Today was our third day of work with a quarter horse gelding named Red, a gelding who is reportedly an uncooperative basket-case when it comes to the farrier and had become dangerous with his hind feet, especially. I met Red because his owner had asked for sedation which they could use for farrier appointments.
I’ve met with Red and his owner once a week since then, and it’s been an uneventful (but extremely satisfying!) progression from teaching the horse manners and targeting, to working on longer distance targeting, to ultimately, today, getting a little more busy with his feet. It seemed like a good time to move onto feet because he was really getting the hang of how to “work the treat-machine” with only the target. I had helped the owner get the success rate a little higher for Red, so that the reinforcements (clicks and treats) could come in quick succession, leading to the actual understanding by Red that if I touch this “thing” (the target) I can make that human give me a treat.
Once the horse understands that he is in control of the treat machine, you immediately have a much happier horse. These are horses who have not heard a lot of “yes” in their lives–they’re scared and dangerous horses who are mostly being told “no” and getting more tense and scared as a result.
So when these horses figure out that they can actually make decisions (touch this) and make things happen (food is delivered)–that sense of understanding and control give the horse a lot of confidence.
The horse isn’t thinking about how much more confident he’s getting, of course. But I do think the horse is having fun. Why do I think the horse is having fun? Because, we leave the horse at liberty (we are safely bounded by a fence, in this case an indoor arena), with the horse is completely naked–no ropes or halter or any tack attached–and that horse is completely free to be wherever it wants within this enclosure. And the horse is choosing to stay with us.
We’ll explain more about how this choice is not “just about the food” in another blog post.
~Thinking horses? Think positive.