I love this question! Tiffany asks about teaching her horse to accept hot shoeing. Her farrier is coming on this day. She has started the target training so her mare has a good start. Implementing basic target work and positive reinforcement while she is being shod will help her today but I also give her some ideas for addressing the issue a little more systematically for the long run. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!
Shawna- I have just received my clicker and treat bucket and love implementing them into my play/ ground work time! My mare, who many have told me to sell her, is responding very well! It also allows me to know I am not sending her a mixed signal She is not a big fan of hot shoeing, sometimes she will stand but not always! Often pulling away I am excited to implement the clicker in today’s visit! Any suggestions would be great Thank you for your knowledge and helpful tips!
Hi Tiffany, I am so glad to hear how well your mare is responding. It always does my heart such good.
I do have some ideas for her shoeing. There are many different sensations associated with this process. There is the sound. That sizzling when the shoe is pressed on their hoof, the sight of the smoke, the smell and the hammering can’ be very settling if they are already feeling suspicious. When I watch a young horse transition from trimming to getting their first pair of shoes I am always kind of impressed when they stand quietly. If I were a horse I am not sure I would be so calm.
Since we don’t really know which part she is most worried about we will have to assume they all need work. I am making an assumption that she is relaxed with trimming and general farrier work. In either case I would still recommend building up a good association with these tasks. If she is worried, even slightly, it will help her to feel more comfortable with these elements. Actually, she will not simply tolerate these procedures but actually look forward to them. If she is completely relaxed it will still establish a stronger reinforcement history (association) with this part of the process and that will help for the hot shoeing.
For these exercises I recommend picking up her feet, moving them around, stretching them forward like you are going to be putting them on the stand, put them between your legs and tap on he hoof, to mimic the hammering of nails, etc. All the while you will want to reinforce when she is soft, relaxed and let’s you manipulate her feet. If she feels resistance, gently continue what you are doing until she feels relaxed. Remember that letting go is a form of reinforcement (avoidance). Of course, always keep safety in mind. Dealing with feet has some inherent risks. Break it down to small steps going slow enough that she is comfortable. Never move to the next step until she is comfortable with the previous step. THe progress will depend on how comfortable she was when you began these exercises. You may start this in her stall or paddock. When she is good and solid I would also do some sessions in the place where she gets shod. You may also have a second person play the part of the farrier. You wait by the side and step up to reinforce randomly but she should always look relaxed, soft eyes, lips, ears and lower head carriage.
A good intermediate step would be to have her watch as other horses are getting their shoes re-done. Keep in mind horses, or any social animal, are vicarious learners. This means they learn by watching and react to the reactions of those around them so I wouldn’t have her watch a horse who was not so good with the farrier. Pick ones that are nice and relaxed. You may start with her back a bit and if she is calm move closer. While she is watching I would ask her to target, lift her feet and generally relax. Reinforce her when she is relaxed and when she is focusing on the things you are asking her to do and not when she is looking worried at the smoke, let’s say. If she gets a little big eyed simply and calmly ask her to target and get back to something safe and familiar. I would also give her some time just watching and relaxing, this will help to build her patience. This allowing her to witness the procedure without being the “customer” or maybe she would use the word “victim” gives her a chance to see what is happening but also to build a relaxed and positive association with the whole process (sight, sounds and smells). Sometimes just being able to see it helps them. When it is their turn they can’t really look at what maybe worrying them and this may add to their suspicion. Do this as often as you can. Always check with the farrier so you are not in their way.
Next step, when she is in need of being shod, I would first let your farrier know what you are doing and been doing. Even if they don’t understand the training they are appreciative of your effort and they are VERY appreciative when the horses have overcome their fear. I usually tell them that I will want to reinforce through the process but communicate with them before you actually click so they can anticipate the shift that may happen when your horse hears the bridge signal. So, it usually goes something like this: I take her to the farrier stall/ wash rack…where ever they usually work. I would have the target and ask her to target, click and feed a good relaxed response. This is to let her know that the target training session is in effect. It tends to help them shift from their old mind set (association) to a the new one they have with the target. I usually stand off to the side, a few feet away. If you are too close it may be distracting for her and she may be too much of a busy body. As he/she starts the early stuff I would find a point, communicate that you are going to click and feed. The farrier doesn’t need to stop what he/she is doing. I would then retreat and wait a bit longer. When all is calm again repeat the process. I would suggest putting more time between clicks during the first part, saving more reinforcement for her more challenging part. If it you like (and it works out with your farrier) you may also give her a short break. Remember that the break should only be initiated when she is calm since it is a form of reinforcement. If she looks totally calm I would just keep her where she is and let the process continue. THe goal is to fade out all of these tools down the road. If all went well, the next time I would put more time in between clicks/rewards. Then, the time after that, I would start being further away, etc. You are fading yourself out of the picture. When she gets over it and realizes the whole process is not threatening or worth worrying about she will just stand quietly like other horses.
I know it always sounds like a lot of steps but I like to break it down the best i can. These are called successive approximations and they usually go pretty quickly. If you think about it, right now there is no real motivation for her to get over this fear. However, when you add the positive reinforcement it changes her focus and it helps her to become an active part of the training process. She is wanting to succeed as well.
Well, I hope this helps to give you some direction. If you have more questions as you progress please let me know. Okay, Tiffany, i look forward to hearing from you along the way! :0)
You have been a huge help! Thank you for the direction I will work with her before he comes today so she will have something positive to look forward to while he is working. I will also build on the tools you have given me over the next 6 weeks until he arrives again. I will keep you posted! Thank you again for your wonderful advise to help me and my horsey journey!
UPDATE FROM TIFFANY:
Hey I am sure you will not be surprised that it went wonderful Before he arrived I went went into the stall to pick her feet. I clicked during the picking and rewarded with a treat, and I also clicked when I released her hoof. By her 3 foot I would say “foot” and she would shift her weight ready for me to pick up her foot. Also licking and chewing When my farrier arrived I told him that I was starting to use clicker training, he said he also has another client using it as well (he is very open to the natural approach). He informed me he was out of propane so we wouldn’t be hot shoeing today. I was thinking this might be a good building point. I followed your instructions rewarding when she was relaxed, head down. The first 3 feet went great! I found I couldn’t stand right next to her because she would search for the treat and I didn’t want her to be off balanced for him as he was under her. Her last foot she pulled her foot from him, I asked why he thought she did that? He said he thought she just got lazy. After the Farrier was done I asked how he thought she did? ( I already had my WOW moment ) he said she was “night and day!”
Thank you so very much for your help and enlightenment! I feel that because of people like you the horse world has been blessed I will keep you posted when he comes back and hot shoes Thanks again.