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Happy Horse training!
PS Make sure you subscribe to our new blog location!
Happy Horse training!
One of the most fun tricks I ever taught Kyra is to pick up items. It is very versatile too because once your horse can pick up stuff, you can teach them to hand it over.
Kyra can now pick up and hand over a flower, her food bowl, my clicker, a dog toy, a whip and anything else she can grab with her teeth.
I started with something really easy to pick up for Kyra: a piece of cloth. In the beginning Kyra didn’t know what to do with it, so I knotted a carrot in it. That stimulated her interest.
I clicked and reinforced for small steps like touching and sniffing the cloth, then examining it with her lips and after a while she tried to grab it with her teeth. Yeey: jackpot! This took a lot of sessions, to be honest. From this early start I developed a clear strategy to set horses and people up for success if they want to train their horse to pick up items, so that they don’t have to get stuck in this part of training.
Once Kyra understood this new trick, she wanted to grab everything off of the ground. That is the reason I started with an item that was easy to distinguish: the cloth. The cloth itself became part of her ‘cue’.
I didn’t want her to grab my brushes or other day-to-day items. What did happen, so that’s why it’s important to know when you can start adding a cue (a ‘final’ cue) to the new behaviour.
Once she learned what to do with the cloth I added my final cue to it, the verbal command ‘Pick up‘ with a pointing finger to the object I want her to pick up. After Kyra learned the cue I started teaching her to pick up other items. I bought a dog rope toy that is safe and easy to grab. I wish this would have been my training object.
Later on I practised with her empty food bowl, my gloves in winter, her halter, the lead rope and so on. It turned out that it is a very versatile exercise. Then I raised my criteria and I threw the item a step away. Now I only clicked and reinforced after picking up the item that was one step away.
The next criterion was to move towards me one step with the item in her mouth. Then I taught her to hold the item until I could grab it. In this way she learned to put it in my hand instead of dropping it in front of me.
Now Kyra can fetch an item that I have thrown several meters away and bring it back to me. One day I asked her to pick up her toy while sitting on her back. She did it! I use a treeless saddle, so I have to use a mounting block to get in the saddle.Wow, now I don’t have to dismount anymore whenever I drop something from the saddle. Bonus!
This week I stumbled upon a lovely video of a horse that picked up three rubber rings and put them on a cone. I don’t have rubber rings, but I asked Kyra to put her toy in a bucket. That was fun too.
Here are the videos of Kyra’s tricks.
Video 1: Kyra playing fetch from the saddle
Video 2: Kyra giving me flowers (that would be a nice trick to perform one day)
Video 3: Kyra putting her toy in a bucket
Video 4: Kyra handing over her food bowl after eating
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Today I had a really hard time to sit down and write a blog because my horse Kyra is on my mind. Last week she was diagnosed with EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome): obesity, laminates (foundering) and insuline resistance are three very important components of this syndrome as well as Cushing’s.
Kyra needs a different life style for now: no grass, a restricted intake of calories, as little sugar as possible (only soaked or low sugar hay and no apples, carrots or other sugary treats) and more exercise (which is hard since she is very sore on her front hooves).
Sometimes previous training benefits you in situations you never could have expected. So can trick training. Many tricks may seem useless when you train them, however they can benefit you in surprising ways. Here are some examples.
When the vet came I wanted him to take X-rays of Kyra’s front feet to see if there was any rotation of the pedal bone. She needed to stand on wooden blocks with her front feet to take the pictures.
Kyra knows how to stand on different kinds of pedestals, mats, tarps and last year we participated in an online ‘Clicker Challenge’. She had to stand for 5 seconds on two small wooden blocks. Exactly the same blocks the vet brought. How amazing is that!? In hindsight this was the perfect preparation for taking the X-rays.
I joked to the vet and asked if I could get a discount since Kyra behaved really well and safe. First he said ‘no’ but then he told me I actually just saved $ 50 on the bill because Kyra didn’t need sedation to make her stand on the blocks.
When I wrote a cheque he did give me an additional discount (Thank you!). So our trick training paid off! Not to mention the stress we avoided because we didn’t have to make her do something she was afraid of. I didn’t need to stress about it, too. So, this was a triple bonus.
The vet also recommended a grazing muzzle so she can be in the pasture with her herd. I really have a hard time putting horses in a solitary paddock. The stress she has in there worries me. Stress has a negative impact on the immune system and wouldn’t benefit the healing of her laminates (which is an inflammation of the lammellae in the hoof).
Targeting helped me get the muzzle on in no time. Kyra didn’t seemed to mind the muzzle to try it. She doesn’t realize yet that she is rewarded by getting it on, but will miss out on the grass later in the pasture. I feel like I tricked her, but it is the best I can do if I want to get her healthy as soon as possible.
A few weeks ago I had started training Kyra to accept a soaking boot. This related well to the need to have Kyra use soft ride boots now to protect her feet and I didn’t need to start training this behaviour from scratch. It saved us a lot of time and stress when it was needed most. Having trained Kyra in all the basics and having experimented with different tricks has prepared her for a lot of different situations.
Practising for the Clicker Challenge in January 2015:
Here the video in which the behaviour of the Clicker Challenge is established and how Kyra did with the vet.
Now I hand walk Kyra daily to give her the exercise she needs. I have a really good barn friend who loaned me some horse boots that really give Kyra some relief. Thanks to the many hours of training her to ignore grass, I don’t have problems walking the street with the very juicy banks of grass.
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