Those who followed the recent Thunderstorm-Thoroughbred-New Horse events at my farm, recounted in today’s earlier blog post, and who are hoping for clearer skies along with me, may be happy to hear tonight’s report.
No storms today, but it was overcast and a little windy. The little windy part is another trigger for my hypersensitive Thoroughbred, who, when he first arrived here, would fling himself agains the gate at the first 15 mph gust and not stop until he was brought inside. That behavior, too, has diminished through the years as we asked him ever so gradually to endure just a little bit more. Now the winds have to be 30 mph or higher before he freaks out.
He ran at Hialeah in Florida, so it’s always been my suspicion that he witnessed something frightening happening as a result of high winds — a hurricane, perhaps, or a barn collapse. I was also told that a trailer he was traveling in blew apart while on the highway. Bet that sounded windy. Do I need to tell you that he’s not a good loader? He gets on now without rearing and flipping over, but he still gets light on his front feet in an instant. That’s my boy.
Happily, the new horse, who possesses the calm demeanor of a successful Kindergarten teacher, couldn’t care less about the wind, and is a role model for rationality. Unfortunately, as you’re well aware if you read my earlier post today, that highly developed rationality makes him question why he should do something just because I’m asking him to.
Which is exactly what happened yesterday, and why we had to negotiate going into the stall. “Because I’m the trainer, that’s why!” was my T-shirt answer and it made no sense to him at all (it was as if he was countering with “And I’m the horse, that’s why not!“). It only changed when the option of continuing to resist became more unpleasant than the unpleasant task he didn’t want to do. And the whole scene made both of us unhappy, which isn’t the best foundation for future training.
Of course, he’s not the problem, I am. I have to figure out how to make it make sense to him, or it’s all for naught, as they say.
Here come the clicker and the treats!
This horse has never been exposed to clicker training, and although it’s something I know how to do, it’s never been my first choice. I’m a pressure-release gal from way back and it’s programmed into me, despite the fact that I reward with more than the release, and do so immediately — as quick as a click. But this horse spent two weeks with a prominent natural horsemanship trainer who, as talented as she is, is as pressure-release oriented as they come, and despite her assurances that he’d get with the program, they didn’t get very far. When I asked her for a road map when I picked him up from her, she said she couldn’t give me one, since the horse was so smart, and she had no idea what he’d decide to do next.
Well, given the choice, I personally think he’d eat. So clicker training makes perfect sense.
I knew I had to teach targeting first, so armed with my little orange plastic cone (the target), and my apron full of treats (grain cubes), I began the first lesson. He caught on quickly and I didn’t prolong it, a mistake I’d made with my Thoroughbred a while back, who simply walked away from the cone, the click and the treats. This horse was fully immersed in the program. So much so that when I put the cone down in preparation for my departure, he walked over to it and nudged it with his nose. Smart boy! Click-and-treat!
One of the fundamentals I believe in as a horse trainer is to set things up for success. So tonight, I asked my Yankee-Irish horsewhispering boyfriend to bring my Thoroughbred in first. I led the new horse to the stall. As he walked forward, his head aimed at the open doorway, I didn’t ask for more. I rewarded. Click-and-treat! I stepped inside, with my lead rope slack and waited for his response. He stretched his nose out. It was a stretch in the right direction. Click-and-treat!
I waited again. He put a foot over the threshold. Good boy! Click-and-treat! Another step. Click-and-treat! Wait. Wait some more. Hind foot in. Click-and-treat! Mugging. Wait. Relax. Big chestnut head away from me. Click-and-treat! Last foot inside. Good boy! Click-and-treat!
The game continued with wait…and halter off. I’m grateful to Alexandra Kurland for teaching me how to do CT well. It’s a tool that I’m happy to have in my back pocket, along with treats in my front pocket, when I need it. It’s a game changer.