This is the story of a horse and her person who I had the privilege of working with this year. It is not often we come across horses who have such extreme behaviour and so I wanted to share Maya’s story with everyone. I hope it inspires.
Many thanks to Julia for agreeing to share Maya’s story and for writing this blog.
Maya’s Story – My Clicker Training Journey Part 1
Maya is a bay Arabian filly who was originally bred for endurance and racing. I bought her in August 2010, aged 14 months, with the intention of doing endurance with her. However, it was soon clear that she was unused to being handled and was more or less wild.
Loading her into the trailer to come home was just the first of many nightmares over the next 18 months. During these 18 months her behaviour became increasingly dangerous and unpredictable causing herself numerous injuries as a result of throwing herself around her stable and the yard. She started to attack other horses in the field inflicting injuries on them and she even attacked and injured me on occasion (some of my injuries were serious).
Sadly it was obvious to me, and other people, that on each occasion where she attacked her intent was to hurt me. Her favourite manoeuvres were rearing and lunging towards me whilst striking out with front legs, biting, barging, head butting, crushing me against a wall, and striking out with forelegs.
It just seemed to me that she did not understand us Humans, why she should want to interact with us, what the benefit of that would be, and why she should trust us at all. I had put a lot of effort into trying to understand her and it made me sad to see her so angry and miserable.
Last summer (2011), I asked a Parelli Natural Horsemanship practitioner to come and help me with Maya, but this was not a success. To Maya it seemed it was just another punishment based intervention and she was not prepared to engage with it. The poll pressure enraged her and she did not understand the ‘game’ at all even after 6 hours of sessions. It was just not helping, and so we stopped.
The final straw came this March when her aggressive behaviour intensified and one day reached a crescendo when she launched an attack on my other horse in the field, tried to bite my face, reared up directly over me striking out, head-butted and bit me, then lunged at me in the stable as I tried to retreat after putting her in the stable.
I came away from the yard in tears, shaken: in over 40 years of handling horses I had never seen a horse launch such a deliberate and sustained attack in this way. It just felt like she had no means of communicating with and understanding me, and I had no way of communiccating with her. All the usual punishment based tactics that we are taught were useless as she would respond to all these as though they were an attack on her and she would either defend herself or attack back.
I had been aware of clicker training for horses for some years but knew virtually nothing about it, so Googled it. SMAART Horses (Amanda Martin) came up and immediately I could see how it might help Maya and I to communicate better. I got in touch with Amanda and joined the next available online applied clicker training foundation module which was due to start in July 2012.
Check back soon to read the next installment of Maya’s story about her Clicker Training Journey.