This Question comes from Odile (pronounced Oh Dill…thank you Odile for clearing that up for me!) She wants to know how to teach her pony, Diego, to stand still when she approaches his side or walks around him. This will also be helpful for mounting issues and for teaching a “stay”.
At this point Diego finds it more reinforcing to turn and face Odile. With positive reinforcement we can turn this around. By the end of the exercise he will find it more reinforcing to stand quietly. Our job is to make the lesson clear, easy to follow and to help him make the correct choices along the way.
First, as I mention in the video, it isn’t uncommon for the horses to want to stay with you when they get started with this training. They want to keep you at their head. Also a lot of the natural horsemanship/round pen work teaches the horse to turn and face you. So this lesson may seem a bit confusing for your horse in the beginning.
I have found that often times a flat hand on their shoulder seems to help them to settle a bit. So this is the first thing I try. I try to calmly put a steady, but soft hand on their shoulder. I don’t want it to be confused with pressure that they may interpret as a signal to move away. If they start to get too active I don’t recommend that you persist. If this isn’t helping them to settle, than “chasing” them around, trying to touch their shoulder can make them feel nervous or confused. Remember relaxation is an important component in all of the training and this is no exception. Brining about the quiet relaxed mind will help you to have more success with teaching this behavior.
Think of what you can do to set them up to succeed. For example, is there an area of the barn where he is more relaxed? Maybe a certain time of day? Perhaps he is more relaxed after he has had exercise or after he has eaten. These are things that you will need to figure out about your horse in order to help him be relaxed and more apt to stand quietly.
In the beginning you want to bridge(click) and reinforce(feed) the smallest approximations toward your end goal. By drawing attention to the little steps along the way you will help to make the lesson more clear, as well as to help minimize frustration.
If you have a horse who is more of a busy body and likes to move, then asking him to stand still for a long time may be more challenging for him than for a horse with a more docile personality, especially in the beginning. Breaking it up with a little bit of activity may help him to be able to settle more easily. It may also serve as a form of reinforcement for him, if it is something he finds enjoyable. Slowly we can build up the amount of time that he stands quietly and fade out the need for the activity breaks.
The end behavior should be that your horse stands still while you walk all the way around him, being able to touch anywhere on his body. It is a skill that every horse should master. Standing quiet and relaxed is invaluable.
I hope this helps you out. As always…if you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you.
In this video clip I give Melissa some suggestions to help her hose-phobic horse get past his anxiety. I have found positive reinforcement to be the very best way to overcome spookiness issues in horses, it really helps them to choose to face their fears….and fear of hoses are no exception. To watch them make a decision to relax and let go of their worry is hugely reinforcing for me. Also, a huge benefit of the training is the level of the confidence that your horse will gain through the process. Offering something that your horse finds valuable will really grab his attention and help him to enjoy the learning process.
Before you begin working directly with the hose desensitization, I suggest you be sure he is solid with the bridge signal (clicker) as well as with the target training. Sometimes I just make an assumption that people know this part, so I forget to mention it! By getting a good start, and NOT cutting corners, you will make quicker progress. I am often heard saying “slow down, you’ll go faster” but it is true!! If you need more info on this process you may go to my blog post “Get your horse off to the right start for clicker training”. For an even better explanation of the science behind the training you may want to get my DVD and/or book “You Can train Your Horse to Do Anything”. I also forget that not everyone knows that I have a book or DVDs, so I thought I should mention it here just in case.
Whenever we are dealing with fear in our horses it is very important to keep the training within their comfort range, giving them time to slowly acclimate as we go. As I mention in the video clip, we need to look for signs of worry as well as relaxation. If a horse is standing looking soft and neutral, then he lifts his head as if something got his attention…that, to me, is the threshold that I want to recognize. This small action is communication pure and simple. It tells me that he may have become slightly concerned. I will not move forward with the next step in training until he looks totally relaxed again. Progressing nice and slowly will allow him time to acclimate. If we move too fast we will likely lose ground, as well as trust.
Some of the signs of relaxation might be…exhaling, relaxed head position or casual stance, soft focus, soft eyes, ears, jowls, lips and muscles, etc. These are not the only indicators, however they are some of the more common signs. Seeing some tension in any of these areas doesn’t necessarily mean that their mind is worried. My horse, Bugs has busy lips, they rarely look soft but it doesn’t mean he is uptight…it is just part of his personality. The same goes for the signs of relaxation. For example, a head down doesn’t necessarily mean a horse is relaxed. Horses are individuals so you need to know your horse and what his body language is saying. If this is a new concept for you, than I suggest you get an experienced horse person to help you recognize your particular horse’s body language. Also, watching him when he is turned out or interacting with his environment will also tell you a lot about your horse and how he deals with new situations.
I recommend you build relaxation into the criteria of every behavior you teach. Your horse may not be perfectly calm at first but you can look for little improvements. Bridging (clicking) and reinforcing for the smallest approximations toward your goal. After a while, being attentive and settled will just be a habit for him. However, it is important to only work on one criteria at a time. I recommend you start by working on one a particular element of the target behavior. Relaxation will be an ongoing criteria. So I wouldn’t necessarily suggest you focus on it completely, but keep a vigilant eye out for the times when it is offered. When you get a good approximation that is also calm I would draw a lot of attention to it by rewarding handsomely.
As with every new behavior, we really want to consider what we can do to set them up for success. Is there a place where your horse is more composed? Maybe the wash stall already has an unpleasant association, so starting somewhere else may help to put him more at ease. Hopefully you will get better responses and more opportunities to reinforce. Maybe he will be better after some exercise to take the edge off. Using a little common sense always helps!!
If you follow your horses lead by not going over threshold, while also using a high rate of reinforcement and keeping the sessions brief, you should be able to move forward without a hitch. If you go too fast and lose some ground, don’t sweat (we all do it sometimes), just take a step back and work a little slower, allowing your horse time to process the lessons. The next thing you know your horse will see a hose and think “hose=reinforcement”…you will be dragging him away from the hose! The video will give you a lot more info. Just holler if you have questions or comments!
Years ago my friend Jane Savoie got a new horse from another successful, international Dressage rider. To say the horse wasn’t so good at clipping would be a understatement. She was told that she would never be able to clip the horse without first medicating her (the horse, not Jane!)Jane was familiar with what I was doing and began to put the training techniques into action with clipping her new horse.
In 3 days she was clipping the horse without medication or restraint. She went from being panicky when being clipped to being calm and trustful. Her horse was actually choosing to stand quietly, relaxed and willing. She wasn’t opting for the less worrisome of two different forms of pressure….the lesser of two “evils”, so to speak. There was no coercion or pressure involved.
Of course, all horses are different and their training paths will differ depending on their experiences but with positive
reinforcement training you can really change the way your horse looks at clipping.
Are you ready to have a horse who is calm and confident about clipping?
To learn more click on the link below:
People just don’t seem to talk about that awkward subject of sheath cleaning! I have learned that most people don’t know how to do this or how often it should be done. Well, I think that should change so I have made a DVD on the subject. It is like sheath cleaning 101.
You will learn not only the anatomical side of sheath cleaning but the behavioral side as well. I have found that most people haven’t learned how to do this basic husbandry task because they don’t know how to get their horse to stand quietly for the procedure. All of that is about to change.
Your horse will learn to stand quiet and relaxed while you get to the business of sheath cleaning. In the process you will develop a great rapport with your horse and you will find that the training principles will reach beyond just sheath cleaning.
I have had a great amount of interest in this DVD…matter of fact it kind of surpassed me. I am happy to finally have it available. If you would like to learn more visit the link below:
Maybe I should start off putting a rating of PG-13 on this post. This is one of those topics that horse people tend to avoid. We can deal with a lot of horse issues but sheath cleaning does not tend to be one of them. It really is a simple task and everyone should be familiar with every part of their horses anatomy. Not to mention, your horse should be comfortable allowing you to touch any part of his body, at anytime. This is just plain ole good horse sense. What if an emergency came up and you needed to address a wound…you get my point. It is part of being a good steward. Keep in mind it is not necessary to have your vet perform this task or to have him (your horse, not your vet) sedated. With a little bit of basic behavior training and positive reinforcement you can get this accomplished in short order. Think of all of the money you will save doing it yourself!! I would love to her your thoughts, comments or what has works well for you.
I just had a colt born on 4/14/12. He is 9 days old now. Up to now, I have been going to the paddock area where he and his mother are and fairly easily catching him and holding him and petting him and talking to him for a few minutes twice a day. (I did imprint him about 2 hours after he was born). Today (at 9 days), I could not catch him — he is running away. My husband did catch him, and we both held him and petted him and talked to him. Should I be leaving him alone at this point and NOT chasing him? Am I reinforcing inappropriate behavior with him running away from me? Aren’t I supposed to be petting and handling him at this stage daily to get him used to it, or should I lay off? If so, for how long? For several days, we have also been putting a halter on him and then removing it, just to get him used to it. Obviously, we are new at this. What should and shouldn’t we be doing at this stage — just sitting in the paddock and watching him and letting him get used to us and see that we won’t hurt him? Help! Thanks very much!
I am very happy to hear of your new addition!! Okay let’s get down to business…definitely stop chasing him. He is clearly expressing how he feels about being handled. I imagine it is too much stimulus right now. It is probably overwhelming him and he is trying to avoid it. I think you have the right idea just hanging out with him and his mom in the paddock. Let him get to know you on his own terms. Since he is now a little wary of your presence it may take him a little time until he begins to relax around you. There are some things I would suggest you try. First, stop trying to pursue him but instead have good quality, relaxed time with mom. Horses, being social animals, are vicarious learners. This means they learn through observation. Your little guy will learn a lot about life (and survival) by watching and mimicking his mom. If she is calm, relaxed and interested in you, he will, more than likely, become that way too. If she approaches you and looks forward to your presence, he will learn that this is how to respond to humans. I recommend working on building that bond with her and let him observe her interest in you. I would also suggest having him watch you put the halter on and off of mom, handling her feet, touching her all over, etc. I would do these things at liberty, in the paddock, where he is free to watch and see her choice to stand quietly. This is only if she is good and relaxed with these things (I am assuming that she is) otherwise he will remember her fear and worry. If she is not comfortable with theses things, I would definitely work on it ASAP utilizing positive reinforcement and progressing in small steps to get her relaxed, but that would be an issue to be addressed in a separate post.
Also, I suggest not trying to approach him. In fact I think if he approaches you, that you should calmly retreat a bit. This will build his confidence around you. I suspect right now he is probably a little fearful of being handled and chased but when you change your demeanor and your intent he will start to build trust. When hanging out try being low to the ground. It is less intimidating to the young or worried horse. When you squat or sit down they will feel safer and become bolder. Of course you need to be sure that it is safe to do this in your environment. When he is very comfortable around you again, try scratching his withers. Most babies find this very enjoyable and will scratch each others withers. However, be aware that he may want to reciprocate by scratching you back. Quietly reposition yourself (or his head) so he can’t reach you. I know from experience that these things will help you re-establish a good relationship with your new colt. On my blog, I have suggestions for useful things to teach young horses once they are weaned, well, you may actually start before they are weaned. Use the search bar and search: Teaching a Foal: Starting Them off Right. It is an exiting time. Enjoy the journey with your new foal. Please keep me posted on your progress.
I recently adopted a 5 year old Morgan who is terrified of the fly spray bottle. He tries to turn and bolt if he just hears it spray. I’ve gotten him to allow me to spray him on his left side but when I try to spray his right side he again, tries to bolt or if I’m holding him he’ll act like he wants to rear up. Any suggestions on how I can help him?
Well, it is that time of year again, well at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a common dilemma and one that is easily remedied using positive reinforcement. Horses, often times, don’t seem to like the feel of the spray touching them. Then they start putting together that sound (of the spray bottle) means I am about to have the feeling of being sprayed that I don’t like. Next thing you know they start identifying the bottle that leads to the sound, which leads to the feeling they don’t like. It is a whole process of association. Utilizing positive reinforcement we can rebuild the association with fly spray to one that they look forward to instead of one they want to avoid. Since food is a very strong motivator it goes a long way toward building a new reinforcement history. Everything our horses do is because of an existing reinforcement history, either they are seeking something they want (positive reinforcement) or they are avoiding something the don’t want (negative reinforcement). Every behavior your horse does or doesn’t do is because of this associative learning. Okay, enough of the Psych 101 lesson…let’s get down to what can be done.
So, Brandi, I suggest starting with a spray bottle filled with water so you are not wasting fly spray during the training process. I know the bigger problem is on his right side but I would suggest starting on the left side. We want to go through the small steps on the left side first since we will have the most success there and this will allow us the most opportunity for reinforcement. During this process we will be building a good association with the fly spray, so by the time we get to the more troublesome right side we have a little more…well, clout. You may also let him smell the bottle before you get started, sometimes this helps them settle a bit. I usually start by standing next to the horse with one hand on his shoulder or flank. Touching them usually has a calming effect but it also allows me to feel their level of anxiety. With the other hand I reach out and spray the bottle in the opposite direction. I try to make it as far away as I can reach at first. Since his reaction to the spraying seems to be a bit more severe, I suspect he may get a bit tense. Keep spraying until you detect the slightest bit of relaxation. Often times I feel it first in their bodies but it may be that you see the head lower slightly or the eyes and nostrils soften. When you sense relaxation you want to click and reinforce. You may use another bridge signal besides a clicker (verbal, whistle, etc) but I will refer to the bridge signal as a click for this post. It is important to keep in mind that your horse will remember what he was doing when he earned the click so you want to click on the behavior you would like to see repeated. In this case you want relaxation.
We are starting where he is most comfortable because it is one of the ways you can set him up for success. If you start with the troubled side you probably wouldn’t get a chance to draw attention to the correct behavior since he is less likely to stand still. Also try to think what other things you can do to ensure his success. Does he have a place he is more comfortable? Is he better after a turn out or some exercise? You may fade these things out down the line but for now if it may help him to be more relaxed. Another thing I would recommend is to give him a choice. If you can work him without a halter and lead rope that would be the best way to start. Maybe in a stall or round pen or even a paddock. But at the very least have him in a halter with a lead rope but don’t use it to restrain him. Keep it as slack as possible and allow him to wander to the end of the lead rope if he chooses. He will be more relaxed and progress faster when he feels he has options. When using positive reinforcement the horse is very interested in training since their is something in it for him so he will make good decisions as he builds a new reinforcement history.
Next, when he is consistently standing quietly for this spraying into the air, slowly begin closing the angle getting nearer to his body. You may also start with spraying it downward and slowly move it upward. Never move the spray bottle closer until he is absolutely relaxed with the previous step. Continue with this process. When he is ready for the spray to touch him I recommend starting with the lower legs. They are usually the least reactive to the spray touching their legs, however, they are individuals and he may respond differently. The idea is to start where he will be the most relaxed. By now he should have the idea that relaxation is what gets him rewarded so he will be trying to practice this new behavior. Continue with the same slow, gradual process while spraying different areas of his body. Reinforce for relaxation and good choices.
It is important to allow him time to process his lessons. Don’t start out with the expectation of spraying him on the first day. All good training is a series of small, clear steps called successive approximations. I recommend allowing him to set the pace. It may be a few days or maybe a week. It is better to go too slow then too fast. I also suggest doing short sweet sessions. Keep them around 5 minutes and lots of food reinforcement. Since the presence of the fly spray bottle probably still brings him some anxiety at this point the short session can serve as a reinforcement in the early stages.
Okay, once he is rock solid on the left side it is time to start the process again but this time on the right side. The left side probably went pretty well since he isn’t as worried about that side. However, the time spent on the left side will serve us well on the right. We have taught him how to behave when he is being sprayed, to stand quietly and not because he has no choice but because there is something in it for him. In the process he has learned that the spray bottle is a good thing, not to be feared. However, we should not assume the same lesson will carry directly over to the right side, often times it doesn’t at first. I suspect he will progress quickly through the steps this time but, again, I let him dictate the pace. As you get him solid on both sides, I would suggest trying not to startle him by spraying him when he isn’t expecting it. Maybe give him a bit of a warning shot off to the side. This way he know what is coming next. Even the most seasoned horse can still be startled by a sudden spray. When he is calm and confident about the whole process I suggest moving to actual fly spray. Keep in mind the smell may remind him of the old association. So take a couple steps back to start. This will help remind him of the new process. Also, this is pretty much a no brainer, but I want to remind everyone to never spray fly spray around your horse’s face or eyes. Spraying a little on a washcloth and rubbing the areas will be a better solution.
I made an assumption that your horse knows about the early stages of clicker training…if not, there is a little more info on the first video in this free series: DeSpooking Your Horse 3-part video series.
Okay Brandi, I know this sounds like a lot of steps but I just wanted to cover as many steps as possible. Your horse will probably fly right through some parts and slower at others but it won’t be long until fly spray is a non-issue. As he has consistently shown he is unfazed by the whole process you may slowly start to fade how often you feed him for the correct behavior. I would still recommend feeding him now and then, as a way to say thank you but it won’t be necessary to maintain his calm attitude about fly spray. If you have more questions or need some help along the way please let me know, I am happy to help. The same goes for anyone else reading this post. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. If you know of someone who is having a similar issue, feel free to share this post with them via the Facebook, Twitter or email buttons below. Thanks guys!!
Having recently purchased a very feral 5year old who had belonged to travelers, I too have found it extremly helpful to use food as a motivator. After 3 months i have achieved so much with this horse through the use of treats as a reward. He backs up away from the gate to allow me in, stands when asked, lowers his head to put the headcollar on. I will state that i do not feed from the hand the treat always goes onto the floor for him. He whinnys as soon as he hears my voice and comes to my call now at quite some speed sometimes. If im out he watch’s my ever move and follows me every where. I have never experience such a bond with a horse before in such a short space of time. I am now trying to tackle his main issue – his feet. Due to him being tethered by the method of tying his front two feet together i can not get near his feet, instead he trys to rear up, snatch them away, kick out. Any ideas on how to tackle this would be much appreciated.
Hi Paula, You are off to a great start. It sounds like you have developed a great bond with your horse. Now let’s get to those feet. Right now he has an unpleasant association with his feet being handled. The best way I have found to address this is to start with an area that is comfortable being touched. Our objective is to get him to associate having his feet touched as a good thing. First, I suggest doing what you can to set him up for success. When does he tend to be the quietest? After exercise? Does he have a place that he is more comfortable? Is a certain time of day better for him? Find whatever may help him to be more relaxed. Next, I would work him without a halter and lead rope. This ensures he has a choice and works to build a horses confidence. Also, in his past when they tethered his feet, I imagine they had him in a headstall with a lead rope. That means there would be an association between the headstall and being tethered. We will address that down the road but for now we want to avoid things that may trigger his defensive reaction.
To begin, I suggest touching him where he is comfortable being handled. Our goal is to move down his leg, so maybe you start at the top of the legs. I suggest choosing either working the front legs or the back legs. Pick the ones that he is the least sensitive about and alternate between the right and the left. If all is going well, wrap your hands around his leg so it feels like it is being held and massage the upper leg. You may reinforce him for good relaxed responses.
I should add that having a cue that tells him when he did something correct will be very helpful for this exercise. It will tell him that what he just did was correct and a reward is coming. It effectively bridges that gap between those two moments in time. Without the bridge signal he will associate what is happening when the food is delivered rather than his desired behavior. If you can’t feed in the middle of the activity, you miss the moment and it can lead to an unintentended result. Here is an example: Once upon a time a woman was working on teaching her young horse how to lift her legs. She was feeding a reward without using a bridge signal. She came to me as she was baffled why her horse was pulling her leg out of her hand and promptly putting it on the ground. I asked her when she was feeding the filly. She reported as soon as she was done. Here was the problem, she was feeding the horse for her foot being on the ground. The young horse put two and two together…the sooner my foot hits the ground the sooner I get reinforced. She was pulling her foot so she could do what got her fed. By adding a bridge signal, in this case a clicker, she could communicate that holding her foot was the behavior that was earning her a reward even though the food came when her foot was on the ground. The clicker worked as a bookmark to pinpoint a moment in time. I think in your situation it would help quite a bit. I have a three part video that will show you the clicker conditioning process (and some basic de-spooking work) if you want to learn more about teaching a bridge signal. Here is a link: http://despookingyourhorse.com.
I am going to use the term bridge signal (click) in the rest of the post. So, when he is standing quietly and relaxed for the upper leg move down a bit and repeat. The best way to do this in the beginning is in quick short sessions. Lot’s of reinforcement in short order. So maybe you leave it here for the first day. Start again and repeat, making progress. Never move to the next place until there is no reaction to the previous level. Always click on the behavior you want to see more of, in this case relaxation. This whole process starts with him relaxed and builds a good association with his leg being touched. As you work down the leg he will recall the previous exercise. When you get to his sensitive area (probably below the knee or hock) start just touching at first, don’t try to hold or massage yet. We have to take small steps (successive approximations) with the more sensitive areas. Slower is better. If he allows you to touch his leg and remains relaxed, click and reinforce. If he gets kind of tense look for the slightest relaxation then click and reinforce this relaxation. Slowly progress to more massaging and then eventually to lifting the leg and holding the leg/foot. Always click relaxation and softness during this process. Slowly increase the handling and manipulating of his leg position. I would also work on teaching him to lift his foot when you tap or point to his foot. This must be taught to be very soft, relaxed and not lifting it to high. Too much energy in this and you may be reinforcing his lifting/cocking his leg. Before I go on I want to add: ALWAYS keep safety in mind when dealing with a worried horses legs. Keep yourself positioned out of possible flying feet. Dealing with this situation can be dangerous and unpredictable. It may be best to have a qualified professional assist you, so please, if you are the slightest bit uncertain, get professional help.
When you have had success with the first pair of legs, move to the other pair and start the exercise from the beginning. Success is handling with no tension or worried reaction. When you have all feet handled without a halter, it is time to try the exercise with the halter and lead rope. This may alter things more than you expect. We have a tendency to think like humans but for your horse this might be a significant change. When this is good, move to different areas and then different times of day. If you have any setbacks just back up a bit with the training steps and remind him. I know this sounds as if l like a lot of steps but it will go faster than it seems. Depending on the individual horse, they tend to move fast through some parts and slower through others. Okay, Paula I hope this gives you some ideas of how to maximize the positive reinforcement training for dealing with your horses fears. If you have any questions or would like more help please don’t hesitate to ask. I would love to hear feedback, progress or comments.
ADDENDUM: Utilizing something to touch his legs could be a good intermediate step if he is sensitive to touch in general. This keeps you away from his feet but allows you to desensitize his legs to touch. It may still be a different story when you are manually handling his legs but it will be a good approximation. I find the lunge whip is a good choice since it is flexible and will not harm the horse if he kicks out. Someone (Tina) had suggested using a glove on a stick. She stuffs the glove so it keeps it’s form. I think that is a clever idea too.
I imagine that this wash stall reminds him of something from his past. Maybe he had some medical procedure or wound tended to while in a similar wash stall and he associates this situation with an unpleasant experience. We will be working toward building a new reinforcement history with this wash stall, one that has a good association. Before you begin think of what you can do to help set him up for success. Anything that may help him out for now. For example, maybe turn him out before hand so he has a chance to burn off some extra energy. What ever you think may help him out. We will fade these things out later as he gets more comfortable but for now they may serve him well. There is also more than one reinforcer, or even two reinforcers at work here. One is the use of food as a positive reinforcement for relaxed behavior. The second is your presence (since he seems to get worried when he is left alone) and the third is taking him out of the wash stall. So be aware what he is doing when any of these reinforcers happen.
I am thinking that he gets pretty worried when he is left alone. So we want to work within his comfort zone. I would suggest working his time in the wash stall as a training session for now. This will usually help to keep you focused on his behavior and not distracted by doing other tasks. You may do a little grooming but it should not really be your objective for now. The small snippets of grooming tasks will actually serve to be building blocks for the end product of standing quietly while being groomed, tacked up or bathed but more importantly standing quietly when on his own.
Since it seems he is quiet when you are in very close proximately I would suggest grooming and then stepping back a bit. It may help at first to step away to the back and sides as opposed to walking away from the front which may cause more anxiety. This part will take a little testing to determine what is the most uncomfortable and then break that down to smaller steps or things that cause less worry. Okay, so let’s say, when you step away from him in the wash stall, he is good for 30 seconds and then he starts worrying. Click and reinforce (with food) at 28 seconds, while he is still relaxed. Your presence will also serve as a reinforcement. If that goes well, move to 30 seconds, if that goes well maybe go to 32 seconds. I would then take him out of the wash stall which is another reinforcement for his good performance. Keeping the sessions short and sweet helps him to succeed. He learns that if I am good this will all be over. Slowly build and build, more time and further away. Too slow is better than too fast for this kind of issue. Again, we are looking for him to practice the correct behavior, to form new habits. As you build more and more time I would also suggest approximations that are short in duration as well as the longer ones. This helps to keep you from being too predictable. It kind of keeps them guessing and on their toes. Also you may step back up to him and sometimes work on something he knows or is learning. However, keep it simple, successful and reinforcing.
Now let’s say, you unintentionally push it too far and he gets worried, I would not approach until he settles down, at least somewhat. If you constantly come to his rescue when he acts up he will think that this is how I get comfort (or relief) and his behavior will increase in frequency. That being said, you also don’t want him, or anyone else, to get hurt, so if he gets downright panicked you will need to keep safety in mind and step in, Then take some steps back to rebuild his confidence.
Another thing that can help is if at the end of these good sessions, have his dinner or breakfast ready and let him eat his dinner in the wash stall. I would put it in a tub on the ground so you are not holding it. We want to build up a bit of independence. Pretty soon he will look forward to his time in the wash stall since good things happen there. Well Leone, these are my suggestions for tonight. I may have more thoughts later…I usually do but I think this will get you going in the right direction. Please let me know how things are going and give me some updates! :0)
Question from Stacy:
Hi Shawna, I can’t wait to get the training package! I am having trouble getting my horse to drink water at shows. She won’t drink til we get home. Can you help me encourage my horse to drink?
Answer from Shawna:
This is a new scenario for me but I know we can get her to learn to drink as a trained behavior. I have never had a horse who won’t drink any old water you put in front of him. So I have not experimented with these tactics myself. But I imagine you have heard of putting something in the water (like mint extract or electrolytes) while at home. It will be more familiar and a stronger association when she gets water that may taste and smell different than her usual water. That may help if you haven’t tried this. However, her problem may be related to nervousness and being in a new environment.
We will start at home and get it on a signal. Okay, the first thing to think about is if you know a time that she is likely to drink water. Maybe it is after eating or after being ridden or when she first comes in from the paddock. I have a couple things to try. The first one is called “capturing” and it can be done in conjunction with the other plan I will out-line. I suggest watching her at the times that you think she may drink. When she does, click and feed. It may help to be further away at first if she gets distracted by your presence. You can click as soon as she goes to her water. I am thinking she will stop and watch you. Step away but still watch. Just wait, she is still thirsty and will eventually go back click again, etc. This is how we teach the Sea Lions to holler. We just reinforce them and pretty soon they are doing it all the time (a little annoying at first) then we put it on a signal. Pretty soon she will be drinking water for your attention and reinforcement. Start getting closer and putting a signal in just before you think she is going to drink. She will associate that signal(maybe it is a point to the water and verbal “drink”, it can be whatever you would like)
The other approach I suggest is get a bucket to be her drinking bucket. At the times when she tends to be thirsty enter her stall with the water, set it on the ground and give her a point to the water, tap the water or even use a target to get her nose to the water. Click and reinforce. When she is consistent with touching look for any movement of her lips. It may mean you splash a bit take the water to her lips so she can kind of taste it or lick, reinforce any licking or moving lips. Keep along these lines and I imagine she will soon turn that lipping/licking into actual drinking. At first, I would interrupt it with a click. Then let it go a little bit, letting her drink longer and longer. Remember to click on the behavior you want to see more of, when she is drinking(or even flapping lips in the beginning) not when she has quit or moved away from the bucket. I also suggest you feed her alot for each of these approximations so it makes a bigger impression on her. When she is consistently responding correctly I suggest trying at different times of day so she learns to respond to your cue vs. her thirst. Next, I suggest moving just outside of the stall or paddock where ever she lives. Use the same bucket and the same cue. She may be a little slower again. Look for those baby steps we took to help her in the beginning to build up her confidence. When she is good there try someplace else. Pretty soon she should be drinking any place, any time around the barn. You can even have her do it just before feeding time. she drinks and she gets a jackpot of food. When you go to the show take the same bucket and take some of your water if you can for the first lessons. It will be the most familiar and will help to set her up for success. Set it on the ground and give her the cue. Go back to the baby steps if necessary. She’ll get it figured out. The good thing about using the positive reinforcement is that it also promotes relaxation within the horse and it may even help to settle her nerves at the show. Felling more settled will also allow her to respond to her natural thirst.
Well, I have never had to teach a horse to drink but I have taught a whale to urinate on command! I am confident we can get it figured out, though it may take a little tinkering here and there. Pay attention to her habits, what she seems to respond to and adapt the training to what seems to be working for her and your situation. Please keep me updated. I am here to help you along the way. I am excited to see this through to the end!
This question was sent in by Jean: I would like to have some exercises I could do in preparation to help my horses dentist check his teeth without a struggle. He is older and doesn’t necessarily need any mouth work, but does need to be checked. Thanks so much.
This can be tricky business but with a little effort your horse will happily oblige. With the use of positive reinforcement you can build up a positive association with the dentist and your veterinarian. These procedures are often viewed as invasive to our horses and they let us know this. The more that we insist, the more resisitant our horses become. This pattern often escalates into a mess of a situation. The horse can come away with fear that carries over to the next dentist/vet visit. Worse case scenario, someone can even get hurt. With a little preparation you can teach your horse to cooperate and actually look forward to these examinations. Your dentist, vet or farrier will look forward to working with your horse.
I have showed a little sample of some of the work you may start with to prepare for a dental check. You may move to the front of the horse and graduate up to opening his mouth. Continue along with small steps toward your end goal. Only move forward when your horse is comfortable with the current step. Also, short and reinforcing sessions are more effective than long drawn out sessions. Remember to always start your clicker training program with the first and most important step of teaching your horse to wait for the reinforcement without invading your space. You never want a mouthy, nippy or pushy horse and this is established in the very early stages. Finally, as with all training,be sure to keep safety in mind for you and your horse. Don’t force or corner your horse and don’t forget to watch your fingers. When you have them in their mouth they may bite down without intending to bite you. I hope this helps you out and gives you some good ideas. Please keep me posted with your horse and his progress and enjoy getting him on target!!