In this series I will keep you posted on the young horse I am training in order to prepare her for the next farrier visit. I will call her A. in this blog. A was scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicked out whenever she felt something touching them.
I promised to keep you updated on our clicker training sessions. We had another session since my last post. Progress might seem slow, but I know from over a decade of clicker training horses that slow is the way to go.
Due to circumstances I had to improvise last time and it went well. This time I started training in her stall, without protective contact (a barrier). I started the lesson with a repetition of where we stopped successfully last time we trained. With her left front leg. I stroked her shoulder and clicked her for standing with 4 hooves on the ground.
The next step was stroking with my hand along her leg and clicking for lifting her leg. A did so well! She remembered exactly what she had to do. She would hold her leg up (by herself, without leaning on me) for a second. I made sure I clicked very soon, so it wouldn’t turn into a jambette this time.
Her other front leg went well too. I decided to try her hind legs. She is used to me stroking her hind legs while working with protected contact. But today, without the fence between us she was startled and she kicked straight out. Not to hurt me, if she wanted she could have! She is so fast. This was clearly too much for her. I was ‘lumping’ instead of splitting.
Back to splitting the behaviour again. I used my pool noodle on a stick again and clicked and reinforced heavily for ‘standing still’. I stroked her bum, hind legs and then her fetlock. Each time she stood still I clicked and reinforced. I made sure I kept her below threshold, so that I didn’t trigger the urge to move away or kick out. I studied her face for signs of tension: wrinkles around her eyes and nostrils, eyes opening further or her head going up a few millimetres. None of that.
One step further
The next step was to repeat the same sequence of touching, but using my hand instead of the pool noodle. Hand on bum: OK. Click and reinforce. Hand on hind leg: OK. Click and reinforce. Then a click and reinforce for something very easy and relaxing for her: touching her withers. Then back to her hind leg and stroking a bit lower, her gaskin and I could even touch A’s hock while she stayed relaxed!
This was a wonderful moment! These are the moments you feel successful and you want to do ‘one more thing’. That is usually my cue (the thought of that I can take it one step further) to stop. She was so relaxed and confident, it was really tempting to do a bit more that day, but I didn’t!
The reason is that when I started touching her hind legs this session she was afraid. A few minutes and a few clicks and reinforcers later she was OK. I didn’t want to ruin that for her!
It was already a successful training: lifting both of her front legs without a jambette and touching her left hind leg with my hand while she was confident and relaxed enough to stand still. Especially the staying relaxed part is really-really important!