Husbandry skills: Hoof Care (part II)

In this series I will keep you posted about 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. is scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicks out when she feels something touching her hind legs.

In my last blog I wrote how I started her training. She is now used to the clicker. She knows that a click is an announcer of good things coming her way: appetitives (in this case treats). She understands my end of session signal that tells her that there are no more treats to be earned.

Training Tools

Besides a clicker and treat I use a target stick that I made from a piece of pool noodle on a stick. I chose a pool noodle because they are soft, light weight and cannot hurt the horse accidentally.

I did not start with nose targeting this time. I used the target to touch A. The aim is to teach her that touching her hind legs is safe, will lead to appetitives (something the horse likes to have, such as a treat) and that she is in control (no force or coercion) about accepting her body to be touched. For obvious safety reasons I still work with protective contact. A. is allowed to kick the pool noodle in case I go too fast and nobody will get hurt.

Introducing the Pool Noodle

I already knew A.’s favourite spots to scratch her, so I kept those in mind while training.

I introduced the pool noodle by holding it in front of her and click and treat her for looking at it. I am still working with protective contact (a barrier between her and me). She wouldn’t touch the target in the beginning.

Then I held it a bit more to the left on my side of the fence, still not too close, and clicked and reinforced A. for ‘standing still’. Then I held it a bit more to the right, near her withers and so on. Clicking and reinforcing every little step in order to give her confidence that standing still is what I want from her. Nothing else.

Little by little I could hold the target closer and closer until she could touch it. I haven’t clicked and reinforced much for touching with her nose or sniffing since my goal is not to teach her to touch the pool noodle with her nose. She wasn’t afraid of the pool noodle target by the way, just curious.

Training logbook

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After 3 sessions of each 5 minutes I could touch her with the pool noodle on the withers, her chest/throat/mane and her bum. If she moved away, even a little weight shift, I went back to the previous steps when she was still relaxed and OK with it. I would take a step back and continue a bit slower. In positive reinforcement training you mark the desired behaviour. If A. wants to move away that is OK. I just wait until she is ready to come to me and present her body close to the fence so I could touch her with the pool noodle again.

I don’t keep the pool noodle on her body until she stops moving. That would be negative reinforcement (strengthening the behaviour (standing still) with taking away the aversive (the thing she wants to escape).

I know it took 3 sessions because I keep a training logbook. I keep track of time, how many sessions we do each day, how long the sessions are, how long the breaks are (usually 2-3 minutes), where we train (A. lives in an in/out stall and sometimes we train outside, sometimes inside) and how much progression we made and also what startled her or what body parts he becomes anxious. I also wrote down the next steps of her training.

I end every session with an end of training signal. Sometimes A. keeps standing aligned to the fence in the hope of getting scratches, sometimes she walked right back to her hay to eat.

In the next blog I will tell you more about how A.’s training is progressing.

Read the previous blog: Husbandry skills: hoof care (part I)

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
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Husbandry skills: hoof care (part I)

The term ‘husbandry skills’ refers to all the behaviours you want to teach an animal in order to take care of them safely. Daily  husbandry skills are haltering, leading, grooming, cleaning hooves, cleaning nostrils, eyes and ears and so on. Medical procedures like drawing blood (important in zoo animals) or administering medication (injections, oral medication, ointments) are also a part of husbandry skills.

In this blog series I will share with you how I train a young horse to lift her legs for hoof care with positive reinforcement (clicker training).

Young horse

Preparing for a hoof stand by HippoLogic
Preparing for a hoof stand.

At the SPCA barn I train a young horse to lift her legs for hoof care and trims. The farrier did a good job last time, but his time was limited to do the trim due to the horse. She was very scared and stressed. She is not yet properly trained to lift legs and let us clean her hoofs, let alone lift her legs long enough for a trim.

My goal is to have her much better prepared for a trim next time. I would like her to lift her legs on cue and hold her legs up herself (no leaning into the farrier). I want her to be confident and stress free during a trim.

Starting the relationship

This horse, let’s call her A. is young and she is really scared to be touched, especially on her legs. I introduced myself to her with offering scratches over the fence. She is really itchy at the moment due to shedding, so scratches are a good reinforcer to her right now. The best way to start a relationship is to start giving.

Protective contact

In a few sessions A. figured out how to ‘call me over’ so I would scratch her: if she aligns herself with the fence I come over and scratch her. I started with her chest area, now A. also let me scratch her withers, under her mane, her chest and her bum.

She knows that she can walk away and I don’t (can’t) follow her. She is in control: she can tell me where I need to scratch her and for how long. She even is in control of how much pressure she likes in a certain spot by pushing more or less into my hand.

End of Session signal

I taught her the end of session signal: I show her my two empty hands and say ‘All done‘.  It is interesting to see that she now immediately goes back to her hay if I give her my end of session signal. She knows the reinforcers (attention, scratches) will stop now.

I find it very important to have a way to communicate to the horse when and when not to expect reinforcers from me. It helps prevent mugging and turning your horse into a pushy horse.

Next step: introducing the clicker_hondenclicker

Now I have a bit of a positive relationship and established some rules (start session, end session, she learned that she can influence her training) and I can take her training to the next level: introducing the bridge or marker signal, the click.

I will keep you updated about A.’s training in the next blog.

Read more:

Husbandry skills: Hoof Care (part II)
Prepare your Horse for the Farrier with Clicker Training

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic

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Preparing your Horse for the Farrier with Clicker Training

Kyra one month after arrival

Being a farrier  is a high risk profession. It is not only a physically demanding job, but also the clients can be very opinionated. Or worse become defensive and kick, bite or rear. With clients I mean horses, of course. How can you help your farrier be safe working with your horse?  How can you prepare your horse for a farrier treatment? My answer is of course: with positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement for the professional

The first thing reinforcing the farrier to come back is that he gets paid! I like to offer a cup of tea and some cookies too, if he is really good with my horse. But the best way to reinforce your farrier to come back and do a good job is to have your horse well trained and prepared.

Continue reading

Peer pressure at the barn

One of the most underestimated challenges of positive reinforcement training can be… people in your environment.

It is a journey
The journey to switch from negative reinforcement (most traditional and natural horsemanship methods) to positive reinforcement training (clicker training, on target training) is instructive and beautiful.

peer pressure barn_hippologic_clickertrainingIt is not always a straight, fast or smooth road. It is often a winding, bumpy road with lots of ups and downs, but the views are astonishing. You will see many positive changes in your horse and your relationship.

On your journey you will learn how to think outside of the box, it will teach you to become more creative. It will teach you how to think in solutions instead of problems and it will alter the relationship with your horse in an extraordinarily beautiful way.

good relationship horse

Slowly you start using more and more rewards to reinforce your horse to do things for you. Then you might slowly stop using the tools that your horse experiences as aversive, like a whip, rope halter, training stick or spurs. So far so good, until… you encounter a hiccup.

Believe me when I tell you: this day will happen. Your horse doesn’t do what you ask him to do. You can’t figure out why or you can’t figure out a way to ask him differently so he will understand. You don’t have enough tools yet, so you don’t have an answer right away. That’s OK. It is OK to not know everything right away. What to do?

Back to default
It is perfectly normal to fall back to your old tools or habits of using pressure, force or even to inflict pain. Don’t blame yourself for it. Becoming aware is the first step in changing! Hooray!

peer pressure at barn_hippologic clickertrainingIf you are prepared for this day, and it will happen, you can just simply say to yourself. “Hey, you know what? I don’t know what to do. Let’s figure it out first. Let’s find help and try again another time.” Really, it is OK not to know what to do! And it is also OK to stop your training until you do know how to solve your training problem in a way that is acceptable for you and your horse”.

Remember what is most important
Choosing to make your horse your priority can be extremely hard to do. Especially when other people are watching you work. Imagine that the farrier has come to trim your horses’ feet. Your horse is afraid of the farrier or there is something else that causes your horse not to cooperate the way he normally does. It can be hard to listen to your horse and figure out the ‘why’. Your horse probably has a very good reason.

In most cases it is OK to say: “Sorry, my horse is not prepared enough yet. Let’s do this another time.” Do what you need to do in order to protect your relationship and the trust you have build with positive reinforcement. In Dutch we have a saying:
Trust arrives walking and departs riding. Which means that trust is hard to build and easy to loose.

Do you really want to risk your relationship with your horse so the farrier can do his/her job right now? It can be dangerous for everyone if the farrier is more a traditional person. Or would you rather choose to make sure the farrier and your horse are safe next time?

Would you like to know how to deal with peer pressure at your barn? It is all covered in the Ultimate Horse Training Formula, HippoLogic’s online complete home study course.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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