a few times, move on if they got it, do something else, then come back to polish the lesson / task. I think many trainers do not get along with the Arabs, as they just don't understand how to work with a mind that is always thinking. lol

HorseOfCourse said...

Nice post, ~C!
Please drop by my blog to retrieve your Honest Scrap award.

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