Groundwork for unhandled colts

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Groundwork for unhandled colts

Post by Sunny Admin on Sat Feb 20, 2010 4:00 pm

Hi Cheryl, We bought an unhandled 3 year old Paso Fino gelding who is afraid of human contact, and most especially afraid of being trapped. He panics and gets much worse in his trust issues when exposed to round pen training. It is very difficult to touch him, and impossible to halter him. Although I have a degree in psychology and understand operant conditioning, I am old-school in my horse training, and have trouble letting that go. I was also raised by authoritative parents, so "Do it because I said so!" is the extent of my personal conditioning. As you see, my problem is me, not him, so I am asking for your help. Where do I start in attraction training with him? He will approach us (but no closer than arm's length), is very curious, and will sometimes take treats from our hands. We hope to use his curiosity and your instruction to help him understand that we are fun people, and he will enjoy working with us! Thanks for any help you can provide.



Julie in Michigan
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Re: Groundwork for unhandled colts

Post by Cheryl Ward on Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:13 pm

Hi Julie,



Congratulations, I think you’re in for a real treat. You’re already off to a great start with a very clear understanding of your thoughts about training and your horse’s thoughts about being trained. The other treat is the chance to be that dreamy parent or trainer that instructs with logic and lessons that feel so good your horse never has to ask why.



Here’s my motto: Make the right behavior so clear and easy that it never occurs to the horse to give you the wrong behavior. This eliminates the need for the familiar, Do it because I said so!



What is very clear to me is that both you and your horse want to feel better. This is always my guiding question, especially with fearful horses: “How can I make you feel better?”



You said he’s afraid of being trapped and becomes much worse in the round pen. Most likely it’s because in his mind the round pen is a trap and he feels like prey. My main concern about traditional round pen training is that it puts the horse in a situation where it has to move away from something that feels uncomfortable (a rope, a stomp, a shush, a flag waving, etc.) without a true escape. If you’ve studied operant conditioning, this is a situation ripe to create learned helplessness. Here’s a definition from Trauma Disorders Glossary:



learned helplessness: A term developed by Martin Seligman, pioneering researcher in animal psychology, to describe what occurs when animals or human beings learn that their behavior has no effect on the environment. The impact of this experience leaves an individual apathetic, depressed, and unwilling to try previous or new behavior. This concept is relevant to people with dissociative disorders who may show some degree of learned helplessness due to repeated exposure to traumatic events which they could not change or avoid by their behavior.



I have no doubt that your horse’s fearful behavior is being triggered by his past experiences of not being able to change a traumatic event which could have easily been excessive force used in a round pen.



But take heart. He’s young and in good hands with you.



In a nutshell here would be my plan. My goal would to restore his confidence by allowing him to make his own decisions about you, by creating a very clear situation where he would decide you are the source of all good things. Where he stands now, I think he feels that anything two legged has the potential to bring him harm and his fearful behavior is his way of saying, “I must protect myself.”



To me, this means you are in a great place. The contrast of where he’s at and where you’d like him to be is very clear. He doesn’t want to be with you, and you want him to want to be with you. In the past he’s experienced people make him feel bad, which arouses his defense mechanism in a predatory manner. I believe you can quickly change his mind by becoming a provider in his world instead of predator.



The aspect of being a provider works so well in my experience, especially for fearful horses because it emulates one of their very first associations as a foal, the fact that mama is the source of all good things. Foals learn almost instantaneously that when they follow, reach and touch mama, good things happen. Some action of theirs earns them something they want.



My very first lesson would be to duplicate that dynamic, to teach him that click means treat. I would find a place where he is most comfortable. It may be a paddock or stall, probably not a round pen, but some place where you can hang a bucket. I would randomly appear and say, “Hi Buddy” or his name. I’d click with the clicker and toss a handful of his favorite food (loudly enough so he can hear it drop) into his bucket. Then I’d walk away. I like to stand on the opposite side of the fence or stall.



I’d do this a few times until I could see he was making a connection between the click and the food dropping into his bucket. At this point if he is showing that he wants to interact with you, I’d stand at the bucket, without walking away and simply click and drop food into the bucket.



The purpose of this is to introduce the sound of the click as a signal that something wonderful is about to happen. Some trainers call it 'charging the clicker.' You’re just teaching him that click means treat. It also is teaching him that you are the source of something wonderful.



To enhance this effect, make sure the food you're using is something your horse likes. This will increase his motivation ten-fold. He will lose interest very quickly if the treat is boring. My horses love alfalfa pellets, but turn their noses up at apples. My mare will do back flips for anything with molasses. If your horse is on weight watchers, I simply use training time as mealtime and treat with their allotted amount of food.



At this point, you could end the session but if he’s showing signs of wanting more, this is where I’d introduce a target or object for him to touch. It’s super important that it’s an object that carries neutral to positive associations. I like to use a small rubber bucket. It seems all horses speak bucket and their interest is peaked when a bucket appears. You could also use a supplement lid. I’ve even used a tightly folded towel. It just has to be something you can hold and move around without scaring your horse.



I then offer the object out to the horse. The exact moment the horse’s nose touches the bucket, I click and put the treats in the stationary bucket. Every time the horse’s nose touches the object or motions towards it, I click-treat. If I see the horse is getting at all discouraged, I’ll place the object so the horse can accidentally touch it. This is the first step in teaching a horse to target. The goal here is to show the horse that ‘something it does earns it something it wants.’



In my experience, this is the most powerful way to undo the damage caused by learned helplessness. With my gelding recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the moment he learned to target was the moment he began to trust. I think the process of touch-click-treat validates the horse.



You’re telling the horse that its ‘beingness’ matters because you’ve recognized his effort with something that he values, which is the click and treat. This process is one of my very favorite. You can literally see the horse spark to life when it sees that it can create such a pleasant outcome. This is in contrast to a past of trying to avoid unpleasant outcome, like punishment or harsh, negative reinforcement.



When you begin training using the sound of the click and rewarding with a treat, I would strongly encourage you to never, ever, ever, ever hand feed your horse unless it has first heard a click. I even click when I toss my horse a pile of hay. I think for horses, they are always searching for food whether they are with you or not. Because of this they are always looking for patterns as to how they where able to get the food. They should never look for food around a human unless they’ve first heard a click. If food is given without a click, this is where the horse begins to wonder how and why it received food.



Once the horse is fluent with touch-click-treat I begin to move the target around. Hold it to the right. If the horse follows it right and touches it, click-treat. Hold it to the left, up, down etc, making sure to click-treat liberally and often.



After your horse understands this game, I’d create a target stick. If you’re using a supplement lid as your object you can duct tape that to sturdy crop or dowel. I like to use big yellow auto sponges. I have a complete set taped to my riding crop, a dressage crop and a lunge whip (a sponge-lunge whip or “spunge” whip). This use of these target sticks allows you to lead your horse without a halter.



Speaking of a halter, at this point since your horse knows how to target, you could use the halter as a target. Soon the halter will represent something that feels good. You can then use the target stick to target your horse’s head down, put that on cue and use that skill to teach your horse to target its nose right into the halter. It's one I've used often with great results.



I hope this helps and will give you some ideas on how to show your gelding that you're loads of fun to be around. Please keep me posted and don’t hesitate to ask if you encounter more questions. Remember, if you’re not smiling and horse isn’t smiling, you’re doing it wrong! I applaud you for offering a home to a youngster that sounds like he got off to rough start. The good news is that rough starts can always be smoothed out!



-Cheryl
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Update on Chip

Post by djculp on Mon Mar 01, 2010 8:32 pm

Hi Cheryl, I have been unable to post an update on Chip's progress because I have been working 77 hour weeks. He is, however, continually making progress. The farrier was able to trim his front feet. We are working with the back feet, and he will be ready for all 4 on her next visit! If spring arrives we will be able to do more with Chip, but the best part is that he and we look forward to it. We really enjoy our time together, and rejoice in his progress. We'll keep ya'll updated as we can. Julie and Chip in snowy Michigan

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Re: Groundwork for unhandled colts

Post by Admin on Mon Mar 01, 2010 8:55 pm

Hey Julie. I was thinking about y'all today and wondering how it was going. I also realized I hadn't loaded your progress updates on here. I'll get them up!Good to hear that it's going well with Chip. It's a relief isn't it, when you finally get some help that makes a difference!!??
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logging in update/response from 12/9/09

Post by Cheryl Ward on Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:37 am

Cheryl, Thanks for the email and plan for our colt, Chip. I have started clicking and treating when he approaches me, and it is making a difference already. He is friendlier and more willing to engage with me. I will be dealing with some issues with lack of consistency, because Chip is my husband's horse, and he doesn't yet believe in this "voodoo" approach. He is a retired prison Sergeant; authoritarian from the core! He won't click before he feeds Chip or gives him a treat; maybe he feels silly. But Chip doesn't seem to care, and he is getting the hang of it. I will make a target and work with that next. So far Chip is just thrilled that I'm not demanding anything from him. I am the source of clicks and treats! I am becoming pretty interesting!

I'll keep you updated,

Julie


Hi Julie,

Great work! It sounds like you're doing a fantastic job peeking Chip's interest.

Although it's ideal to have everyone communicating with your horse using attraction-based methods, it's not always possible, especially in a boarding situation. What I've found is that it doesn't seem to create a problem, in fact that contrast often helps your horse see just how spectacular you are in comparison to his other handlers.

Since horses are keen discriminators, the only thing that will matter is that you are consistent. Also too, even if your husband is not clicking and treating but has the idea of the concept, or is simply thinking about the dynamics, Chip will no doubt be able to read his intent. So whether or not there's clicking and treating involved, it's my firm belief that horses are experts at tuning in a person's general 'vibe'.

If that vibe is a sincere desire to help restore Chip's confidence and trust, then there's no doubt in my mind that Chip will feel that. However, I truly enjoy the extra boost that clicker training brings to the table. It's just such an easy way to make the horse feel good as well as communicating your intentions in a very tangible way.

Thanks so much for the update,
Cheryl
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logging in update/response from 12/17/09

Post by Cheryl Ward on Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:38 am

Hi Cheryl, Well, the progress with Chip has been amazing. The program is working as you describe, with no set-backs. I charged the clicker, taught Chip to target a "crunge" (sponge duct taped to a crop - except duct tape is not very sticky in freezing temperatures!) which he does very reliably. Then I switched to having him target a halter, and he made the switch easily. I fine-tuned the criteria until he was sticking his nose in the halter before the click/treat. Today he stuck his nose in the halter and I flipped the strap over his poll, and he got his click/treat with the halter hanging there. A couple of times I put a tiny bit of pressure on the halter and tried to click BEFORE he pulled back. The halter would fall off and I would let him nose it and play with it so that he could see that it is a play toy, not a menacing object. What do you suggest I do next? Fasten the halter, or work more on pulling his head a tiny bit to the side without him reacting before I actually commit to fastening it? Any other plan?

The training has already had one unexpected, huge benefit. Today I saw that his thin string halter was torn and hanging around his neck. Oh no! I have to get if off somehow! Rather than panic or get reinforcements I decided to try getting it off by using the attraction training. I had him target my hand, and click/treat when I could rub his neck. Eventually I had the string up by his ears, then over his ears, then finally off completely. He never got too concerned, he just backed up when I did too much too soon, but he forgave me immediately and came back for more. That is the big difference; he really wants to play these games, and is learning to deal with his uncomfortable feelings because I never pursue him. So he comes right back for more!

Let's keep this up, Cheryl. It's working, and makes going out into the freezing cold a pleasure, because I come back with a smile frozen on my face, and I think Chip does, too.

Thanks much, Julie


Hi Julie,

I can't stop smiling either. I'm so happy for you two. I also love your new innovation the 'crunge', crop plus sponge. Much more appealing than 'scrop', sponge plus crop. I'm so impressed. Chip sounds like he truly wants to interact with you because you're making it so much fun. That desire for interaction is what keeps him coming back to you even if he gets scared or confused. You're forming fabulous first impressions. The strength of these impressions forms the foundation of all the other behaviors. This precisely is why I like to set the stage with nothing less that scenes that feel wonderful and fill the horse with good feelings.

Your work with the halter is perfect. For DaVinci, my gelding recovering from PSTD, I made a very stiff 'practice halter' that looked like a cavesson under an english bridle. It was just a piece of rope that attached to one side of the nose band and went over the poll and attached to the other side. I stitched it together with a heavy duty needle and dental floss. The nose band was very roomy so he could easily target his nose through the loop. The stiffness of the rope allowed the entire halter to keep it's shape. It was long enough that once his nose was in the loop I could slide the poll strap over his head without touching his ears. (He had a major ear phobia. He came to us with one of his ears completely ripped in two)

We did exactly what you did with Chip. At first I would hold the target stick beneath the nose band so he'd target through the loop. Eventually I would used my hand as a target and soon he'd target through the loop just like Chip. I added a 'head down' cue when he'd begin to lower his head to put his nose through the halter. You can also lay your hand on his poll (if he's ok with that) or his neck or withers. This is helping establish a touch cue. Important to note that the touch cue is not pressure because the horse is first targeting the object. You're simply pairing the feeling of your hand on his neck with the verbal cue and the invitation of the target stick.

The action of 'head down' allowed me to slide the rest of the halter over his poll, thus making him feel it was his choice. This is really important for a horse that feels powerless. The ability to make choices that feel good seems to jump start their confidence willingness to interact with humans.

As for your next step, before adding pressure, I'd like to see him in love with his halter. Before fastening it, I'd take the halter off and lay it along side his neck, click-treat. I'd lay the halter on his withers, click-treat. Eventually, I'd lay the halter on his neck and let it fall to the ground. The idea is to completely demystify any threat the halter could hold. I have a feeling that after a few repetition of this, he'll be totally ready to accept the halter. If he's not ready you could try another angle.

The other thing you could do is take a soft short lead rope (with no hardware) and practice letting him target various parts of his face, his forehead, and ears to the lead. I do this by targeting and asking for head down while holding the lead in such a way that the horse will accidentally touch the lead. Every time a new part of his face touches the lead, I click-treat. Soon they begin to experiment and look for other ways to get the click, asking you what part of their face you want them to touch. I'd practice this until he can target his head through the lead and you can lay it across his poll with the sides dangling. You could then get him used to the feel of the rope making contact with both sides of his cheek preparing him to be led. With some horses, it's a huge step to slide something over their ears. With this method of using a soft lead there's no way a horse can get caught up or feel trapped. It can just slide off.

Before introducing idea of pulling his head to the side, I'd introduce that pull/pressure (however slight) with the help of the target stick. Even before placing the halter on, you could do this with the soft lead around his poll. With your trusty 'crunge' in hand, I'd stand at his left side and ask him to touch the target towards the left. After a few repetitions, I'd gather the dangling ends of the lead and my right hand making a loop out of the lead. I'd then ask him to touch the target extended to the left, and let him feel the weight of your hand on the lead while he's touching the the target. Again, you're pairing the feeling of pressure with the act of targeting. If you want to get really fancy, you could say 'touch -left' and you're simultaneously teaching direction cues perfect for driving or bridle-less riding. If he's ready for the halter, then by all means teach him about right and left by targeting right and left with your hand resting lightly on the halter in the direction you'd like him to go.

The exciting part about this step is that you can teach him right, left, forward, back, with the target and vocal cues paired with halter cues. I've found this makes an almost seamless transition for the horse when you give these cues from their back. As a bonus it makes a horse very light and attentive under saddle. I truly trains them to listen for what you want next.

This will also help him associate touch with something good. Eventually by following the target stick as the initial attraction, he'll learn also to follow your feel or touch cues, as result of pairing the two together. This way Chip will be bilingual. He will be able to communicate with both attraction and pressure. The pressure will feel good, because his first impression of it will be paired with an attraction based memory.

Although my explanation was long, the process of introducing the halter, demystifying the halter and pairing it with pressure, may take 5-10 minutes, or at most, a couple of 5 minute sessions repeated over a few days.

Your frozen smiles have completely warmed my heart. I can't wait to hear what happens next!
Cheryl
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logging in update/response from 12/26/09

Post by Cheryl Ward on Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:40 am

Cheryl, Your information has been great so far, and now even my skeptical husband is at the barn for Chip's lessons. Chip is definitely in love with his halter, and follows it everywhere. Sometimes he acts impatient if I'm slow getting it on him, because he wants his grain! We'll work on patience and manners as we go; right now I'm delighted to see him so happy and engaged. He is following the feel very well with the halter and lead in the stall. I'm afraid to take him out yet with the halter and lead because of the time he panicked and ran off. I want him VERY good with the halter and lead in a smaller area for now.

The next goal we are working on is preparing him for his first farrier visit on Feb. 2. He has never had his feet professionally trimmed, and the few times the breeder was able to trim them at all he had to tie up a leg. As you can imagine, Chip is terrified of having his feet taken away from him. I can finally run my hands down his legs and occasionally get him to pick up a foot for a split second. That's good progress, and I am going very slow. I started with running the wand down his legs first. Now we have progressed to asking him to pick up the feet, but he is defensive. He tries to bite me at times, and today he kicked me hard. I know his reaction means that I'm going too fast, but I don't know how to bridge the gap between running my hands down his legs and feet to actually having him pick them up for me. When he kicked me my arm flew out and whacked him on the side. That sent him into a panic, but I was able to make friends with him again within 10 minutes. Last time he got the tiniest reprimand he held a grudge for two weeks. He is improving so much!

Thank you for all your assistance so far. I'm very interested in your approach to "preparing for the farrier."

Happy Holidays, Julie and Chip


Hi Julie,
I'm happy to hear that he likes his halter. If you see him getting impatient, you can always click-treat for a behavior that you would prefer. For example you could say 'head down' and click while he's putting his nose through the halter. Impatience is simply a sign that he doesn't quite understand something. With horses that are very new to clicker work, I like to keep them very busy, clicking-treating so they don't have to wonder when the next treat is arriving. This is also a good time to introduce a verbal cue, or series of words said in the same tone each time that means "You're almost there, almost, ok, you've got it" then you can click-treat. I find this helps immensely to keep the horse focused. Otherwise as you're finding they'll begin to wonder, get impatient and try new things to get the treat delivered faster. The 'almost there' verbal cue lets them know that you haven't forgotten that they're standing there waiting for you to hurry up Smile

I'm also very happy to hear you have time to prepare for the farrier. I do hope your arm is ok! Here's what I would do. I'd first figure out what I don't want, and then from there figure out what I do want. From your description, you don't want him biting, kicking or being tense or defensive. What you do want is him relaxed, standing still and happily picking up his feet. If I can speak for Chip he doesn't want to feel bad. In his past, anything to do with his feet, probably made him feel horrible, trapped, powerless, voiceless, etc. Most likely he wants to feel safe, validated, and to have a say in the situation.

To do all of the above, I'd spend as many sessions as you can doing the following exercise. I would softly run my hand along his face, click-treat. I'd slowly work my way along his neck, click-treat. If at anytime he seemed too tense to let you 'in' to a vulnerable area, I'd repeat with the areas he's comfortable with. This is also a great time to use your 'almost there' verbal support. I would slowly advance my way down his legs, and click-and give extra treats. You could then up the bar a bit if you see he's ready, and only click-treat when you touch his legs. I would spend most of my time clicking and treating like crazy around anything to do with his legs. Gently touch his elbow joint, c-t, his knee, c-t, his cannon bone, click-treat. Fetlock, c-t, and then really reward him for any touching of his hooves. The key here, is do not try to pick up his feet.

I think for horses, their feet are their confidence. If someone is trying to steal them from him, he's going to get really worried. Your job is to let him know he can keep his feet. I think right now it is super important for him to feel good about your touch on his precious legs. When I get to this point, I like to make my thoughts very clear. I totally believe horses can read our thoughts as if they are visual pictures. During this time I'd try to send him the happiest thoughts I could muster about how good it feels to him when you can rub his legs. I would completely banish any thoughts of snapping teeth or flying hooves. Replace those thoughts immediately with what you want - a happy relaxed Chip. Send him a very clear picture of what that looks like. (His head hanging low, his eyes soft and sleepy, and maybe even a resting back leg).

On a side note, I've noticed that when horse is tense and I try to pick up a foot, their balance is much different than when they are relaxed. I think it's got to be a very vulnerable place for a horse to be nervous and then have to balance on three legs. This is the reason why I like to let the horse make the decision to pick up it's foot first, so it can mentally and physically balance, instead of me essentially grabbing it out from under them.

What kind of wand are you using? How does he feel about it?

After he's confident that you are not trying to steal his feet. Instead of using pressure to physically pick up his foot, here's where I make the lifting of his foot his choice. If you have a helper you can try this: If you are running your hand down Chip's front right leg, you could say 'lift' and have your helper ask Chip to step to the left, either using a target stick or gentle guidance on his halter and lead. The instant Chip lifts that foot, click-treat. I wouldn't try to hold the foot yet. After a few repetitions of that, you could add a touch cue such as a light tap or placing your hand on his fetlock, whatever feels comfortable for you. This way you are not taking his foot away from him, he's picking it up on his own. In the beginning, I'll click for a weight shift off of the foot I want to pick up. Even if a fly lands on his leg and he lifts his foot, click for the lift.

Once he gets the idea that you want him to pick up his feet, you could then withhold the click for a second or two to teach him to hold his foot up. This is when I'd start gently holding his foot for a few seconds and then softly placing it back on the ground. I like the horse to be able to follow my feel while its hoof gently rests in my hands. I also try to follow his feel, so if he starts to tense up, I can place the foot back down. A helper is handy at this point as well, so if you are able to hold the foot, you can click and your helper can treat. If not, I'll hold the foot in one hand and click and then offer the treat from my hand outstretched behind me. It's definitely a multi-tasking/yoga combo move, and you won't be able to see your horse accept the treat, but it works.

There is also another method I'll use in emergency situations with an unhandled or difficult horse that needs its feet trimmed. I'll use a hay bag full of the tastiest hay I can find. I give the horse a quicky lesson that explains, "When your foot is raised, and held by the farrier, you get to eat this delicious hay. If you pull your foot away, the hay bag goes away." I'm very careful not to reprimand, or say "no-no, or uh-uh" because I don't think horses process a reprimand very well. What they seem to prefer is being shown what they are supposed to be doing rather than being admonished for what not to do.

With the hay bag method, most horses are so enthused about the hay, the concerns about their feet go away. I actually use this method with my horses as I do all the trimming myself without someone to hold them while I trim. I just plop a pile of hay on the ground in front of them and I trim away. They are not tied or restrained. They actually look forward to having their hooves trimmed because I make it so much fun. It's the same reason waiting rooms have coffee and vending machines. The hay gives the horses something to do while they're waiting.

Another thing I think would be super helpful would be to explain to the farrier in advance a little bit about Chip and the training methods you are using. I'd would find out if he/she is willing to support you in your positive reinforcement handling. I'd even offer to pay them a little extra just to give them incentive to take the time, if need be, but also to give Chip the support he needs to make the trimming an excellent experience. Also, prior to the farrier's arrival, if you have a rasp lying about, you could allow Chip to see it, smell it, and see what it looks like in your hand. You could even do a a few light rasps across his hoof just to get him used to the feeling. (Clicking and treating along the way)

In my experience, when I'm able to break a task into as many understandable baby steps as possible for my horse, the task, suddenly is not a task at all but a series of easy steps. As the saying goes, "Inch by inch, anything is a cinch."

My prediction is that Chip will be ready, willing and able to happily lift and hold up all four feet and will feel fabulous with his new trim!

Let me know if you have any other questions. I'll be eagerly waiting for an update!

Thanks,
Cheryl
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logging in update/response from 1/13/10

Post by Cheryl Ward on Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:42 am

Cheryl,

Things are going very well with Chip. The best part is that my husband David, who was very skeptical of attraction based training, is now part of the daily team. Chip works well for both of us, and isn't suspicious when we are both there. Before every session, which is feeding time, he must come up and put his halter on. Then we'll click and bring out the feed and get on with the day's program.
In the back of Alexandra Kurland's book "Clicker Training for Your Horse" she tells the story of a mare named Fig who had the same problems as Chip, but was also very aggressive. Chip is only defensive. Fig's owner was afraid to bend over to teach Fig to pick up her feet. I understand that, because Chip has bit my head while simultaneously kicking my leg when I bent over. He's young, agile, and talented! I used the methods they used on Fig and taught him to pick up his front feet when I tap on his forearm and tell him to "Pick it up!" I went into the training believing it would NOT work, but it did!! I would tap his forearm and tell him to pick it up. When he moved that leg at all I would click and treat. Then I would c/t when he took a step back with that foot. Then, unbelievably, he would pause for just a fraction of a second with the foot in the air, and I would c/t. I was able to shape that into him picking up and holding his foot up for 10 seconds. At that point I grasped his fetlock for just a second and c/t. It was easy to shape that into having him pick up his foot on command, put it in my hand, and let me hold it firmly and move it around. It took less than 5 sessions to get to this point, and when I told my husband what I had been doing he had to come out the next day and watch. Now Chip lets him do the same thing, and we are able to rasp his foot while he eats. We are currently working on putting his foot between our knees and then rasping, like the farrier will do. He has never had this done, and is very stiff.
The back feet are another hurdle. He still kicks when we are back there. Right now we are letting him concentrate on targeting his crunge while we run our hands all over his body and hind quarters. Then we c/t. Yesterday Chip was dutifully playing with his target crunge, which was hanging on the gate, while David was running his hands all over Chip. It was David's task to click so that I could bring the bucket out from behind my body to treat, but he forgot! After quite a while I said, "David! Are you going to click??" "OH, I forgot" he replied. He was having too much fun playing with his horse. I explained variable reinforcement to him, and that it was OK to wait before c/t, but don't forget to do it altogether! The best part is that all three of us were having fun, and progress was being made.
The wand I use is a TTEAM stiff dressage whip, which has a nice feel to it. He tolerates it, but I use it only if I feel that our hands would be in danger in the same place. I like your idea of keeping the horse busy with a nice pile of hay, but unfortunately that doesn't exactly work for us. Chip was skinny and wormy when we bought him so he is on a free choice round bale of excellent hay. He's never hungry. You gave me that good idea, though, so I bought a bag of alfalfa cubes and soften them with warm water and mix them in with his grain if I feel that we need to keep him busy for a longer session, or for the farrier visit.
OK: Chip will target for long periods of time, and will let us have free access to his front feet. Our next goal is getting access to his back feet in time for the farrier. I don't feel like it's a deadline, though, since his back feet are naturally very good and I don't think missing this first trim in 3 1/2 years will have any impact on them. I'll let you know our progress! Thanks again for all you've done for us,

Julie, David, and Chip


Hi Julie,

It looks like you are part of a clicker training trio! I'm so happy to hear of your progress.

How is Chip when you are around his hindquarters for other activities like brushing the top of his croup or his tail? Is he just protective about his hind feet or is it concerning the back half of his body?

In any event, here are a few thoughts that come to mind to help you communicate to Chip that you are more than qualified to handle his precious hind feet. Although the following exercise has nothing to do with feet, for some reason it translates really well as a way to build trust. I call it the 'Hug', but it's really a variation of the standard sideways carrot stretch, except you are standing next to your horse and he has to reach his head and neck around you towards his hindquarters. A standard carrot stretch is where the horse is facing forward, and the handler uses a carrot as a target to ask the horse to reach back toward his barrel, stifle joint or hip. This is also a natural type of chiropractic work for a horse as it stretches the neck and helps open up the vertebrae, as evidenced by the popping sounds you may hear as your horse gently and slowly reaches back to his hip.

The reason I like this exercise so much is that it's two fold. One it helps to naturally relax your horse because of the head lowering and stretching, but two, the horse is actively allowing you into his space.

We have to keep in mind that when we are crouched to pick up a hind foot, this puts us right at the horse's ventral mid-line in an area unprotected by bones. Since there are no bones to protect those vital organs, the hind legs serve a horse well to keep that area from attack. No doubt Chip's biting and kicking behavior was simply his way of saying "I'm really scared and need protect my organs!"

With this in mind, the Hug exercise seems to go a long way in telling a horse, particularly horses with trust issues, that you are not a threat to his well being or his organs. In fact you can stand right next him, he can wrap his head and neck around you, touch the target, hear a click and get treated in the very area he's been trying so hard to protect. You may want to use an object such a supplement lid or something not attached to a stick as a target, so there is no chance of poking him by accident.

I'd start out by using your target to ask him to do a traditional sideways carrot stretch. If he moves his hips you can position him near a fence so it encourages him to keep his hips still. After you are certain he understands what you are asking, you can begin by standing by his left shoulder. Hold the target stick to the left and ask him to touch. (As always click-treat for the slightest try). He should keep his body facing forward as he did for the standard carrot stretch. If he bends his neck easily to touch the target without moving his body, then ask for a bit more bend by moving the target more to the left and back toward his shoulder. For the completion of the Hug, I like stand with my back to my horse's shoulder and treat with my hand outstretched toward their hips. Within a short time he should be comfortably wrapping his neck around you to touch the target, and you should be receiving a nice fuzzy hug. Be sure to work both sides.

What I like about the Hug is that it is much more interactive for the horse than simply touching him, then clicking and treating for the touch as a means of desensitizing. The dynamics of the Hug require that the horse has to decide to reach around you and then makes the conclusion, on his own, that it's not only safe to have a human in that vulnerable area, but it has a great payoff.

My hunch is that once he finds that he can trust you with his vital organs, he should be on his way to allowing you to handle his hind feet. After all, he won't be needing them to keep you away, because it's so much more fun to keep you close.

Thanks so much for your update. I wish you many happy horse hugs!
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Update on Chip

Post by djculp on Sun Apr 18, 2010 9:49 am

All is going very well with Chip. He just loves learning, and is always trying to engage us in some way. He has developed quite a personality, and he had NONE when we bought him! He trusts us now, and we are able to make amazing progress. He had all four feet trimmed when the farrier came last week, and he was as well behaved as you could ask for. He is very food motivated, but we use that to our advantage. His only trailiering experience, to get here, was a disaster, so we have held off on trailer training. The other day, in very adverse conditions (icy cold, 30 mph winds, and a storm blowing in) we took him to the trailer with his grain bucket. If he ate beside the trailer calmly that would be just fine. Well, he followed David and the bucket into the trailer and happily munched his supper. He unloaded calmly, and that was that!
Remember I told you that my husband David was against this whole clicker training idea, and was very hard to win over? He is definitely a convert now. He has embraced the idea, even subconsciously. The other night I made tapioca pudding. He dished some up, clicked, and handed it to me. I almost fell over laughing! I guess making the pudding was the right thing to do! Very Happy

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Thrilled!

Post by Cheryl Ward on Sun Apr 18, 2010 5:11 pm

I'm so happy to hear about Chip. What a success story. What I love about what's happening as you describe how he is "trying to engage you" is that he is becoming interactive, rather than reactive. Which means he's thinking, and deciding and concluding that you are logical and worthy of his trust, which with a young, troubled and sensitive horse, can be very hard to earn. And how fabulous, that your tools of interaction are able override memories of past experiences as with the trailer, with new memories that feel good.

I don't know of any creature that's not food motivated! We all need food to survive, even pudding! When food is used as reward, I think it broadcasts very loudly that that you as the handler are very in tune with what is of primary importance to, especially a horse, who needs a constant supply of tiny bits of food to keep the digestive tract moving. It's very clear that Chip thinks the best place to be in town, is with you! You're meeting his needs in so many ways. You're enriching his environment, you're activating his thought processes and rewarding him with something that really matters to him. This makes him feel great. (I feel great just reading about what you're doing!)

Your pudding story is priceless! Positive reinforcement clicker training definitely has a way of permeating one's being! It totally causes me to focus on what I want, and then when I get it, it's really hard not to celebrate that moment with a click! I'd say pudding is totally a click worthy reward. What a riot! Thank you so much for keeping us posted!!!


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