In US many of us are comtemplating the ramifications of legalized horse slaughter since our government has re-opened the door. I know horse people fall on both sides of this emotional debate. Some say how could that possibly be okay, these are our family members? Others say what makes a cow different then a horse? Who are we to say it is okay for one species and not another? What about all the horses left to suffer and starve to death? Which ever way you lean I think there are some real issues with the tactics that are used to transport the horses to slaughter as well as the slaughter process itself. These protocols were established for cattle. Cattle are anatomically different then horses and this means that what works for cattle doesn’t necessarily work for horses. Transportation has always posed a problem. With only a few slaughter houses in the US there is usually a long journey. There were severe welfare problems associated with shipping the horses to slaugter here in the US back when it was a legal practice. Horses were routinely shipped for 24 hours and the injuries were substantial (the gruesome pictures in the Forbes article were from the Texas slaughter operation back in 2005) I don’t want to see any animal standing around with a compound fracture or with both eyes gouged out. It seems there should be some regulations to prevent this unnecessary suffering. Other animals intended for slaughter, cows and pigs for example, do not sustain these injuries.
As I understand it, the only reason there is no slaughtering horses for human consumption going on right now is because the inspections were “de-funded”. It is illegal to transport meat out of the US without the USDA inspection process. I don’t think any bill actually passed that made it illegal to slaughter for human consumption, although many were proposed. Now that the inspections are back in force things will most likely get rolling again. The horse meat exporters prefer to have the healthy, fit horses vs the feeble and un-muscled.
I think this is a topic that people are quite passionate about. I think it is important to be aware of the facts and objectively weigh the pros and cons. I am by no means an expert on the subject and there are many things to consider. I think if we want to stand up and be heard, the time is now and we better start educating ourselves. I found this article interesting (link below) and I must warn you that if you chose to click through to the picture link (on 2nd page) there are some photos that are not for the faint hearted.
My Bugs, who is a really special, lovely horse with lots of personality, could very well have landed in a kill pen. He was started late, he wasn’t adapting well to his training. He was off to the sale. I understand he was pretty difficult and suspicious at that point in his life. He was not fit or filled out and he had a scar on his face (from the trailer? The bucking chute? That part is not too clear). I don’t think too many people would have taken a chance on him. Thank goodness for Marcy who decided to give him a break. When I read the horrible stories and see the pictures of horse going off to slaughter I remember that Bugs could have had a very different fate. He is a source of joy for me. I call him Love Bug!! When I think about his plight I react very emotionally about the topic of slaughter. This sentiment is not practical or realistic when it comes to being objective so I struggle to find some balance. What are your thoughts on this issue?
Stephanie posted a question about her colt. When to start training and behaviors to work on to prepare him for adulthood. I, as usual, have a ton of ideas and I am know I am just scratching the surface!
I’ve just purchased your Despooking DVD’s & am excitedly pouring over them. As yet I have not used clicker training with any of my horses although I have fun playing with it with my rescue dog. My 2 questions are , at what age can a horse be introduced to clicker training as we have now have a7 day old colt & what are some examples of uses for a youngster?
Congratulations Stephanie! What an exciting time for you!
I am a big proponent of handling them from the moment they are born. There is a lot of conditioning that will help them to get comfortable with people. However, I start a positive reinforcement training plan as soon as they are weaned. After Bridge (clicker) conditioning and target training I teach them to lead. I tend to start with the target so they get the concept to stay with you. Stop when you stop, turn when you turn, etc. Then, I introduce the the halter and lead rope and teach them how to respond to the pressure. You can also incorporate the target at this point so it helps them to know what to do instead of the resistance/fear that most babies exhibit. I teach them anything they may need to do as an adult. Certainly teach him to accept being touched everywhere including the sheath, ears and mouth. You can teach him to accept oral syringes (wormers). Lifting his legs and letting you move his feet to and fro. Prep him for the things they farrier will eventually be doing. You can do de-spooking work with tarps, bridges…whatever you can think of to expose him to. Teach him to soak his foot in a bucket of water. You can teach him to put his head in the halter. This concept carries over to the bridle/ bit when the time comes. You can teach him to be clipped and trailer load. You can teach him to walk with a saddle pad secured with a surcingle. This helps with blanketing and certainly saddling later. The more consistent you can be the better. It would be good to teach him to be comfortable away from other horses and to be in a stall. I know there will be periods of time that his training will take a back burner while he is growing but if you can, set a bit of a schedule for him to have some training exercises on a consistant basis.
The best part of a baby is you can plan ahead and circumvent a lot of issues that tend to come up in adulthood. You may not have a need to do a lot of these tasks yet (clipping, soaking his foot, trailer loading etc). However, teaching him these things now will pave the way for him to progress seamlessly down the road. I also recommend keeping some sort of journal so you can keep track of what he has learned, how he responded. As time passes you may forget some of the details.
These things all serve a practical purpose but they also set him up for a lifetime of learning. You are going to find that he enjoys learning and he will learn much faster then the horses who were not trained with positive reinforcement. He will be more sensible mature(mentally) beyond his years.
I have found that the babies are not too spooky when they are young. They are just full of curiosity and they don’t seem to know enough to be fearful yet. This is a big bonus for the training process. They seem to go through a more reactive phase between one and two years of age. If you play your cards right he will sail right through this without letting spookiness get a foothold. Granted he will still startle at things but his reaction will be minimal.
Keep in mind babies have a lot of energy. Teaching him to be patient and still is harder for the rambunctious little horses. I incorporate some retrieving and targeting further away between the standing still type behaviors. This willl give him an outlet that you get to initiate. They can run after a ball a few times and expend some energy in a safe and controlled manner. It is a reinforcement for them and helps to set them up for success when you get back to standing still. Because you initiated the behavior it strengthens your relationship. This will help to keep his attention from wavering. Start with short sessions. Their attention span is short at first. You can build up the time in between and pretty soon he will be able to stand patiently for long periods of time.
Another thing to keep in mind is they learn quite a bit vicariously. This means he will learn socially, by watching the others around him. His biggest role model is going to be his mom. Things that mom does well, I would make a point of exposing him to on regular basis while he is young and soaking up mom’s reactions . If she is good with clipping expose him to her being clipped (or just the body of the clipper touching as if you were clipping). The more you can do the better. He will emulate her reactions to everything. Including how she reacts when people are around and when they approach her in the pasture. If there are things that she is not so good at, I suggest you try to minimize his exposure to those things.
This is important too! Don’t forget he will also need healthy boundaries as he grows. Babies (both equine and human!) like to test their world and everything in it. I have found if you give him lots of time to play and be a horse he will learn to keep that play for his social situations and not with you. Babies are cute. The ornery little things that they do when they are young are often overlooked or excused because they are such cute little guys. They are learning right away. Young horses are hard wired to play and learn the skills that they will need as adults. This means sparring with one another. It is reinforcing for them. At some point he may try to engage you in this game. Do not fall pray to this by reacting and sparring with him.
I got a little horse who was weaned at four months. At less then five months old he went and did his first clinic with the big horses. He was too small to cross tie so we had to push tack trunks in front of standing stall. He just curled up on the floor and slept! He came right out of the trailer at the clinic with no halter, went right to the ring and stayed with me the whole time. He couldn’t have been cuter.
Okay those are some ideas and food for thought. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I hope this helps you out a bit. Please don’t forget I am here if you ever want some input. What an exciting journey that lies ahead of you! :0)
I posted this comment about Tom Dorrance in a group discussion but thought I would share it here too. He was a man who influenced many a horse trainer!
When I was still at Sea World and looking into horse training and realized it was WAY different than what I knew as animal training, I read an article about a man named Tom Dorrance.
I hadn’t started riding yet. I was still researching the subject. I couldn’t figure out why no one in the horse world was using positive reinforcement. So, I called this man. We talked on the phone for a while about horses and marine mammal training. Tom was quite open to the idea of incorporating positive reinforcement into horse training. He invited me to come to his farm. He sent me a signed copy of his book True Unity. I was still just looking and trying to figure things out. I was entrenched in my Sea World career so I didn’t take him up on his offer. I didn’t really know much about the man or the cowboy mentality at the time but he was never condescending or dismissive. He was soft, kind and open to a new method. He certainly didn’t fit the stereo type. It doesn’t seem to me that the trainers that have studied under him have that same quality about them that I heard on the phone. Tom was unique. He really seemed to be a gentle soul who cared about the horse’s well being. If there was possibly a better way to train a horse, he was eager to learn about it with an open mind. I applaud his spirit.
This letter was forwarded to me by my friend Jane (Savoie) who is a big advocate of positive reinforcement/clicker training. We go way back and she knows how much I enjoy helping people to embrace clicker training.
I have listened to all of the audios on the Dressage Mentor site and they are fantastically helpful. In a couple of them, you mentioned clicker training and instances in which you used clicker training help horses get used to clippers, perform square halts, etc.
Hearing you talk about clicker training inspired me to try it with my horses. Thanks to clicker training, they now look away from a treat on command and can “talk” on command. I even am using clicker training in groundwork to help one of my horses learn how to perform a correct turn on the haunches.
I also have been getting my trainer to use the clicker to train me while we work on the timing of my aids, my position, etc. I think that it is helping me a lot!
I was wondering if you could share more advice about clicker training in general and if you had any advice or thoughts about how to use clicker training to help a horse learn how to do flying lead changes.
In the case of using clicker training for flying lead changes, do you think a horse could learn commands that instruct them to move their bodies in very specific ways (such as the command “left” to bring their left hind leg under them to switch to a new lead)? Or “switch” to switch leads?
Thanks so much for all the wonderful information that you share–every time I read your articles or listen to your audios I feel that you have given me a beautiful gift! I truly appreciate it so much.
I am so excited for you getting familiar with clicker training. A big thank you to Jane for introducing you! As it sounds like, you have discovered that it helps to change the relationship between horse and human. I also love that you have started taking it to other areas of training. Positive reinforcement training is something that I am passionate about. It can be used for teaching horses to do just about anything within their physical capacity. That in itself is pretty exciting and the possibilities seem to be endless. I am not sure what general questions you might have but if you let me know I will be glad to address them. If you want more info please feel free to go to my website. My Blog also covers a lot of areas. The Blog has a search bar which makes it easier to find particular topics or you can scroll through and see what strikes your fancy.
Okay let’s get down to flying lead changes. Positive reinforcement can be used with any behavior we want to teach our horses and this of course includes flying lead changes. You may follow traditional methods simply adding in the positive reinforcement or you can think completely outside the box or you may utilize a combination of the two. That is really your choice. My expertise is not in the steps to take to achieve the lead change but in breaking down the process and adding in the positive reinforcement. You have some great ideas and you are on the right track. One place I tend to start is with the simple change (I ride with a waist pack and a clicker attached to a riding stick). I click and reinforce (C/R) at the point when he has switched to the new lead. This helps to draw attention to this behavior as well as to build up a good reinforcement history associated with the change. One caveat, I would C/R once he feels relaxed with the new change. If he feels too revved up, I wait for him to settle into the canter. Since many horses get a little wound up when they are learning changes I want to teach relaxation with the behavior. I also suggest clicking and reinforcing all of the behaviors that prepare them for changes. Counter canter, counter bend, haunches in, haunches out and collection would all help to get him responsive to switching his balance and preparing for changes. Balancing out the reinforcement between all elements of the change helps them to stay focused and on track. This is a huge help. It takes some of the arbitrariness out of the equation. Sometimes when they are getting started it takes a big effort for them to shift their weight. Once they gain their confidence their changes usually get much smoother. I will C/R the first few changes as soon as the change is complete (no cross cantering). Then I shift to clicking once when they are settled after the change. This helps them to realize that the quicker I settle the sooner I may get feed. This helps the changes to get smoother faster. Once your horse is solid with his changes it is time to build the duration.
You can definitely work with verbal cues to accompany your aids or just on their own. Something to keep in mind as you start to use verbal signals, you want to choose words that don’t sound alike. For instance, sit down and lie down may sound very similar to a dog and this makes it hard for them to distinguish between the two. Since he is already under saddle with traditional aids you might want to use the language that he understands (aids), paired with his new signals (verbal) to get started. It is a great tool for helping things to be clear, thereby, helping to set him up for success. I would begin to teach him some verbal cues with something like lungeing. I assume he knows how to lunge and that it was taught through traditional training (if not, that will be a different conversation and may also be taught through positive reinforcement). I like to teach “walk”, “trot”, “canter”, “whoa” and “back up” on the lunge line or in a round pen. You are certainly not limited to these signals as this is just an example. This gets him used to the practice of listening to verbal signals related to the gaits and helps to set him up for success when you move to under saddle. I would ask him to walk saying the verbal signal just a moment before you ask him to move forward to the walk using the signal he already knows. C/R his correct responses. He will begin to put it together pretty quickly. By putting something in it that he values, he becomes invested in the training process and it’s outcome. Next, move to the other gaits. Change it up a bit to be certain that he is listening to your words. Also, don’t overlook the value of standing quietly. There is a tendency to focus on action and forget to balance out the behaviors with being quiet and relaxed between activities. When all is good and solid at this level it is time to go under saddle. Once under saddle I suggest you start introducing the verbal cue just before you use your aids. This will help him to begin to pair the verbal with the appropriate action. You should feel when he starts to respond to the verbal cues and this allows you to start fading the use of the traditional aids. You could add the intermediate step of having a rider getting on and having him respond to the verbals given by you and being able to support him from the ground since this is most familiar at this point. Then you switch the control/focus to the rider. However, I have found it usually translates pretty seamlessly and the extra step isn’t necessary.
To answer your question, yes, you can teach him to move a particular foot underneath himself. If you want to go this direction, I encourage you to start this on the ground and remember to C/R through out the process, break it down to small steps, do “short and sweet” sessions and do what you can to set him up for success. First at the stand still, to isolate the movement you are looking for, then I would begin to work it at the walk. When the behavior is where you would like it to be and he is consistently responding correctly I would get someone to be in the saddle and you on the ground. You will be offering support form the ground by being able to take a step back in the training be applying the steps that helped him to learn it in the first place. This will help make it clear for him and to his minimize his potential for frustration. He may be a little confused at first since he may not be sure who to listen to. First it should be you, ask him to perform the behavior as he normally does, basically ignoring the rider to start. When he has that worked out, I recommend you begin to introduce the under saddle signal whether it is verbal, physical or both. You should do this by using the new under saddle signal, promptly followed by the established signal from the ground. When he responds correctly I would suggest you reinforce from the ground the first couple of times. When you feel like he is listening to the rider consistently then it is time to fade the ground person out of the equation and have the rider do the reinforcing from horseback. When he is clearly understanding this at the walk, it is time to introduce higher gaits, starting slow and only moving up as he understands the concept at the previous gait.
These are some ideas and guidelines but by no means the only way or the only answer. There are so many options it can make my head spin! Also with individual personalities, sometimes the training process moves a little differently than you anticipated, be flexible. I hope this gave you some ideas and answered some of your questions. If you have more questions or want some help as you move along, please do not hesitate to ask. I love your creative thinking and look forward to hearing from you as you progress.
This is a question about using clicker training/positive reinforcement under saddle to help horses become more relaxed.
Shawna, can I ask- can you use clicker training to promote relaxation under saddle??
ANSWER-Ask Shawna-On Target Training:
Yes, it is great for relaxation. The positive reinforcement training helps build their confidence and trust so the relaxation really starts within them.
First I always recommend thinking what you can do to set him up for success, when is he most likely to be the most relaxed. Maybe after a turn out or longe? maybe it is a particular time of day or a certain ring? Whatever may help him to be his calmest. Later you we can fade these tools out of the picture but for now they can be useful. Once clicker and target training/conditioning is done you are ready take it under saddle.
I ride with a waist pack for grain or treats and I attach a stick clicker to my riding stick so it is easy to get to. As you are in the saddle look for the slightest relaxation. It is usually easily felt by the rider. As you feel the slightest softening of the muscles, lowering of the head or even an exhale, click and feed (C/R). Sometimes horses will soften more after a warm up, if that is the case warm him up a bit and then focus on those moments of relaxation. Some horses will be better before their adrenaline gets going, if that is the case I recommend starting right off looking for softening. Well, you should be watching/feeling for it all along, but try to identify what you can do to help him get to that place. So anytime you feel relaxation draw attention to it with the C/R.
The more you get a chance to reinforce him for softening the more often you will see it. He will most likely get the idea pretty quickly. Working downward transitions should also help. Starting with the slower gaits is usually the most successful with the nervous horse. Start with the walk to the halt. Look for the slightest softening or even the slowing. You may also teach him to lower his head as a behavior from the ground first. As he builds up a reinforcement history with this behavior he will be more apt to do it at other times too.
It is an amazing tool for helping the horses to relax yet be able to transition between work and relaxation. Let me know if you want more guidance as you get started or if you have more questions. :0)
If you haven’t already heard of Horse Radio Network, well it is high time you did! They have great tips and topics on all of the shows. I suggest you go to their website and have yourself a look around. Besides, I am a regular guest on the Horses in the Morning radio show and have regular tips on Horse Tip Daily. Here is a link for my latest tip and it will get you to the website. There is so much great information on their website you could be there for days!
Click on this link: Solutions for the Barn/Buddy Sour Horse and Other Tips
This is an issue that happens with horses who have had very little interaction with humans (often young and feral horses) and horses who have had some trauma associated with training. This is a question from my Facebook Ask Shawna/ On Target Training page…
My new horse backs away into corner when I enter stable. I kept staying in one place and clicking and rewarding for last few visits but He still won’t come forward to me if I have no food!!!
Okay, Please remind me what you are looking for from your new horse. To approach you? Is he being stand-offish? What have you done with him up to this point? Clicker and target? I have some ideas but want to be sure I have a good understanding of the situation. Thank Maeve! :0)
Yes, I have done clicker and just started target. He is a worrier and spooks a lot so I have been trying to install trust for me. It’s kinda working. I will e-mail you to-morrow more details. Lately, He is backing into corner when I enter stable, I stand and wait till he does one step forward at a time to me and click and reward but its not working. Also I have used the target-touch, target-click-reward but the minute I step to him he backs again!! I am going to try again and again but I thought you may have some other ideas or info that I don’t know that are probably on your DVDs.
Another suggestion that may help if he is feeling wary is to squat down in a corner of the stall. If you feel confident he will be calm you can sit on the ground in his stall. If you are not feeling safe squatting or sitting, just lean against a wall and relax. Don’t ask him to do anything. Just sit, wait and be quiet. Click and reinforce when he takes a step toward you. Stay where you are (nice and low) and let him do the approaching.
I use this approach, or more correctly a lack of approach, on feral horses or naive marine mammals. It helps the timid animals to build confidence. Being lower helps horses to feel safer and there is no approaching them, which can feel imposing to some horses. It will let him feel like it is really his choice. There are no expectations. You don’t need to look at him the whole time. Just kind of do your own thing, relax and be patient. Offer reinforcement to him when he gets closer or shows interest.
Don’t worry that he is only approaching when there is food present. I think right now, it seems, he is not so sure about people. He may start out wanting the food but soon the association will change and he will look to people as a good thing, as opposed to something to avoid. The food will become less important and he will just seek human interaction. When he starts to come over more and feels safe enough to actually be interested in you, I would encourage you to sometimes just go into his stall and hang out, maybe read a book. Just let him be in close proximity with you. You don’t need to have food (maybe just a carrot or two) as it is less of a training session and more about bonding time.
Anyway, I think this will help to build his trust and ultimately his interest in people. This will help to build a better foundation to work from. As always…Keep me posted!
Thanks a mill, thats great. Will do that today. He does love people He is 14 but sooo soft and sensitive. He just isn’t sure. I have him only 5 months. I am nervous riding him as I am always waiting for a spook but I have to just get through that. It’s me as usual not the horse. I am not nervous on the ground at all have been around horses all my life. My last horse I had for 14 yrs. and I feel like I’m starting all over again and I’m getting older !!!! Thanks again M.
It worked Shawna, in one minute. What a clever horse, thnx
New horses can do that to us! It is like starting over on a lot of levels. Especially when you have been with one horse for so long. They are a familiar friend with whom you share a bond and understanding. The new guy is full of unknowns. It sounds like you are on the right track with him. Go slow and let him set the schedule for this exercise. You will know when he turns that corner and seems to look forward to time with you. Then I suggest going back to the target and moving onto other behaviors. At this point, I suspect his training will move along a bit quicker. Remember to be flexible and adjust to his pace. You are doing a great job!!
I am sure we will have more but that’s where we are in the training right now. Hopefully the story will be never ending. As Maeve helps her horse to overcome this issue she will move on to another task, continuing to grow as they move along in training and building their relationship.
Video answer. The real take-away from this question is the importance of a horse’s attitude during the training process. A good demeanor gets you a relaxed, focused and responsive horse. Positive reinforcement goes a long way towards building a good attitude and work ethic in your horse. Training is not only easier but your horse becomes as interested as you are in making progress. This carries over to every interaction that we have with our horses. What could be better than that? A sour attitude about training also spills over to our every interaction. As trainers we can and should focus on this as much as we do on training a specific task.
This video was made a couple weeks ago. Then I addressed a question via Facebook and reposted it on my blog. So these two posts go nicely together to cover similar yet a little different longeing scenarios. It seems to me that the motivation is different for the two horses. This horse of Evelyn’s is choosing to do her own style of longeing, er, water skiing while Carrie’s horse (from the other post) seems to have a fear based reaction. The other post is entitled: Horse Who is Nervous / Afraid of Longeing and Whips. Have a look AND listen. Questions? Comments?
This was featured on The Horse Show with Rick Lamb (RFD-TV and Rural TV in Europe). It ws great fun and Rick was a natural with Mint and free jumping. He did great with the clicker training and he is not too bad at the interview either! Rick is curious and always learning so it made it a ton of fun. I received a lot of great feedback and requests to post it here on my blog. So if you haven’t had a chance to view it, well, now you can. Mint seemed to have fun…He always does. Enjoy!! As usual, I love comments or questions.
This question was posted on my Facebook page and I thought this will help some of you who have similar issues. Please let me know if you have questions or comments!
QUESTION: Carrie asks:
Hi, i’m hoping you can help as my daughter needs a bit of advice. My friend has bought a Welsh Sec D 4yr old mare, she was apparently broken though i think to fast to soon. Two wks ago she bucked my friends husband off, for apparently no reason. My Georgie, is starting from the beginning, by backing her again & doing things very slowly. Millie the mare doesn’t have a nasty bone in her body but she gets scared very easily which makes us wonder what was done to her in her short life. She was sold as a yearling at the Welsh sales by the breeder, a friends granddaughter bought her, but they are a bit heavy handed which makes me wonder just what they did to her. She will lunge on the left rein but is terrified on the right, also terrified of any whips, to the point i think she has been hit badly hit by one. What can you suggest to take her forward successfully. xx
ANSWER: Ask Shawna-On Target Training says:
Hi Carrie, I am so glad Millie is with you. She will make real strides and I have found the horses who have been through tough times often become the most devoted students when you shift to positive reinforcement. You are on the right track. Start her like she is learning it for the first time but this time slower and let her get her head around each step. Remember to never move to the next step until she is solid on the previous step. enjoy the journey with her. Lot’s of ground work will help to earn her trust.
If you haven’t already, I would suggest having your veterinarian check her out to be sure she isn’t having some physical discomfort before you proceed any further. This will only add to her unpleasant association with working and people if she does have some pain. I always prefer to rule this out first.
She sounds like the type of her horse who may stand quietly on the outside while inside she may be quite worried and even fearful. Watch for any signs of relaxation. Her eye, nostrils and ears to soften. Look for her head to lower a bit and neck muscles to relax. Click and reinforce (C/R) her for this and she will start to offer it more often. This behavior will serve itself since she will be relieved to be able to relax. You can click and reinforce this anytime you see her offer this behavior. Always keep an eye out for signs of relaxation. I can’t imagine how horrible it must feel to not understand what is going on around you and yet fear the repercussions of your not knowing. A clear training program shouldn’t be scary but encouraging. You will gain her trust.
I think the whip should serve as an extension of our hands and shouldn’t be someting used to instill fear. Teaching her to touch the whip may help her to acclimate to it a bit too. You can do this like teaching her to target. It may also help to have her follow the whip. Sometimes having the whip retreat helps her to feel that she is pursuing it and it isn’t pursuing her. This often changes the mind set and builds boldness. You don’t want to over train the targeting on the whip. We just want her to learn it has several purposes and they are all safe. You got off to a good start and I suggest follow through with that desensitization training you have started with the whip touching her all over.
As far as longeing goes, I suggest you start with her on a lead rope. I suggest not using longeing equipment at first. The equipment may trigger the fear she has with longeing to the right so let’s not go there yet. Ask her to go the good way (to her left) at a walk and reinforce her for responding correctly. I would suggest using your hand and raise it slow and calm toward her barrel (where the leg will eventually be asking her to move forward) I would suggest using an auditory cue like a cluck as well. This may help to communicate what you are asking. You may also use a target for the early stages and ask her to follow the target (with her nose) as well as moving off of your hand and cluck. This may help her to focus more on the target then the scary aspects of longeing. I say your hand but I mean Georgie’s hand! I know she is good on this side but it will help her learn this new fun training is in effect and build up a new better association with this behavior. Next, I would start just leading her from the other side reinforce her for walking nicely. Next step back a little and slowly, calmly and confidently raise your hand slightly toward her barrel(cluck) and ask her to walk on just a little. It is like a micro longeing session. As soon as she walks forward and relaxes a little bit C/R. Feed her handsomely for this. You are going to be rebuilding a new reinforcement history with this right side. You will rebalance the scales so instead of fear she knows what to do and she looks forward to it since there may be something in it for her that she values. I would keep these sessions short and sweet. Sometimes it even helps to ask her with a smile on your face. It sounds kind of weird but it can change our subtle body language. Believe me she is paying attention to the subtlest changes in her humans and smiling often times changes us from intense to more relaxed. Later we will re-introduce the whip and faster gaits but for now I would suggest working on getting the walk solid. I suggest pogressing like this through the next portions as well.
This is where I suggest you start. I wish I was there and could watch as you progress but I know you and Georgie are going to do great. Horse’s being individuals sometimes respond a little differently and need some adjustments in training. Please keep me posted. I am here to help every step of the way if you need it!
Last week I was in Lexington, Kentucky for the Certified Horsemanship Association’s International Conference. What a great organization and a great group of people! It was an honor to be the Keynote Speaker (at the Awards Dinner) since it was my first time being one, I was a little nervous! It went very well and I had some great feedback.
The organization is focused on education, safety and setting high standards for their certified trainers. Asbury College had some of their horses there for the clinics and demos. They also did a great demo with a few of the horses they are preparing for police work. This appealed to me since de-spooking is one of my favorite training challenges. They gave me more good ideas!
My friend Julie Goodnight is a member of the organization and she raised a question that I realized was on a lot of people’s mind. She wanted to know my thoughts on the incident at Sea World of Florida that resulted in the death of the trainer, Dawn Brancheau.
It has kind of been the elephant in the room for awhile now, so I thought I should address it here for those who are also wondering about the what happened that day. First of all, we never really know what is going through the minds of the animals we interact with everyday. That includes our dogs and horses as well as whales, dolphins or other exotic mammals. Second, I never worked with Tillikum, the whale who was involved with the incident.
Tillikum was involved in the deaths of two other people. However the circumstances were very different. I was working at Sea World when the first incident happened. It was the early 90′s and Tillikum was living at Sealand of the Pacific. As I understand it, one of his trainers fell in the water with him and two other whales. The whales wouldn’t let her get out of the pool and “played” with her. This resulted in her drowning. These whales had never had a trainer in the water with them before. I mention this because when they are trained to do water work with trainers in the water, you take a lot of the novelty out of the equation. In addition, you can train correct responses and recalls which give you an added measure of safety.
The second incident was the late 90′s and a park guest decided to stay in the park after hours and swim with the whales. It isn’t known what actually happened but in the morning Tillikum is the whale who brings his body to the surface.
Then in February of 2010 the incident happened with Dawn. From what I can tell it sounds like a tragic accident. I don’t believe that Sea World did anything wrong with the training of Tillikum. It does not even sound like he was being malicious. We will never know what he was thinking but it doesn’t sound like he went up and after Dawn but he saw her ponytail and started playing. I hate to speculate on his individual behavior since I didn’t work with Tillikum. I do know that safety was a priority when I was at Sea World. I felt confident in the training and staff on all levels. We all knew that these are animals and that means there is always some inherent risk involved. We did every thing we could think of to minimize these risks. For me, it was a choice I made everyday to interact with these animals. I feel, considering the millions of interactions with these whales over the years, that Sea World has an extraordinary track record for safety.
We as horsemen, also make this choice everyday we are with our horses. I also know that people get killed or seriously injured with horses all of the time. Yet we get right back on as soon as we can. Good thing the press isn’t lurking around every corner of the barn. There is a lot of responsibility when you work with and train marine mammals. It seems that the public’s judgement and focus comes when things go wrong. A lot of great things have come from the close proximity to these magnificent animals. As late as the 60′s, Killer Whales were randomly shot and killed by fisherman and nobody cared until they started to learn about them because of places like Sea World. I know Sea World has some plans for how to move forward with an added measure of safety. Anyway, please keep in mind that I have been away from Sea World for some time and this is just my take on that situation.
Now back to horses… Mint and I were on The Horse Show with Rick Lamb this week. His show airs on RFD-TV here in the United States and Rural-TV in Europe. I know the piece airs again on Sunday in the U.S. I couldn’t find the Rural-TV schedule so you will have to check with your local TV network. I am sure it will be available on Rick’s website soon if you don’t happen to get either of those channels. It is episode 362 and I will post the link when it is available. Thank you everyone for the GREAT feedback! I also have a whole slew of questions to answer. I love the questions and feel like I need to post like 15 a day!! Alrighty, I am happy to be back in the saddle!!