It is hard to believe it has been almost a year since ‘U’ came to live with me. It has been so wonderful to watch him change from a sullen, depressed horse that would stand in the back corner of his stall with a grumpy face and go away air about him into a bright eyed, nicker when he sees anyone and trots over to get a scratch kind of guy.
I know there are those of you thinking that that must have taken a lot of time and effort. Well it didn’t. That is one of the great things about positive reinforcement training. This spring and summer were very busy so everyone got a bit neglected in their opinion (they all love to play); perhaps only getting to play once a week.
During haying, or if I was away teaching, it was even less and yet everyone still made huge leaps forward in their abilities.
Here is the video of ‘U’ early on.
And here is one from the clinic I held in August.
He is eager to play with not only people he knows, but with people he doesn’t. We are still working on his happy expression, but that too is getting better and the look in his eye is much softer. Everyone found this to be pretty amazing for a horse who wanted nothing to do with anyone only a few months ago.
It started by introducing him to novel behaviours, so that there was no poisoned cue attached to them. This was targeting. Video link here to targeting video.
The other novel behaviour was mat work. When I got him I was told he was afraid of things on the ground. The mat behaviour was free-shaped as I really wanted him to feel in control of the situation. It is now one of his favorite things to do. His ‘training’ session would be perhaps 20 minutes twice a week during the winter and less than that come summer! The rest of the time he spent just being a horse, outside with a friend, learning how to move over uneven ground and just enjoy life.
He was in a pasture that I had to walk through several times a day. Every time I went through I’d make the effort to find him, give him a scritch and a cookie. The wonderful ladies who board with me would do the same. Pretty soon he would come trotting over to see people and get a reward. He had to be polite, no mugging the vending machine. Soon we would ask for a bit more as he started to get more of a repertoire of behaviours.
As his confidence grew through the mat work etc., it began to transfer over to his attitude in the pasture. This horse that I was given because he was too slow, and it was too much work to get him to move forward, eagerly began to offer a trot beside anyone greeting him in his pasture.
I have only just begun to ride him again and hope to get some video of that for you soon. He is very different under saddle from that first time I rode him a year or so ago. And it is definitely a better different!
Until next time, keep it positive.