A ‘co-operator’ can be a great help in training. I came up with this expression because horses can show cooperative behaviour with this device. Furthermore, it is incredibly practical, especially when checking and caring for your horse’s teeth – at least in the incisor area – that your horse’s head rests on the ground. What’s the point of it all, isn’t keeping still enough? Of course, complete immobility is only our “invitation” to the horse to become active at all and to perform the respective training step or stimulus. In my opinion, however, it makes a difference if a voluntary motor movement is carried out which is otherwise never done by your horse and which ALWAYS has the consequence of a stimulus. That this stimulus should always be such that your horse can respond to it by holding still and then being strengthened with click and feed is of course the basis of the training. With the decision “I put my lower jaw branches on the pad” your horse also chooses the following consequences of this action. Therefore I like to work with cooperation signals and cooperation behaviour.

Which conditions should a co-operator fulfil?

  • You need a comfortable support for the horse’s head. If you take a gate or a piece of the fence, you can simply wrap a blanket or the like around it. Selina Köstl, a participant in the Medical Trainer training group, has taken a rubber horse. I myself use a lumbar cushion of the office chair, so there are no limits to your imagination. Whether the co-operator cushion should be raised at the side – I don’t know exactly. An advantage is a clearer recognition of the centre for horse and man. A disadvantage can be that you cannot reach the head so well from the side.
  • A simple variation in height is highly recommended! Depending on what you want to train and with which horse – if you have several – even 20cm can make a huge difference for the cervical spine of your horse. In the following video I show how a too high cooper can have an effect on the muscles.

  • Stability is elementary! Especially if you have misjudged your horse’s stability, it is possible that your horse leans on it a bit more and pushes forward. It may also be possible that the lower jaw branches pull the contact surface towards him. Remember that enormous leverage is at work! For me, the worst thing would be to work on building up trust and then this object would flap around and in the worst case it would hit the horse!
  • The same applies to “protection against penetration”. We have equipped all our stainless steel horse rockers with this, even if it is not relevant for the statics. Horse legs have a life of their own! At the operator this means: There must NOT be a longitudinal or transverse strut in front of the front legs in such a way that your horse can get stuck with its hoof or fetlock bend in the event of a scratching or frightening movement! With the sack barrow I prefer, you can simply screw a thin plate in front of it. If you use scaffolding trestles, make sure you cover them up!
  • If you are training with a halter, nothing should stick out of the co-operator in such a way that a part of it can get caught between the horse’s head and halter. Remember that even horse heads do not always move as desired. So make sure all corners and edges are well protected.

In the video below I show the construction of the sack barrow operator based on an idea by Maike Klein.

If you want to learn the use of cooperation signals in a well-founded way, I can warmly recommend the corresponding webinar from the Steigerwald.T Medical Trainer training series.
Now I hope you enjoy doing handicrafts and training! Let us help the horses to feel safer in this world.

Example of a co-operator as a comfortable support for the horse's head