Could you lend me a hand?
It’s been some time now since I kept horses on a livery yard. Instead, my two are on a private farm near to where I live, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. However, since it’s just them and me, there are countless occasions when I wish I had an extra pair of hands! Oh wait… I do. I have a clicker and I have my horses!
The forgetful rider and an extra pair of hands…or hooves
Every horse owner has moments when they could do with help; managing two horses through a narrow opening, keeping others from the gate whilst you bring in your own, holding a horse for mounting or while dashing off pre-ride to collect something you forgot; the scenarios are endless.
I look after my horses on my own, so I need to think outside the box when it comes to training them. I need to train my horses to become my extra pair of hands. Clicker training gives me the training tools to do this. The foundation lessons I learned have taught me that teaching behaviours such as ground tying can provide me with an incredibly useful second pair of hands during that pre-ride dash back to the barn!
Ground Tying? No, I don’t literally TIE them to the ground! ‘Ground tying’ is where the horse learns to stand on the spot as if they are actually tied, and wait for you while you rush off and get what you need. To someone like me, it’s proven to be invaluable!
Catch me if you can!
A few years ago I volunteered to care for a previous yard-owner’s five horses when she was unexpectedly taken ill. It promised to be a relatively simple job since they all lived out. However, I was then told that one horse had a cut on the coronet of a hind leg and needed her bandages changing. My heart sunk as I was told which horse it was; the ‘un-catchable’ mare!
The yard-owner’s two kids needed to stay busy to keep their mind off things, so they came out to the yard with me. Catching the un-catchable mare would definitely keep them busy so I sent them off, headcollar and lead rope in hand, to go and catch her as I got on with my own chores.
Thirty minutes passed and I was still waiting for them to appear. I peeked around the corner of the barn to see the kids in the middle of the field plotting their next game plan whilst the mare looked at them saying, “I don’t think so!” Alas, it was time to go and see what was going on.
There was no one else around to help, and I had suggested the kids just sit on the fence and watch. Now I was on my own trying to catch the un-catchable mare, lacking that oh so desirable second pair of hands. Or was I? I had a clicker in one pocket and some treats in another.
My only rule for catching this mare; she had to come to me. That way it was her idea. So I stood still, and waited. She was quickly curious about this person with a halter but not chasing her….hmm, that got her attention and soon she was approaching me. But if I tried to touch her or lift the headcollar, she took off. So, when she approached again I clicked and gave her a few pony nuts (making sure I did not try to approach her or use the nuts as a lure). I should add here that this mare had never been clicker trained before and this was the first time I had to handle her. And boy, did that 1 click grab her attention!
Horses are amazing, they learn through observation incredibly well. I see it in yards of horses and especially with my own two, who not only share a field but also a barn during winter nights. This mare knew what clicker training was just because she had seen me do this with my own horses in her vicinity. But, mimicry, or learning through observation, is a whole other topic. Back to the un-catchable mare!
Within three “clicks” SHE was following ME, and the kids were sitting on the fence looking stunned. Within a matter of “clicks” I could touch her. A few more minutes (and “clicks”) and I could hold my hands up as if putting a headcollar on. Then came the acid test; what would she do when I lifted the headcollar? Well… of course she touched it with her nose! “click !”.
Now that I had her engaged with the headcollar I could start to work on getting it on her. In less than a minute she was voluntarily putting her nose through the noseband. By this point the kids had gone very quiet!
In less than 10 minutes, using positive reinforcement (clicker training), I had caught the un-catchable mare. As I did the ‘happy dance’ on the way to the barn I suddenly realised that, actually, catching her might have been the easy part. I now had to change the bandage! Oh where is that second pair of hands when you need them!
While the kids stood with their mouths hanging open at the fact that the mare had been voluntarily caught, I topped up my treat pouch up with pony nuts sensing I might be there for a while trying to get a bandage on a mare that was also not keen on being touched…
Check back soon for part 2 of where I change the bandage on the un-catchable mare.
Amanda , S.M.A.A.R.T. Horses