Husbandry skills: hoof care (part III)

achterhoeven onbekapt ongeslagen 13 maanden oud

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 was scared to let people touch her legs, especially her hind legs. She kicked out whenever she felt something touching them.

In the previous blog I described the progress we made so far. I have only had one more session between this blog and the last one. That means that A. hasn’t been (clicker) trained for two weeks. Usually a horse benefits from a break in training.

Improvisation

In positive reinforcement training you have to improvise often. If something has changed in the circumstances we are used to in training, we can’t expect the same results. This is called a ‘context shift’.

Read more about context shifts in this article Setting your horse up for success: context shift

Horses and other animals, find it often hard to generalize. If we can touch their body with a pool noodle in the stall, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the horse knows what to do when we are stroking her with a pool noodle in her paddock or in the arena.

Last training session the circumstances changed: it was raining so A.’s neighbours were not outside, but stayed in her stalls. In previous training I used the fence between the stalls as a protective barrier between me and A. This time that was not an option: standing in the stall of a clicker trained horse B. while clicking and feeding horse A.

I pondered a moment about the possibilities. Since A. is used to being haltered and isn’t a dangerous horse, I chose to halter her and go train her in her stall.

The click

Horse B. was really determined to become a part of the training session, so I had to improvise again. Every time I clicked she expected a treat and she became a bit frustrated that the clicks weren’t meant for her.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I offered horse B. a handful of pellets, my usual food rewards and gave her my end of session signal, to tell her that she wasn’t going to get any clicks. I chose to switch the mechanical click of the clicker for a very soft tongue click instead to train A. I quickly introduced her to the new marker signal. A. is very smart and quickly understood that my tongue click was an announcer for a treat.

I noticed that B. didn’t recognize the new marker and she went back to her hay to munch a bit. Time to start A.’s training.

There were also a few other things that were different this morning.  I had haltered A. this time, there wasn’t a fence between us and we were standing in the center of her stall, in order not to be too close to the other horses. On top of that I also forgot my pool noodle on a stick.

How to handle a context shift

Because of all the changes that day I started repeating a lot of the previous lessons in this new setup: I started with touching her shoulder again. She didn’t move and she stayed relaxed so I tongue clicked and reinforced. Then I stroke her and let my hand move more towards her front leg. She was OK with that too: click and reinforce.

I moved my hand very slowly and I made sure I clicked and reinforced a lot. A.  understood the exercises quickly. Within a few (tongue) clicks she lifted her front leg all by herself! It was just a fraction of a second, but worth a click and a handful of food.

jambette

After a break we went on with lifting her front leg. Because I had given her a jackpot for lifting her leg she wanted to earn more food and she enthusiastically lifted her leg and swung it forward. Click & treat. I didn’t expect her to swing that leg to the front so my timing was exactly when she was performing a perfect jambette (like the picture of Kyra of the left). Oops.

The next try she did it again so I had to click much sooner: when she just lifted her leg from the floor. We will work on duration another time. I ended the training with lifting both of her front legs, without a jambette.

Related blogs:
Preparing your horse for the farrier with clicker training
Husbandry Skills: Hoof Care (part I)
Husbandry Skills: Hoof Care (part II)

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Are you inspired and interested in personal coaching or do you want to sign up for the next online course ‘Set Your Equestrian Goals & Achieve them‘ (starts Friday), please visit my website

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Hoof care, teach your horse to lift up his feet (part I)

How to teach your horse to lift his legs. so you can feel safe cleaning his feet.

  1. Encourage your horse to do a weight shift. Reward taking off weight of his leg with a click and treat
  2. Reinforce lifting the leg up
  3. Support the leg, without holding onto it
  4. Guide the leg down
  5. Build on duration and keeping his foot up in the air
  6. Add your cue
  7. Fade out clicks and treats
  8. Train the next leg

What are Husbandry Skills?

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 horses

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

At the SPCA barn I ‘m training 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.

The mare 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.

Building a relationship and trust first

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’ (Starter button) 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

Are you inspired and interested in personal coaching in a group or do you want to have access to online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community, then join our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Apply today!

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.

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